Look who’s sorry now

Who’s sorry now? Apparently everybody.

Elizabeth Bernstein’s column on relationships in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday explores the growing tendency to track down people on the web and apologize for something that happened years ago.

As she points out, email or Facebook makes us braver and more impulsive. And there are even websites, such as ThePublicApology.com or Perfectapology.com to help us achieve absolution.

Forget to return a library book? Date your ex-roommates ex-boyfriend? Tell your brother-in-law not to marry your sister? No problem. One guy, she reports, contacted a university that admitted him 13 years ago and apologized for not filling out the questionnaire they sent him about why he chose not to attend.

As Bernstein points out:

We live in a self-help culture, where therapists, 12-step programs guides and talk show hosts are forever reminding us that forgiveness and gratitude are the way to happiness (and sobriety). Many times, a long overdue apology, like a confession, does more for the person offering it up than it does for the one receiving it.

That’s the problem, isn’t it. Things often get messy when we do them for ourselves. As I’ve pointed out, our fallenness is not about our inability to do anything good but about our inability to do anything wholly good. The self always gets in the way.

And while confession is good for the soul, it’s often a self-centered project. Forgiving is the really hard work.

Yes, I can see the need in some cases to set things right. A former student sent me a check last year for $150 I had loaned him years ago and, quite frankly, had forgotten about. He clearly needed to set things right for his own conscience sake, and as it turned out, I needed the money. But the point here is not about the apology- it’s about setting things right.

But what the Scripture really requires of us is forgiving others. Seventy times seven. Even when they didn’t ask. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” as Paul so aptly puts it in Colossians 3.

The world isn’t always a better place because we track people down and tell them we are sorry, although saying we’re sorry can be a good thing. But it is always better when we stop keeping score, harboring grudges, keeping track of our emotional or material debtors, and nursing our bitterness. The word for forgive Paul uses here is charizominoi—to freely and graciously give, without expecting or exacting a payment.

We don’t need a website to do that.

6 thoughts on “Look who’s sorry now”

  1. “Forgiving is the really hard work.”

    What a good reminder. It humbles me to keep in mind that for each apology I make, the other person still has a hard work ahead of them. If we keep that in mind, if we understand the difficulty each transgression causes, maybe we’ll transgress a little less.

  2. In the trauma recovery field, it has been learned the simple act of hearing an apology – even from a fellow recovery group member acting in place of the abuser – triggers measurable physiologicaland chemical changes in the hearer.

    When we go to a movie, we laugh, cheer, cry… and it’s just a two-dimensional image. And it’s acting… not something “real.” From whence come those chemical emmisions in the brain (and elsewhere) which manifest as what we call emotions… joy, sadness, etc.?

    It is thought the unconscious mind receives the information – be it from a movie, dream, phone call, group member, or whatever – and then influences the autonomic nervous system to instruct the brain/body to emit chemicals intended to bring the body – memory – thoughts – emotions into homeostasis.

    Same things happen at confession for the one doing the fessing up.

    Looks like the Bible is – once again – good psychology… “Confess your sins one to another that ye may be healed.”

    Keep the victory!


    1. I’m certainly not doubting your point. Certainly there is healing in confession, although I still think its problematic when I do it so I can feel better. I just wanted to say that forgiveness is the harder work, and the most important, in the long run.

      Thanks for reading and thinking and responding.

  3. When they have wronged someone, I ask my kids what they will do to make it right. Sorry does not quite cut it, and asking for forgiveness is only part way there. Penance, the acting out of our repentance, goes a long ways towards reconciliation as it shows the humility and self-sacrifice needed in order to begin rebuilding the relationship.

    Forgiveness is still hard, but is softened when the offender humbles themselves and demonstrates a real desire for reconciliation, shown by their willingness to actively make amends.

    1. I think we are responding to the same thing in different ways. My point is only that an apology on line doesn’t get us far, in terms of restitution in your remarks and forgiveness in mine.

      I think your kids are fortunate to have such thoughtful parents, by the way.

  4. What great points Wally. I don’t have anything profound to add, except that I’m thinking it may be a good idea for me to read what you wrote about confession vs.the hard work of forgiveness regularly!

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