Jan 102014 4 Responses

But He Said “I’m Sorry”

“I’m sorry” is not hard to say. Many people find it far too difficult to communicate, but others say it with too much ease. They say “I’m sorry” and assume others must forgive them. They say it, but they don’t mean it.

How can we distinguish between someone who is truly repentant versus someone who just wants to avoid the negative consequences of their decision making? (See: What to do Right When You’ve Already Done Wrong)

Here are 5 characteristics of someone who is truly sorry:

1. They see the series of mistakes more than the outcome. Rarely is a mistake a single mistake. Mistakes almost always come in bunches and crescendo into one major outcome. For example, an affair is never “a” mistake. It’s a series of mistakes (See: You Will Have an Affair If…). When someone is truly changed, they no longer see one negative outcome, but see the series of bad choices which led to the outcome. Chances are, if they say “I made a mistake,” they don’t get it. If they say, “I made a lot of mistakes,” they do.

2. They don’t blame others. “I’m sorry, but…” is one of the most common forms of a false apology. People use the words “I’m sorry,” yet they do not stop there. They say, “but” and then give an excuse or place blame for why they did what they did. Taking personal responsibility for one’s actions may be the most obvious sign that someone is truly apologetic.

3. They understand it could happen again. By seeing a failure as a series of mistakes, a person is more likely to understand their mistakes are repeatable. Anyone who says, “I’ll never do that again,” is probably living in denial that they did it in the first place. True contrition seeks to understand why something happens and understands that without diligence, the action can very easily repeat itself. This understanding, that mistakes can repeat themselves, causes the truly remorseful person to install guardrails in their lives in order to prevent repeated mistakes.

4. They have compassion on others. If someone seeks grace for themselves but has stern judgments for others who have failed, they have not truly understood their own need. When a person deeply understands their need for grace, they are quick to have compassion on others who also need grace. Show me someone who is quick to extend grace to others and I’ll show you someone who really means it when they say, “I’m sorry.”

5. They change. If someone is truly sorry over their action and they desperately want the forgiveness of the person they have offended, they will change their behavior. They will not be perfect, but they will change. One of the great signs of someone who doesn’t mean “I’m sorry” when they say it, is someone who continually says it for the same thing over and over again. True contrition includes a willingness to do the work to change.

While these 5 characteristics are present when someone shows real repentance, there is only one certain way to determine if their words are true—time. It will show if they meant what they said–if they have learned from their mistakes, explored their own hearts, put up proper boundaries to prevent future mistakes, given grace to others, and made meaningful changes within their own lives.

We all need to say, “I’m sorry” on a regular basis. Yet the words must be more than simply words. They must be the true intent of our heart—an intention which will be expressed by action.

For more, see:

How Do I Forgive Myself

How to Stay Married in the Tough Times

What Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean

i'm sorry

4 Responses to But He Said “I’m Sorry”
  1. […] As long as we see forgiveness as process, we can feel as though we are making progress even if event... https://www.kevinathompson.com/how-to-forgive-when-you-cant-forget
  2. […] Take Personal Responsibility. Oftentimes fights continue to escalate as a charge is reciprocated wit... https://www.kevinathompson.com/when-you-fight-look-for-this

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