I was humbled last night. I don’t know whether to make this post a family post because it had to do with my relationship with my kids or to make it about our individual spiritual lives because it taught me about my relationship with God. I’ll just tell you the story and let you draw your own conclusions.
Let’s face it, we are people in our families. That means we mess up. We make mistakes. We sin against each other. We do wrong. When that is the case, what should we do next?
But let me encourage you to do more than simply say I’m sorry. It is so easy to say, “I’m sorry,” and not consider what we mean. For what are we sorry? Are we sorry we got caught? Are we sorry they didn’t like what we did? Are we sorry if it upset them? Are we sorry they are mad at us?
Instead of justing saying, “I’m sorry,” take personal responsibility. Consider some other things you can say that really drive home what you ought to be meaning:
- “What I did was wrong.”
- “I had no right to do what I did.”
- “There is no justification for the way I acted.”
- “I shouldn’t have done that, I won’t do that again.”
You get the idea that this is more than just rolling off a trite phrase. This is about recognizing we did something wrong no matter how the person we are apologizing to has acted.
Further, if we have done wrong, we have driven a wedge in the relationship and it needs to be reconciled. But that can only happen if the person you wronged is willing to offer you mercy. Therefore, don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Ask them to reconcile the relationship. “Will you forgive me?”
But remember two things about this. First, when you are asking for forgiveness you are saying you sinned. You didn’t just make a mistake. You didn’t just flub up. You sinned. Therefore, asking for forgiveness must not become another trite phrase to just try to cover up what you did. Second, you are asking for mercy. You can’t ask for forgiveness and then demand it be done. If the person owed it to you, then it wouldn’t be mercy.
“Oh, but Edwin,” someone cries, “God commands that they forgive me.” It is true that God’s children are called to forgive. But that is something they owe God. It is not something they owe you. You are not the one to get to make that demand on them. They don’t owe you anything.
Is there anything in any of your family relationships that has driven a wedge between you? Why not step up to the plate, take your personal responsibility, apologize for your wrong, and seek forgiveness. Don’t get distracted by what they did to you, clean up your side of the street.
When a child spills some milk what do you do? Do you yell and scream at him as if he is a worthless, flawed, failure? I hope not. That little child is imperfect and makes mistakes. To treat him like he has no value or is less-than when he makes a mistake is not good. Instead, show him how to clean up his mess. Talk him through how and why the mess was made so he might avoid the same mistake in the future.
What about when a child says a cuss word? Do you yell and scream at her as if she is a worthless, flawed, failure who is making you look like a bad parent? I hope not. That child is imperfect and makes mistakes. To treat her like she has no value or is less-than when she makes a mistake is not good. Instead, you talk to her about language. You help her establish boundaries for the kinds of words she uses and strive to pass on your values regarding the words we speak.
That makes sense to us regarding our kids. But what about our brethren? What about members of our congregation? What do we do when we know one of our brethren lied, lusted, cheated, stole, etc.? Do we yell and scream at them as if they are worthless, flawed, failures who are making your church look bad? Do we shame them, making them jump through hoops to feel forgiven? Do we treat them as if they are less-than? Do we look down on them as if they aren’t quite as spiritual as us? I hope not. That brother or sister is imperfect. They make mistakes. They will sin. To treat them like they are less-than, to shame them, to bitterly and harshly treat them is just not good. How dare we who are just as imperfect and just as sinful treat our brethren as if we are better than they are when we talk to them about their sins.
Perhaps this is why Paul told us to restore those caught in any trespass with gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
Certainly, if someone is living in utter rebellion, harsh rebuke may become necessary. However, to treat other growing Christians as if they are bad Christians just because they aren’t perfect (just like we aren’t perfect) is wrong. Do you know what Jesus did for that brother or sister when He learned about their sins? He died for them.
Think about that the next time you need to talk to a brother or sister about sin in their life. That may help you talk to them God’s way.
Remember, God’s Way Works!
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the #1 reason you should own a dog. That reason was that walking the dog helps provide a pause button before you blow up with anger. The problem is, even after writing that, I don’t alway remember to go walk the dog.
Last week I blew up at my daughter, Tessa, ironically enough about the dog. When I say I blew up, I mean volcanic eruption. Yelling, hateful speech, belittling and hurting. It was so awful, her only response was to break down in tears. That broke my heart. To know that I was the cause of such sadness and pain kills me. The problem is that it is too late to take it back. The damage has been done. However, just because the damage has been done doesn’t mean I just ask for God’s forgiveness and move on without looking back.
Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” What was sacrifice for under the Old Covenant? It wasn’t just an act of worship. Sacrifice was the means by which the Jews became reconciled with God for their sins. What then is Jesus saying? He’s saying that before I strive to be reconciled with God over some sin of mine, I need to reconcile with the person against whom I sinned. I can’t sin against people all day and then think a nightly prayer of confession wipes my slate clean. I need to be busy reconciling.
When I blew up at Tessa, I immediately knew I had done wrong. (I don’t treat that lightly. There was a time when I didn’t recognize that blowing up at my children was wrong. This immediate recognition is progress for me.) Within two minutes I had apologized. However, my apology went something like this, “Tessa, I’m sorry I blew up at you. But I’m just so tired of you arguing with me. You have to quit arguing with me and disrespecting me. I’m the parent in this relationship and you are supposed to do what I tell you without backtalking.”
Can you already see the problem? Sure, I said the words, “I’m sorry.” But I didn’t apologize. I didn’t seek amends. I didn’t reconcile. I actually just used those words to start another harangue on my daughter. I didn’t take responsibility for my actions. Rather, I admitted I had done something wrong but placed the responsibility on Tessa. The “apology” was more about what I thought she had done wrong than what I knew I had done wrong.
Sadly, my conviction on this flawed apology was a little bit slower in coming. It took all day for this conviction to come. (As a side note, this happened last Tuesday morning, which may explain why I was in no mood to get last week’s post up on a Springboard for Your Family.)
However, when I got home last week after our gospel meeting with Terry Francis, I pulled Tessa aside and offered a true apology, amends, reconciliation. Here is essentially what I said.
“Tessa, I need to offer you an apology. This morning when you argued with me, I blew up at you. That was wrong of me. I’m sorry. Then I offered an apology that wasn’t really an apology but actually a justification. I really blamed you for my sin. I do think you were wrong for arguing with me and disrespecting with me. But my angry outburst was not your fault. I acted like you were to blame when I was the one who blew up. Your arguing and my blowing up were two different things. I’m sorry for blowing up at you and I’m sorry for blaming you. I don’t want you to think you were at fault for my sin. Will you please forgive me?” She said yes and we hugged.
Please notice some things here that will help as we strive to reconcile with folks.
1) Take personal responsibility.
My angry outburst was mine. It wasn’t Tessa’s. Did she do something wrong? Sure. But that was hers and not mine. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does, I’m not given permission to sin. Therefore, when I’m seeking forgiveness and reconciliation I must not shift the responsibility to anyone else. When I do, I’m not really apologizing.
2) State the sin/wrong/hurt.
Many times, I want to gloss over my wrongs by just offering some kind of general apology or plea for reconciliation. However, if I really want reconciliation, I won’t gloss over but I will validate the other person’s feelings of hurt and anger by stating exactly what I did. I blew up. I justified. I acted like I was apologizing when I wasn’t. The way I avoided this in my second apology (first real apology) was to actually state all the sins I had committed, all the hurts I had administered. This showed that I really had thought about what I had done. I really did have remorse about the hurt.
Before someone cries, “Wait a minute, God never said I had to list all the hurts,” let me make a comment. I’m not trying to write a 5-step plan for being forgiven by God so you can go to heaven. I’m writing what I’ve learned actually helps me reconcile with others. God did say you needed to reconcile with those you had wronged. I’ve learned this helps accomplish what God has asked of us.
3) State that it was a sin.
Certainly, sometimes I make errors in judgment or mistakes. When that is all I’ve done, that is all I need to admit to. However, when I’ve actually sinned (and wrathful outbursts and clamoring really are sins even when they are directed toward my children–Ephesians 4:31), I need to admit what I did. I shouldn’t minimize it. I shouldn’t play it down. I need to call a spade a spade and a sin a sin. Otherwise, I’m still not really apologizing and reconciling, am I?
4) Don’t demand the other apologize.
Tessa did wrong with her disrespectful argument and disobedience. But that didn’t need to be dealt with as I apologized for my sin. The fact is my apology would come off as manipulative if it appeared like my apology was actually fishing for Tessa to offer how own apology for her wrongs.
Don’t misunderstand, if someone has sinned against you, you should talk to them about it. I’m just saying the midst of your own apology is not the place to do it.
5) Ask for forgiveness.
