As a sassy, opinionated youngster with 11 siblings, I had plenty of opportunities to practice apologizing.
I’d be lying if I said I liked it. My preference was to simply mutter “sorry” under my breath and walk away—but I soon learned I couldn’t get away with that in our home. As Andy Allan wrote, “A believer’s journey to Christ involves admitting our failure to meet God’s holy standard, not obsessively perfecting our image.” I had to learn to own that I wasn’t perfect. Ouch.
As humans, we all fall short of perfection. Yet our failures give us opportunities to see the sufficiency of God’s grace in our lives, his power manifest in our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9). When our actions result in hurting others, whether intentionally or not, sincere apologies are warranted. My parents raised my siblings and me with Christ-centered intentionality in many areas of life, but one of the most important things they taught us was to make sincere apologies.
Saying “sorry” wasn’t considered a “good enough” apology in the Bettendorf household. It didn’t get to the heart of the issue, nor was it sincere. My parents taught me to first explain what I was apologizing for, acknowledge how it hurt the other person, and then ask the offended person for forgiveness. “I’m sorry” could never be followed by the words “but,” “you,” or “if,” as we were taught these words swept away the sincerity of the apology.
My parents taught me to first explain what I was apologizing for, acknowledge how it hurt the other person, and then ask the offended person for forgiveness.
“I’m sorry you . . .” places the blame on the other person, thereby lifting responsibility from the apologizer. “I’m sorry, but . . .” gives the guilty party a free pass to make any excuse, eliminating the sincerity or weight of the apology. “I’m sorry if . . .” makes it sound like you’re not convinced you need to apologize at all. My parents made sure we took the blame, asked for forgiveness, and accepted the consequences.
By identifying the reasons for our apologies, we had to really think about what we did, why we did it, and what the outcomes were. By asking for forgiveness, we understood that our actions came with consequences and that our relationships needed work when we failed to be kind.
Most important, we were taught to apologize not only to the person we’d wronged but also to God. He was our healer—and even when people didn’t feel ready to forgive, God always was. We only needed to ask.
Grounded in Gospel Mercy
In training us to sincerely acknowledge our mistakes, my parents grounded us in the mercy of the gospel. They taught us to be apologetic for our sin, to man and to God, which in turn led us to be unapologetic in holding to the truth, grace, and forgiveness the gospel brings to our lives. If we can’t sincerely apologize for our sin, how can we begin to have a right relationship with our perfect Creator?
If we can’t sincerely apologize for our sin, how can we begin to have a right relationship with our perfect Creator?
As I saw my need to apologize, I experienced the sweetness of forgiveness in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.
My husband’s parents also taught him to make a sincere apology when he sinned. And now, in our marriage, we’re able to say “I was wrong”—a phrase our pastor challenged us to not be afraid of in our relationship during our premarital counseling sessions. As we embark on the adventure of parenting together, with our first baby due in December, we eagerly embrace and anticipate the lifelong adventure of getting to teach our child to be apologetic for sin and unapologetic in faith, knowing that in Christ there’s forgiveness and restoration.
Children are a gift from the Lord, and being entrusted with shaping their souls is a heavy yet beautiful task. Teach your children to make sincere apologies. While no parents are perfect, mine taught me this well.