When Sorry Isn't Enough
A few years ago my family fell in love with a girl named Gilly. (You can watch her by clicking http://www.hulu.com/watch/67439/saturday-night-live-gilly-science-fair ) Her crooked smile coupled with an ever present sparkle of mischief in her eyes set the scene for this 5’6” ‘child’ to dance across the screen, afro-puff bouncing as she skipped along in her mary janes. She was trouble, but no matter what she did wrong it was okay, because after each humorous assault on her peers she always made sure to say “sorry.” After Gilly’s apology, everyone was expected to move on as if nothing ever happened. What made the skit funny was how absurd it was that Gilly was only asked to apologize and that her peers were expected to accept the apology and move on (despite the severity of her crime against them). What made the skit even funnier to our family is that we do the same thing every day and we consider this normal behavior. My youngest will target her slightly older brother and, on the occasions he has mustered up enough self control not to pin her to the ground in an arm bar, he will run to his valiant Mom and Dad to tattle. My husband or I will proceed to scold the youngest with a short lecture, ending our monologue with the usual, “Apologize to your brother.” Call it lazy parenting if you want, but then we have to question the teachers, couples, and friends who have gone before us, modeling the great lie that ‘Sorry makes it all better.’
To the casual heart-breakers and repeated offenders we respond in musical unison, “It’s too late to apologize…” Apologies drop down like tokens in the game of life. The winners receive renewed trust and acceptance, a real prize. The losers get nothing in return.
The thing I hate about that song is that it should never be too late to apologize. As Christians we should always be willing to accept an apology, and furthermore, to forgive the person giving it. In addition, we should be willing to acknowledge when we have offended another person and be diligent to offer an apology at first chance. While I don’t agree with the attitude, “It’s too late to apologize,” I understand the hurt and cynicism it is rooted in and would be willing to concede that while it is never too late to apologize, sometimes “sorry” isn’t enough.
As an eager (yet naïve) disciple of Christ I knew very well God’s motto, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22).” So when my husband and I found ourselves reliving the same scenario for the ‘umpteenth’ time, ending it with the usual, “I’m sorry,” we so often doled out to each other, I wondered why I didn’t feel any better when the discussion was done. The answer was simple; sorry didn’t mean anything. Sure, it meant we had humbled ourselves enough to utter the words (a big feat for the proud at heart). Saying sorry meant that we wanted the other person to feel better (we acknowledge that the other person was hurt by us). But it didn’t mean change, and that is what is at the heart of this word whose meaning becomes empty when it isn’t accompanied with change. We can forgive a person (as God commands in the Bible), taking them off of our hook and putting them on God’s. But we will not receive the reconciliation we long for in our relationships until the apologies we give and receive are accompanied with repentance.
For a long time I questioned if I had truly forgiven my husband if I was still upset after he had apologized. I realized then, that I was not still upset over what he had done ( I forgave him sincerely), but I was upset over what he would do (knowing the behavior would continue like it had so often in the past). Sorry couldn’t be the end of our problem, it had to be the beginning of our solution. Sorry was the first step towards repentance, not the last step of our conflict. After saying sorry we had to begin the difficult task of changing our behavior. During the first few difficult years of marriage God lead me to this verse, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV).”
When a person says sorry for a behavior they continue to do, their sorrow is worldly. But when a person says sorry for a behavior and they begin to change for the better, I believe their sorrow was Godly. People can’t change people, only God can change people. We can say sorry, but we must rely on God to see us through to repentance. May we take the time to teach our kids the ‘action’ of a true apology, not just the words, because sorry isn’t enough.