I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the much-anticipated Lance Armstrong apology that is supposed to air tonight on Oprah’s network. I don’t follow cycling and other than living in the same town as Lance, I have very little in common with him. I’ve never crossed paths with him in Austin, but one of my neighbors swears he saw him riding his bike up a steep hill in our neighborhood a few years back. And yeah, since hearing that, I take my phone with me when I walk my dogs, just in case there’s another Lance sighting. Kind of creepy, I know. I guess I’m fascinated in the whole Lance story because there is so much attention and speculation directed at the anatomy of his coming “apology.” News sources have confirmed that he has in fact, confessed to Oprah that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Duh. We knew that already. So, what’s the real story here?
I think we can all relate to Lance on some level when it comes to the familiar face-off that occurs in our souls to either own our mistakes or brush them under the rug. It reminds me of Fonzie on the hit TV series, Happy Days that aired back in the 70’s and 80’s. He just couldn’t bring himself to say those three magical words, “I – was – wrong.” Oh, he tried on plenty of occasions, but he always fell short. In one scene with his buddy Ralph-Malph, he got awfully close. “I was wr-rr—-rr—- I was wrrr—-rr … I was not exactly right.” Close Fonzie, but not good enough.
Some people (a minority, I believe) have no problem admitting when they’re wrong and offering an apology. Others, like our friend the Fonz, wade around in the gray of “not exactly right.” Yet others (I dare say a majority), refuse to even acknowledge wrong actions and pretend as if they’ve never occurred. Trust me, if you’ve ever been wounded by someone who falls in the latter category, it would be a treat just to hear them utter Fonzie’s scaled down admittance, “I was not exactly right.”
Why is it so hard for some people to admit it when they are wrong? Or to issue a heart-felt apology when their wrong actions cause hurt to other parties? I’m not a psychologist, but I want to pass along some valuable wisdom I heard from a counselor years ago on why this can a struggle for some people. Early on in my marriage, I struggled with owning and admitting my mistakes. And by “struggle,” I mean, I stunk at it. My husband, on the other hand, was great at it. When we landed in a counselor’s office about eight years into our marriage (for a variety of issues), our counselor offered some insight into this particular problem. He shared that people who tie their worth to their performance or behavior have a hard time owning their mistakes because it attacks the very core of their being. For this person, admitting wrongdoing is the equivalent of admitting, “I’m a worthless failure.” Those who base their worth on their behavior or actions translate failures and mistakes into “I’m a horrible person” rather than “I’m a person who has done some horrible things.”
Once I went back to the drawing board and redefined my worth according to who I am in Christ (A sinner saved by grace and He loves me in spite of my wrong/sinful actions), I was better able to admit to my wrongdoing and apologize when my actions hurt others. Which brings me back to Lance. I think it’s safe to say that he has based his worth on his performance, awards, and accomplishments. At the end of the day, his rumored admittance to wrongdoing and “sorrow” will be either 1) sincere and God-centered or 2) insincere and self-centered (aka: damage control to win back the public’s approval and limit the negative consequences.) Or let me put it into layman’s terms for you. It will sound like either 1) “Yikes, I did something wrong and I need help – specifically, God’s help to figure out why I did these things and how I can change.” or 2) “Rats, I got caught and now I have to do damage control in order to return to the things that define my worth and make me feel better about myself.” The Bible highlights these two contrasting types of “sorrow.”
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:10)
Think for a minute about a time when someone’s wrongdoing hurt you personally. What would have ministered to your hurt at the time? Silence? Nope. You wanted them to own it. Excuses? Nope. That probably made the situation even worse. Just an apology? Nope. It’s a first step, but for most of us, we want more than a simple apology. G.K. Chesterton once said, “A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.” We want an apology, but we want it to be sincere, contrite, and heart-felt. And most importantly, we want the sorrow to produce change. A turning from the offense and a turning to God for help. We want to see repentance. We want to see grace at work in the person’s life. We want to celebrate the beautiful love story of redemption being played out in yet another sinner’s life.
Godly sorrow is the only type of sorrow that brings about repentance or true change. Repentance is the gateway to life, peace, and salvation. Worldly sorrow brings death — not just a physical death (for the unbeliever who refuses to repent), but a death to the soul – a chasm in their relationship with God. I’m praying that Lance’s interview tonight indicates a first step toward life, peace, and salvation. A closing of the chasm between a sinful man and a holy God. Before we cast judgment, let’s remember that we are no better than Lance. We too, have our own mess-ups to tend to and experience the same face-off in our souls when it comes to wrongdoing. Lance gets to experience the face-off in the public spotlight. Let’s use this opportunity to turn the spotlight onto our own hearts. What sort of sorrow do we demonstrate in the face of wrongdoing?