Repentance is one of those words that people in church like to throw around, but I think the word has a much broader appeal. When was the last time you offended someone? Stepped on someone’s toes unintentionally? Said something hurtful, stayed silent when you should have spoken up – spoke out when you should have stayed silent? What do you do when “Sorry” isn’t enough?
Mistakes, offenses, lapses in judgement, social faux pas are inevitable unless you live in a bubble or a cave. I have blogged a bunch about what happens when you’ve been hurt, offended, abused, misjudged – but what about when you’re the one in the wrong?
Sadly, I have what feels like a lifetime of experience with saying I’m Sorry. I often speak without thinking, act without fully thinking through the consequences, and have a social filter that’s generally malfunctioning to varying degrees. People have sent me notes and email weeks and months after a conversation to say I’ve offended them – but I’ve long forgotten the comment and any surrounding context.
All that to say: I get how important saying sorry is. Sorry isn’t just an apology, it’s an acknowledgement of hurt, of wrongdoing, of guilt. But sometimes sorry isn’t enough.
Whether the fault is yours or not, if you’ve offended an apology is the least you can do. But how sorry are you?
Remorse is feeling bad about something. You admit that you were wrong – you’re genuinely sorry – but remain largely unaffected by it. What happened doesn’t affect you significantly enough for a change of behavior. When people tell me months later that a conversation we had offended them because I used x word or phrase, I’m remorseful (because obviously that comment has bothered them all this time) and I apologize, but the likelihood of saying something else inappropriate or silly is very high because I can’t recall what I did wrong in the first place.
Repentance includes remorse. You apologize for doing the wrong and are genuinely sorry. You may have a physical reaction to the hurt you’ve caused – you may feel sick, shake/tremble, have tears well up. You proactively take steps to make sure you don’t repeat that mistake – it’s ingrained on your conscience of how you made another person feel.
Repentance brings change, remorse brings an apology. When my brother and I were kids, he would rip the arms and legs off my Barbies and in retaliation I would rip the arms and heads off his G.I. Joes. Now, we both felt remorse and apologized – but the remorse was because we got caught not because we felt bad for our sibling. And in this instance, the consequence of remorse was that the offense (the tragic and cavalier dismemberment of G.I. Joe and Barbie) continued for many years.
When a man is caught in adultery he can feel remorse, but not repentance. He’s sorry he got caught. But the man who’s truly repentant makes changes so it doesn’t happen again – maybe he commits to not working late, asks someone else to hold him accountable for his time, addresses what’s not working in the marriage, etc.
Recently I not only offended a friend, but hurt them. Part of it was a misunderstanding which I did my utmost to explain – but that band-aid didn’t fix everything. I repeatedly said I was sorry. I felt sick to my stomach, couldn’t sleep for two days, and couldn’t even go near the location of the offense. I believe that’s true repentance. My friend accepted my apology, but I’m taking it a step further and making changes to ensure I don’t repeat that offense. Does that wipe away the hurt? No, but (and perhaps I’m alone in this thinking) I believe we learn as much or more from failure as we do success. If we can learn from the experience, to me, at least it wasn’t a wasted experience.
Was there a time in your life that you needed someone’s repentance and got only remorse? Do you struggle to say you’re sorry? What was the biggest lesson you learned from a failure? I appreciate everyone who takes the time to comment, and I read every one.