March 9, 2011 by Stacy McDonald
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.