#SorryNotSorry. Why is it so hard to apologize?

During this recent holiday season, we spent time talking to the kids about apologies. This topic is common in conversation during this time of year, but our inspiration might have been a little different than most: the Home Alone movies. If you’ve seen them you will know that the movies start out with family strife (Kevin vs everyone else) and a general refusal to reconcile. This leads to a cascading -and funny- chain of events where Kevin is left alone to contend with two robbers. At the end of both movies (spoiler alert) Kevin has defeated the robbers, they are off to jail and it is time for Kevin to say sorry and reconcile with the family.

Hollywood portrayals aside, it is clear to see how bad we humans are at saying sorry. Talking with the kids we came up with three reasons why it is so hard to make a real apology:

  1. I am right
  2. I am not as wrong as you think I am
  3. I need to protect myself from the consequences of admitting I am wrong

First, it is really hard to say sorry if you don’t think you did anything wrong. We are often totally blind to our own shortcomings, especially in conflict with another person. I think there is a reason that Jesus told his disciples to take the LOG out of their own eye before helping their brother with the SPECK. I should be quick to admit that I fall short of God’s glory and need help (Romans 3:23), which he gives me in Jesus. We should remember that our own right-ness does not gain us any more favor with God. In fact, by recognizing and admitting/confessing our sin we leave room for Jesus and his righteousness to save us.

Similar to the first point, we often see people refuse to apologize because what they did wasn’t that bad, especially compared to other sins. This leads to half apologies and relative comparisons. Or what I like to call the celebrity apology: “I am sorry you were offended.” Recently I saw an article about a college soccer player who was kicked off the team for giving the middle finger to a television camera. The player is now suing the school because she felt the punishment was too harsh. The article quoted her “apology” to the school: “I did not intend to offend anyone. I was making a celebratory statement that was seriously misinterpreted and misjudged.” When I asked my kids what they thought about this apology, my 6-year old said, “Well…she forgot to say sorry.” No matter how wrong another person’s judgment of our wrongdoing might be, as Christians we should still be ready to acknowledge what we did do wrong, admit it and turn from it.

This brings us to the last reason it is hard to say sorry: there are real consequences to admitting we were wrong. Relationships are broken, we might have to make amends, there may even be legal ramifications. And someone we know is likely keeping a record of our misbehavior and we don’t want to give them more ammunition in a future conflict. This reality presents a big opportunity to believe the Gospel and trust God to take care of us. Romans 8 reminds us that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Though it sometimes feels like we are dying when we repent, we can know for sure that Jesus took our ultimate punishment on the cross. We don’t need to fear any earthly consequences, knowing that the Lord is working them for our good. And repentance does result in death, the death of our sinful nature which leads us to be more like Jesus.

So, if it is hard for us to say sorry for real, how can we get better at this important part of the Christian life? As is often the case, the Westminster Shorter Catechism has a good answer. Question 87 asks what is repentance unto life? The answer: repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

How do we say sorry? We admit we are sinners, apprehend the mercy of Jesus and turn from sin…to new obedience, trusting the Holy Spirit to give us the grace to do so in his strength. As we tell our kids repentance is an apology with legs. It is evidence of our heart’s inclination to be reconciled with God and others. It is more than just easy-to-say words, requiring true sorrow for our sin and a desire to restore relationships and, ultimately, to be more like Jesus.

In the new year, let’s commit to apologize honestly for the times we are wrong and avoid having to protect our homes from the Wet Bandits.

Author: Jon Levy

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