There are undoubtedly times in all our lives when it is right for us to say sorry. Sorry for things we have said, or indeed things we didn’t say but should have, sorry for our actions and the hurt they have caused others. Recently I’ve needed to say sorry at work to people who have felt hurt by the actions of another group, there’s a real chance that had I spoken up and passed on information earlier this hurt could have been avoided (or at least reduced); and although saying the words and feeling regret (and “wishing you’d have said something earlier”) are all relatively straightforward things to say and feel, re-building relationships are often much harder.
Often apologies are between individuals, they are personal and private – but sometimes they require more of a “corporate” apology. The Church (as an institution) has many things it has need to “apologise” for …. from modern revelations about abuse, to the wholescale persecution of other faiths and different denominations, or it’s theological justification of false ideologies and oppressive practices such as slavery and colonialism.
My own latest encounters with “sorry” have made me think about why and how we say sorry, and what purpose it can serve.
- We say sorry because we are. It might seem obvious but there needs to be a genuineness in our apologies, sorry isn’t about minimising the damage to us, or just because we’ve been “caught out”. We should understand what pain has been caused to the other person, and what we’ve done that has caused or played its part in that pain. The psalmist says a “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51.17 KJV) suggesting perhaps that our sorry should take on, absorb and carry something of the pain we have caused. “Don’t say sorry if you’re not…” I have heard myself say to my children and grand children when they think it’s the code word to get them out of trouble for a particular thing they’ve done wrong “…go and think about why you are sorry, and what you are sorry for” It seems good advice at any age perhaps.
- We say sorry not because we expect forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift, not a right, whether from God or from another individual. When we have wronged someone we have no right to expect forgiveness, but simply to hope that it might be given. Now obviously I could write a whole blog peice on how and why we should choose to forgive, and why God also chooses to forgive (and maybe I will) but thats not for here and now.
- We say sorry with the hope of healing. The act of apology has the potential to heal. That is not the same as expecting “everything to be as it was before”, it is to say the word “sorry” acknowledges and takes “responsibility for the wrong done. Sorry says “it is not your fault, you are not the one who did wrong, that was me/us”. In saying this it offers the chance for those wronged to move on to a place of healing from the hurt caused, in the knowledge that the “wrong” has been understood and acknowledged. It should also provide the opportunity for those apologising to look again at what they did wrong, and to learn from it – hopefully choosing to avoid simply actions in the future. As such, saying sorry can become at least a start of a healing process for both parties.