How To Say “I’m Sorry” And Really Mean It

Little six-year-old Kevin was supposed to be cleaning up his bedroom. When his mother came to check how he was doing the room looked like it had been hit by a hurricane.

After scolding him, she then put Kevin in “time-out” and banished him to his room for the rest of the day until it was cleaned and straighten.

At bedtime, while saying his night-time prayers and praying for the usual things little boys pray about he said:

“Dear God, I’m so sorry I made such a mess in my room today.” Then he added, “But I sure had fun doing it!”

Unfortunately, too many folks feel sorrow like little Kevin.

Wendy Donahue, a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, once wrote an article entitled “Give and take: The sport of apologizing.” While reading it, I was reminded of how difficult it is to simply say from the heart “I’m sorry.” It’s reminiscent of the 1976 hit by Elton John when he crooned the mournful ballad “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

But it also occurred to me how the word “sorry” seems to have changed its meaning and usage in our 21st-century vocabulary. British journalist, Brandon O’Neill made this observation when he wrote, “These days, we use the word sorry not only to express sorrow for a misdemeanor, but also as an alternative to “pardon” (“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that”) and “excuse me” (as in saying sorry when we bump into someone – or even, rather bizarrely, when they bump into us)”.

If we’re not careful saying, “I’m sorry” can become an overused euphemism that really lacks sincerity, or even speaks to an issue that merits an apology.

The words “sorry” and “sorrow” have a connection in origin and etymology. They share the idea of pain, suffering and distress. Saying “I’m sorry” ought to be rooted in sorrow. Being sorry means to feel regret. Compunction. Remorse. Sorrow is an expression of grief, sadness or distress caused by a loss, disappointment or pain.

When the apostle Paul wrote the first letter to the Christians at Corinth he had to correct error and condemn sin in a very pointed manner. The letter was effective and corrections were made. So, in the second letter, he wrote, “ Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing” (2 Cor 7:9).

There are several things we can learn from this.

(1) Being sorry means to accept personal responsibility for wrong-doing. An apology that blames others is not really an expression of guilt or regret.

(2) Being sorry should be the result of godly sorrow. We’ve all heard apologies that sounded contrived or coerced. Sometimes people are sorry they got caught. That kind of sorrow is a carnal sorrow, not a godly sorrow.

(3) Being sorry should lead to repentance. To repent is to change. To correct one’s course. To make amends. It is a change of heart that results in a change of behavior. To say you are sorry, but to continue engaging in the same hurtful actions is insincere and hypocritical.

A couple of other thoughts may be appropriate to an effective apology. When possible apologize in person. Not by phone. Email. Letter. Or Text. There is something efficacious about looking someone in the eye and saying, “I’m sorry.” Don’t make excuses by blaming someone else or circumstances. Avoid any “apology” the begins, “I’m sorry, but…” Or I’m sorry, if….” You know where those sentences are going.

Ali McGraw’s character in the classic movie Love Story is famous for saying, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That may have sounded romantic in the movie, but quite the opposite is true.

Real-life is about relationships where people make mistakes, use poor judgment, forget, or even sin. And such actions always impact someone we love. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Or brethren. So be willing to apologize. Simply. Sincerely. Succinctly. Because true love is always willing to say, “I’m sorry

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

2 Comments

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2 responses to “How To Say “I’m Sorry” And Really Mean It

  1. When someone makes a mess they should take responsibility to clean it up. Cleaning up the mess is not as much fun as making the mess. The little boy was sorry he made the mess and freely admitted it was fun making it.

    Many times people protest or break rules or sin because they just don’t think the rule is a just rule. Jesus taught the disciples to break the Sabbath Rule if it meant healing someone. Well now people today feel free to break the Sabbath Rule and skip church on the grounds that they need the time to reconnect and restore loving relationships with family or they need the time to buy things or make money.

    Jesus also found a clever way to save the Woman Caught in Adultery from being stoned and give her a chance to “go and sin no more.” The clever strategy blames the Woman and keeps the Man’s name out of the mess. This strategy allows the Man and other men finding themselves in similar situations to retire quietly and think about the mess they had made and how this mess affects their wife, their family and their relationship with their church family.

    You would think the church family would want the Affair brought out into the open so that both the Man and the Woman could be held accountable for their sin. And that is where our story convinces people that Jesus loved the world so much that Jesus kept the name of the Man a secret so that the Man would not receive the punishment that the “Woman” Jesus took on the Man’s behalf.

    However, our story doesn’t quite end there. The Woman Jesus pours out her heart and anoints Jesus the Teacher in front of Simon and everything seems okay (Luke 7: 36-50). And then as the Woman develops a relationship with Simon, she and others begin to see him as her rock (John 1:42; Matthew 16:17-18). Weathering the storm of a relationship with the Woman Jesus is not easy for Simon Peter. Simon puts it in her heart that she should not be sorry for outing Jesus the “Teacher of Israel” and exposing him as the one man who knows for certain that she committed adultery. She wants to reconcile her relationship with the Teacher and work for peace and so she disagrees with Simon. She tells him it is a worldly strategy and says get behind me Satan you are a stumbling block to me (Matthew 26:23).

    Jesus the Teacher of Israel and member of the Assembly wants her to be sorry for anointing him as Jesus and implicitly revealing him as her co-respondent. As a member of the Assembly, he and another Assembly member informally charge her with blasphemy and accuse her of trying to destroy people’s faith.

    This places the Woman Jesus in a very precarious situation. She is sorry she has humiliated her neighbour and wants to make amends. What can she do? As the blasphemy charge sinks in, the Woman Jesus takes a closer look at her own life and comes to the conclusion that Jesus the Teacher of Israel is right. She has not only humiliated her neighbour by disclosing her love affair so vividly, she has also set herself up for the charge of blasphemy and the scarlet robe. With Simon as her paid escort, her actions are not showing the Teacher and his faith community that she has cleaned up her act and has indeed repented. Her relationship with Simon is one that needs examining. She has made Simon a gigolo. When she realizes what she has done, she freely admits it and is truly sorry. It is not until she sees Simon as both the Sorcerer and Peter does the truth come to her, Peter, John and the household of Steven more clearly.

    She needs a man in her life who can be the Rock she deserves as God intended him to be. She should have stood her ground and asked him to marry her and walked away from him if he said no…before she paid for him to attend Assembly gatherings with her as “her” jo. How can she say she’s sorry for turning her “Jo” whom she clearly saw as her Cephas into a gigolo. It is God’s intention for Cephas to be recognized as a couple as a husband and wife and to travel as guests of other married couples, not as the “entertainment” or people who must work for their meals and accomodation (1 Corinthians 9:6).

    The Woman Jesus needs a “clean” man in her life who heeds the Word of God, is not ashamed to show his love for her and his desire for her body, and “cock a doodle do” proud to make a new covenant with her and wrap her in clean sheets (Matthew 27:58). He need not have silver and gold. He need only stand beside the Beautiful Gate with the name of Jesus Christ forever etched into his heart, knowing that this name redeems and frees himself and other people to walk the talk and leap for joy (Acts 3:6) and gladly join hands and enter the temple.

    I am sorry. I am trying to put it right. This may not be the right place or the right way to make it right. Please forgive me Ken and tell me if it is not. Your words and topic today have helped me look at Peter and John more closely. The Woman Jesus needs to learn how to say I’m sorry simply, sincerely and succinctly.

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