Two words that can change your relationships for a lifetime.
To this day, I’m haunted by the cruel things I said to my sister as a smug teenager. I knew how to push her buttons with something she was self-conscious about — and I did it regularly. Our verbal fights were brutal. I remember many of them ending with things like, “I wish you were never born” and “I hope your first child dies in the womb.” It’s gut-wrenching to write because of the terrible venom in those words. Saying “I’m sorry,” even years later, just doesn’t seem to be enough.
As we join with family and friends this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, chances are there’s a relationship (or two or three) needing healing from past hurts. When we look at the Gospel, we see why understanding the statement “I’m sorry” is vital. It becomes more than just two words in sequence.
Although Jesus never had the need to apologize, He lived in such a way that kept Him from needing to. We aren’t sinless as He was, however, so saying “I’m sorry” is a natural and necessary part of our lives. As I look at Jesus, here’s what I’m learning about what will make my “I’m sorry” matter:
1. Admit I’m a failure (not just once, but repeatedly)
I’m a disappointment. I’m a failure. A loser. I’ve always known it, and now I’m affirming it. And I’m not the only one. We all are. We’re all incredible failures. Time after time, we choose to put ourselves first. We act like little gods, thinking we know best. We’ll do whatever it takes to validate the reputation we want. We put on a front around those we want to impress, but our true (and sometimes ugly) colors spill out on the people closest to us. Isn’t it true that those we love most, know us the best?
When we see and acknowledge our shortcomings, we can move forward. Jesus gives us a new identity and a new way to live. He invites us to leave our old ways behind and take on a new reputation: the reputation of his dearly loved and only Son, a reputation we can be proud of. As children of God, we are adopted and welcomed in, by no merit of our own. When we see ourselves for who we really are, we see what a gift that really is.
But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 )
2. Realize I’m no better than anyone else and that will never change
I’ve allowed myself to play the comparison game. Sometimes I feel like I’m nicer, smarter, funnier and overall a more valuable person than insert names here. Part of understanding “I’m sorry” is seeing ourselves at an equal level with everyone else. While it’s easy to judge our choices more favorably than everyone else’s, our default response is always to be selfish — we make choices based on what makes us happy or makes us look good.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Phil. 2:3–4)
When I look at myself from our Creator’s view, I start to see why every soul matters. We are all painted from the same brush, smudged by our own brokenness and in need of restoration. When we recognize that we’re all crafted from the same hand, we see that we’re not so different from each other. God didn’t spend “a little more time” on you, nor did He do that for me. We’re all part of His handiwork, unique masterpieces with unique beauty.
3. Be OK with not having all the answers
For years I found great pride in having an answer for everything, and I fought for my opinions like they were absolute truth. Often, we get caught up in always needing to have an answer, thinking this makes us look smarter or more credible. Yet even Jesus, who quite literally had the answers to all of life’s questions, still listened and asked great questions. We might think we have all the answers, but we don’t. We can’t, at least not in this life.
To make “I’m sorry” matter to our loved ones, we need to rest in not having an answer to every problem or question. Instead, we need to earnestly listen and respond with love, as Jesus did.
“I’m sorry” may seem like a small offering to make to a family member or friend who we’ve hurt. Coupled with the truth of the Gospel, however, honest apologies can humble us and be a bridge to healing: we are failures, we’re no better than anyone else and we don’t have all the answers. Jesus didn’t need to apologize, but His grace and love enables us to — and that is something to be thankful for.