Dear Friends of Second Church,
During my years as a teacher, I often had the chance to watch school teams compete. I enjoyed rooting for the kids I knew, especially the ones I had in class. I was moved by their physical grace, and by those moments when their character —their generosity, their dignity, their sense of fairness, and that something deeper that is “sportsmanship” shone through.
What I couldn’t abide was that awful moment at the end of any game when the two teams lined up and woodenly slapped hands, robotically repeating “good game…good game…good game” to one another, one after one.
It was an empty ritual that seemed to mock any moments of true spirit and mutual respect that had come during the game itself.
All I could do was shake my head and wonder who it was who had taught these young people to do this in such a way.
Presumably, it was the same person who had taught them how to apologize after doing something wrong:
“Say you’re sorry, Timmy.”
“Jane, I won’t move this car until you apologize to your sister.”
I get the intention. I agree with it. But be honest: could the contrition elicited by such prompting sound any less genuine? I doubt it.
Not that I blame the kids.
To my ear, that flat, toneless, teenage “sorry,” is like the flat, toneless teenage “good game” — words that reflect adult life and adult social expectation at their shallowest.
What we teach, and what we are prepared to enforce, are not how to express genuine feelings. Instead, we model how to make the merest of nods toward the generic politeness we expect.
Most kids know that tone drives adults crazy—we know all too well what it means.
Yet if we’re honest, how often are we truly sorry for anything we do? How often are we truly prepared to stop the car and reconcile with someone we have wronged? Forget what we make our children do—what do we demand of ourselves?
“I’m sorry that you were offended” has become a famous and all too common non-apology form of apology. If that’s all we’re good for, no wonder the young people who take their cues from us are so seemingly uninvested in reconciliation.
Lent offers us the chance to think more honestly about what we regret, but also how. It’s not about recommitting to a deeper veneer of politeness, but to the genuine feelings within us that politeness sometimes serves to help us deflect instead of express.
Lent challenges us to consider our own ways, our own easy rationalizations and excuses, our strategies for keeping our regrets shallow and our relationships shallower still.
That’s not the life that God imagines for us, or Scripture describes, or for which our hearts so clearly long.
Our faith is about seeking something much deeper for our lives and our relationships. It’s an invitation to be imperfect, but authentic, remembering how deeply loved we are by God, and that God calls us to love one another. It doesn’t mean we won’t step on each other’s toes now and again. It means that when we do, we move forward quickly, and in the end may find ourselves closer, not further apart.
Lent doesn’t ask us to be sorry. It asks us to consider what our “sorry” really means. It’s a time to make it mean more, not less.
May we seek to make it so.
See you in church,