“I’m sorry. How can I help you?”
The first time I heard it, I thought I must’ve been mistaken. The second time I heard it, though, I realized that’s indeed what she had said. The girl at the drive-thru window of my local McDonald’s had started apologizing before taking orders.
Now, I realize we could easily make a joke about how yes, fast food workers should apologize for the sub-par junk food they sell. And this particular McDonald’s actually owes me several legit sorries — for slow service, missing fries, wrong food altogether, and that one time my four-year-old wanted a smoothie and its smoothie machine was broken and then I had a crying kid and no smoothie for our entire drive to the babysitter.
But it struck me as so strange that this young woman was saying she was sorry before we’d had a single interaction. And this happened on more than one visit (yes, you caught me, I frequent McDonald’s on a scarily regular basis). So, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to assume this was a new habit, that she had become so accustomed to needing to apologize that she decided to just lead with that — as if she owed me an apology simply for existing, simply for doing her job, simply for . . . serving me? What?
One of my favorite apps is Voxer. Do you use it? It’s a messaging app that allows you to send voice or text messages (or GIFs, my favorite) that the recipient can listen to and respond to on her own time. It’s more personal than texting but not intrusive like an actual phone call. I use it to keep up with friends and for work; you can message with one person at a time or to a whole group. It serves as a watercooler at work, a conference room, the back porch, or the coffee shop — perfect for friends or colleagues separated by distance (and time zones).
I’m not telling you all that to advertise or to convert you to my Voxing ways. No, I just want to make sure you understand the number and variety of conversations I’m having with people via this app every day. It’s a lot. And in almost every single one, I’ve noticed women beginning messages with — you guessed it — “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner.
I’m sorry for whining.
I’m sorry to ask.
I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear.
I’m sorry that’s a dumb question.
I’m sorry I just talked for seven minutes!
I’m sorry I don’t have time to chat today.
I’m sorry you can hear my kids in the background.
I’m sorry I’m breathing weird; I’m on the treadmill.
What is happening here? Why are we all so sorry, all the time? It’s not as if any of those things are serious transgressions. If someone needs a faster response, I can be reached in a dozen other ways. If a colleague needs clarification, she can ask. If a friend can’t help or isn’t in the mood to listen to me vent or is bothered by the sound of my kids bickering in the backseat, she doesn’t have to listen to my message. Or she can listen later. Or she can hit the fast-forward button and listen to an annoying or long (or annoyingly long) message that way.
If you’re tempted right now to confess that you, too, apologize too often — and apologize for that? Stop! Don’t do it! Instead, take a deep breath. And remember that you have the right to be here — in this community, in a conversation, on the subway, in the grocery store aisle, at the mom’s group. And you have the right to be human, to be imperfect, to be real. Don’t apologize for being here, for being you!
Are you clumsy? Perpetually late? Awkward? Too talkative, too loud? Too quiet? Tall? Short? Big? Small? Taking up too much space? Asking too many questions? Too vulnerable? Too sarcastic? Too much? Too real? Too you?
No, you aren’t. Don’t apologize for being you. You are wonderful. You are loved. Yes, you. You are God’s handiwork, and remember, when God looks at His creation (you! me! all of us!), He says, “It is very good.”
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I can’t know for sure, but that makes me think Paul wouldn’t be a big fan of frequent, flippant apologies and the popular hashtag, #sorrynotsorry. Instead, I think he’d tell us what he told Timothy:
Do your best. Work hard.
Do not be ashamed.
Speak the truth.
When we rely on empty apologies rather than putting in the hard work, when we are embarrassed to accept and live out who God made us to be, when we say we’re sorry when we’re not, we’re not really covering up our problems or excusing our own existence. We’re creating problems and living in shame.
And when we’re ashamed of ourselves, for reasons that don’t matter or for something that has already been forgiven, we’re forgetting the most amazing truth of all: that when we confess our sins, God forgives us and washes us clean. Then we no longer have anything to be ashamed of.
So today, let’s simply do our best, stand unashamed, and speak the truth (instead of saying sorry).