Jim Harnish

Learning to Say, “I’m Sorry”

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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. 

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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