“I’m Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry”: manipulation masquerading as humility and repentance
I’ve listened to many stories told by family members, friends and spouses experiencing hurt and exhaustion caused by the actions of a loved one. The hurt inflicted upon these people, in most cases, is intentional in nature and fueled by insecurity. The damage caused by the insecure party results in real, gaping wounds. Yet, because these friends and family members still desire to be in a relationship with the insecure, often volatile, person; they continue to open themselves up to more hurt in their attempt to set boundaries. Inevitably, the hurt family members experience more pain at the hands of the insecure, while the insecure family member spends the majority of their time focused on their behavioral changes. However, in most cases, the insecure entirely overlooks the needed heart change required for true repentance.
Unfortunately, this intense deed-focus inflicts yet more emotional damage on the already battered and bruised family and friends. The disconnect between behavioral modification and true gospel level heart change manifest in the insecure, is tantamount to an alcoholic who goes to inpatient for 90 days, and immediately upon release declares sobriety. Except, in reality, they thought about drinking every day of their treatment. In the field of psychology and addiction we refer to such individuals as a “dry drunk.” A dry drunk is an alcoholic who is unable to access alcohol, but spent every minute it was unavailable thinking about it. They spent their time focused on the taste of alcohol, and they planned for their next drink. So, while a “dry drunk” might legitimately claim they have been sober for 90 days because alcohol hasn’t physically been in their system for three months, they have missed the treatment’s deeper point. Treatment wasn’t intended to simply address their maladaptive behavior and forbid access to alcohol, it’s intended to address the origins of their alcoholism, their desire for drunkenness, and the insecurities that fuel the core issues in their heart.
The “dry drunk” is an example of manipulation masquerading as repentance and humility. Because the alcoholic was without alcohol for a prolonged period of time, they claim to have changed. Further, they require those that have been damaged by their excessive drinking to act as if this fiction is the truth. By behaving this way, the dry drunk is inflicting yet more damage on their loved ones because a core-level heart change has not actually transpired.
True heart change takes more than abstaining from a behavior or substance.
Saying sorry isn’t enough
People who damage their friend and familial relationships often refuse to examine their hearts on a deep, spiritual level. When insecurity is at the core of what drives the hurting of others, it’s almost impossible for sincere reflection, evaluation and introspection to happen. Insecurity tends to cloud the ability to assess one's own actions and blinds them to how their actions are affecting others. Saying, and meaning, “I’m sorry” must come by way of a Holy Spirit conviction. Conviction leads to humble prayer, followed by contrition, then confession, arriving at repentance, which means gospel-level heart change. Simply saying “I’m sorry” for doing relational damage in word and deed, yet remaining bitter and resentful on the heart level, causes more damage than doing no interpersonal work at all. This delays healing for all parties.
True heart change can only come from God and the Holy Spirit residing within us. We must daily come before the face of God (Corum Deo) and pray through Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
This prayer of humility and admission that we cannot know the full depth and depravity of our own hearts, is the first step in submitting to the authority of God over our lives. The psalmist recognized that even on his best day, he will still have a bitter, resentful, and malicious heart. Therefore, it is imperative that we seek God and ask Him to reveal our hearts. We cannot correct something to which we are blind.
God’s understanding leads us to a contrite heart
Contrition is a necessity for gospel-level heart change. Considering the concept of contrition, my 8-year-old daughter comes to mind. Many times she will not do what I have asked of her. In seriously willful episodes of disobedience, when confronted, her immediate response is, “I’m sorry.” Her face is downcast with expectation of the coming negative consequence and a firm conversation. At age 8, my daughter is often more sorry that she got caught in her disobedience, not that she disobeyed her parents.
Contrition is the knowledge that our behavior was sinful and hurtful. God convicts us and provides an understanding of our sin, what we did wrong and how we are hurting others. Therefore, we face the choice to either reject this conviction and continue functioning as god over our own lives, which further defies God’s truth, or we accept the reality of our sin and the pain we are causing others. By accepting the later, we glorify Christ and He continues to change our hearts.
