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.