March 9, 2011 by Stacy McDonald

I’m Sorry

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Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled… (Hebrews 12:14–15)

I remember once, one of my children coming to me when she was small with pouty lips and a furrowed brow. “I don’t know why he’s still mad at me.” She said. “I already said “my sorry.”

Isn’t that the common thought? Say “I’m sorry” and you’ve done your duty. This should make all things better. And, by the way, if the other person isn’t content with that…tough!

However, this type of attitude may indicate that we are not truly repentant. In fact, it may mean that we are utterly unprepared to do the hard work of rebuilding trust and restoring relationships. Rather it may show that we are looking for a “get out of jail free” card, so that life can go on as usual with no consequences – unhindered by conflict resolution and all that it entails.

Counterfeit repentance, like counterfeit currency, has no value. Relationships won’t be restored by simply going through the motions or saying those two “magic words.” Repentance involves an acknowledgment and a sorrow over our sin, but it moves forward. It is surrounded by humility and a heart to do “whatever it takes” to make things right.

In light of this, here are a few tips on asking forgiveness:

Never ever ask for forgiveness by saying these words:

  • “I’m sorry.” [Does this mean you are a sorry person? Or, if you are expressing regret for something, what is it?]
  • “I’m sorry, but you/she/he made me mad…”  [This implies that the other person is to blame for your sin.]
  • “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” [This implies that it’s not really your fault, since it was an accident.]
  • “I’m sorry, I didn’t know…” [Here, you are not really taking responsibility, because you claim to have acted in ignorance.”]

If you have sinned against another person (even if they have also sinned against you), take full responsibility for your offense. Resist the urge to focus on someone else’s sin, at least at this time. Make sure you’ve removed the plank in your own eye before moving on to confront sin that has been committed against you:

  • “I regret that I____.” [Name your sin]
  • “I was wrong because___” [Acknowledge why you were wrong. What sin did you commit?]
  • “I should have___” [Show that you’ve reflected on what you did wrong, and that you now realize how you should have handled the situation.]
  • “In the future,  I will try to ____.” [Show that you’ve learned from your mistake and plan to handle things differently next time.]
  • “I have prayed and asked God to forgive me. Though I don’t deserve it, will you please forgive me too? [Humility goes a lot further than nitpicking the sins of the other person.]

Remember to give the offended party time and space to absorb all that you’ve said. Pray for him before and after your apology, and continue to pursue peace, even if he does not forgive you right away. Keep in mind that what you’ve done may have hurt him/her in ways you don’t even know or cannot conceive. In a spirit of humility, remember that you actually don’t “deserve” to be forgiven. That’s right! Remembering that it is only by God’s grace that any of us are forgiven will help keep you from becoming impatient or angry.

So, remain humble. If you are haughty, arrogant, or defensive, you are very unlikely to win over anyone. The offended party is likely to sense whether or not your sorrow is real. Your meek and humble attitude may be the very thing that God uses to convict hearts and bring peace to your relationship.

While it is important to the goal of reconciliation that you be forthright in sharing ways you feel you have been offended, do so in a spirit that demonstrates your willingness to forgive, just as your Father in Heaven forgave you.

If you are the offended party, keep in mind that not only is it important to extend grace to others; but, you may also be blinded to your own sin. If this is you, read Those Bad People.

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12 Responses to “I’m Sorry”

  1. h. rae says:

    Sometimes it’s hard to admit fault, but being sincerely humble can mend a relationship better than harsh words and blame-casting. Excellent post!

  2. Deena says:

    Something that has helped me has been the book, “The Five Languages of Apology,” by Gary Chapman. There are some people who really seek restoration for a wrong doing, while others are sufficed with just the admitting of their transgression. While we should be quick to forgive it IS easier to work through a matter when you know how to help someone forgive and really become detached from the incident. Good post!

  3. ladyscott says:

    Beautiful article! I’m really trying to instill being repentant and forgiveness in my children. Empty sorry’s and untrue forgivenesses don’t build loving, trusting relationships with siblings. At their young age, they often say sorry just to avoid discipline, or they’re just sorry they got caught but not sorry for what they did.

