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Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. —Colossians 3:13
“If I’ve done something wrong, I’m sorry.”
“. . . . and I’ll try not to do it again, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
“I was wrong to _____, but it was really your fault.”
Have you ever heard statements like these, or maybe even said them yourself? Clumsy apologies—if you can even call them apologies. And in marriage a bad apology, or lack of an apology, can begin to cost you the whole relationship.
My favorite book on apologies is by the same author of the marriage classic, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman. His experience in counseling has led him to conclude that just as people have five ways in which they feel loved, there are also five ways in which we can express an apology. That’s a simplistic way of explaining this profound observation, but hopefully you’ll get the point. The name of the book is The Five Languages of Apology, and Dr. Chapman was joined in the authorship by psychologist and counselor Dr. Jennifer Thomas.
To some, an apology cannot stop with a simple “I’m sorry.” That just doesn’t cut it. The steps which may need to follow are “I was wrong”; “What can I do to make it right?”; “I’ll try not to do that again”; and “Will you please forgive me?” Chapter-by-chapter, Drs. Chapman and Thomas take us through the importance of each of these statements, starting with chapter one on “Why Apologize?” and ending with the last chapter entitled, “What If We All Learned to Apologize Effectively?”
I’ve heard people say, “I’m just not good at apologizing.” Here is what the authors have to say in their conclusion about that:
“The art of apologizing is not easy, but it can be learned, and it is worth the effort. Apologizing opens up a whole new world of emotional and spiritual health. Having apologized, we are able to look ourselves in the mirror, look people in the eyes, and worship God ‘in spirit and in truth.’ It is those who truly apologize who are most likely to be truly forgiven. . . . If apologizing were a way of life, no walls would be built. Relationships would be authentic. Certainly people would fail, but the failures would be dealt with in an open and honest manner. Regret would be expressed; responsibility would be accepted. Restitution would be made. Genuine repentance would be our intention. . . .” p. 234
Perhaps you would ask, are apologies in the Bible? Look at the first twelve verses of Psalm 51, David’s great confession to God of war-time adultery with Bathsheba:
Verses 1 and 2:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love;
According to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Does this sound like “I am sorry”?
Verses 3 and 4:
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge.”
Does this sound like “I was wrong”?
Verses 5 and 6:
“Surely I have been a sinner from birth,
Sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely You desire truth in the inner parts;
You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
Does this sound like “What can I do to make it right?”
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Does this sound like “I’ll try not to do that again”?
Verses 11 and 12:
“Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Does this sound like “Will you please forgive me?”
Verses 13 and 14 take us to the result of God’s forgiveness of our sins. . . . and we can see how that forgiveness would then allow us to forgive others:
“Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.”
And because God forgives, David declares exactly that in Psalm 103, “He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases; He redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with love and compassion.” (vs. 3,4) In the New Testament, the Apostle John makes a great statement of faith and forgiveness when he writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8,9) God is the great forgiver, and when we forgive we are demonstrating His grace in our lives.
The result of forgiveness, ours and others, is peace—and praise. And during deployment there are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings—which can lead to guilt, resentment, stubbornness, and bitterness if not properly dealt with by apologies and forgiveness.
Contrary to the line from the 1970s movie Love Story, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, the truth is that love means often having to say you’re sorry—and extending forgiveness just as many times. No ifs, ands, or buts about it!
Chapman, Gary, and Thomas, Jennifer, The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2006)
Questions to Share:
1. Have you learned to take responsibility for mistakes? When or where did you learn this?
2. Have you learned to grant forgiveness to those who have hurt you? When or where did you learn this?
3. Is there someone whom you need to apologize to? Is there someone you need to forgive? Spend time in prayer seeking God’s guidance and strength for this.