Will Time Tell If They Are Really Sorry?

Oct 24, 2022

You know those apologies where the letters of the words are spelling the correct message – “I a-m s-o-r-r-y” – but are conveying just the opposite? “You’re an idiot.” “You had it coming.” “If I could, I’d do it all over again.”

Those “mixed messages” are sometimes transparent and sometimes opaque. Even when your gut howls, “Liar, liar, liar,” you can still be confused about how to respond. Cognitive dissonance, when you try to hold two contradictory beliefs at once, embezzles your mental creativity and emotional resilience.

You are designed to live aligned with truth, and truth never contradicts itself.

If only in these situations it was as easy as saying to the (un)apologetic offender, “I’m sorry. You must not be aware of this, but you are sending mixed messages. Your words are saying one thing while your facial expressions, vocal tone and volume, and movement of limbs and torso are announcing a contradiction.” The then would respond with, “Oh, however inconsiderate of me! I am so sorry. Both for what I did in the beginning and for not conveying my true thoughts in a congruent manner.” This would be said with palms open and extended, leaning slightly forward, eyes upturned, and tonal sweetness.

If only.

While room must be given for legitimate differences in communication style, there is one phrase which is a timeless measurement of truth. “Actions speak louder than words.” Or, put another way, “Time will tell.”

Time will always reveal truth, but not always on the schedule we’d prefer.

Seeing what’s true, whether in ourselves or someone else, sometimes occurs in one incident. Rob me at gunpoint, and I don’t need to have that experience repeatedly to know what kind of person you are. Turn down several invitations to lunch with an apology and promise to get together another time, and it will take time to assess whether this is a passive way to say, “Stop bothering me. I’m not interested in having lunch.” or “Please be patient. My schedule is so packed right now, but it won’t always be this way.”

What do you do when more than 24 hours are needed to reveal truth and more than one action?

Understand the difference between remorse and repentance.

Esau, after being cheated out of his birthright, experienced tremendous pain. Genesis 27 records, “he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry.” Esau bore no fault for Jacob’s treachery. He wasn’t complicit in the situation. Yet his remorse wasn’t repentance. Repentant people don’t plot payback and revenge.

Judas, after betraying Jesus, also experienced incredible pain and remorse. Matthew 27 records, “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’”

This part of the crucifixion story is often skipped in sermons and studies. Judas has nothing to gain socially by returning the money and admitting his wrongdoing. He knows his place as one of The Twelve is forever altered. He understands the “scarlet letter” he’ll wear. Why not double-down and attempt to further ingratiate himself with the powerful leaders who hated Jesus and had not only welcomed but paid for his information? He would have prospects for serving as a paid spy in the future. Jesus wasn’t the only enemy of the influential elite.

Another betrayer in this story is Peter. I wonder if he flinched and had to wage thought wars the rest of his life whenever a rooster crowed. Cock-a-doodle-do. “Hey, there, Peter the betrayer. Remember the night you…” “Get behind me, Satan.”

Both men betrayed. Both changed their mind. Both experienced emotional and mental anguish. Yet one stopped at remorse, while the other continued to repentance.

Remorse stops at feeling pain over one’s deeds.

Remorse remains me-centered. It is my hurt, my pain, my mistakes, my choices which my mind focuses on. In the periphery, I can see and even acknowledge I hurt you, but my lens stays fixed on myself. In the end, this always leads to death.

              Perhaps it’s not the swift gruesome death Judas chose. It might be the slow death of my conscience. A cancer which destroys empathy, sensitivity, appreciation. Or it becomes a macular degeneration of the soul, depriving my ability to see the extent of my self-centeredness.

Remorse stops with me.           

Repentance stops with you.

Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” Alone. Isolated. Grieving. How could he ever go back? How could he face the others? Sure, they’d run off, too, but they weren’t the big mouth who’d boasted of no-matter-what loyalty.

Yet…by the time the “first day of the week” had come, Peter’s returned. When the women run from the tomb to tell the disciples it was empty, there’s John…and Peter.

Peter fought to refocus his thoughts on others and his feet followed.

Repentance becomes you-centered. It is your feelings and needs I focus on. I’m not the only one in the picture. So are you.

Both remorse and repentance admit wrongdoing. Only one also accepts ownership of impact.

Proverbs 16:6 declares, “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.”

See what it doesn’t say? “By admitting wrongdoing, apologizing, and promising change, wrongs are atoned for.”

Is anything improper in admitting wrongdoing? Of course not! This is a crucial part of repentance.

Is anything nefarious in apologizing? Nope! Repentance requires this.

Is anything inherently devious in promising to make changes? Nay! Change, over time, is a sign of repentance.

Yet admitting wrong, apologizing, and making promises can be gauged with a stopwatch. One text, phone call, email, note, or conversation can cover all three in under 30 seconds.

"Steadfast love” and “faithfulness” requires a calendar to evaluate.

As Stephen M.R. Covey stated, “You act your way out of trust. You act your way back into trust.”

It’s not “unforgiveness” to expect someone to act their way back into your trust when they’ve acted their way out of it.

It’s calling them to align their lives with truth. The same is true of us. We can’t only feel or talk our way to restoration when we’re the guilty party. We must commit to “steadfast love and faithfulness,” not elaborate apologies and grand gestures. Forgiveness and ownership go hand in hand.

It’s impossible to fulfill the First Great Commandment without growing in the unconditional love of Christ. Just be clear that while God’s love is unconditional, his blessing is not. His love leads to repentance which leads to truth. (2 Timothy 2:25) Is it only when we live aligned with truth we are truly free.

Asking "Are they/am I really sorry?" isn't automatically a question of arrogant judgement. It can be a necessary consideration to determine what is true.


©Stephanie D. Smith 2022

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