Starting Over: Owning Your Past Mistakes

Pastor F. Remy Diederich of Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin, continues his blog series on Starting Over by first owning up to your past mistakes.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.

Ask Forgiveness

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.

Rebuild Trust

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.

The Myths that Stop Us From Starting Over

We begin this new blog series by looking at the myths that prevent us from starting over.I hate following directions.

Does anyone else? Directions are totally over rated, don’t you think? I mean, directions are for people who like to get it right the first time. That is so boring! Where’s the adventure in that?

I hate directions so much that, when my kids bought me a grill a few years back for my birthday, I said: “I will accept this gift under one condition: that you put it together.” That grill would still be in a box in my garage today if they hadn’t assembled it for me.

A lot of us don’t like to follow directions, but, you’ve got to admit: there’s a price to pay for not following directions, isn’t there? If you don’t follow directions, there is a good chance you will mess things up, you’ll waste a lot of time and money, and then you have to start all over.

Starting over… that’s what we are going talk about in the next few posts.

We’ve all had to start over. Our human nature tells us that there is a “start-over” in our future, right? That’s because none of us are perfect. We are all flawed. We all make mistakes. If you want to use a religious term, we are all “sinners.”

It’s not something to beat yourself up about, it’s just the way things are. It’s who we are. Even if you don’t believe in the Bible, or like the word “sinner,” it doesn’t matter, because you are one! You can’t help it. It’s beyond your control. We fall down, we get up, and hopefully: we start over.

Maybe you quit school and you started over.

Maybe your marriage failed and you started over.

Maybe you lost your job or worse, your career, and you had to start over.

But some of us make a habit of starting over. We are in a vicious cycle of starting and stopping. You relapse into your addiction and then recover: relapse, recover. Some of you fall away from God and then return: fall away and return. Others lose your temper and ask forgiveness: over and over again.

Or there are the smaller things like diets and exercise programs: you start and you stop, start and stop. I mean, we are starting, stopping, and restarting something all the time! And we keep asking ourselves: When will I ever learn? When will I get it right? How many times is this going to have to happen before I learn?

Now, if you fail to read the directions for installing a ceiling fan, you might waste a day, but you can probably recover pretty well. Not a big deal. But if you rush into more important matters without knowing what you are doing, like a relationship, or finances, or your career, it can take years to recover… sometimes decades. Sometimes people never recover.

So, what if there were directions for the big decisions you make in life? What if you could avoid repeating past mistakes when you start over? What if you could have a plan in place – a process – for starting over?

Over the next few posts, I’d like to offer you principles as a process for starting over. A lot of people come to Cedarbrook Church because they want to start over. I love that. I love helping people start over. Usually something bad happens and they say: “I’m so desperate I’m going to go to Cedarbrook, maybe they can help.” They might not believe in God, or Jesus, or the Bible, but they say: “Hey, what have I got to lose? What I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. So…I’m open…talk to me.”

If that describes you, I’m glad you are reading this. Let’s see if we can get you some help.

Today we aren’t going to get into a deep Bible study. What I want to do today is lay some groundwork for this series. I want to look at why it is that our do-overs haven’t always worked; why is it that we seem to sabotage the success of starting over.

I’d like to focus on five myths that keep us from starting over. We’ll look at two of them in today’s post and then hit the other four in the following days.

The first myth is the Failure Myth

The Failure Myth says: I’ve made too much of a mess of my life to start over. So…why bother?

People who believe this myth spend half their time beating themselves up for their mistakes and the other half of their time feeling sorry for themselves and hoping other people will feel sorry for themselves too.

People who believe the failure myth will often say: I have so many regrets. I just can’t forgive myself. I don’t deserve to start over. They might not realize what they are doing but not forgiving themselves and not starting over are their ways of punishing themselves.

What they don’t realize is that: by not forgiving themselves and failing to start over, they only slide deeper into their mess. The illusion is that, by not starting over, they remain in the same place. But that’s not true. It’s like being in a boat and failing to row on a windy day, you just keep drifting farther and farther from the shoreline.

You need to know that when you fail to start over, you aren’t just punishing yourself, you are punishing everyone around you…the people you know and love. If you want to do something about your regrets, and something for the people that love you, don’t beat yourself up; start over.

