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And yet, we love to say sorry. Sorry the weather’s bad. Sorry you had to cancel your holiday. Sorry we made eye contact on public transport. The British are experts at saying sorry.
But we’re not very good at apologising.
Frequently, when we say ‘sorry’ to any problem – even those of our own making – we expect to just move on with our lives straight afterwards. It’s become a word that covers a multitude of sins.
But often, ‘sorry’ is not enough.
In any twelve-step programme for those struggling with addiction, steps 8 and 9 are to ‘make a list of all persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all’ and to ‘make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others’.
This is apologising: acknowledging fully and naming specifically what you have done, asking how you can make it better, and then working to make amends.
But before you can complete a step that requires such strength there is serious groundwork to be done. Steps 1-7 include admitting your powerlessness, discovering a Power greater than yourself, and turning your will over to that Power. This is followed by making a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory’ of yourself before naming these shortcomings to another person and then asking your Higher Power to remove them.
A call to repentance and a message of forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. That would suggest Christians should be breaking new ground and leading the way in offering real apologies that mean something – personally and corporately.
Facing yourself and your brokenness, acknowledging the truly destructive consequences of your actions, admitting them to yourself and to others can be an impossibly scary task.
And yet Christians know not just any ‘Higher Power’ to whom they can go, but the ‘Higher Power’. The one who sees all, knows all, and yet loves the same. The one who gives us an identity apart from what we’ve done. The one who holds justice and mercy in perfect harmony. The one who makes the way of repentance and transformation possible because of the cross of Christ. The one in whom, when we come to him in repentance, we discover grace upon grace.
Alianore (formerly Nell Goddard) is the Church Partnerships Manager at International Justice Mission UK