Remember how when we were kids our parents would require us to "say sorry" when we had done something wrong? Depending on how we felt about our own actions, the "sorry" was either more or less sincere, sometimes admittedly verging on the sarcastic. Now as a parent of four children, and having been in the field of sibling litigation for the past ten years, I have developed a keen sense of the authenticity of an apology.
Yesterday, while in the midst of executing a disciplinary correction (gosh that sounds serious! I was explaining to my son why he lost his tablet for a month), I was confronted by this child, (the one who has a future as a defence lawyer), as to the "point" of even "saying sorry." I mean, what is the point? ...especially if you don't feel sorry. I was taken back for a second because the answer seemed so obvious to me, and yet I couldn't rightly find the words to explain what I meant. I almost committed the classic parental authority trump of saying, "Because it's right! Thats why!", which of course does nothing to clear the matter up.
I answered instead, "There's no point at all in saying sorry." He looked at me suspiciously, as this was not the answer he expected, and being a lawyer, he instinctively knew there must be more to it than I made out at first. He raised a single eyebrow. I continued.
"There is no point in saying sorry, for words without heart behind them are pointless. Being sorry, however, has a very good point."
Looking me steadily in the face with folded arms, he pressed, "Okay, then. What is the point of being sorry, then?"
Hmmm. Now that is a good question. I switched mental gears rapidly. This was not a parenting issue, nor even a logic issue. This was a spiritual, a philosophical issue: "What is the point of being sorry?" Boy, parenting can be good mental exercise sometimes!
So here is where I depart from writing out our word-for-word conversation surrounding the confiscation of a tablet, to my short treatise on the big matter of "sorry."
The concept of "sorry" has earth shaking power. Far from the obligatory statement of apology from our childhoods, "sorry" has within itself the raw seismic capacity to level mountains and raise valleys. Isaiah said it best in chapter 40, verses 3-5,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough way smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
We've likely all heard how this passage applied to John the Baptist of the gospel accounts, but have you ever meditated on its import as relating to his overall message of "repentance for the remission of sins" (Luke 3:3)? When we repent of our sin, an earthquake occurs in our hearts. All the mountains of pride, the deep ravines of doubt, the crooked roads of confusion, and the rough patches of selfishness all become a smooth, level pathway to forgiveness.
Repentance is the means by which we receive the forgiveness that has already been extended to us.
Jesus died for all sin, past, present, and future in our lives, and God extended that forgiveness to all mankind. We only practically receive this freely-offered and paid-in-full forgiveness, however, when we repent and believe in Jesus. Jesus began His public ministry by preaching this singular message of repentance (Matthew 4:17), and John emphasized it by giving practical ways for would-be repentant sinners to demonstrate their change of heart (Luke 3:11-14). He succinctly and eloquently stated it this way, "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance..." (Luke 3:8)
If something so great as salvation begins with simply being sorry... a state of regret which then progresses to changes in a lifestyle, (aka. "repentance"), then how much more so regarding the little matters of relational conflicts? When your boss disrespects you, when your friend gossips about you, when your family judges you, when someone insults you- you know your role: you need to forgive. (*If that is a revolutionary thought to you, I encourage you to read my article on emotional healing: Forgiveness: The secret connection between Healing and Humility)
But what about when you are the one who committed the wrong? Your friend, family member, co-worker, etc is offended at you. You perhaps feel your action was justified, or at least partially so, and are reluctant to be the one to apologize first. Admitting we were wrong oftentimes seems an insufferable option. Jesus spoke into this situation pretty clearly in Matthew 5:23-24: before you attempt to continue on in your spiritual walk with God, go make it right with the person who you offended. The idea is that our fellowship with God is put on pause until we are restored to fellowship with someone we wronged. Pretty clear directions- Go say you are sorry.
Is it hard to do? You bet. It feels like you are inflicting upon yourself a sharp and painful internal death. It feels like chaos and upheaval inside. Everything in you screams out against it. Well, friend, tectonic activity is a violent force, is it not? When we publicly or privately repent, powerful seismic activity is occurring in our hearts. We feel the mountains crumbling and the valleys being forced upward, the ground shaking, and the searing pain that always accompanies the death of our pride. It is, in one word, awful.
But when the shaking stops and the dust settles in our souls, we will find a nice, smooth, straight path heading right into the arms of God. Forgiveness, whether from heaven or from a friend, is only obtained by being sorry. Both may already have been offered, but you cannot receive it until you say, and are, sorry.