15 Feb 2016

How sorry is sorry enough....and why it matters.

How sorry is sorry enough?

In our world of feel-good, no one wants to be, feel, or say sorry these days. I mean, when was the last time you apologized to someone; or had someone apologized to you?

There is even a need for a book like this:

We are awkward, clumsy, unsure and unwilling about it.
Parents, especially moms are probably luckiest when our kids, very little, are fairly quick to say sorry.

But they outgrow it!

What does 'sorry' mean?

There are two things to be sorry about when something goes wrong. We are sorry for our actions. We are sorry for the effects of our actions; how it has impacted others.

Whilst the children were still little, I learnt from watching other parents to teach them to say, 
I am sorry I disobeyed and didn't pack my toys.
I am sorry I threw the toy on the floor. 
-- an apology that includes how they feel and what they did wrong. 

The thing is, well into adulthood, we continue to have our toys and tantrums. But we may well have learnt the fine skill of justifying and rationalizing it all. We would also have learnt the art of self-defense where our motives and actions are always somewhat right so there's nothing to really apologize for.

Deeper into the territory, we may decide that it is pointless to apologize or feel sorry since nothing really changes; we are just different and should go our separate ways.

This explains why with all our education and the best of spiritual persuasion, the world is full of pride and prejudice, selfishness and sin: we learn to be comfortable with it all; it's the way things are and we can’t really change it.

Some of us even parent our children into this reality -

You mustn't trust anybody so easily
If you don't fight for it, someone else will get it
Take care of yourself, no one is going to take care of you

Any wonder if our homes and churches and communities ricochet with hurt, accusation and apathy?

I wonder about this. No one ever taught me to say sorry. I was totally bad at it. There were very few instances I felt a need to express it, and when I did, it rarely found it way through my teeth. Feeling remorseful and wrestling with regret is more virgin territory to me than uttering the word 'sorry'.

What I saw growing up was folks making amends and coping: the uneasy, awkward silence, the clumsy attempts to patch up with deeds of kindness, staying away to avoid further trouble, or just being silent and hoping it will all be forgotten in time. I could never be sure where the relationships stood. They were not classroom lessons; but lessons nonetheless - more is caught than taught after all.

But these approaches didn't cut it. Not as a spouse, a parent or a leader.

My spouse is the expert 'apologiser'. I tease him (and believe) that his apologies have many times saved our marriage. Sometimes I look at him and wonder what on earth he is even apologising for! We are both sensitive souls; but perhaps sensitised to slightly different stimuli.

My children of course were not going to be able to learn well if they don't have a humble posture in life. To help them learn the needful art of restoring relationships, I needed to model apology for them; and there were plenty of opportunities for sure:

Mom is so sorry I raised my voice just now
I am so sorry you feel this way...
Sniff, I am sorry, please let's forgive each other and hug up...
Sorry I had to turn the TV off because…
Mom is crying because I am sorry I disobeyed God…

Life is about growing in Grace and Truth - the twin pillars of living for what's right, and in a way that is bold and enriches others - and being sorry is inevitable. The energy for sorrow and making amends propels us towards growth. We learn from our failures and persevere in our convictions. We hack away the tendrils of complacency and compromise to be able to stand tall and strong. We fight our self-preservation tendencies and pride to hunker down and do the work necessary to keep the ship afloat and sailing.

The power of being sorry, rightly.

Like all powers, it begins early and has to be trained and harnessed. It is not a true power when a child says sorry when told to. It is not a true power when an adult says sorry because he's backed against a wall. It has to happen from the inside out. 

So how sorry is enough?

It's easy to tell a child to 'say sorry'. But we must do more.
We must then progress to help them see the values behind it and nurture their hearts to embrace those values:

relationships matter,
truth matters,
your motives and methods matter.

Above all, when we are proud and loveless, when we choose the easy way out and lie or cheat, when we pretend and hide behind a veneer of respectability and good behaviour, we are doing self-harm and dis- honouring God.

Saying sorry needs to be taken to the highest court.

 I have found that no real change happens until this occurs. When we are willing to stand before God and admit our sin, when we can turn to another and admit the pain we caused them…..when we are truly sorry, we change. Short of that, we easily return our old ways and fall into familiar ruts again and again. This is how we get jaded and numbed and cynical of real change and Kingdom glory.

In fact, many traditions and cultures create a way for apology and renewal of trust; often at cusp of a new year.

The Muslims seek the forgiveness of their elders at the start of Adil Fitri.
The Hindus are stern about familial order - if you touched an older person rudely, an immediate apology is required.
The Chinese will organise a meal where the aggrieved party is served tea by the contrite offender.

For the Christian?

There is confession before God that can happen anytime - what freedom!

"if we confess our sins, he is just faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." ~ 1 John 1v9

And then there are Seasons for deeper reflections leading to root origins of some of our most pernicious and duplicitous behaviour. We are in such a season right now: Lent. It began with Ash Wednesday when we remember our mortality and our sinful bent and mark it with ash on our foreheads (not all Churches do so these days).

Christians who have known mercy and live upon Grace, and know how to say sorry will be peace-makers, and O how our world needs that!

And here is a portion of the wonderful movie Inside Out that can be a great tutorial. Sorry is a hard territory and can be a long way - through the places of pride and fear of being rejected or ridiculed. But Short cuts may not cut it... a clip from Inside Out... and this is what it's like - just a series of events...when we don't ever process all our jumbled emotions...

and if you want a proper study about it: when a Japanese apologises and when an American does.


  1. Beautiful post! Sometimes my two year old will say he's too sad to say I'm sorry, ha ha. I think my problem is more I'm too angry. This is definitely a good thing for me to work on :)

    1. So glad you visited Amber! The angry thing...we all get that, don't we moms? What helped me with that was examining why i was getting angry..sometimes i have found some unrealistic goals. other times, i know it's a spillover from some other issue. That has freed me considerably and spared the kid of the unkindness of my wrath!


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