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.
- Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
- Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse or diminish the effect of your wrongs)
- Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
- Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
- Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
- Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
- 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
- Why do we tend to use the three phrases given above?
- What can you say if you sense that you’ve offended someone but truly don’t understand what you may have done wrong?
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2018 Ken Sande
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