“I’m sorry.” Why are those two little words so difficult to say?
I made a mistake. I need to apologize. It’s not that hard.
So why is it so hard?
Maybe there’s a better question. Why is it so hard to say I’m sorry and really mean it? Or even better, what does it mean to really mean it?
That’s the real question: what does “being sorry” really mean?
Apologize … and MEAN it
I know this will shock you, but I occasionally broke the rules as a kid. I recall my mom telling me to apologize to someone. I’d comply grudgingly, and she’d say, “Now go back and say it like you MEAN it.”
Dad was a bit more concrete. “If you’re not sorry, I’ll MAKE you sorry!” Mostly an idle threat, but it worked on a little kid.
Sorry was about feeling bad. Sorry meant regret and shame and fear. If you felt enough of that stuff, then you were really sorry.
Jesus didn’t say much about feeling sorry, but He did talk about repentance. In Luke 13:3 He says, “…But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Especially coming from Jesus, that’s the sort of thing you take seriously. Repent or die? I’ll feel bad, guilty, scared—I’ll feel guilty and regretful, I’ll beat myself up. Whatever it takes, I’ll be as sorry as possible to avoid that sort of punishment.
Except—that doesn’t really fit with the rest of Jesus’ message. He doesn’t seem to be about instilling regret, shame, and fear.
In John 8 the religious leaders confronted Jesus with a woman caught in adultery. After He dealt with the leaders, He was alone with the woman. At the end of their conversation, He doesn’t embarrass or rebuke her or tell her to slink away in shame. Instead He simply instructs her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Maybe Biblical repentance isn’t about feeling bad. Maybe it’s not a feeling at all.
Maybe repent is a verb.
Biblical repentance means “to turn.” Jesus wants me to turn away from sin and toward God. He wants me to adopt God’s perspective. He doesn’t want me to feel bad—He wants me to leave my life of sin.
In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul discusses an issue of correction with the church. He explains that his intent wasn’t to harm them. Then in verse 10 he says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Godly sorrow brings repentance that … leaves no regret.
Mom was right
Now that I think about it, that’s really what my mom wanted as well. She wasn’t interested in making me feel ashamed, but she did want me to turn away from wrong behavior.
I still need to apologize.
“I’m sorry.” I acknowledge and accept responsibility for my actions. I want to learn from my mistakes and make better choices. I want to look in God’s direction, not my own. I want a new beginning.
I want to move forward in faith, hope, and love.
Do you struggle to repent without feeling guilty or ashamed?