Abuse, Church

I’m sorry… but for what?

Have you ever received an apology for which you felt pretty certain the wrongdoer was not really sorry?

I think we all recognize that an apology has come to mean an expression of regret over wrong-doing. I won’t go into how this differs from its original Greek meaning, which was to give a defensive argument or to offer justification for one’s stance, but the meaning of this word has come to mean something else now.

When someone apologizes in the modern sense of the word, the intent is typically an expression of guilt, where feelings of regret are often accompanied by an attempt to make amends. It is a package deal. I‘m sorry can be a chameleon, however. I’m sorry can easily be I am sorry you found out, or I am sorry that I am experiencing consequences for my behavior, or I am sorry you are responding this way. 

This is the reason I require my children to go the route of saying “Please forgive me for ____,” rather than saying “I’m sorry.” For one thing, the words I’m sorry indicate regret. How often does your child regret pushing their sibling when mom has intervened mid-fight. Requiring your child to say “I’m sorry,” promotes insincerity in my opinion. They most likely are not sorry and would have finished the job had you not intervened. Forcing them to express regret in this scenario does no one any good. However, verbally admitting to a sin makes them come face to face with their infraction and admit their specific wrong-doing. Feeling regret has nothing to do with it at this point, though we hope that at some point their conscience kicks in. It is merely an admission of guilt. In turn, the other child is then extended an opportunity to offer forgiveness, not just reply with the expected “It’s ok,” when the offense most certainly was not ok.

Apologizing is a tricky tool often used by the abuser. He apologizes, then everything is supposed to be ok. But how many times does he say “I’m sorry, then continue in the very same behavior patterns? You find that  I’m sorry is not a recognition of guilt accompanied by remorse or regret with a hope to make amends. It has become the proverbial rug under which guilt is swept in hopes of its disappearance. It becomes the get-out-of-jail-free card. Basically, it boils down to this: “I said I was sorry, so you can’t hold it against me anymore.” I am sorry becomes a meaningless, weightless, overused and abused phrase that is supposed to wipe the slate clean.

The offended is then presented with a choice: to forgive or not to forgive (at least this is how so many present it). He said he was sorry, now you have to forgive. It is the script after all. Well, this is where I argue the script needs to be rewritten.

I would like to insert an aside here. I am not advocating for withholding forgiveness. In a previous post, I referenced another blog that had an excellent article on what forgiveness is and isn’t. If you missed it you can see it by clicking here: https://songsfromthecage.com/2017/02/25/what-does-forgiveness-mean/

How many times was I told “I’m sorry” and how many times did I in turn forgive? The same infractions over and over, then apologies for those infractions time and again. An endless cycle of wiping the slate clean where you are expected to forgive and forget so that when it happens again (and it will), you are accused of not forgiving if you point out this pattern of behavior.

How handy that one can continue on their same path by simply saying I am sorry, with no requirement to change. To them, it is like a reset button, only their progress in the game is saved. They don’t have to start over, they just continue on from where they left off. In the cycle, it is no more than as if they were skipping their turn in a game. They have to go through the reconciliation/honeymoon process to lull their victim back into a dazed stupor and then they get back to their life.

My counselor gave me a fantastic resource that discussed these very things geared for this very situation. It discusses empathy, blaming, taking responsibility to name a few things. There is something in particular though that I would like to highlight. It is this statement:

The evidence of repentance requires a period of time in which there is consistent change for a year or more.

 In so many situations, church leadership rushes to reunite the couple as reconciled far sooner than is time. I won’t surmise the reasons for this because I think there are a plethora of them at play and often more than one at a time. How many women have been pushed right back into their situation because their abuser said the words “I’m sorry” and had a convincing performance of regret and expressed a desire to make amends? Time is key is establishing how “sorry” they really are.

At this point, I would like to turn over the rest of this article to the resource that she sent me. I highly encourage all of you to not only read it but print it out and familiarize yourself with it. It is broken down into easy to read categories, practical and only two pages long.


Best wishes,


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1 Comment

  • Reply Melanie June 14, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Rebecca this is wonderful. I will never forget the day my ex husband confessed to me that he was stealing from his employer. This after several months of unemployment that had already destabilized our family… I don’t recall him saying he was sorry exactly but this was the pattern, lying to me and doing something immoral, confessing it, and if I reacted as a normal person might when her kids’ home and security was threatened, then it became my issue for my anger and unforgiveness. And yes, I couldn’t bring it up again.

    This time I’d been detaching myself from him, had become willing to stand up and walk away, addressed my idols with God– He kept me and my kids financially stable, not any man…

    So when he said: I need to show you something, I knew it was another one of these confessions without repentance.

    As he was showing me the things on his work truck he was selling for cash (oh, you weren’t getting tips as a cable after all….) I felt strangely calm. I just kept saying mmhmm… mmhmm…

    Because what popped into my mind was: Joseph and Mary’s engagement.

    I know the Lord was speaking but it was such a strange thing to say to me that I was almost distracted about the criminal activity I was hearing about. When he ran out of things to tell me, he just waited for a minute. So I said: thank you for sharing this with me, and I went back inside. Definitely not the normal!

    I sat down at the table and said ok God– what the–? What does that have to do with this?

    I understood in a flash. The engagement lasted a year. For I’m sure other reasons too, but one was to prove the integrity of your betrothed. It was why Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly… Mary had “failed” that test.

    My husband was a liar and a thief. I still don’t know why he confessed that to me, maybe he thought I was close to finding out… But it was for immediate absolution, that was his only goal.

    And I kept getting upset and angry because when he apologized and I forgave him, I thought that meant what it means for all the other people– I won’t do that anymore.

    So I was always surprised. And from that day forward I didn’t have to react– when he “apologized” or “confessed”, I just said thank you for sharing… And mentally reset the clock. I think one time the clock in my mind made it to 2 months. The freedom I felt was wonderful.

    That was in 2009. He moved out at the end of 2010, refusing to live in these conditions with me who had “closed my heart” to him.

    This past Monday was the five year anniversary of our divorce. It is the day I celebrate God’s faithfulness to me and my kids and the amazing grace he showed us by setting us free… Five years of trials and tribulations but over all of that, peace.

    I’m not surprised that everything I have read since says one year or more. It’s the same time I heard from the Holy Spirit… It was the time that meant I didn’t have to wonder if it was real this time…. Because it hasn’t lasted a year, so no need to wonder, only wait.

    And because of that, one year was the length of time that set me free.

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