Learning to Apologize

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
–James 5:16

The positive strength of a heartfelt apology is one of the most powerful ways to draw closer and experience true forgiveness. Couples do have an incredible capacity to forgive. But without a genuine apology, it is much more difficult.

Our heavenly Father is the ultimate One to show us how to forgive. He chose to send his own Son to be the sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. “He so loved the world that he gave his Son.” Those are powerful words of unmerited favor and severe mercy. Apologies come in all shapes and sizes. You might bump into someone in the mall and say something like, “Excuse me, I’m sorry,” or devastate your spouse with words or actions and through tears of repentance have to say something like, “I am so sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

In many situations we are pulled between the longing for justice and a desire for mercy. There have been many times when we have wondered if the people involved in broken relationships would have only made a sincere apology for their actions, would they still be in the mess they are in. Gary Chapman in his book The Five Languages of Apology [1] teaches us five separate types of apology. All five are important and need to be used at different times. They all need to be sincere and heartfelt or eventually the apology will backfire.

1. I am sorry. This is a simple expression of regret. Just admitting your regret may be all the other person needs.

2. I was wrong. You accept responsibility for your actions. Being defensive and making excuses will not take you where you want to go, but accepting your part in it does wonders for connection.

3. What can I do to make it right? Sometimes in an apology there needs to be some form of making restitution. If you have wronged someone, they may need you to do the right thing by taking care of the issue. When people steal from someone, they need to apologize and make it right.

4. I will try not to do that again. This type of an apology is genuine repentance. The word repentance means you were moving in one direction and now you will turn around and do the right thing.

5. Will you please forgive me? This is an act of requesting forgiveness. When you admit you have broken your word to your spouse, ask for forgiveness and receive it; this is one of the most freeing experiences. It is quite similar to the unfailing, unconditional love and forgiveness God bestows upon us.

One night David looked from his porch and watched another man’s wife bathing. Lust burned in his heart, and the king of Israel ended up not only committing adultery but having the woman’s husband killed. It was not the best moment for David. In fact, he deserved death. We see the amazing love of God through the apology David makes to his Lord concerning his sin. We can learn something from David in how to apologize to our spouse. In a way, he uses all five types of apology mentioned in the list above. More important, he was sincere. David says in his psalm of apology and confession:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion. . . . Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. . . . 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. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (taken from Psalm 51).

You see the heart of David in his plea to God. No one would condone his actions. He did what he needed to do. He expressed his regret, accepted his responsibility, promised to make restitution where he could, was genuinely repentant, and asked for forgiveness. What God wants to see from us as we apologize to each other is similar to what was required of David. True forgiveness follows an authentic apology.

[1]Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, The Five Languages of Apology (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2006).

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Jim and Cathy Burns

Jim Burns is President of HomeWord. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has over 1.5 million resources in print in over 25 languages. Some of his recent books include: Finding Joy in the Empty Nest; Doing Life with Your Adult Children, and Have Serious Fun. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California. Cathy Burns is the co-author of Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together. Along with being a mom, wife and Bible study leader, she recently retired from her job as a teacher in a school for “kids who learn differently” in order to help care for her three grandchildren. Cathy and Jim met the first day in college and married one week after she graduated.

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