When I’ve sinned, what I need most is forgiveness. I didn’t need to simply apologize and move on. I needed to put the ball in Tessa’s court. As much as it depends on me, I should be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). That means I need to do my part. My part is to recognize my wrong, apologize, and seek forgiveness. When I’ve done that, then as far as it depends on me, I’m living peaceably with others.
6) Don’t act like forgiveness is owed.
You can’t see this point in my actual words, but rather in the omission of words. Fortunately, Tessa immediately agreed to forgive me. We hugged and moved on in our relationship. But what if she hadn’t forgiven me? What if she had said, “Dad, if this were the first time, I would forgive you. But this is the 100th time that I can recall. I’m just not ready to forgive you right now. Maybe later.” How should I respond?
This is a tough one for Christians because we immediately want to bring out Luke 17:3-4. “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” When we’ve done wrong and the other person is not forgiving us, we like to hammer him/her with this passage. But think through this for a moment.
If I’m asking Tessa for forgiveness, I’m asking for mercy. I’m asking for something I haven’t earned. Something that by definition she is not obligated by our relationship to give me. The problem is we Christians are often like little children and the word “Please.” When trying to teach my children manners and how to use the word “please,” we always hit a phase in which the child thinks that because they said “please” they are owed what they asked for. We tend to think that because we said, “I’m sorry; will you please forgive me,” the other person owes it to us and we start bludgeon them with the Bible when they are reluctant.
Here’s the problem. Should Tessa forgive me? Absolutely. But not because of me. She doesn’t owe me. She owes God. If she refused to forgive me, is that a problem. Absolutely. But that is between her and God, not between her and me. Should someone hold her accountable to God’s standard of forgiveness. Absolutely. But that is not my place. If I act like I’m owed this forgiveness I’m asking for, then I’m not actually asking for forgiveness am I. Forgiveness, by definition, is something not owed to me.
If Tessa had trouble forgiving me, instead of holding Luke 17:3-4 over her head, I need to apologize again for setting a stumbling block before her. I sinned against her so badly that she is finding it hard to submit to God’s will. Far from acting like the truly spiritual one, I need to humbly make reconciliation for that further sin on my part.
I really hate to share this huge flub on my part. I’d rather get to come off as one of those guys who has done it all right and if you would just be like me you could do it all right too. Regrettably, that is just not the role God is letting me play. Instead, I hope you can learn from my school of hard knocks so you don’t have to go through them.
I’m usually not very fond of the videos where someone plays God. Something about it often sets me on edge. However, I’ve seen a couple lately that I really like. God’s Chisel was a great one. Here is another one posted by OneTime Blind. I think I like this one because that other character, the one whose not supposed to be God, reminds me way too much of me.
Time for some surrender. Enjoy.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny (ESV).
My struggle? Exactly when do I have to make amends? If I want to avoid “prison,” when do I actually have to let someone know I was wrong, apologize and make amends?
Lately, however, I have had a completely different approach. I have realized my past struggle had everything out of whack. I was looking for a line to be good enough to get into heaven because I achieved some kind of good enough checklist obedience to this apology clause in God’s constitution. Therefore, I never drew the line at the right place.
Why do I need to make amends like this? Not because there is some kind of law that says in certain cases God requires I go apologize and make amends. Rather, because in my heart, I know when I have done wrong. That establishes a discordant cycle of guilt. Even if someone else has wronged me, when I have done wrong, I feel it. Something has to be done with that guilt. It won’t just sit there long. It starts to eat at me. It produces shame, the feeling that says not only did I do something wrong but I keep doing things wrong because something is wrong with me. Then I start giving up.
Or the guilt takes me another direction. If I don’t deal with the guilt God’s way by making amends and seeking reconciliation, Satan convinces me to deal with it his way. As with Eve, he convinces me if I eat some of the forbidden fruit, I will feel better. I will have internal peace and contentment. To escape the guilt, shame and pain of the past wrong, I end up sinning more. Of course, that only produces more of the same discordant guilt.
I break this cycle by not worrying about if God has absolutely required I make this particular amends and just make the amends. When I admit my wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness, it releases the guilt. It allows me to connect with other people and it sets me free to reconnect with God.
Do you absolutely have to make that amends in order to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and obey enough to get into heaven? Does it matter? Just make the amends anyway. I know this, you’ll certainly be right with God if you take that approach.
May God richly bless you as you draw closer to Him.
More importantly, may you richly bless God.