sorry

Image result for sorry board game

When I was a child I used to play a board game called Sorry. It is a version of the classic Ludo where you had to get your counters around the board (by way of dice throws) and back to your home before anyone else. The apology part of the game was that if you landed on a square occupied by one of your opponents’ counters you could send that counter back to the start, and you were meant to say ‘sorry’. My recollection is that I was not sorry at all and was actually rather pleased when I was able to do that to someone else’s counter – my ‘sorry’ was not at all heartfelt. Of course I was less happy when it happened to me.

I wonder whether there are times when our ‘sorry’ prayers are perhaps less heartfelt than they could be. I think we can judge this by using a repeatometer. The repeatometer measures how often and how soon after we have prayed for forgiveness we repeat the thought, action, words or attitude that led us to seek forgiveness in the first place. The higher the frequency and the sooner the ‘offence’ the less heartfelt the apology is. It’s not an exact science (but then it doesn’t exist in reality anyway) but it may be a useful rule of thumb. Of course it may also be that we have got into a cycle of habitual behaviour that we are finding difficult to break and we may need to get some help with that.

I wonder too whether we sometimes use ‘sorry’ prayers as a way of ‘clearing the cobwebs’ so that the things we are sorry about don’t accumulate too much. I am reminded of the story of a woman who, in church prayer meetings, would always pray that God would clear out the cobwebs in our life. One day a young person could not resist it and blurted out, “No, Lord! Kill the spiders!”

There’s an element of truth in that story. Sometimes when we say sorry to God we also need to take action (including asking for his Spirit’s help) in dealing with the problem at root cause so that we are less likely to stumble again. That too may need us to get some help or accountability support from someone we trust.

Of course the Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sorry’ much when it comes to our relationship with God, it prefers to use the old fashioned word ‘metanoia’.

What? Well the original New Testament manuscripts were written in Ancient Greek (not King James English) and that is the Greek word that is used to refer to us having a change of heart and mind and a change of direction. We translate it as ‘repentance’ but that’s a word that is not really used today outside of churches. So change of heart and mind and direction is perhaps a more accessible concept for our culture.

You need to change direction when you realise that the way you are headed is not the way you want to go. You need to change your heart and mind when you realise that you are wrong and want to realign yourself with what is right. Put the two together and you get a good summary of what ‘repentance’ is about – realising that we are headed away from God and that our self-centred approach was wrong and deciding to head back to God and to live life the way he recommends. Jesus’ wonderful story of the ‘prodigal son’ is a beautiful example of that (Luke 15). There are elements of contrition, regret and new resolve within the process too, but let’s not overcomplicate things.

To go back to our Sorry board game. A sorry prayer happens when God’s Spirit lands on us and shows us that we need a change of mind and direction and we head back home. (Yes, I know it’s not a perfect illustration but you get the point don’t you?)

The brilliant thing is that God is longing for us to play say sorry and metanoia-ise. He gives us his Spirit to nudge us and help us to realise what’s going on. When our spirit finally resonates at the same frequency as the Spirit of God we realise what we are doing and how that is wrecking our relationship with God, others and even ourselves and we do an about turn. And when we do, he is there waiting to embrace and celebrate and welcome us back. He offers complete forgiveness (although we may have to suffer the human consequences of our actions) and a fresh start and wipes the slate completely clean. How?

That’s what Easter is all about – God does all that is necessary to make our metanoia completely effective. If you want to know more, have a read of my series on the ‘atonement’ that begins here.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Was Elton John wrong?

After a couple of days’ respite, the incessant flow of bloggerel resumes. Sorry about that.

I am sorry if you missed me during my days off. Or I am sorry if you are disappointed that I have started again. Either way, I am sorry.

It's not Elton John, but you get the idea...
It’s not Elton John, but you get the idea…

Elton John sang in 1976, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word…” I am not sure that this is the case. Sorry is a complex word. It only consists of four different letters (‘r’ repeated) but it can mean so much when we say it, and saying it can be really complex. If it trips off our tongue and we don’t mean what we say, it is devalued, trivialised, almost irrelevant. On the other hand, it can be really difficult for us to say it and mean it sometimes, especially if we feel badly hurt ourselves. But I don’t think it is the hardest word. Perhaps the hardest word is what we say in response to ‘sorry’. I think it often costs more to forgive than to ask for forgiveness.

I have been considering all sorts of different analogies for ‘sorry’ (including labrador dogs, cowboys’ revolvers and blowing up a balloon [probably best not to ask!]) but all of them are inadequate. I think that is because ‘sorry’ is unique as a word and as a concept: ‘sorry’ can be liberating for both the forgiver and the forgivee. It can release forgiveness when someone is finding it difficult to do that themselves, and it enables grace to flow when perhaps pride or hurt have hardened hearts. It is the beginning of restored relationships and enables fresh starts.

I know that I regularly have to say ‘sorry’ to God and too often have to say ‘sorry’ to other people. But I hope that I never take it lightly when I say it or when someone says it to me. It is a precious gift to be cherished.

Be blessed, be a blessing.