    I’ve learned, though, that the learning begins with me. If I offend them in some way, I too must be truly sorry. If I sin in front of them (even if they are not involved, like say, yelling something mean at the driver in front of me at the stop light), I need to repent and ask God’s forgiveness and theirs for being exposed to my sin.

  4. Mrs. T says:

    Well said, Stacy. Thank you for sharing.
    Because it’s so easy to just say “I’m sorry” & seemingly be “let off the hook”, I have tried to teach my children to ask forgiveness from the offended party rather than just say, “I’m sorry”. This helps make it a 2-way response to the offense. As much as the offender must ask for forgiveness, it is also just as important that the offended must forgive the offender. When we just say, “I’m sorry”, the offended person is not really given the opportunity to respond. The usual response is, “that’s okay”…but, is it really? Of course it isn’t. So, asking for forgiveness involves both parties to acknowledge the offense AND offers an opportunity for genuine reconciliation.

  5. Stacy, this is so right on time for our home. We have, all of us, started the bad habit of say “sorry” and then nothing else. Thank you for the tips, we as a family will be going over them. And thank you for the personal insight, I need to look at myself and praise the Lord for His forgiveness and grace.

    Blessings to all!

  6. Miss Raquel says:

    A wonderful post, Mrs. McDonald!! I couldn’t agree more. :) Since I was young, my parents always made sure that we said ‘would you please forgive me?’ instead of the typical ‘I’m sorry’. The more well-known phrase doesn’t seem to cut the cake as well and most of the kids that say ‘I’m sorry’ say it with this little attitude…that really annoys me. :P Anyway, wonderful post! I love reading your articles. :)


  7. Marcy says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have struggled with this issue in my relationship with my parents. My mother, who will say she is a Christian, says some really hurtful things about my husband and when I confront her the response is “Oh, I’m sorry if I said anything that wasn’t true”. When told that what she said wasn’t true her response is “Well that’s how you see it.” People have a lot of excuses for not truly being repentant. I tell my children that you not only need to say I’m sorry but ask for forgiveness as well. I would appreciate prayer for my Mom and myself that I will not become bitter.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Mrs. MacDonald,

    Due to a situation in our family where I needed to involve our pastor confronting my husband over a sin issue due to his anger and some physical abuse to the children, he has since gone through some counseling with our pastor. Because he does not see from Scripture the need to rebuild trust on his end with the children, he expect the relationship to continue as if nothing was wrong. Do you know of Scripture that would validate trust needing to be rebuilt. I would ask that you not post my comment. My pastor and I both agree the trust must be rebuilt over time as fruit of repentance is seen in his life.
    Thank you for any insight you might be able to give.

  9. rachel barnard says:

    While you requested your comment not to be posted. I for one am glad for the opportunity to share.

    I work in a school as a School Resource Officer and see many broken relationships between parents and children.

    In my experience, it is easy to note that children pick up on genuine emotion.

    I also know that you are working on that, but are broken hearted to see the love of your life treat the little loves of your life in this manner.

    The bible clearly states, “fathers do not provoke your children to wrath.”

    It also says “children obey and honor your parents.”

    So the question is How do we marry the two, and how do we communicate the necessity of that to a spouse without crossing the boundary of respecting our husbands ourselves….especially when respect for him is not “felt” at the moment and our security is shaken.

    First, I would have you understand that I and my children have battled some similiar situations with their father, but I will never allow them the “luxury” of disrespecting him.

    Attitude of the heart especially with abused children is essential to growth and their coming to understand the correct relationship with their heavenly Father in spite of the example from their earthly one.

    Encouragement in this area, and lovingly listening to their pain, and not sweeping it under the table will bring healing in the midst of pain, and God will use that to capture your children’s hearts to you, so that there is not a complete loss of the child/children.

    One of my favorite phrases to my children is, “though your earthly father may hurt you, your heavenly Father never will”

    Scripture also speaks to the mothers role as a place for gaining spiritual instruction by children in Proverbs.

