Sorry (Not Sorry)

Lately I find myself apologizing a lot. 

True, it is mostly to my lovely spouse Joan. But that’s just because we spend so much time together. If you and I were to spend time together, I suspect I’d be apologizing to you in direct proportion to that time.

The single, most apologized-over topic in our household is around the timing of putting (or throwing) stuff away. Here is a quick vignette to illustrate what I am talking about…

JOAN:  Hey! What happened to my Diet Coke? It was sitting right here!

ME:     Oh, I thought you were done with it. There was just a tiny bit left, so I threw it away.

JOAN (with justifiable annoyance in her voice):  NO! I wasn’t done with it! You need to ask me before you start throwing stuff away.

ME (Sheepishly):         Sorry.


When any of us commit an offense against someone – spouse, family member, or total stranger… and regardless of whether the offense was intentional or not – it is good to apologize. 

But have you noticed how difficult it is to take that simple step? It could be because the first step in making a genuine, heartfelt apology is the recognition that we screwed up. The second prerequisite is feeling genuinely remorseful about our screwup.

And for some of us, that recognition and remorse just don’t exist. 

Last week we were treated to a textbook example of how NOT to make an apology in the person of then New York governor Andrew Cuomo. In his resignation speech, Cuomo said (and I quote), “In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”

In other words, “It wasn’t my fault. This all happened because of those darned line re-drawers!”

Harriet Lerner – psychologist and author of many books, including her best-selling, The Dance of Anger, has a new book out called Why Won’t You Apologize… Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts. In it she draws some very CLEAR lines between GOOD and BAD apologies. 

A classic bad apology is the one that is really not an apology at all. It goes something like, “I’m sorry if my actions (or words) offended you.” The person is really saying, “I am sure I did nothing wrong whatsoever. But somehow you were wounded in the process, which is too bad.”

Then there is the “I’m sorry, but…” apology. It tries to SOUND like an apology, but quickly launches into a detailed explanation of exactly why the offensive thing happened. My story about the premature disposal of Joan’s Diet Coke is a perfect example. “Well, yes, I’m sorry I threw your Diet Coke away, but there wasn’t much left in the can, and besides, someone might have knocked it over while it was sitting there.”

The best apologies, Lerner says, are the simplest. 

You say, “I’m sorry.” 


Full stop.

End of story.

Lerner tells us that the simple apology – owning full responsibility for the insult and regretting it – is the one that most quickly opens the path to healing. A person’s genuine, vulnerable contrition actually draws the offended person compassionately toward them. 

It is the spirit embodied by King David as he was attempting to apologize for his monstrous offense of impregnating Bathsheba and trying to hide his adultery by having her husband Uriah killed. In Psalm 51 David kneels before God and says, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

Over my years, I have also learned that there are things that I SHOULD apologize for and things that SHOULD NOT. It has taken me a long time, but I am finally beginning to realize that it is absolutely unnecessary to apologize for actually BEING the person God created me to be. 

You see, there are parts of the essential ME that are pleasing and acceptable to others, while there are also parts of me that just rub some folks the wrong way. 

  • My twisted sense of humor, for example.
  • My emotionality, for another.
  • My lack of organization, for a third. [I could go on and on here, but you get the point.]

But thanks almost entirely to friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I have finally learned to stop expecting everyone to like everything about me. I have also learned to STOP APOLOGIZING for the whole, complete human being God made me to be. 

And for those two gifts, I am deeply grateful.

Trust me… there are still LOTS of rough edges to smooth out and character flaws to overcome.

But with God’s help, I won’t confuse those “projects” with the genuine Russell that God created and loves unconditionally.

Abundant blessings;

3 Responses to “Sorry (Not Sorry)”

  1. August 17, 2021 at 1:02 am

    This is filled with such wisdom! And I’m sorry (not sorry) I laughed a few times 😂. In all seriousness, I have been accused of saying, “I’m sorry.” too many times. I never wanted to unintentionally or intentionally hurt anyone. Being that I’m imperfect, I had good reasons to apologize. I have a background in which more than one Cuomo needed to apologize. I’ve experienced trauma and emotional distress over these events. Relationships were ruined and my health suffered. To some, ego is their existence. It’s a hard pill to swallow on the victim side. Yet, my Heavenly Father provided sympathy and open arms for comfort and confidence! He forgave and so must I. I’m sorry for those that don’t know the real love of God.

    • August 17, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      I am so sorry to hear about the injury and abuse you have suffered. As a male, I am sure i have no idea what that pain is like. But I also celebrate the fact that you have found peace and healing with your Heavenly Father. Hallelujah!

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