The Letterman Lesson: “I Got My Work Cut Out For Me”


Unless you live in a cave (and if you do, you undoubtedly don’t have high speed internet so you wouldn’t be reading this anyway, but I digress) you have probably heard more than you care to about the sordid details of the attempted extortion of comedian David Letterman.

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Predictably, Letterman is being blasted by his critics.

Their take? The guy who has made a living kicking people while they are down has experienced an almost poetic case of role reversal.

But Letterman is not without his defenders.

Ratings are up, and his on air apology to his wife and staff merited a 35 second standing ovation from the packed house gathered in the Ed Sullivan Theater.

But for me, the most interesting aspect of this media fueled train wreck were the words the comedian used to end his mea culpa.

“Now the other thing is my wife, Regina. She has been horribly hurt by my behavior, and when something happens like that, if you hurt a person and it’s your responsibility, you try to fix it. And at that point, there’s only two things that can happen: Either you’re going to make some progress and get it fixed, or you’re going to fall short and perhaps not get it fixed, so let me tell you folks, I got my work cut out for me.

Those final eight words “I got my work cut out for me” are probably more profound than David Letterman realizes right now.

You see,  in my line of work I have found myself in the role of a “first responder” to some pretty similar relational five alarm fires.

Perhaps its adultery.

At other times it can be when the cover is blown off of a secret life of addiction.

Sometimes, even an upstanding member of the community gets nailed criminally.

And there is shock.

And a lack of willingness to face reality.

And the especially cutting kind of panic that ensues when the truth sets in that from this time onward, nothing in life will ever be the same.

But when the smoke begins to clear there is a turning point that all involved must face.

It is the moment the one responsible for the blow up makes an apology.

You see, it’s not just the willingness to make an apology that matters.

It is not even the emotional display that accompanies the apology that counts.

Even more critical is the motivation behind it.

Consider how the Bible describes this distinction:

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (II Corinthians 7:10-11)

You see there is a kind of apology that only serves to dig the hole a little deeper.

This “sorrow of the world” is characterized by a selfish kind of emotional regret.

Oh, the right words and even a few crocodile tears may be on display, but just below the surface the only thing the offender is really sorry for is that they happened to get caught.

And in reality, the thing they are most upset about is that the people they harmed are not inclined to look the other way or sweep the situation under the rug.

The energy behind this kind of sorrow is resentment, and if brought out in the open the only apology the offender is really offering is “I’m sorry you are such a sorehead about all this.”

On the other hand, godly sorrow creates a change of mind, that produces a change of heart, that is observable and verifiable through a changed life.

Real and genuine God given brokenness doesn’t resent those who were hurt for their pain.

It doesn’t rationalize –  “Oh, everybody does this..”

It doesn’t defend – “Oh, if you had been raised in my family you would have done this too.”

It doesn’t deflect – “What about you? You’re no saint either.”

It simply says, “I know I am the problem here. And I am willing to do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to show you I am worthy of your trust.”

David Letterman hit the nail on the head – “I got my work cut out for me.”

But here is another key to a true healing after a major fall.

If we come to the One we have first offended – God Himself.

And admit our mistakes before Him.

And ask for His power to live a new and different life.

One challenge, one moment at a time.

To put away the rationalizing and the blaming of others for our sin.

To humble ourselves.

He will lift us up.

And heal the holes that caused the breakdown in the first place.

And slowly, yet surely make us the kind of people that can be trusted by others again.

The five alarm fire we have made of our lives can be put out.

Those who have been burned can be healed.

And our lives can become a shining beacon of hope for others, not a destructive fire that brings disaster.

We all fall.

The question is, how will we deal with it?

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One Response

  1. You got it. You nailed it. I have heard the many types of apology (and heard them coming out of my mouth!). I am so thankful God is patient with us as we learn obedience and humility. Now I am praying to be able to give that same grace to others.

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