Earlier this week, I shared a story with my sister. She was so interested in the particulars that I thought it might be interesting for you, too.
Around Christmastime, we always eat more McDonald’s than usual. Life gets so insanely busy that we’re left with no time or energy to cook.
That’s what happened one evening in late November. We’e had a full day of ministry, it was now after 5pm and Peter, with his adrenal gland problems, was in sore need of sustenance. So off we trooped to McDonald’s for some takeout.
It wasn’t until we got home again that we realized they’d massively messed up our order. Back we went.
In explaining the problem to the staff, I was polite by Canadian standards. I smiled. I tried to be cheerful. But the Japanese are masters at reading body language and facial expressions. My frustration must have shone through.
The manager came out, bowing and apologetic. “It’s alright,” I said. I received the missing items, and went on my way.
As I closed the car door and we started towards home for the second time, I remember being bothered by the level of bowing and scraping the manager had done. A little pit began to form in my stomach. I hope I haven’t damaged my relationship with her, I thought.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. We were back at the McDonald’s, waiting in line. As soon as the manager saw we were next, she took over her employee’s service station and personally took our orders, doing her best to speak to us all in English. Looking at the smiling mask on her face, the pit in my stomach got bigger. I’ve broken something. How do I fix it?
Fast forward to three days ago. We’d just had our Christmas party the day before. We were exhausted, and once more found ourselves at McDonald’s. I saw the manager again. She was busy. The pit felt heavier, and I tried not to stare. We accepted our food and went upstairs to eat.
When we were finished, I said, “Peter, I don’t know what to do, but I’ve got to try something. I’m going to apologize to her. Would you help me practice? I don’t want to make a mistake and cause things to get worse.”
We started by praying.
“Last month, I came to your store and there was an error in my order—”
“You should say you want to apologize, right at the start,” Peter said. “That way, she doesn’t feel attacked while you’re explaining what you’re apologizing for.”
“I was a little rude—”
“Don’t say ‘a little’. Just say ‘rude’.”
Good point. Saying ‘a little’ would make me feel better, but this apology is not intended to make me feel better. It’s to make her feel better. I have no idea how rude she thought I was. I don’t want to diminish the importance of her feelings.
When we were done practicing, I went downstairs.
“I want to apologize. Last month I came into your shop and there was a mistake in my order. When I came back, I was rude.”
Oh no! How rude was I??
“I’ve been thinking about this for the past month, and trying to figure out how to fix it.”
Something in her face changed.
“So today I want to come and apologize. I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
I bowed very low: a sign of humility and regret.
She smiled. “That’s ok. That’s ok.”
I could tell that her words weren’t just on the surface of our relationship. They somehow went deeper.
“There is no problem.”
“Thank you very much.” I smiled and bowed again. “Thank you.”
I returned to our table. Later, when we were on our way out of the store, the manager went out of her way to wave and say a warm goodbye.
During the drive home, I thought about what had happened, and what might have caused the change I saw in her face during my apology. I realized that sharing my month-long struggle with her had communicated two things: (1) this sort of behaviour wasn’t normal for me, and (2) I valued her enough to be deeply bothered by my own actions and what it might mean for our relationship.
Usually, before interacting with a Japanese person—particularly if I’m upset—I pause to do a self-check and make sure that my emotions are under control. That day, I was tired and felt pressure to get food into Peter so he didn’t encounter health repercussions. However, I should have taken a minute to pray and ask God to settle my feelings. I didn’t.
Living in a culture like Japan can be challenging for Westerners—particularly for someone like me, who wears her heart on her sleeve. I’ve heard from other missionaries that in Japan repairing broken relationships can be nearly impossible. However, Okinawans are very gracious with foreigners. With a little courage and a lot of sincerity, it’s been our experience that it is possible—not only to repair them, but bring them back stronger than ever. That’s the power of Jesus’ redeeming love—the love that we want to transmit to people wherever we go.
How deeply we need to depend on Him for every little word, reaction, and facial twitch. How thankful we are that He knows and understands this culture and these precious people, even when we don’t.