WHY 'I'M SORRY' FALLS SHORT
My life in ministry has taught me a few things about apologies, and more often than not "I'm sorry" doesn't cut it. In fact, these words can resound as hollow and inadequate. Why didn't Jesus ever instruct us to say, "I'm sorry?" Wouldn't that be a key phrase in the Bible if it was meant to cover the bases of wrongs done?
The current Webster's Dictionary definition of the word 'sorry' is 1) feeling distress, especially through sympathy over misfortune. 2) in a poor or pitiful state or condition. The word itself reflects on the state of the offender, not the state of the offended. Do you see where I am going with this? When we apologize for hurting others- for lack of love- it has to be about more than us. It is an opportunity to not only self-reflect but to others-reflect. So, what did Jesus say our responsibility is after causing harm?
In Matthew 5:23-24, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
What?! If we are coming to the Lord to thank Him for the food we are about to eat or to acknowledge our gratefulness for another day and we realize we have wronged others (either purposely OR unknowingly), we are to go to them? It's the offender's responsibility? Yes, you are reading that correctly. We are called to be humble, we are asked be in a "sorry" state. That is step one. Okay, so more than taking our own emotional state and sorrows to the offended, what is step two? How can we apologize effectively in a truly restorative way?
We are warned in Hebrews 12, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled." So if we aren't able to hear others, and acknowledge the pain in their lives (no minimizing, no criticizing, no ignoring) then we haven't experienced Godly sorrow. We aren't truly humbled. We are actually guilty of continuing to harm the person. We must be prayerful in seeking to not cause additional harm.
Alright, if you've stuck with me this far then you are willing to learn (either that or you are trying to figure out how to get your spouse to read this.) Either way, we can be grateful because once again the Bible has a clear answer. James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." Yep. Confess. That is an apology. "But," you say, "what if I didn't do ANYTHING wrong and the other person is drenched in guilt?" Well, let's look at Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." All are called to forgive. It doesn't say that if you feel falsely accused, you shouldn't forgive or apologize. God makes a blanket statement here and we should listen.
If it has been brought to our minds that someone has been hurt by our behavior (or lack thereof) then it is not only our responsibility to go to them and acknowledge our sorrow, but also to confess the impact that our choices have had on their lives. God asks us to apologize so that we remain humble, unified, listeners; who love first, and sacrifice pride for the well-being of all. Confession, my friends, is part two of an apology. Confession heals the soul. The kingdom of self must fall, and the love of others must reign.