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.

 

it’s only five letters long, but…

Forgiveness is always possible, God always allows U-turns!
Forgiveness is always possible, God always allows U-turns!

“Sorry” is such a small, simple word. It’s five letters long, but its impact can be incredible.

When small children (and sometimes adults) say ‘sorry’ to someone it’s often through gritted teeth and often under duress. But a heartfelt, humble apology is powerful. Today we heard the Prime Minister of Australia issue an apology to people affected by Australia’s forced adoption policy between the 1950s and 1970s. (See BBC website for more)

These are her powerful words:

“Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.”

“We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children.”

I can’t pretend to understand how it happened, or how it has felt to have been a victim of such a policy, but I know from reading news reports of how people have responded to the apology that it has been a powerful moment for those who have been affected and afflicted by this. ‘Sorry’ has the power to release people from resentment, anger and hurt.

Taking responsibility and apologising go hand in hand. When a child reluctantly utters the word ‘sorry’ they have not taken responsibility for what happened, they just want to avoid the consequences of not apologising (being sent to the naughty step).

Some people who are victims of the outrage may have been so scarred and traumatised by it that they find it very difficult to forgive. I understand that, and know that human forgiveness begins with a desire to forgive that sometimes has to germinate before it can begin to grow and flourish.

‘Sorry’ without taking responsibility is shallow. Taking responsibility without ‘sorry’ is heartless. When the two come together as one the process of reconciliation, healing and generous forgiveness can begin.

We all need to take responsibility for our actions and ask to be forgiven when we have hurt others or let them down. Sometimes we need to take responsibility for what someone else has done because the legacy of their actions remains long after they have left the scene, but if we belong to an institution that has been part of the problem we need to be the start of the solution.

I am grateful to God for the grace and example of the Australian PM. I pray for all those who were the victims of this heartless policy. I pray too for God to show me anyone to whom I need to apologise, taking responsibility for my actions.

God’s grace and forgiveness are always available to us. They are only restricted by our ability to ask for them and receive them. I am grateful that God offers complete forgiveness when I ask for it, having taken responsibility for what I say and do that falls short of his standards.

It’s available for you too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A new soldier was on sentry duty at the main gate. His orders were clear. No car was to enter unless it had a special sticker on the windscreen. A big Army car came up with a general seated in the back. The sentry said, “Halt, who goes there?”

The chauffeur, a corporal, says, “General Wheeler.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you through. You’ve got to have a sticker on the windshield.”

The general said, “Drive on!”

The sentry said, “Hold it! I am really sorry. You really can’t come through. I have orders to arrest you if you try driving in without a sticker.”

The general repeated, “I’m telling you, son, drive on!”

The sentry walked up to the rear window and said, “General, I’m sorry but I am new at this. Do I arrest you or the the driver?”