Sorry Isn't Different
I have four sisters and brothers. When we were young, the family used to travel in an Oldsmobile station wagon, the kind with the chrome roof rack and the wood grain side paneling. As we grew, it was a tight squeeze to get everyone in there.
Sometimes we’d draw imaginary lines in the vinyl (or upholstery, depending on the model), to create the illusion of personal space. On bad days, I may or may not have smacked my little sister’s hand when she crossed it.
A predictable sequence of events follows:
Sister: “Mom! Steve hit me.”
Mom: “Steve! Tell Cindy you’re sorry.”
Me: “Sorry.” (Heavy on the sarcasm, with an eye roll for added effect.)
Fast forward five minutes.
Or thirty, depending on the length of the trip.
Repeat the entire cycle. Then, repeat it again. Ad nauseam.
Let’s pose this question: “How sorry was I?”
If the behavior in question keeps repeating? Not very.
Jesus’s forerunner, John the Baptist, says a hallmark of authentic spirituality is a commitment to change, transformation that eclipses my half-hearted juvenile apologies. He says it this way:
“Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk. 3:8a, 9b)
“Repentance” (literally, “a turning”) is evidenced by a consistent change in behavior.
“Sorry,” on the hand, can mean:
“I’m frustrated I got caught.”
“I feel momentary remorse.”
“This is the socially acceptable response to restore harmony.”
For John, repentance is a commitment to amends, not a verbal apology. If you have any exposure to the recovery movement, you know that to make amends is to produce evidence that mirrors a sustained heart transformation.
It says, “Because I acknowledge a wrong committed against you, I want to do whatever is in my power to do right by you.” In many instances, the distance between the initial hurt and the attempted restoration takes more than the eight seconds I took to manufacture a “sorry” to my sister.
Repentance is a soul-searching work.
It asks, “What was behind that impulse?
Where did it come from? Why did I act on it?
Where am I self-protecting? Self-promoting?
Answers to these questions don’t excuse away behavior. Not at all.
But they do help us move past “sorry” to “different.”
I don’t want to be sorry. I want to be different.
I can be sorry and never produce any fruit that supports my claim.
But if I’m serious about being different, I have to change the core make-up of the tree.
I have to be open to getting pruned, which hurts.
And committed to watering, which is tedious.
And exposure to sunlight, which requires a level of disclosure I may run from.
A sorry is simple. It is rote and reflexive.
Different is difficult.
It takes time, brutal truth-telling, humility, discipline and a willingness to be open to grace.
Sorry asks you to take my word for it.
Different creates boxes of evidence that show I’ve been serious about doing the work and allowing God to do the work in me.
Dare for different.