    I would encourage you to do exercises with your children in reading over all of the “my son” scriptures in proverbs. Build everything you can into their lives.

    Scripture speaks to the married woman about “winning her husband over without a word by her submissive attitude”.

    I believe that scripture is communicating a deeper position here. Not merily submission to her husband, but to the Lord.

    In submitting to the role of mother you take on the shepherding of your childrens hearts. Even if the role is not being played out by your husband as leader in the home, your husband can be ‘won without a word’ by you being steadfast in doing what God has called you to do, regardless of the hurt, and tension in the home.

    As you live out “community” within your home and within the lives of your children and husband, he will be learning from you that God implanted nature of relationship within every woman.

    To ask for a verse that solidifies your position in the “argument”. To me sounds as if you are building your defense. Never forget, the Lord is your defense.

    Vengance is mine saith the Lord, I will repay. He does this in one of two ways….either He saves the lost, thus accounting their sin to His death and in that we should rejoice….or he meets out judgement on earth or under the earth.

    We may never see the fruit here….but that doesn’t negate our responsibilities. I’m not talking about him there, I am talking to you and me.

    God has given us clear instruction, even in a situation like this…we have to want to hear it, and we have to be obediant to it.

    Now as an officer, I have to caution you, if your children are being physically abused, you will be held responsible for their safety.

    It is never ok to stand by if your children are in real danger or experiencing true abuse.

    A healthy spanking in the State of Texas, fortunately, is not abuse. The statute of use of force states that a parent has the right to use force but not deadly force against a child to promote their welfare and discipline as necessary. The governing issue is “as is reasonable and prudent”. This means you should have justification for the force and it Must be reasonable.

    I personally believe that if physical abuse is happening, God gives provision in scripture for you to leave, but not divorce, (some may argue with me here), if that is the only issue. That doesn’t mean you have to return as soon as He says that “he’s changed” “god revealed he was wrong” etc.

    If you choose to leave……give it time. He is the offender here…..let him prove himself. Do this while respecting his position, to his face, and in front of your children, as you are a living testimoney to the grace of God, and He has been gracious to provide you great mercy in saving you from yourself and sin.

    Seek out neuthetic counseling somewhere around you for yourself and your children. (You can look that up online if you aren’t familiar with it)

    Read up on abuse and develop a contigency plan in case disaster comes.

    If you are in a situation dial 911 and leave the line open so the dispatcher can hear what is going on. If it is a land line your address will show up on their screen and they can dispatch a unit to your address without you ever having to speak with them directly.

    (I know there is a lot of annimosity towards CPS in general, but they provide avenues of help when there is a case of abuse. State law dictates if there is abuse that a person must report it.)

    Be open with your kids about this sin, while maintaining to them respect of their father.

    Pray with your children for their father. Pray that God save him (based on fruit) or bring him to repentance if he is saved (remember love and respect, not a chance to bash)

    Above all remember, even this is for your good and God’s glory. God will sanctify you through this and your children. This is an opportunity for growth in your home.

    I leave you with one of my favorite scriptures in psalms 34….God is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit”

    In Christ’s love – Rachel

  10. Mary R. says:

    Thank you for sharing the need for repentance. Good post.

  11. This subject is hard for many Christians to grasp. The recent movie, “Amish Grace” is about a particularly hard grief and the forgiveness the Amish community extended to the man who killed 5 of their children and wounded 5 others. In my own life my mother lived a submissive and quite life before my father, yet for 8 years he sexually, physically, emotionally and spiritually abused my sister and I. Some men will not repent. We have to realize there are some lives so taken over with evil they cannot see the light. We must grieve for their soul as my sister; mother and I do for our father. Yet we must understand what the Apostle Paul stated about not having anything to do with those who will not repent. Forgive them yes, but guard your hearts, and give anger to the Lord repeatedly again and again until it is gone.

    As a child victim of such abuse, forgiving took years. It was in only understanding my own sin that I could forgive. Yet my father did not believe he did anything wrong and again punished us when we tried to extend forgiveness to him. He came after us with a gun. My in-laws deny Christ and will not allow His name to be mentioned in their home. For years, I submitted to my husband’s request to visit them in quiet submission. Our son embraced their divination and got into the black arts.

