Love is Being Willing to Say, “I’m Sorry.”
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Selah) – Psalm 32:3-5 (ESV)
As David already demonstrated, making peace with our past painful choices starts with confession, but confession isn’t enough.
NO, you don’t have to throw ashes on your head and parade around in sackcloth. We already covered that. But you do need to confess for the right reason. Here are three common wrong reasons for confessing:
To Get Something off My Chest
With this motivation, I’m not really sorry for what I did as much as I’m sorry for how it makes me feel now that I did it.
I’m essentially saying, “I don’t believe I did anything wrong. I just feel bad, so I confess to make myself feel better.”
I take confession like an aspirin. In this instance I confess, getting everything out in the open, and then I want to move on. But this is a selfish motivation.
To Get Someone off My Back
In the second situation, I may not personally feel bad at all, but I know someone thinks I should, so I confess without really being sorry.
In this case, all that’s happening is manipulation. Someone’s trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty and so I try to manipulate them into leaving me alone by feigning a confession. Perhaps I should feel sorry, but you can’t make me feel that way. No you can’t… no you can’t… no you can’t!
I Don’t Have Any Other Choice
You’ve seen this in court trials, where the defendant pleads “not guilty” until all the facts leave them no other choice but to confess the truth everyone already knows.
This is the saddest confession to witness. It’s even sadder when it’s not a courtroom drama, but a personal drama between you and someone you once trusted. This confession leaves the confessor with no credibility and leaves the relationship in ruins.
Bottom line, your confession needs to be motivated by the goal of reconciliation.
If you confess just to get something off your chest, it’s for you. If you confess to get someone off your back, it’s for them. If you confess because your symbolic back is against the allegorical wall, it isn’t for anybody. If you confess because you want to make things right (or at least try to), then your confession is for everyone.
Two Simple Words That are Hard to Say
Nothing can match the emotional and relational impact of a sincere apology. In addition to being motivated by the desire for reconciliation, a true apology will spell out exactly what I’m sorry for.
I’m not saying you have to go into the gory details, especially details which would hurt the person you offended even more. (“I’ve always hated you and thought you were ugly and wished you were dead.”)
However, confessing involves naming the specific sin(s) (selfishness, unfaithfulness, deception, forgetfulness, theft, violence, lust, yelling, abandonment, manipulation). Just saying “I’m sorry,” is just saying – well – “I’m sorry.”
It may be embarrassing to come out and rehearse the ridiculous antics I now regret, but it’s also healing for the person I’ve offended (usually my wife or one of my kids). They can hear in my voice just how sorry I am, as I confess the specific offenses.
It’s even more healing when I acknowledge the impact my sin has made on our relationship. This is confessing why I’m sorry. (“I know every time I lose my temper and yell at you it makes you feel disrespected. It is disrespectful to yell at someone…”)
Sometimes it’s just as important to clarify what I’m not sorry for. I may be sorry I yelled at my kids (and I almost always am), but I may not be sorry for being angry. Sometimes negative emotion is simply normal and healthy.
If you have a problem discerning boundaries in this area, this is something you certainly want to get help with well before marriage. You’ll not only be better prepared to celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary, you’ll improve your relationships with family, friends and co-workers now. Not a bad thing.
- Can you recall a time when you made a confession to someone important in your life for one of the previous reasons? Which reason and why?
- Did you know it wasn’t a true confession at the time? What do you think you should do about that now?
[Want to grow in the discipline of healthy confession? This is an excerpt of the 3rd book in our discipleship series: Beyond Sex & Salvation. So seriously consider purchasing a digital copy and you will learn three key life disciplines for relational success; habits best best forged BEFORE you fall in love. Even before you date! Find out more or purchase the book at this link.]
DNA: It’s What’s For Dating
It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. And would like to learn how to better build healthy relationships in the meantime.
Check out all three study guides in our store. You can walk through them on your own, but it’s more fun with friends (that and it kinda makes sense to grow in relational success in actual relationships with others), so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study.
Even better? And ask a rock star married couple you respect to lead it!