Relationships make up the fabric of our lives. We are called to live in community with God and love others. Early church fathers defined true spirituality as loving well. Yet, our relationships are so often broken. Fractured by hurt feelings, disappointments, and angry words, we often dig in our heels, become defensive, and point the finger of blame. David offers us another way in Psalm 51.
When the prophet Nathan came to David and confronted him about his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12), David could have become defensive. He could have offered excuses; “I didn’t mean to see her taking a bath, it just happened. I was a little off that day. I mean, I was just tired and weary, I just needed comfort.” Instead, David recognized his sin, fell on his knees before the Lord, and wrote these words: “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” (Psalm 51:1). David’s prayer is humble and vulnerable. He recognizes the depth of his sin and feels genuine sorrow about his choices (2 Corinthians 7:10). This scripture is a powerful reminder that when our relationships are broken, whether with God or others, we need to learn to apologize with humility and make it right. When we do that, we enjoy a clean heart before God.
So, What Makes a Good Apology?
A Good Apology Admits, “I was wrong.” David knew he had done wrong. In fact, he called it sin. He doesn’t rationalize or excuse his sin. We’re so hesitant to admit when we’re wrong, let alone that something is sin. Yet, confession is an integral part of our spiritual journeys (James 5:16). When we hurt others not only are they impacted, but our relationship with God is impacted. May I ask you, when was the last time you said to someone you love, “I was wrong.”
A Good Apology Doesn’t Include Excuses. Ah, this is very hard. Like David, we need to be willing to own up to our own wrongs and not make excuses. “True repentance means we open the bad in our lives to God.” Jesus calls us to complete honesty and vulnerability (I John 1:5). In God’s presence we can’t hide our stuff, we can’t pretend to be someone we are not, we can’t offer a defense. We simply have to admit without excuse. If we say we love others, then we are called to be transparent with them as well. The next time you hurt someone, try apologizing and admitting you were wrong, offering absolutely no excuses.
A Good Apology Includes Change. The word repentance actually means doing an about-face and turning in the other direction. In other words, you leave the pattern of sinful behavior or hurtful behavior and you offer something completely different. For example, if you’re hurting your spouse with your words, you apologize, offer no excuses, and then completely turn from hurtful words and embrace gentle words instead.
Friend, if we are going to enjoy the beauty of a clean heart, we need to become very comfortable with genuine confession. No pretense. No excuses. No hiding. Simply truthful vulnerability before God and others.
Lord Jesus, I praise You that You died for every sin I would ever commit. Lord, I fear that at times I’ve become so comfortable with Your death that I take Your forgiveness for granted. I praise You for Your mercy. I recognize that sin is anything that breaks relationships both with You and with others. I ask You to bring godly sorrow to my conscience whenever I sin. Help me to lay down every trace of defensiveness both in my relationship with You and in my relationships with others. Search me Holy Spirit. Leave no place hidden. Show me what I need to confess in order to enjoy a deeper fellowship with You.
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 Adele Ahlbereg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2015), 102