I’m Sorry

I was thinking about apologising this week, not that there was a particular incident which I needed to say sorry for, but instead I was reflecting on how bad we are at it – generally speaking! Is that through lack of practise I wonder?

We all make mistakes, and yet we often fail to apologise properly, or even at all. This can only harm our relationships, and in my experience, I only ever think more highly of someone who admits their faults, not less.

I may struggle to point to specific Bible verses here, so please treat this as helpful advice rather than anything else! Experience gained the hard way is the only authority I can claim!

Be specific

When you apologise, be specific.

Sometimes when we discipline our children, they say “sorry” but really they mean “Be quiet Dad!” When I probe a little, asking what they are aplogising for, they cannot always tell me.

When you tell someone you are sorry, be clear about what it is you are sorry for. It not only acknowledges the mistake you made, but shows you understand why they were upset or hurt.

For instance, you could say:

  • I’m sorry I snapped at you this morning, it wasn’t your fault and I should not have said what I did.
  • I’m sorry I did not do what I said I would do yesterday, that must have been frustrating and created extra work for you.

While you do not necessarily need to mention when it happened, I think that can help to be clear about what went on.

Keep It Simple and Short

In my experience, it is better to be brief and to keep things simple. When we go on and on, trying to explain or setting the scene, it can come across as making excuses. We will touch on that in a moment, but for now, keep things straightforward.

I am not suggesting that you say something like, “I’m sorry I had an affair, that was inconsiderate of me.” As clearly, such a wrong requires a little more effort on our part!

I’m sorry, but… no excuses

When we apologise, we should offer no excuse along with it. You can hear the tell tale signs when someone says, “I’m sorry, but…” that little word “but” adds the idea that although I was wrong, there were extenuating circumstances which mean it wasn’t totally my fault.

Worse is when we say, “I’m sorry, but you…” turning around a situation like that is never any way to say we are sorry.

The truth is, when we are wrong, we have no excuse for our behaviour. There may be reasons why it happened, such as tiredness, worry, fear or stress, but an excuse does not make a wrong thing right.

I once heard it said that an excuse is a reason stuffed with a lie, and there is much truth to that.

When we are wrong, we should just say so, offering no excuses for the behaviour. It is merely an attempt to lessen the offence. Far better to just hold up one’s hands and and say, “I was wrong, I’m sorry.”

No Defence

In a similar way, when we are wrong, we have no defence any more than we have an excuse.

In a court of law, the accused mounts a defence to prove their innocence. In situations where the defendant admits their guilt, no defence is required.

When we say we are sorry, we are admitting that we have done something wrong. If we defend ourselves in that scenario, do we really believe we are “guilty” therefore? If some part of us believes we are innocent, then our apology lacks integrity.

Don’t apologise like a politician!

I write this at a time when the Prime Minister in the UK has been accused of breaking COVID restrictions which he imposed upon the rest of the nation. His “apologies” to date have not been all that well received by other politicians or the wider public. He has offered excuses; “I didn’t know it broke the rules…” and he has defended himself, saying “It was a work event, and I was only there 10 minutes…”

Often politicians will apologise by saying things like, “I’m sorry that hurt was caused…” thus avoiding any personal responsibility. It is like saying, “I’m sorry you took offence…” again, implying that the fault is not theirs, but yours… you took offence where none was intended.

Apologies must be freely offered, and not given begrudgingly. When politicians, or indeed anyone, apologises this way, we all question the sincerity of it.

Well, I’ve said I was sorry…

I have pointed out many ways not to apologise, and I hope it helps you give more honest and sincere apologies in future. My advice is simply to be open and admit when you’ve done wrong.

I want to close by reminding you that even when you do apologise sincerely, acceptance of that apology and forgiveness must never be demanded.

If someone does not respond positively to your sorrow, then please never say “Well, I’ve apologised, what more do you want?”

Forgiveness must never be demanded. When you offer your apologies, you must leave them with the other person and give them time to respond. It is not for you to remind them that they ought to forgive you, or that your apologies somehow heal hurts that were caused.

We all make mistakes, and as long as we live and interact with other people, there will be times when we need to say we are sorry for a wrong we have done. Let us apologise sincerely, without excuse or defence, and humbly say we are sorry when we need to.

I hope this has been helpful, and trust you won’t need to call upon it too often! Have a great day!

How Long?

