“…Don’t tell me you’re sorry, ’cause you’re not
Baby, when I know you’re only sorry you got caught
But you put on quite a show
Really had me going
But now it’s time to go
Curtain’s finally closing
That was quite a show
But it’s over now
Go on and take a bow.”
– Chorus from “Take a Bow” by Rihanna
This song accurately describes how empty apologies often are…they can be so fake that it’s like watching a theatrical performance! Our society has found itself in a “sorry” situation: one where apologizing has been diminished to nothing more than meaningless words that are not backed up by action. Most of us have probably been guilty of giving a hollow apology at one time or another, as well as being on the receiving end of one. People nowadays say “sorry” for a myriad of reasons, but the least of these reasons tends to be a truly penitent heart.
Am I saying that the word “sorry” should be thrown out with yesterday’s trash? Well, not exactly. The words “I’m sorry”, just like the words “I love you”, can be devoid of any semblance of truth. On the flip side, these words can be filled with the utmost sincerity. The words don’t hold the power, but rather, the person speaking them. I believe that “sorry” can be reclaimed as a meaningful word if it is used honestly and appropriately.
“It’s not that ‘sorry’ doesn’t mean anything; it just doesn’t mean anything when some people say it… Don’t be one of those people.”
How can you be sure that you are truly sorry when you apologize to someone, and not “only sorry you got caught”? In today’s lesson, we will discover the three characteristics of a genuine “sorry”. Characteristic #1:
The term “hard and fast” is defined as: a rule or distinction that is fixed/definitive.
When we use the word “sorry”, we are in essence saying, “My action was wrong, therefore I am definitively purposing to amend my path.” We are implying that, “it won’t happen again”. Is it possible that we will fail to keep this resolution? Absolutely…we humans tend to stumble and fall back into sinful behavior more often than not. However, even if we fail at times to uphold the changed behavior we have resolved to keep, overall there will be a change in us too great to escape notice. We may fall, but we fall far less frequently. We may fall, but we stand up quicker than before. We may fall, but we no longer justify our actions. There is definitively a new “us”, one that is fixed on redeeming our past errors and no longer residing in them unashamedly.
“Sacrifice is at the heart of repentance. Without deeds, your apology is worthless.” – Bryan Davis
When we fail, saying “sorry” is a good start, but it must be coupled with a hard-and-fast sacrifice…otherwise, our words are deceitful.
Imagine this scenario…someone accidentally bumps into you with their shopping cart at the grocery store, in Aisle 1. They quickly say, “sorry!”. You both proceed to Aisle 2, where that same shopper bumps into you with their cart again, and then says, “sorry!” You then move to Aisle 3 – where lo and behold – the selfsame shopper comes barreling into you with their cart and says yet again, “sorry!” You might begin to assume that “sorry” doesn’t have a lot of weight coming from the other shopper. The word comes out easily, but they have not made any attempt to watch where they are going.
Now let’s re-imagine the scenario…someone accidentally bumps into you with their shopping cart at the grocery store, in Aisle 1. They quickly say, “sorry!” You both proceed to Aisle 2, where the same shopper almost bumps into you with their cart again, and then says, “boy, that was a close one – I better watch where I’m going!”. You then move to Aisle 3, where the selfsame shopper leaves a wide path for you to get through and says with an apologetic laugh, “I’m not risking running into you again – you go on ahead!”
In which scenario was the “sorry” genuine? Sure, the other shopper was somewhat unaware in both scenes, maybe even a bit of a klutz, but the concerted effort to change is noticeable in scene 2. The shopper noticed their clumsiness and made their “sorry” hard-and-fast, so they would not continue to make the same mistake. It is much the same with more serious infractions. We don’t go from flawed to perfect overnight…but can others see that we are definitively being transformed to betterment?
“Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.” – Tyron Edwards
Did you use a disrespectful tone towards your husband? Apologize, but make sure your “sorry” is hard-and-fast by resolving to show him a more meek and quiet spirit next time. Did you show up late when meeting with a friend? Apologize, but make sure your “sorry” is hard-and-fast by leaving the house earlier next time. Did you forget to follow through on a favor for a colleague? Apologize, but make sure your “sorry” is hard-and-fast by writing yourself a note or setting a phone reminder next time. Do you see a pattern? “Sorry” is all about next time…what we do to change our behavior after the damage has already been done.
…Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. – John 5:14b [emphasis mine]
When you say, “sorry”, is it hard-and-fast? If not, I’m afraid you’re not truly sorry…you’re just in a “sorry” situation!
Now, for Characteristic #2:
The term “hand over fist” is defined as: something given quickly and in large amounts.
When we realize we owe an apology to someone, it ought to be done as soon as possible and as lavishly as possible. If we have hurt someone, it should spur in us a desire to make it up to them…generously! A haphazard, too-little-too-late kind of sorry is insulting to the one who has been wronged. What’s worse is a sorry coupled with a slew of excuses. The word “sorry”, should never be followed by the word, “but”.
