Learning to Say, “I’m Sorry”

Playing “Sorry!” 

Luke, our six-year-old grandson, loves to play “Sorry!”  He and his grandmother spent an afternoon recently teaching Mattie, our three-year-old granddaughter, how to play the game. IMG_0230

The goal is to be the first player to get all four of your pawns from “Start” to “Home” as directed by drawing cards.  The twist in the game is when one player draws a “Sorry!” card, which allows that player to trade places or send another player back to “Start.”  Luke says, “Sorry!”, but the grin on his face gives away the truth that he isn’t really sorry at all!

Of course, it’s just a game.  But one of the most important life lessons any of us can learn is not how to play the game, but to know how and when to say, “I’m sorry!” and really mean it.  Any growth toward spiritual, emotional, and relational health involves learning how to take responsibility for our actions, to acknowledge our mistakes and failures, to receive forgiveness, and to change our behavior in the future.  The bible calls it “repentance,” which means acknowledging when we have gone the wrong way and turning in a new direction.

The Only Way to Happiness 

The painful reality is that living with a lie runs against the grain of a healthy, joyful life.  Defending a lie and refusing to acknowledge when we have been wrong wears us out. Repentance — saying “I’m sorry” — is the only way to health, healing and happiness.

David, the King who had everything, learned the hard way to acknowledge his sin and receive forgiveness in the aftermath of his affair with Bathsheba and his attempt at a classic “cover up.”  (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15)

The 32nd Psalm describes the lesson David learned.

The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,
whose sin is covered over, is truly happy!
The one the Lord doesn’t consider guilty—
in whose spirit there is no dishonesty—
that one is truly happy!

When I kept quiet, my bones wore out…
My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought.
So I admitted my sin to you;
I didn’t conceal my guilt.
“I’ll confess my sins to the Lord, ” is what I said.
Then you removed the guilt of my sin.

By confessing his guilt and receiving forgiveness, the psalmist found genuine happiness and instructs us:

 Don’t be like some senseless horse or mule,
whose movement must be controlled
with a bit and a bridle…

The pain of the wicked is severe,
but faithful love surrounds the one who trusts the Lord.
You who are righteous, rejoice in the Lord and be glad!
All you whose hearts are right, sing out in joy!

Never Having to Say You’re Sorry 

Those of us of a certain age remember the movie, “Love Story” with it’s sappy, tear-jerking line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Biblically and psychologically, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Real love, life-giving, joy-bringing love, always means saying we are sorry for the ways our finite words, actions and attitudes contradict or fall short of the infinite love of God revealed in Jesus.  Particularly during Lent, we are reminded that the sins that nailed Jesus to the cross are the same sins that infect our lives.  Jesus is praying for us when he cries, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Tragically, we are seeing the biblical truth acted out in the inability of our President to ever acknowledge that he might be wrong. He evidently never learned to say, “I’m sorry.”

One of the most revealing moments in the Trump campaign was when he said that he doesn’t ask for forgiveness.  Like the character in a Shakespearean drama, we’ve watched him tweet a lie and then continue defending the lie, right down to today’s interview in Time magazine.  Proving the truth of the Psalmist’s words, the President appears to be a miserably unhappy man, in spite of everything he has achieved.

The Way of Repentance 

I pray that the President might learn the way of repentance that leads to joy. But the challenge during Lent is to look deeply into our own lives, to acknowledge our own sin, to seek forgiveness, and to experience the love of God that leads to joy.

An old country proverb says, “A lie may carry you far, but it will never carry you home.”  Maybe they learned that lesson playing, “Sorry!”

Grace and peace,

Jim

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Thoughts From the Jury Box

In the Jury Box 

I’ve been called for jury duty before, but this was the first time I was chosen to serve. It always reminded me of Jesus saying, “Many are called but few are chosen.”  (Matthew 22:14)  I was reeking with patriotism when I took my place in the jury box.

The experience reminded me of the critical importance of our system of justice and of how dangerous it is for our President to disparage or attempt to discredit it.  With its imperfections, it’s still our best hope for living toward the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” I’ve often said that I don’t tell mother-in-law jokes because I had such a great one and I don’t tell attorney jokes because I know so many good ones.  The only people I can make fun of are preachers!

9508d83fc6c0b38001df4794eda8df09The Judge was relentless in reminding the jury that the only thing we could consider was the evidence as presented in the trial in light of the specific laws that applied to the case.  It meant that if I was to fulfill my duty, I had to lay aside some of my pastoral instincts and deal only with the evidence and the law.

The Quality of Mercy 

Driving to and from the Courthouse, however, I remembered Shakespeare’s lines about mercy and justice in “The Merchant of Venice.”  You can hear Laura Carmichael (Edith on “Downton Abby”) recite Portia’s speech here.  I encourage you to take time to read and reflect on Portia’s words.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown…
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

Shakespeare knew the Bible.  He had read Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 3:4-5)  

Portia’s speech was Shakespeare’s application of the epistle of James:

“Judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”  (James 2:13)

The play demonstrated what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Lent is a perfect time to remember that justice is getting what we deserve; mercy is receiving what we need. The mercy we receive is in equal measure to the mercy we give.

I’m grateful for blindfolded Lady Justice holding the scales in her hand, but I’m even more grateful for the clear-eyed gaze of God’s love and grace that sees the justice I deserve, but offers me the undesired mercy I so desperately need.  The hymn writer got it right who wrote:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

During this Lenten season, may we pray for mercy, and may we render deeds of mercy equal to the mercy we receive.

Grace and peace,

Jim