I've been talking for the last couple of days about sin, confession, and apologies. But is it enough to simply say you're sorry? And in the same vein of that question, what about "Thank you"? Is it enough to just say thanks?
Yes and no.
Yesterday, I said it's not enough to show a changed life without an apology; it's also not enough to issue an apology without a changed life. You have to have the behavioral evidence that matches your words. Do you live like you're sorry? Or beyond forgiveness, do you live like you're changed? The same is true for thank yous. Thank you is enough when you live like you're thankful. And beyond the season, like you're humbled.
I'm one of those people who has struggled with this. Still do, if you want to know the truth. I always want to add that extra little touch to an apology or a gratitude, to show that I really mean it. To show that I really understand. For instance, I have recently found myself in a situation where I have needed people to say good things about me. (In the professional world, we call this "references.") It's something I've not really had to ask for before, and it was awkward. When those references paid huge dividends, I was immediately filled with gratitude (and attempted to make such known). I was also immediately filled with the desire to find a nice gift for these individuals to express my gratitude.
And then I stopped myself. Something felt instantly...wrong...about it for the first time in my life. I started thinking about the message I was really believing when I thought I had to reciprocate or go the extra mile. The following may or may not be true for you, but it is for me, and it's a pattern I want to stop. There are two messages I was listening to that steered me toward the extra mile.
First, that I cannot live in a lopsided world. I wanted things to balance out! For the most part, I live by the opposite side of this principle - I always try to give more than I receive. For the most part, that works out. So it offends my sensibilities when I seem to have received more than I have given. Hence my desire to quickly "settle the score." This is a problem because it leaves no room for grace. If I find an equal measure for all I am given, where does that leave me in the sight of God? I might start to think something so foolish as I have deserved my mercy. I might start to think there's a way to pay it all back. I might start to think it's as much, or more, about what I can put into it than what has been given to me. So I started thinking about a life without grace, and as much as it humbles me to consider myself in need of such a thing, it's an incredibly beautiful gift that I don't want to live without.
The thing about grace is that it is in grace where we feel the most love. If I don't allow you to give me beyond what I imagine, then I have simply bought your services. I have made a market exchange for them. That says hardly anything about you or I, except that we can be bought and sold. I don't like to think about people that way. I don't like to think about myself that way. (Although there have been times....never mind. That's another story.) That was the first message I was hearing as I considered what more I could do than a few simple words - that I was keeping myself from grace. And in that, from love. And I decided to pull back, say thank you, and let some people love me. As awkward as that feels.
Second, and closely related, I was hearing the message that maybe I don't consider myself worth that love. All of the messages of my life that have told me I'm not worthy came flooding back, and I found that I wanted to give a good gift to show that I am capable of awesome loving and therefore, somehow, worthy of what might look like the same. I didn't want people to feel like they were throwing their time away on me, or like it was a pity gift. I didn't want my heart to feel like it was a pity gift, with all of these feelings of unworthiness coming back over me. So I wanted to find a gift to show that whatever you invest in me, I can pay it back tenfold. Beyond your wildest imagination. And you won't feel bad loving me because I do have some redeeming qualities.
Those are the thoughts I had with thank you, but they easily translate to sorries, too. What are the messages that sorries give us that make us want to do more than just apologize? Maybe it's the feeling that our words are not enough. That they have no merit to them. That falls back on what we think about ourselves, or maybe know about ourselves, that we are not the kind of people who have words that mean something, so we have to go above and beyond. Forget all that - let this be the time that your words mean something and be okay with that. Maybe it's a realization of lingering temptation. We know that whatever we did still lurks inside of us, maybe as a still viable option. It's hard to say we're sorry when we know we might just do the very same thing again. Forget that, too - let this I'm sorry be a reminder to yourself that this choice wounds people. It wounds us. Make your I'm sorry genuine by making it your own reminder.
There are a lot of reasons we're not content with merely our word. I don't know what yours are; these have been some of mine. Do you notice a common theme? They're all lies. They're all defensive. They are all guards against a heart that's wrestling with a bigger issue. I think that's why God tells us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. He knows when we start adding qualifiers, all we're doing is avoiding a heart-question we'd rather not answer. That's a dangerous precedent.
And you know what? I think the gift I give with simple words does not go unrecognized. I think it's greater than anything I could purchase from a store, or any investment I could make. It's the greatest investment - it's an investment in the relationship.
When I choose to say thank you and accept grace, I humble myself. It's something authentic, and whoever is on the receiving end of my thanks sees a softer side of Aidan. They see a more human side. They see a side that doesn't barter in a level world but can bow to grace and accept love. That makes it easier to love me again. We're building something here. When I choose to say thank you and not worry about my worth, I run with the gift. When I run with the gift, someone sees their investment pay off in real dividends, not in returned favors. When you see me doing the thing I've asked you to help me do, and succeeding at it, and loving it, and thriving, and able to give back from that place, that's a return on investment anyone will accept. That makes it easier to believe in me the next time. Again, we're building something. And when I make it such that you can love and believe in me, I open the possibility that I can love and believe in me. That's a pretty cool moment.
The same is true with sorries. When I choose to say I'm sorry and let my word stand, I show myself faithful and trustworthy - the very things I'd want you to see in me. You start to see that, whatever I've said and never meant, I meant this thing. And that makes it easier to trust me again. When I say I'm sorry and let that be enough, I hold myself to a higher standard. You see that higher standard. And you don't think less of me, at least not as much as you did, because you see that I"m working on it. And when I make it such that you could trust me and not think less of me, I open the possibility that I can trust me and not think less of me. That's cool, too.
Like I said, this only works if you have the behavioral manifestation to back it all up. If you're really sorry, say you're sorry and let that be enough. If you're really thankful, say you're thankful and let that be enough. A simple, honest word maximizes healing on both sides of the equation and invests in the relationship. We're building something here.
And that's very cool.
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