Thankfully God has never met a failure he can’t turn into a success. The Bible is full of comeback stories. In fact, three of the biggest names in the Bible: Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. But they were successful because they didn’t quit; they started over.

The second myth is the No-Fault myth

The no-fault myth says, My failure wasn’t my fault. I only ended up this way because of them. “When I start over, I don’t need to change anything about myself. I just need to start over with the right person, or the right job, or the right church.” – sure, that’s the ticket!

These people refuse to take responsibility for their problems.

This is the person that has gone through five girlfriends, five jobs, and five churches in the last two years and is amazed at their string of bad luck. They never realize that they are the one thing that each bad experience has in common. For example: a woman who has had five consecutive bad dating experiences might say, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with men. I think they are all losers.” Well, hey, maybe it’s not them. You picked them. Maybe you are a part of the problem.

Now, sometimes we aren’t at fault, but the way we respond to the person who wronged us sidelines us just the same. It takes a lot of courage to look in the mirror and admit that you are a big part of why you haven’t been able to get any traction in your attempts to start over.

I love it when I find biblical principles in secular books. In the business book, Good to Great, Jim Collins does a good job talking about the No-Fault Myth. He calls it “facing the brutal facts.” He says:

You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.  -Jim Collins

In other words, if you try to start over, thinking that this time is going to be different, but you haven’t been honest with yourself or others about your own part in past failure, you are only setting yourself up to fail again. That’s the no-fault myth.

We’ll look at the rest of the myths in my next post. But if you can’t wait that long, I did a sermon series on this very subject and you can listen to the entire message as a podcast, here!

Humility is a Choice

Humility is a skill we could really use a lot more of in today's society. Here is part 2 of Pastor F. Remy Diederich's series on Humility. This blog is taken from an original podcast sermon that is available on the Cedarbrook Church website.Today’s post continues my discussion from the previous one on humility. We’ll pick up with my second point and that is that humility is a choice.

The word “humility” comes from the word “humus” which literally means: earth or ground, implying being low to the ground. Metaphorically, the humble person is someone who is low to the ground.

But there are two ways you can find yourself low to the ground. One, you get pushed there. That’s humiliation. But the other way is by choice: you choose to lower yourself. That’s humility.

Paul told the Philippian church how Jesus made this choice:

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but emptied himself of his powers, taking the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.  -Philippians 2:6-8

Many people have accused Jesus of being a loser for being crucified. In their minds, he suffered the ultimate humiliation. But Paul clarified this misunderstanding. Jesus didn’t have to do this. He wasn’t forced to become a slave and die. Jesus chose to die. It was voluntary. And because it was a choice, his death was an act of humility, not humiliation.

Jesus made this point when he was at a party. He noticed that the guests were all lined up, trying to get the best seats at the table. Luke tells it like this:

When Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.

But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”   -Luke 14:7-11

If you are told to sit in a different seat, that’s humiliating. But if you choose to sit in a lesser seat, that’s humility. Jesus said: either way you end up in the lower seat. But one way is humiliating. The other way shows humility.

Humility is a choice.

My third point on this topic also comes from Dickson’s definition which I discussed in the previous post: Humility is for others. Sometimes your status can get in the way of what God wants to do. You are so insecure that you feel the need to cling to your status, or your position, or your control. But then God can’t use you because doing what he wants requires relinquishing your status for a season.

For example: when Jesus came to earth he could have easily played the God card. That means he could have used his position and authority to get his way. “I’m God. You’re not. Do what I say.”  Jesus could have done that. He could have set up his kingdom by forcing his will on us. But instead of demanding that we serve him to promote a selfish agenda, Jesus chose to serve us to help us make a connection with God. Jesus put it this way:

…the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people.  -Matthew 28:20

Jesus set the example for how to humble yourself to benefit others. Then Paul used Jesus’ example to encourage the Philippians to have the same attitude:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have the same attitude that was also in Christ.  -Philippians 2:3-5

So humility is not humiliation. It’s a choice to lower yourself for the sake of others. But there are two other attributes of humility that I want to tell you about and I’ll do that in the next post.

If you would like to hear this entire message, I preached on humility a while back. You can listen to the podcast here.