This is one of the most commonly used phrases in my life. I am constantly apologizing. And I find that the closer my relationships become, the more these two words make their way into my everyday vocabulary.
It’s not that I’m constantly walking around offending people or doing things wrong. It’s that I have a deep rooted fear of rejection that compels me to apologize for every little mistake I make at any given moment. It can be something tiny and simple. It can be something completely accidental and totally non-offensive. But I will immediately feel the need to apologize in order to avoid some mysterious wrath that just lingers out there in the universe, waiting to wreak havoc on my life!
My husband, Ryan, hears these words the most. In fact, he hears them so often that he can become a bit exasperated with me at times. “Why are you apologizing?” he’ll ask. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Now, I’m not talking about the times when I genuinely do have something to be sorry for. Naturally, those times happen too. And when an apology is warranted, Ryan will accept it and forgive. But I’m talking about the times when I apologize because I’m not feeling well, or because I decided to take a bath instead of doing something with him, or because I beat him in a game (okay, realistically, this one doesn’t happen very often!).
This happens almost as frequently in my relationship with God. For years, I have lived with this constant feeling of foreboding, worrying that I will disappoint Him. Worrying that I will lose His favor. Worrying that His love for me will just one day run out.
It happened early this morning as I was laying in bed. I had made a conscious decision last night that I wouldn’t use social media today until after I had finished my morning quiet time and written a blog. But having awoken early, I did what almost everyone does instinctually first thing in the morning when no one else is awake… I picked up my phone from my bedside table. I noticed that I had a notification on Facebook messenger, so I opened it up to read it. After reading it, I suddenly remembered my commitment and felt immediate guilt. “I’m sorry!” I whispered to God in my heart.
The thing is that I hadn’t really even included messenger in the list of social media outlets that I couldn’t check, simply because it is more like a text message than anything else. And beyond that, I had opened the app and read the message without recalling my commitment from the night before. It was an innocent “mistake”, if you even want to call it one, but I felt the need to apologize to God for breaking the rules.
And God immediately called me on it. Because in that moment, God didn’t care about my rules. He cared about the fact that I had received this beautifully encouraging message and just wanted to be happy for me. But instead I was turning it into a guilt-fest because of the unrealistic expectations I was imposing upon myself.
Do you do that? Do you live your life under a cloud of unrealistic expectations that you wouldn’t hold anyone else to but yourself? I do it all the time. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, except for me. And when I’m not—even in the tiniest way—I feel like a total failure! All of my accomplishments, all of my successes, they just go out the window.
This morning, as I thought through this struggle, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible where it says that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). I realized that when I apologize for these silly little things, I am not really apologizing for the other person’s benefit (which is what an apology pretty much should be, right?), but I am apologizing to protect myself. It’s not about love, it’s about fear. I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid of being a disappointment. I’m afraid of failure. And so I apologize to somehow make things okay again… because I can’t bear the thought of feeling the emotions that would ensue if my fears became reality.
But perfect love drives out fear. What would that look like? What could that look like in my life?
I think it could look a little something like a scene from the Lion King! Do you remember the Lion King? I loved that movie growing up, and always had a lifelong dream of seeing the musical on Broadway! That dream was finally realized this past September when my mom and I went to New York to celebrate her 60th birthday.
The scene I’m referring to is when Simba and Nala go on an adventure to explore the elephant graveyard. Suddenly they find themselves face to face with three nasty hyenas, beyond the borders of the Prideland where they would have been safe. They hyenas attack and chase them into a corner where there is no way out. The situation is dire, and the outcome looks dim. The hyenas close in, getting ready to pounce, when suddenly from behind they hear a startling, thunderous, majestic roar! And in leaps Mufasa. In that moment, Simba knows he has nothing to worry about. Because, as Mufasa light-heartedly states later, “Nobody messes with [Simba’s] dad!”
I think the idea of perfect love driving out fear is a little bit like that. To be fair, I think there is more to it than that. But I think this picture of Mufasa chasing away the hyenas is a beautiful depiction of the love God has for us, and the power He has to rescue us from the battles we are losing with fear. He is the dad in this story, and He would stop at nothing to save us from the jaws of our attackers. In fact, He did stop at nothing to do that when He died on the cross.
I’m so very thankful for that. I’m so very thankful that nobody—including fear—messes with my Dad… and that when He bears His teeth, death itself runs and flees! And I’m so thankful that, this morning, my apology to Him went unaccepted.
How often do you say the words “I’m sorry”? Are you able to differentiate between the moments when you need to say them and when fear is driving you to say them? How do you address the fear that compels you to apologize in order to protect yourself?