I have a teenage daughter. She loves the Lord, she’s funny, she’s sports obsessed, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. That being said, she has teenage tendencies that ever so often make my skin crawl. She went through this stage a few years back where her apologies were driving me crazy. I would get on her for something, and then she would say, “I’m sorry?”
It took me a while to figure out the nuance in her apology that was maddening, but then it hit me: these alleged apologies were presented in the form of a question. The words were right; her heart was not.
Now it has become a family joke, and we often laugh when one of us apologizes in the form of a question. You should try it. Next time you totally mess something up, just casually say, “I’m sorry?” The person will appreciate your words all the while wondering why they are annoyed with you.
I have a hard time when my kids give me endless apologies when I know their actions will not likely change. As parents, we know all too well that saying the words “I’m sorry” is not the same as truly being sorry. Our kids recognize that showing remorse is the appropriate reaction but sometimes don’t really mean it when it’s offered.
But then I’m reminded how often I engage in this same behavior as an adult. How often do we give a casual “I’m sorry” in our Christian walk? Our words may be right, but our heart is not. We know it’s the right thing to do, but we don’t really mean it. We aren’t changed.
James warns us about saying the right words and knowing the right protocol but continuing to live in a way that’s inconsistent with the word of God. He refers to this as being hearers of the word but not doers, which is just deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). In other words, listening to and knowing God’s words (and saying the right things) is not enough if we aren’t changed as a result. Our kids can be good at this. So can we.
A good way to know if we’re falling into this trap is to look at how we operate when obedience is inconvenient. Do we know what’s right but instead throw out a casual “I’m sorry” as we march right down the path of least resistance? Are our kids saying the right words while their hearts reveal the ugly truth that there’s been no change on the inside?
John 14:15 says if we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments. Practically speaking, what commandments are difficult for you to live out with your heart and actions as opposed to just your words? A few paraphrased examples:
Keep your word
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. (Matthew 5:37)
But it’s just a little white lie. I’m sorry?
Love your enemies
Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. (Matthew 5:44–46)
But this person was awful to my kids, and I can’t get over that. I’m sorry?
Don’t be anxious about anything, but release it to the Lord in prayer. (Philippians 4:6–7, emphasis added)
My child is struggling in school, and I’m worried you don’t care because I don’t see you fixing this, Lord. I’m sorry?
Get rid of anything that causes you to sin
If it’s your right eye, gouge it out and throw it away. (Matthew 5:29–30)
It’s not really gossip. I just feel like everyone should know that he/she is not genuine and might be doing things with the wrong motivation. I’m sorry?
Share your faith
Go and tell everyone about me, and I’ll be with you as you do it. (Matthew 28:19–20)
I’m afraid I’m going to hurt our friendship or that it might be looked down on in the workplace. I’m sorry?
Care for the poor, widows, and orphans
God’s love in us is not evident when we walk away from those around us in need. We are to show God’s love in “deed and in truth” not in “word or talk.” (1 John 3:17–18)
We are so busy that I don’t know how I can take on more without it being really hard on my family. I don’t have that much to offer, and there are lots of other people that could give more. I’m sorry?
Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t speak about apologies. It speaks in terms of asking others for forgiveness. Maybe that’s because it’s easy to say we are sorry for something but never make a change or repent from that behavior—you know, when you find yourself apologizing like a teenager and ending it with a question mark. God wants more from us. He wants our “sorry” to lead to repentance. And he wants our head knowledge to change our hearts and our actions. He wants that for us and he wants it for our children.
So, let’s join together and commit to being doers of our faith and not just hearers. Oh, and if this article offended you (like it did me) for being a little blunt, I say: I’m sorry?