Today, we’re going to talk about the S-word.
No, not that S-word. The one that makes people really uncomfortable: sorry.
This entire Word series probably owes its existence in part to the current Mars Hill Bible Church sermon series 12 Words, but today’s post is a direct result.
In this series, Mars Hill Teaching Pastor Kent Dobson is breaking out his spiritual and linguistic microscope to dissect one word per month. I’m a word guy, obviously, and the series has helped me connect with the idea that we can learn a lot from the Bible, even if we only read one word at a time. That perspective has informed and influenced several Disciplehood posts over the past several months, and the recent Word series in particular.
Dobson kicked off the series in September with Here, and followed with O and Thanks in October and November, and landed on Sorry in December. And as a regular listener to his sermon podcasts, I was sorry to hear that.
It’s not that I have a problem with ‘sorry’ – quite the opposite, actually. I’m not afraid of apologizing to people when I say something stupid or make a mistake (I get lots and lots of practice, believe me), and I make ‘sorry’ a central part of my daily prayers. It’s because I think I’m pretty good at sorry that I wasn’t excited about listening to three or four sermons on the topic.
Still, I listened anyway, out of habit if nothing else, and was surprised to discover that I have plenty of room to grow when it comes to both kinds of sorry (earthly apology and heavenly repentance). We’ll tackle repentance tomorrow, but for now, let’s focus on the A-word (not that A-word; the one that really makes people uncomfortable).
When I apologize to someone, I often add a ‘but’ at the end of it: ‘I’m sorry I said what I did or did what I did, but I was reacting to what you said/did’ and it made me feel really blanky.’
I’ve always been kind of aware that when I do this, I’m legitimately owning up to my share of the problem, but much more importantly, I’m inviting/maneuvering the other person to do the same. But Dobson suggested that what we’re actually saying in this kind of apology is ‘I wish this hadn’t happened, but it’s really your fault.’
When I heard that, I realized there was a large nugget of truth there for me. And that’s a far cry from what God had in mind when he gave us the gift of the S-word, isn’t it?
As Dobson put it, ‘sorry’ is all about ‘owning our stuff’: feeling genuine remorse, confessing out loud what we’ve done wrong to the person we did it to, and promising to try not to do it again.
And when we do that, and do it right, it’s a real relief. Abandoning the pretence that we did nothing wrong and letting the truth out (unpleasant as it may be), is profoundly liberating.
But we each need to choose that liberation for ourselves – not have it (supposedly) cleverly foisted on us by the people we’ve wronged.
So I clearly need to work on owning my own stuff and being content with the internal peace that brings, whether the other people who’ve contributed to the issue are taking ownership of their stuff or not. And I think I also need to get better at forgiving them, even (or is that especially?) when they don’t apologize.
Was the phrase ‘easier said than done’ coined just for circumstances like this one? Maybe not, but it could have been…
Peace be with you.
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