“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
I remember distinctly the moment I decided that sometimes you have to apologize even if you don’t mean it.
I was having a disagreement with a friend (we were very young) and it appeared neither of us was going to give in. My choices were continue bickering unnecessarily (we are still both very stubborn) or say the words he needed to hear, even if I didn’t mean them.
At the time I was proud of myself, and considered my apology an example of how I was the bigger person. I patted myself on the back for making the decision to prioritize my friendship over a petty argument. For young me, it seemed like the right decision.
But as an adult, I now realize how detrimental this type of apology is.
That first vacuous apology showed me how easy it is to half heartedly take responsibility for something you aren’t actually sorry for. You can say the words, and even if you don’t mean them, you somehow still think that counts.
It’s easy to think that the other person needs needs nothing more than words. That regardless of the intent behind them, hearing that you are sorry should be good enough.
And it’s not.
The act of apologizing is important, don’t get me wrong. The words need to be said, or there can never be resolution. But they can’t stand alone.
If I don’t know why I’m apologizing, if I’m not actually sorry, or if I intend to repeat the same behavior in the future, I’m not giving the situation the validity it deserves. I’m not treating it seriously, and I’m not deserving of forgiveness.
And that’s true whether I’m apologizing to my friend, or confessing my sins.
A half hearted apology means that I’m not truly invested in the relationship I’m attempting to mend. And while that’s very serious when I’m dealing with my friends, it’s even more so when I’m talking about my relationship with Christ.
I’m overdue for confession. And as I’ve been considering what I need to talk about with my spiritual father, I’ve noticed that there are definitely a few repeat offenders on my list. Which has led me to wonder if I’m using confession as a half hearted apology.
I have wondered if I confess like I apologize to my sister for borrowing her shirt without asking: with every intention of doing it again.
And if that’s the case, why am I going to confession?
I talked a few weeks ago about my spiritual father (he’s awesome) and the reason my relationship with him is so important. One of those reasons is that he helps keep me honest in confession. Because he has been through so much of my spiritual life with me, he helps to keep me aware of where I’m making progress, and where I am not.
Confession is supposed to be about mending a relationship, one that I have strained. Even though there is no doubt that I am the problem, I do still find it difficult to truly accept responsibility. Yet if I don’t truly intend to change, I can never take a step towards mending the relationship.
I’m certainly not perfect, and it’s disheartening to make the same mistakes over and over which, if I’m honest, is something I’ll probably continue to do. So what I’m working on (with my friendships and my confession) is making sure that I not only acknowledge that I have acted wrongly, but that I intend to make a change.
And if I don’t intend to make a change, at least not yet or not fully, I should be honest enough to admit that, rather than hide behind empty words.
Because the sacrament of confession itself is a piece of the larger story of repentance. As important as it is for me to confess, and acknowledge my sins, I also need to make a genuine effort to not repeat the same sins. Because if I don’t change, I’m stuck in the same cycle of detrimental behavior and empty apology forever. And while that certainly sounds a lot easier, it isn’t helpful to my spiritual life.
Or my relationships.
And I owe it to myself, my friends, and to Christ Himself, to hold myself to a higher standard than that.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.
For more on forgiveness, check out this episode of Be the Bee: