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Posts tagged ‘apologies’

“I’m Sorry” — It’s Just The First Step !

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Sometimes Words Are Not Enough

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I promise, I won’t do it again”, sobbed Cory, a nine year old who was on his way to his bedroom for the evening after hitting his little sister, again. As parents we’ve all been there. A ninth hour apology made to avoid the consequences of parental punishment.

 As gospel believing, grace-filled parents, what do we do? Do we forgive, forget and encourage little sister to forgive and reconcile with her brother? Do we believe Cory’s half-hearted apology mitigates the sin of what he’s done to his sister, especially since this isn’t the first time?

Or, are there important lessons Cory must learn in order for him to understand that hitting his sister is always unacceptable, even if he’s really mad or tired or hungry, even if she bugs him or takes his video game or sticks her tongue out at him?

As a parent, most of us would implement tough consequences the next time Cory lost control or hit his sister so that he starts to connect the dots – you reap what you sow – if you hit your sister, you lose certain privileges that you enjoy when you don’t retaliate or hit your sister.

 So then why are we so reluctant to embrace this same biblical principle of sowing and reaping when it comes to serious marital sins? Especially when the sins are repetitive and there is no clear evidence of repentance? Even when the one who sins cries again and again, “I’m sorry,” tears of sorrow do not necessarily indicate a sincere change of heart or habit.

Like nine year old Cory did, when someone sobs “I’m sorry” it’s more often due to the pain they’re in or the pain they fear rather than any genuine remorse for the pain they’ve caused another person.

After having said, “I’m sorry” often the destructive spouse believes he or she is now entitled to amnesty, forgiveness, and full restoration of marital privileges without ever having to make amends, suffer long-term consequences, or work hard to repair and rebuild trust. Sometimes we collude with such unrealistic and unbiblical thinking pressuring the injured spouse to forgive and reconcile.

But if she’s not yet ready, or refuses to grant amnesty, or restore full marital privileges until she sees evidence of repentance, we often start to label her as ungracious, ungodly, rebellious, and hard-hearted. Instead of being supported and validated for the pain she’s in, she now feels pressured, scolded, shamed or scared for her “unbiblical” stand or refusal to fully reconcile.

The Bible has some strong things to say about words that aren’t followed up with matching actions. For example Jeremiah warns the people of Israel not to trust in deceptive words that offered them cheap grace. He said to them, “You trust in deceptive words to no avail.

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known and then come and stand before me in this house which is called by my name and say, ‘We are delivered – only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:8,10).

When someone says they’re sorry but they don’t back their words up with real and lasting changes in their behaviors, sorry becomes meaningless. It is not enough.  John the Baptist says it best when he challenged the religious talk of the Pharisees when he said, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

“I’m sorry” is important, but it is only a first step. When Zacchaeus, the tax collector, repented of his love of money and extortion of his fellow Jews, he not only felt sorrow, his change of heart moved him into a critical change in behavior. Zacchaeus offered financial amends to the poor and made financial restitution to those he had harmed by his greed (Luke 19).

Often it takes time to see evidence of the fruits of repentance develop in a sorrowful heart. Like Joseph from the Old Testament did with his brothers, an injured spouse may extend forgiveness but still not be able or willing to offer trust or reconciliation to their spouse until they see evidence over time of changed actions and reactions, especially when tested. (See Genesis 42-46.)

In areas of repeated serious sin, instead of taking someone’s words at face value, let us encourage them to show their sorrow. It is in the showing that the relationship has the best chance of being restored and rebuilt. To pressure a wary spouse into premature reconciliation can be harmful to her, to her spouse, and to their marriage and family. We do not love well when we collude with someone’s self-deception that all is well when it is simply whitewash.

Q & A: Husband says he’s sorry and will change, but doesn’t. Now what?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband has had two affairs, he throws things when he’s angry, abandons me for days at a time after an argument, and now has just completely detached himself from our family. He also lies about his whereabouts. I want to be the wife God has called me to be, but I can’t continue this way. My husband always says he is sorry and will change, but these behaviors continue to resurface. Please help.

Answer: I think the first question you must settle is what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be for your husband? Is it a wife that allows herself to be abused, abandoned, lied to, and cheated on with no consequences?

You say I can’t continue this way. I don’t blame you. No one would want to be married this way. But I think your dilemma is that although you can, with God’s help, be the wife that God wants you to be, that doesn’t guarantee that your husband will become the husband God wants him to be or that you want him to be.

But the question remains, what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be here? Do you think he wants you to be passive and continue to live with a man who lies to you, cheats on you, leaves you, and scares you when he’s angry? Or, might God be calling you to love your husband in such a courageous way that you boldly confront his sinfulness, refuse to accept his excuses, and, if he wants to remain married to you, require him to show through his behaviors that he’s repentant and truly wants to change. His words are meaningless. He lies. If he wants to be married, it’s time that he takes specific and consistent action steps that demonstrate that he’s serious and willing to work hard to change.

What might that look like? For starters, he needs to get some accountability partners that will help him stay honest, engaged, and sexually faithful. He needs a plan to help him learn how to manage his emotions when he’s angry or hurt so that he doesn’t get destructive, deceitful, or disengage for long periods of time. Obviously he hasn’t been able to change these habit patterns by himself, so he will need to get professional or pastoral help to learn how to deal with his emotions and understand why he does the things he does. These changes do not happen quickly or painlessly but, with God’s help, are possible for the person who is committed and teachable.

I think you fear that if you hold your husband to these necessary changes and he refuses, then what? I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth. Your relationship is broken. You may stay legally married, you may even still live together, but you cannot have a good marriage if your husband will not change.

Hear me. You can make a bad marriage better all by yourself (by not retaliating or repaying evil for evil), but you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself no matter how good a wife you are. We only have to read through the book of Jeremiah to see how God longed for Israel to repent, to come to her senses and change, but she would not. God loved Israel, but He could not and would not have a close and intimate relationship with her until she was willing to change her sinful, adulterous, deceitful ways.

God knows what you’re going through. Let him empower you to be the wife he wants you to be and the wife your husband most desperately needs. You don’t have to live this way.

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