“Apologies require taking full responsibility. No half-truths, no partial admissions, no rationalizations, no finger pointing, and no justifications belong in an apology.” – Cathy Burnham Martin
I used to know an individual who could not leave an apology at “I’m sorry”. Whenever they acted cruelly during a disagreement, they would casually apologize, but then point the blame at me for supposedly instigating their volatile behavior. Instead of admitting their own negative actions, they used the “apology” as a chance to further argue and belittle. This unpleasant past experience has taught me, in Golden Rule fashion, not to treat others to the faux sort of apology that comes with a catch. When I apologize, I try to make a point to humble myself enough to only focus on what I did wrong to another, not what another did wrong to me. The funny thing is, when we apologize to others in such a humble way, they often tend to be convicted to the point of returning the apology (if they bore any negative role in the situation). Everyone comes out a winner when humility takes the place of defensive pride.
“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Benjamin Franklin
In parenting, some feel hesitant to apologize for losing their cool or being overtly harsh when their child misbehaves. They are afraid that if they apologize, it will make their child feel justified in their bad behavior or lose the sense of their parent’s authority. I have found that quite the opposite is true. When we apologize to our children, it not only shows them our humanity, but it models how to humble themselves and ask for forgiveness when they have done wrong. Whatever you do, resist the urge to use an apology as a springboard for a lecture. This falls back into the “I’m sorry, but…” routine. Such an apology will only raise your child’s ire and your words will go in one ear and out the other. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you really did a bad thing, etc. etc…”, try this: “I’m sorry Mommy yelled at you. I really overreacted and I shouldn’t have been so harsh towards you.” and leave it at that. When I have taken this softhearted approach, my child has never failed to respond in kind…”No Mommy, I am the one who did wrong…I’m sorry, too”. You both get the apology you are owed, and in so doing, you will have won the heart of your child.
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
When you say, “sorry”, is it hand-over-fist? If not, I’m afraid you’re not truly sorry…you’re just in a “sorry” situation!
Now, for Characteristic #3:
The term heartfelt is defined as: something that is deeply and strongly felt; a sincere feeling.
While feelings should never be the only thing impelling an apology, it is certain that an apology devoid of any feeling is an untruth, and sickening to the recipient. We should only offer apologies after we have trained our emotions to empathize with the individual we have hurt, that our “sorry” will be in earnest.
We’ve all seen two children being forced to give an apology to each other whilst holding onto rotten attitudes. The tell-tale signs of a lack of authenticity abound: heads turning dramatically away from the other child, rolling eyes, frowning lips, and pitiful “sorry’s” spoken in nearly inaudible mumbles. A sad sight! I hold that forcing untimely apologies is a poor parenting technique, for it only serves to train the children to say words that they don’t mean. How much better to teach the child to first gain hold of their feelings and then to give an authentic apology from the heart?
“When anger and bitterness overpower your goodness, you can neither apologize nor forgive.”
Children aren’t the only ones who struggle to feel sorry in the heat of the moment. What should you do when you don’t feel sorry, but you know you should be sorry? Well, knowing is half the battle, right? Once you know that you have done wrong, the next line of action is to work on training your emotions to follow that knowledge. Pray to the Lord and ask that he would soften you enough to feel in your heart what you know is right in your spirit. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes…think about how hurtful your behavior was from their perspective. Sometimes it’s even helpful to talk to the other person (especially if it is a close loved one you can trust). Confess to them that, while you know you have hurt them, you are in a dark space and struggling to gain a foothold on your feelings about the matter. Assure them that you love them and that this conversation is not over…only put on pause until you have effectively conquered your heart issue. When you gain your composure and your heart is soft, you can approach them with a true apology from the heart…a weight lifted for both you and them.
“Saying sorry to someone is hard… but putting your pride down for someone is the hardest.”
Say no to these faux statements:
“I’m sorry, but…”
“I’m sorry, I guess…”
“I’m sorry you’re mad…”
None of these pitiful apologies will do in the life of a Christian. Let your apology be sincere and in earnest, or let it be put on hold.
For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it…the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart… – excerpt from Psalm 51:16-17
When you say, “sorry”, is it heart-felt? If not, I’m afraid you’re not truly sorry…you’re just in a “sorry” situation!
Not sure whether you’re “sorry”, or “only sorry you got caught”? Remember, in order to be genuine, a sorry must be hard-and-fast, hand-over-fist, and heart-felt. Without these three vital characteristics, we are merely in a “sorry” situation. Make your words count. Saying sorry can bring healing to others, if we show we truly mean it with our changing actions…if we take full responsibility for our error…and if it is offered from the heart. If you owe someone an apology, don’t withhold it from them any longer. Go make peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. – Matthew 5:9
For God’s glory,
Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.