Confession Killers

Confession Killers

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If you want to diminish the value of a confession, use one of these three phrases.

“I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.”

When you use “if” in a confession, what people often hear is, “I don’t know that I’ve done anything wrong, but since you’re obviously upset, here’s a token apology to get you off my back. By the way, since I don’t see that I’ve done anything wrong, I have no idea how I may need to change. So it’s only a matter of time before I do the same thing again.”

“It wasn’t intentional.”

When you use these words, some people will hear, “I did not deliberately set out to hurt you. But I obviously didn’t make much of an effort to avoid hurting you either.”

“It wasn’t personal.”

When you say this, it’s all too easy for people to hear, “It wasn’t personal to me so you shouldn’t take it personally (even though it hurt you).”

These are probably not the messages you intend to communicate. And of course not everyone will interpret these words as harshly as I’ve suggested. But many people may interpret them this way, and that misunderstanding could trigger a downward spiral in your conversation and possibly your relationship.

If you’d like to avoid make confessions that are easily misinterpreted, I encourage you to plan your words by prayerfully reflecting on the Seven A’s of Confession.

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse or diminish the effect of your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

You don’t need to use all seven elements in every confession, and you certainly don’t want to turn this into a Pharisaical checklist. But the more thoughtfully and sincerely you plan your words, the more likely your confession is to promote genuine forgiveness and reconciliation.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions:

  1. Why do we tend to use the three phrases given above?
  2. What can you say if you sense that you’ve offended someone but truly don’t understand what you may have done wrong?
  3. Jesus says we will have to give an account someday even for our “careless words” (Matt. 12:36). What commandments do we violate if we speak or act thoughtlessly toward others (Matt. 7:12; Matt. 22:39; Eph. 4:29).

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like. If you wish to adapt the questions to better suit your group, please include a parenthetical note (Questions adapted with permission of RW360) and send a copy to mail@rw360.org.

© 2018 Ken Sande

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5 Responses to "Confession Killers"
  1. Regarding the “it wasn’t intentional” and the “it wasn’t personal” comments, isn’t that a bit of a harsh broad-brushed judgment? I can think of many times that people are just overwhelmed with many things at once in life – and may raise their voice or snap or respond shortly in the moment without meaning to. A gracious and forgiving heart wouldn’t necessarily automatically jump to such an uncharitable conclusion as, “well they just don’t care enough to take the time to soften their responses.”

    • I understand your concern, BJ, and I would not make an absolute rule about never offering an explanation. But if you look at Cathy’s comment, you’ll see why offering explanations usually does not help.

  2. I understand how a confession needs to be authentic without a defensive posture or not taking personal responsibility. I believe that we need to investigate why a godly confession is so difficult and at times feels impossible.
    At times, a confession can connect us to our deepest issues of shame, betrayal, and condemnation. This well of hurt and deception seems to influence us not to confess. Overcoming these strongholds requires a deep commitment to Christ and belief that obedience to Him will result in new freedom. I think of God speaking to Joshua as he stands before the promise land. Joshua is told to have courage in God and His promised victories. “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do.” Joshua 1:7. The new land, the freedom in Christ in overcoming whatever the resistance/thinking/disobedience/fear is in owning our sin in the present conflict requires courage. Ultimately will we have faith in our understanding, logic, family of origin rules of living, past hurts etc or do we step into the new land, confessing our sin, with our eyes on Christ and our hope in His Promises?

  3. “It wasn’t intentional” is a huge one for me. I have a tendency to try to explain my behavior, and why I didn’t intend to do any harm. But my explanation usually comes across as justification instead. I try to say, “Why my behavior was wrong (but understandable in light of the circumstances)”. But instead, people hear me saying, “Why my behavior wasn’t wrong.” I have learned to stop trying to give explanations because they distract from the apology, which is the only thing that is really needed. Even if I think I might have an excuse, I filter out the excuse and say the words, “I have no excuse.” I have found that people receive that much better, and once the apology is complete, very often a fuller discussion may follow where they may (or may not) be interested in my “reasons”.

    • This is so wise, Cathy! You’ve done a great job explaining how our words come across regardless of our intent.

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About Ken Sande

Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360. Trained as an engineer, lawyer and mediator, Ken has conciliated hundreds of family, business, church and legal conflicts. He teaches globally and has written numerous resources on building relationships and resolving conflict, including The Peacemaker, which has sold over 500,000 copies in seventeen languages.