The one word we want to hear when people wrong us; the one word we are expected to say when we wrong others. The universal word that presents regret and asks for forgiveness in return. Or does it?
In today’s society, we have perhaps lost the moral meaning behind the word “sorry”. We use it daily as a way to snuff the anger of sadness from a person we’ve hurt, in order to avoid their wrath, or to avoid having a guilty conscience. In other words, we merely use the word “sorry” to “justify” ourselves. By that I don’t mean our actions become the “right” thing to do, we just brush away the wrong thing we did and say “it’s okay”. Forgiveness is what we expect to follow.
But is that all it is? Just say “sorry”, walk away and everything magically becomes okay? When people wrong us and then apologise, under what circumstances do we forgive them? Well ideally, as long as they don’t do it again. If you are regretful about something, you can’t change the past, but at the least you wouldn’t do it again in the future right? How is it regret when you have no problem doing it again, hurting others again in the same way? The word “sorry” has no meaning unless you take action about it. Apologizing “like you mean it” (think back to parents when you were young) is one which expresses regret and also the desire to take action to capitalise on that regret; to do something, make changes, to avoid committing the same act in the future.
We often find ourselves staring at the other person who hurts us a second time after they apologise and thinking: “They weren’t sorry” But having said that we can’t be expected to do something such that we’ll never ever commit the same act again. We are far from perfect and it is impossible for us to refrain from making the same mistake again. In such a scenario what is our attitude? Is it “Oh, then don’t bother saying sorry because you’re bound to do it again eventually”? That would be a harsh way to treat others and we would likewise find it a harsh way to be treated.
As long as you tried your best (read my “Human Limit” article) to change and take counter-measures from doing the same hurtful thing, wouldn’t that be sufficient for the other person? After all it is all you can reasonably expect from any person, and even yourself. Everyone is bound to fail eventually, there is no eternal safeguard against failure, but when we try our best it will at least stave off that moment from occurring as if we never tried and it does let the other person know that we cared enough to put our effort into making those changes.
Having said that, we can also align this idea with “repentance”; another way of “saying sorry to God”. The same concepts apply here. We show regret and ask God to forgive us. “True repentance” brings forgiveness, in that, we actually “mean it” when we say “sorry” to God. If we recognise our sin, show God our regret for it, and take measures to try and not do it again, then God forgives us and justifies us through His son, Jesus Christ.
And again, no-one is perfect, ever. Christian or non-Christian you cannot expect anyone to refrain from sin ever again. Hence we are bound by a life of sin, in that we will continue sinning to our earthly grave. But what God desires is a heart that shows regret, and that tries its best to not sin again (though it is inevitable); that is the way we achieve righteousness from God.
The next time to say sorry to someone, say it like you mean it. Take actions to stop yourself from making that same mistake again. Communicate to the other person that you do care and that you are trying your best to not hurt them; in a realistic scenario they will understand and appreciate your effort. Take actions to stop sinning against God. He is the one who knows whether you’re trying or not; other people may never know whether you tried your best or not for them, but God definitely will.