Even the most well-meaning parents get it wrong sometimes! Or so my kids tell me. It is often quoted that when they had done something to offend, they were required to say sorry… “And say it like you mean it!”. So the young offender would stand there and say sorry enough times, till we were satisfied there was an element of contrition. Now, I am told by a higher source of wisdom (!) that we should instead have sent them to their room to consider what they had done, and only return when genuinely repentant.
Saying sorry is funny stuff. It can be done in more ways than one. Looking at Genesis 34:30-31, Jacob was ‘sort-of-sorry’ about the bad work done by his two sons Simeon and Levi, when they tricked Hamor, Shechem, and all the inhabitants of the city into being circumcised, only to use their weakened position as an opportunity to slaughter the lot of them, and plunder the whole city. Was he mortified that they had done such a wicked thing? Was he remorseful at how he had raised them? Was he repentant that he had not set them a better example? Not a bit of it. He was just bothered that the other inhabitants of the land would think the worse of him, and possibly attack them. He was just concerned for the preservation of his household. He wasn’t really sorry, he just didn’t fancy the consequences.
I think we can be a bit like that when we do the ‘sorry’ stuff in our own prayers. We can go through a ritual of apologising to God for ‘all the bad things we have done’, because it’s the right thing to do, the right way to say our prayers. We do not really have a true sense of how we, ordinary fallen mortals, totally offend a holy, awesome, almighty God. We have very little clue about how amazing grace really is. It is a terrifying thought that God could reveal the reality of it to us, but on the whole chooses not to, because we could not bear it. But maybe we need to ‘spend a little time in our rooms’ and be brave enough to ask him to show us a little more clearly just how far short we fall of his glory, so that we might appreciate how much he has done for us, and that we might repent more genuinely, and then go on to living our lives more wholeheartedly for him, in full joyful surrender to our God. Not to just say it like we mean it, but to really mean it.