In my last post I talked about the first step to owning your past mistakes. That first step was to admit your guilt or the role you played in the past mistake. Today we pick up with steps two through four.
The second step to owning your mistakes is to express true sorrow for what you’ve done. People not only want to hear you admit to doing something wrong, they want to know that you feel bad about it.
Have you ever heard an apology that sounds like this… usually from an athlete or politician? “I’d like to offer an apology for what I said or did. I understand some people are upset about this. It was never my intention to offend anyone, but if anyone was offended then I’m sorry.”
What’s wrong with this apology? What’s wrong is that there’s no admission of guilt. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m sorry you are so overly sensitive that you were offended. What they’v done is manage to flip the guilt onto you. But just because they used the word “apology” doesn’t mean they actually apologized. Be careful you aren’t guilty of the “non-apology apology.”
The key to expressing sorrow is to do it with empathy statements. Empathy understands what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes. So an empathy statement expresses my sorrow in your terms.
If you think about it, there are many reasons I might be sorry that have nothing to do with your pain. I might be sorry I got caught, sorry for the bad consequences that impact me, sorry it made me look bad, sorry others are mad, or sorry you think less of me.
But if I’m not sorry for the hurt I’ve caused you, then it’s not the sorrow you are looking for. So I can tell people, “Hey, I apologized.” Yes, but you apologized for the wrong thing. It was a self-serving apology, and self-serving apologies just make people madder.
The kind of sorrow you want to hear from me is that I understand your pain; you want to know I spent time thinking about how I hurt you and how you feel about it. My apology needs to address your feelings if you are going to accept it. I need to carefully choose words that convey that I understand the impact of my actions.
For example: “I’ve been thinking about what I did and how it impacted you. If someone did to me what I did to you, I’d feel disrespected and abandoned. I’d feel taken for granted, and I’d want to shut them out of my life. I just want you to know I appreciate any hard feelings you might have toward me. They are totally justified. And I want you to know that I’m very sorry for what I did to you.”
If what I say matches how you feel, then your trust for me grows. You might say to yourself, “Amazing. He actually gets it. I finally feel understood. Maybe there is hope after all.” Okay, so now, you’ve admitted what you did wrong and you expressed sincere sorrow.
The third step in owning your failure is to ask for forgiveness. Too often, when we say we are sorry, we hope the person we offended understands that we want forgiveness even if we don’t specifically ask for it.
You see, asking for forgiveness is very humiliating. Asking for forgiveness puts you at the mercy of the person you offended and gives the other person control of the relationship. No one likes to give up control. You might have the guts to say you are sorry, but if you ask for forgiveness, they could say “No.” So we typically just say: “I’m sorry,” and leave it at that, or we might go as far as to say, “I hope you can forgive me.” But few of us come right out and ask: “Will you forgive me?” and then be quiet and wait for the answer.
Asking to be forgiven requires a death: a death to all of your self-preserving justifications and rationalizations. It’s a death to the perfect image that you try to project to people. But if you are willing to die, there is a good chance your relationship will be resurrected and you will be given the chance to start over.
Asking forgiveness is the only way you will know if a person truly forgives you. It’s the only way you know that you have a chance at starting over with them.
The final step in owning your failure is to rebuild trust. If you’ve broken trust in a relationship, you are just kidding yourself to think you can start over if you don’t do the hard work of rebuilding trust. Forgiveness is free. But trust is earned and it proves whether or not your apology was sincere.
In July, Pastor Sten preached a sermon on confession and he said: “Genuine confession leads to genuine change.” That’s what I’m talking about here.
In the early church, Paul wrote to a group of Christians, reprimanding them for their immoral behavior. After they changed their ways, Paul wrote them a second letter saying this:
I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to change your ways. Godly sorrow brings a change of behavior …and leaves no regret… -Corinthians 7:9,10
A change of behavior is the ultimate proof that I am truly sorry for what I’ve done and am serious about starting over.
If your failure involved money, you need to pay for the loss. If your failure involved lack of follow through, you need to start following through on your promises. If your failure involved immoral behavior, you need to provide people with assurances that your behavior will not happen again. Sometimes rebuilding trust involves doing things you’ve never done.
Now, I’ve shown you some bad examples of people owning their mistakes. I want to show you a good example. Marion Jones won 3 gold medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She was considered the fastest woman in the world but was later stripped of the titles after admitting doping.
Marion has had to start over. She spent six months in jail, so she started over socially. She went bankrupt and had to sell her home, so she started over financially. She got divorced, so she started over relationally. And she lost her running career so she had to start her sports career over again too. It all started by her admitting, expressing sorrow, and asking forgiveness. Today she rebuilds trust by offering the “Take A Brake” program to help young people make better decisions. I like this quote from her:
It’s important for people to know that it’s possible to make a mistake in your life, but it’s what you do after the mistake that people are going to remember you by. -Marion Jones
If you’ve made a mistake, I hope you want to start over. But before you do, own it. Before you can start over, you need to own your past. Some of you started over without owning your past, and you feel it. Something has never been quite right even years after your failure. You need to press pause on your life and own your past, so you can successfully move into the future.
Many of the issues I talked about in these last two posts are complicated. For example, one person asked me who you should admit your faults to. Should you tell the world like Marion Jones did? Marion told the world because she lied to the world. So it was appropriate to hold a press conference. The rule is, you only apologize to the people you offended or to whom your failure affected.
If you are unsure of what to do, contact me and I’m happy to meet and help you walk through some next steps. I want to help you get your life back on track.
If you would like to hear this entire message in podcast form, you can listen to it here. If you know someone who could really use this message right now, be sure to share this post with them. And if you’d like to talk about some of these issues, please comment below. I’d love to talk more about this important subject of Starting Over.