Have you ever had someone come to you to apologize and left the conversation feeling like you simply had a rehashing of the argument? Yeah, me too.
In our household, we firmly believe that there is an art and a specific method that conveys a true and sincere apology. In our marriage relationship and in the relationships with our kids, we have learned that there are certain things you can and cannot say to someone with whom you are trying to restore a relationship with after a disagreement.
The goal of an apology in our family is to restore and bring healing through forgiveness. Getting to the point of being able to do this Biblically involves different methods-taking some time apart, talking it through with mommy or daddy, having a little alone time to work through feelings, and prayer. We always find a Bible verse that applies to the heart issue and we seek to remind our kids (or ourselves!) of God’s truth, planting that in our hearts to help us become more like Christ.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15
Once our hearts are in the right place, we realize our own faults and sin in the circumstances and we are truly repentant and ready to apologize, we follow this pattern:
1. Choose your timing wisely. Go to the person and tell them that you would like to apologize to them and make sure they are ready to listen to you. (Some of us are more emotional than others and need a little time to calm down so we can be receptive to the apology).
2. Take ownership for your sinfulness. Apologize without any explanation for what you did or reasoning behind your behavior except for the sin that it was (explanations are usually justifications for wrong behavior that are not true apologies. This leads to further disagreements). Your goal should be to take the ownership for your own part in the argument or circumstance, not to focus on their behavior or sinfulness.
For example, “Sarah, I reacted badly to what you said to me and I should not have raised my voice and called you a name. I’m sorry for losing my self-control and hurting your feelings. I love you. Will you please forgive me?”
It does not sound like this, “Sarah, when you called me a baby it really hurt me and so I got angry and called you a name. I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t hurt me first, so I’m sorry that I called you a name but next time, don’t be mean to me. I’m sorry this happened.” As you can see, the blame is still being placed on the other person instead of taking ownership for their own wrongdoing. This is not a sincere apology.
The one who forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9
3. Do not expect to get an apology back. We teach our children that we can only control and manage our own hearts through the Holy Spirit’s help. When we want to restore our relationships, we must apologize and pray that our sibling or spouse will be receptive to our apology and that the relationship will be restored, but we can’t go into it counting on that to happen. Otherwise, we will become angry again instead of simply meeting our goal to make things right from our own hearts. However, we do teach our children that if someone apologizes to you, the right thing to do is indeed to forgive them! We want to be able to say to them, “Thank you for your apology. I love you and I forgive you.” Often, this does prompt a similar apology from the other person.
4. Don’t keep a record of wrongs. Once the apologies have happened, we realize that God does not remember our sins nor does He keep a record of our wrongs. After the restoration has occurred, we are no longer allowed to revisit or talk about that particular situation anymore in the future. The forgiveness is complete and our attitudes are optimistic and hopeful that we will overcome these sinful attitudes with the help of the Lord Jesus.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12
5. Pray for your siblings or spouse. If there tends to be a pattern of sinfulness in our kids or in our own relationships as husband and wife, then we need to pray for our own hearts to be radically repentant and changed and for the healing and growth of our family members too. It’s not a self-righteousness prayer, but a sincere heart that loves others and prays for them to grow in Christ-likeness.
The only way to approach this kind of conflict-resolution is through a humble heart. If this is a struggle for you or someone in your family-PRAY! I had to learn this process the hard way by fractured relationships and nursing hurt feelings-all a part of pride. It takes a lot of faith and humility to go to someone and apologize in this way, especially if you feel like they owe you an apology. But that circle of unforgiveness leads to disaster and bitterness. What a gift to our children for them to see us model this as parents and train them to have the kind of love and humility towards others. They will be equipped in ways that will bless all their future relationships and grow in Godly character.
Pain in relationships will be a part of life, but we don’t need to hang onto it or allow it to have victory. We are all sinners, saved by grace. God forgives us completely even when we were His enemies, and He is our example. There is no time to waste to communicate these expectations and standards to our family members. It takes time to understand the process and practice it with our kids, but the benefits are restored relationships and loving attitudes as we equip our children to live in the freedom of forgiveness.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
YOUR TURN!! Does your family take the time to work through sincere apologies and forgiving one another as Christ forgives us?
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Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. Psalm 115:1
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