    There are times we forgive yet must understand the source of evil and have nothing to do with it. We must especially protect our children from this source of evil. My mother knew about the sexual abuse and told her church but they insisted she stay and try to win my father over. My sister ended up with an infection that caused her to never be able to have children. At what point to we tolerate evil and sin. God loves yet He is also just.

    Judging is something the body of Christ is often not willing to do. We are to be sure we have sound righteous judgments and then pass them as the Apostle Paul stated. In growing up the church knew of the sexual abuse and choose to put it aside for the sake of “what”. It is hard to know at what point do we separate our children from the evil source, yet to allow physical harm or evil influences to a child is wrong.

    My in-laws boost of their beatings of their children, delighted that their children are afraid of them, and would not disappoint them at any point. My husband has never learned the be able to stand up to his parents abuse and still cowards to them. He is 64 years old, they say jump and he says how high and when can I come down. When my own husband first beat our son at 8 months old, it was made very clear to him if it happened again he would never see his child. It took time for my husband to understand what a loving father was to be, but he did not want the same thing to happen to his own children that happened to him.

    My husband is still afraid of his own parents and afraid to go against them, he simply works to keep away from them. They almost cost him, his job because they would bother him at his work place often and insist on preferential treatment even from his boss. They have been asked to leave the work place many times by my husband’s boss. Fifteen years around them never changed them, so I had to refuse to allow anymore influence from them over my daughter. For over 6 years now my daughter and I have not seen the in-laws. It is hard on my husband and he feels torn between his loyalty to his parents and to his own family. I have never pushed him to make a choice between his parents and myself. Every time he puts them first, I forgive. Every time he joins in their derogatory remarks towards me, I forgive. He has to make up his own mind who he will serve, I cannot and will not do that for him.

    Living in forgiveness, refusing to allow evil to have a foothold takes time, but life has a way of giving you many opportunities to practice forgiveness. Hanging onto anger and the feeling of injustice never brings peace; do not allow it to have a foothold. If it takes a hundred times a day to give it over to God, then that is what it takes. We must remember God is the only one who can pardon sin; we can forgive the sinner for the sake of our own heart, soul and spiritual well being; but must remember to have no part of evil influences.

    When it is family members who bring bad influences it is hard to draw the line but the Scripture is true, bad company corrupts good morals, regardless of who or what the source is. Christ warned us that to choose Him will cause fathers and sons to part, mothers and daughters to part, mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws to part, etc. It is never easy to walk the narrow path of Christ. Remember Christ called the leaders of His day, white washed tombs with dead bones inside, their father the devil, a brood of vipers, sons of the devil, etc.

    God’s admonishment to use righteous Christian judgment is never easy; with true repentance and forgiveness, grace is always at hand. God can turn an evil situation around and make good, in spite of it, not because of it, evil is never for our own good. God’s will be done is so misused. Not God’s will, but free will choice does evil. God will take the bad free will choices and bring healing, grace and forgiveness, but evil is never good or God’s will. How is it we can understand the nature of sin, yet not how to manage it.

    Accountability has to come with consequences; it is the deterrent to sin. As long as the laws are tough on criminals, they are leery of doing illegal things. Once sin is appeased or tolerated, it thrives. If the heart is not full of contrition, it will not choose a godly course. It will choose appeasement to the call of good until the sentence if over or until tolerance once again arises. The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

    My son admitted that until he understood God saw him in everything he had no fear of God and no desire to please God. My daughter stated as soon as she understood the fear of God and His watchful eyes, she was determined to please God in all her ways. God is just and we must impart this. Society today is not allowing it as Christians sat by and tolerated sin to subtly creep in. Martin Luther stated that is we do not impress upon the hearts of our children Scriptures in every institution; these institution will become great gates of hell. The first institution to influence children is the home. It is the church’s (Christian community) to uphold the biblical standard of God’s Word.
    Mrs. J.

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