“I don’t want to hear you say ‘I’m sorry’ anymore. I want to see you change. Your words are empty confessions.”
Have you ever wanted to say that?
To your spouse? To your children?
It may sound like a pretty heartless thing to say, but there comes a time when it needs to be said. There have been at least a handful of occasions where my wife and I have said it, to each other and to our children. We say it after many, many confessions about the same offense. We say it when there are no actions that showed the offender was truly sorry, but they continued to insist that they were sorry.
Confessions can be nothing more than a band-aid
When you know you’ve hurt someone, it’s natural to quickly say, “I’m sorry.” You should say it. It’s the considerate thing to do.
But have you ever considered WHY it’s such a natural thing to do? In other words, why do YOU, the offender, move in that direction so quickly?1On a certain level, we really are sorry. We don’t like that the person was hurt, especially if we didn’t mean to hurt them.
But there’s another reason we are quick to say I’m sorry, and it’s one that’s not quite as innocent as that.2All of us are wired to deflect the anger and accusations that come our way, and we do it as soon as we can. We want to get rid of the tension. We want to get the conflict over with. We want the blame to be off our backs. So we say, “I’m sorry,” and expect it all to go away. But it doesn’t always go away… because our “sorry” may not be genuine.
Paul said that godly sorrow brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Jesus said that repentance bears “fruit,” actions that demonstrate that there has truly been a change of heart about the situation (Matthew 3:8).
If we’re saying “I’m sorry” in a vain attempt to make everything better, but aren’t making changes that show our repentance, we’re making empty confessions.
Empty confessions hurt
They say “confession is good for the soul,” but there comes a point where repeated confessions, without a corresponding change of behavior, are not only not good for the soul (or a relationship), they can destroy it.
- Empty confessions can relieve your guilty conscience, when it shouldn’t be relieved.
Confessing the wrong you’ve done is like opening a pressure valve on your guilty conscience. It feels good. It’s a relief. It makes you feel like you’ve done what you need to do… and you have, initially. But there’s more to do. There are changes to make. If you confess but don’t change, you can deceive yourself into thinking you’re a “good guy” when really, your behavior/attitude/sin is not being dealt with. That’s self-deception, and it can be lethal to you and your relationships.
- Repeated confessions without change hurts the people you are confessing to.
The person receiving your confession is intially encouraged by it, because it sounds like you really “see” what you did to hurt them. They begin to hope that things will be different in the future. They forgive you and move on. But when you don’t follow up with changed behavior, they are disappointed – again. They are hurt – again. They begin to wonder if you really care about them, if you really care that you hurt them. Or, are they just being “played?”
- Confessions that don’t bear the fruit of corresponding change, cripple relationships.
If you fall into a habit of confessing but never really change, the people you confess to will begin to feel that your words don’t mean anything. They won’t trust you. A relationship that has fallen into that place is very, very tough to restore. How can a person who’s been hurt by empty confessions again and again, be made to believe the next confession that comes. It’s the boy who cried wolf, in relational terms.
Why am I knocking a good thing like confessions?
I’m not saying that every person who confesses but doesn’t follow up with change is intentionally manipulating things so that they can take the easy way out. All of us have truly been sorry, made a genuine, heart-felt confession, and fully intended to make changes, but haven’t followed through for one reason or another:
- We forget about the issue, or how serious it was, and the busy-ness of life rushes in to distract us from it.
- We fail to make it a priority that we focus on, with the LORD’s help.
- We fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” pattern.
- We forget how hurtful it really was to the person who was offended.
These and a hundred more keep us on the wrong side of our confessions, continuing to be offenders, continuing to violate the trust we’ve been given, continuing to hurt people we love.
How to make your confessions count
You can’t do this on your own. Without the empowering help of the Holy Spirit, you’ll continue to fail. Here are some things that have helped me get over the hump in the past. I trust they will be helpful:
- Ask the person you’ve hurt for more details regarding how your offense impacted them. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. The natural thing is to get past the hurt as fast as you can. But when you take the time to do this, you’re doing a number of things: 1 – you’re caring about the person on a deeper level. 2 – You’re communicating that to them. 3 – You’re finding out the real impact your actions are having on that person. 4 – You’re putting yourself in a place where you can truly be sorrowful over what you’ve done.
- Ask the LORD to bring about a godly sorrow in you. Look up 2 Corinthians 7:10. True repentance, the kind that brings about change, flows out of a godly sorrow/grief, over what you’ve done. The term “godly sorrow” means a sorrow that corresponds with the way God sees the offense. When you see what you have done to the other person through God’s eyes, it changes the degree to which you are sorrowful, and becomes a powerful motivator to change.
- Ask the LORD to show you the appropriate “fruit” that needs to happen in your life. Remember Matthew 3:8. There is supposed to be change that happens when repentance is genuine. The LORD can show you what that is, and how to go about putting it into practice. Ask Him. He will show you.
- Make it a project. My wife introduced me to the idea of making an area of growth into a “project.” It means you make the issue a high priority in your life by intentionally focusing on it day after day until improvements are made. That means you 1 – Take it before the LORD every morning when you wake up, asking Him for His insight and help. 2 – You write yourself notes, set reminder alarms on your phone, create other ways to prompt you to remember the changes you’re seeking to make, and you do them without fail. Things only change when you make changes in your normal routine and way of thinking.
I’m praying for you, as I pray for myself, that you’ll be able to be a man or woman of your word; that when you say “I’m sorry,” you will truly mean it and be able to see change happen in your life. I’m praying that your spouse and family will be blessed by the integrity they see as you do.