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13 (NIV)

How long, Lord! David cries out in the opening words of this psalm. How many of you have ever felt like that? I know that I have. We face trouble or trial, and we cry out to the Lord wondering where He is or what we’ve done wrong.

David’s words are challenging. He pulls no punches when he speaks with His God. Few of us might dare to speak to God with such fervour. He borders on irreverence it seems, demanding an answer from the God who has seemingly let him down.

In the press we read of celebrities who mock our Lord. Stephen Fry is a well known example of this; only a wicked or evil God could allow such hatred and suffering in the world, he says. He boldly claims that he will demand answers from God when he stands before Him, if He even exists… Yet the sheer hubris of this is galling. To even imagine that we could stand before the Creator of all things and “demand answers” would be amusing if not so sad. We will demand nothing from God when we stand before Him. We will bow the knee, willingly or not, before the One who shaped the universe with His very words.

David asks God why He is hiding from him. He asks the Lord how long He will allow his enemies to triumph. In verse 3, David even insists the Lord answer him. IS David another Stephen Fry – certainly not!

Intimacy

So how can the psalmist speak to God with such words? Firstly, he speaks from a position of intimacy. David is not complaining about God to another person, rather is engaging directly with the God he knows and loves.

David can be so bold and so honest because he has relationship with God. This is not some foreign or unknown god, but the One who sticks closer than a brother (see Proverbs 18:24). Such words are not permitted between strangers. Imagine if I walked up to someone on the street I did not know, and informed them that I did not like their outfit. How do you think they would react? Not well! Yet, if I had a close friend, I might be in a position to offer advice or opinion (appropriately of course) without causing offence.

We, too, can be honest with our Lord. We can tell Him how we feel, and part of being in close relationship with Him is all about sharing ourselves with Him.

Security

Intimacy is not the only prerequisite for David being able to speak to God in this way. The other is security. David knows that God is not easily offended, nor is He likely to react badly to his uncovered feelings. The psalmist is secure in His relationship with God. He knows that God knows precisely what is happening, and won’t reject David for his cries of anguish.

David’s security came from his intimacy with God. Only one who knew God so well could be so vulnerable before Him. Similarly, we have that same security, and if anything, ours is even more secure. We have security in Christ. Unlike David, we know that God came down as a Man and bled and died for each of us. A God who would do that for us, Who has experienced the same pains that we face, will not turn His back on us or reject us.

Turnaround

Verse 5 of this little psalm sees a sudden turn around. David, having poured out his heart before God, suddenly shifts gears. The psalm turns on a single word – “But…” All of what David has said in verses 1-4 remain true, “but” David knows other truths as well.

Despite his circumstances, and despite his obvious pain, David places his trust in God’s unfailing love. This is no whimsical love that comes and goes with the wind, this is a love that never changes or shifts. David draws on that love to enjoy that security we discussed a moment ago. Despite the circumstances he faces, David knows that God’s love conquers all.

When we face such trouble and pain, we may well ask “Does God not love me anymore?” The answer to this question is that He absolutely does love us! He proved that love at the cross of Calvary. The trouble is indeed real, as is the pain, and yet God’s love is far more so. David can survive this trial by placing his trust in the unchanging love of God.

Alongside God’s love, David rejoices in the salvation of the Lord. David knows that he will indeed see God’s salvation; salvation from his enemies, from his sorrowful thoughts and from all the other things he mentions in the opening verses. Perhaps David had in mind an earthly salvation, that is that he believed God would save him from his enemies and worldly problems.

For us, we too can trust in God’s saving work. Because of what Christ did at the cross, we know that no matter the troubles of this life, all will be restored in the next. That is not to say our life here must be terrible and we’ll enjoy the wonders of heaven, but even if this life is indeed truly awful, we know that heaven is ample compensation.

David, having focused on the unfailing love of God and His salvation, responds by singing praises to God. We may not be able to sing in our church right now (due to COVID) but we can sing in our hearts and in our homes. If we turn our focus off of our problems and on to the Lord, then we can lift our voices in true joy and thanksgiving.

David does not minimise or dismiss his troubles, and lays them out before God. He does not stop there though, and having done it, turns to the goodness of God. We can do the same. By all means, be honest with God and share your feelings with Him. Once you have done so though, remember His love, salvation and goodness, and use it as a vehicle to shape your praise.

Thank God for being good to us all!