Thinking about: Atonement

I'm not Jewish (my in laws are and so are plenty of my friends), but as today is Yom Kippur, I'm thinking about atonement and what it means.  Forget the biblical for a moment, and think about the word atone.  Very simply put it is to make amends or to make reparations for a wrong doing.  It's not just saying "I’m sorry," but MEANING and ACTING upon the apology.

As humans we all make mistakes.  We all say and do things that we shouldn't.  And when we do, we apologize.  (Or at least I hope we do.)  But do we truly atone?  There needs to be more behind the words "I'm sorry;" there needs to be true sorrow for the words said or the deeds done.  (Not just sorrow at getting caught in the act as it were, which is what I have told my son!)  To be sorry means to reflect on what has been said or done. A hollow apology is perhaps worse than no apology at all.  (Why bother?) 

As humans we need to atone.  We need to take responsibility for our words and actions and when we do or say wrong (sinning anyone?).  And we need to atone when do.

Whatever your religious bent (or even if you have none), the idea of a day or time to focus on atoning for what we have done wrong is a good idea.  We SHOULD reflect when we say or do something hurtful.  We SHOULD think about why we did it; how did our actions/words affect others and ourselves.  HOW can we prevent hurtful history from repeating over and over again?

Case in point, I am sorry I yelled at my son last week.  He didn't bring home his French book and I thought he had a quiz the next day.  (Notice the emphasis on the word "thought.”)  After much yelling, tears and so forth, it was my husband who pointed out that I was wrong.  The quiz was a week later.  I was WRONG.  I needed to apologize.  I needed to atone for what I had done.  And I did.  I apologized and once everyone calmed down, I got everyone in the car under the guise of going to get a quart of milk.  (Which we did need.)  While shopping, I did apologize to my son again and I let him pick out any candy of his choice (which he did).  Once we were done, I didn't head home right away.  Knowing how much my son loves Halloween and decorations, I drove by two homes not in our town, but that I pass on my way home from work. That had some extraordinary decorations.  I drove slowly by so we could all take it in.  The whole trip (shopping and exploring) took approximately an hour.  There were a lot of things I could have done in that hour and my son should/could have been studying, but I thought that some family time was in order. In order to atone for my wrong, I needed to take time out of my schedule (and everyone else's) for us all to slow down and be a family.

Maybe the above is an over simplification of atonement, but it was much needed. In doing it, I wasn't just thinking of myself; I was thinking of my son and our family as a unit.  I realized what my actions had done not just to him, but to our family.  I needed to apologize and I needed to atone in a way that showed how much I cared for him and our family.  I needed to correct my actions and make things "better" in a way that was not necessarily convenient for me, but would do good for the whole family.

Can I do this every time I yell or make a mistake?  Of course not.  (Although I wish I could.)  But by doing so, I can reflect on what I did wrong.  I can try to prevent it from happening again by learning. 


This day of atonement may be a good day to think about that day last week.  To think about the "wrongs" that I have done and reflect on how I might do better in the future.  If I do, perhaps I'll have less to atone for and a happier and healthier family and life as a bonus.




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