Change requires constant submission to Christ. It requires a continual acknowledgement that only God is capable of changing our hearts. It requires constant prayer and immersion in God’s word. Change without any contrition or repentance is simply behavior modification.
I invite you to change, by thinking about who’s in charge of your change.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Pastor, you can’t help everyone
I know the title of this piece seems a bit jarring, but I titled it this way not because of a pastors inability to care for his flock; but because of the dangers that come with the literally trying to help everyone. Those dangers being increases in relational stress and idolatry that inevitably lead to increased rates of isolation, temptation, anxiety and depression.
My hope is to point out that you can’t help everyone as a pastor. The demands of your congregation do not take precedent over the worship of Christ.
Jesus is first
Many pastors who are called into vocational ministry, go in with the hope and desire that they will be able to love and care for the church through the teaching and preaching of God’s word. They envision proclaiming God’s word to people of a local church body where they receive hope, grace and a new joy. They want to put Jesus first. What they don’t anticipate are the relationships and the people in their church that will require their time and how some of these congregant demands move Jesus into second or even third place. In this type of church culture ministry gradually becomes more about making sure certain people are happy within the church body. This transformation is often covert and subtle. Pastors rarely get an individual or group of individuals in a church that will directly demand him to meet all of their needs right up front. This transformation happens over years of ministerial work through meetings to discuss how leaders and or congregants are unhappy with the pastor for something he did or didn’t do. Pastors are worn down by the demand to meet the needs of vocal toxic congregants, who’s purpose in church is more about them than worshipping Jesus as King.
It is through this type of church culture Jesus is moved into a tertiary position and the demands of the church become the primary variable that is appeased or even worshipped.
People Pleasing is Idolatry and leads to Anxiety and Depression.
We know and understand that anytime someone or something is put in the place of Christ as a functional savior, we are engaging in idolatry. Back in the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites had a prayer called “The Shema”. This was a prayer they would say corporately that would rightly orient themselves to God and correctly position Him as supreme in their lives. But we know the Israelites struggled mightily with trusting God and His character. We see many instances of God’s people taking matters into their own hands and creating emotional, relational and physical damage. The Israelites didn’t have a problem with a Good and gracious God, they had a problem with an idolatrous heart that desired to be god.
Fast forward to today, while we may be more technologically advanced than the Israelites we really aren’t that different than them. We would prefer to be god, then to let God be God. When a pastor is stuck in a cycle of focusing on putting the needs of vocal toxic congregants first and base the church health on if they are happy, this is people pleasing and idolatry. This is putting Christ second, like the behavior of the Israelites. This behavior, unfortunately leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The anxiety shows up in the form of worry that you as pastor will not be liked or well thought of if you don’t respond to the demands of the few. The depression shows up in the form of low self-esteem in that you are not worth anything unless you are focusing on making sure your congregants are happy. This type of anxiety and depression will rob a pastor of their primary identity and their joy in Jesus.
You cannot help everyone
This leads me to wrap up this piece by saying again, “pastor you cannot help everyone”. I say this to cause you to evaluate how you are engaging in relationships within your church. I say this to cause you to evaluate why are you doing what you are doing. I say this to cause you to evaluate where Jesus ranks within your church.
I say and ask all these things not so you will take a strong stance and say you won’t help anyone or that you will continue to help everyone. Pride exists in both of those responses. I am focusing on these things because as a pastor you are called to be under shepherds of God’s flock and you cannot do that if you have significant anxiety and depression stemming from people pleasing. As a pastor you will always be called to walk a balance filled with tension, but to know and remember that Christ is where all your needs are met. This isn’t to say you won’t have moments or worry or low self-esteem in your ministry, but your ministry won’t be marked by chronic anxiety and depression.
Jesus gives you tremendous hope in the sermon on the mount Matt 6:26-34. Jesus acknowledges and addresses your anxiety. He reminds you of who is in charge. He illustrates your worth to God. He treats your anxiety and promises to be God in your life. Toxic church members certainly need the love of Jesus, but they are not where your identity is found..
“You cannot help everyone” should be a phrase that gives you freedom to focus on those that God has genuinely placed in your path to help (through wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit) as well as being able to function in your primary identity, which is worshipper and child of God.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33)
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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