Real Apology

by Melissa Parkhouse

Have you ever been hurt by someone and when they apologized to you, it felt sort of flat and empty?  And the “I’m sorry” simply wasn’t enough for you?  There are really good reasons why that is!

How many times have you heard (or used) the following phrases? “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “I didn’t mean to ________.”  “I could have done a better job.”

On the surface, they look like an apology, but they miss the mark because of these key points: they are surface level and they do not value the experience of the other person.  The words “I am sorry” do not carry weight unless it is paired with a heartfelt confession of wrongdoing.

Why is this important?  Because as believers we are called to live in the light!  Our sin nature wants to hide things, minimize personal harm and avoid looking at the ugly things in our lives.  Confession and repentance (fancy Christian words for apology) are critical aspects of our walk with Jesus and with others!  Confession, the acknowledgement of sin, and repentance, the turning away from the behaviors and attitudes that caused the issue, are what allow us to walk in freedom.

Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict has outlined 7 crucial steps in creating an effective apology.  He calls them “The Seven A’s of Confession.”

Step 1: Address Everyone Involved

An effective apology will not try to hide or minimize the damage caused.  If your actions caused hurt, pain or misunderstanding to more than one person, you will need to go through all of these steps with each person involved.

Step 2: Avoid using the words: “If, but and maybe”

Why those words in particular?  Because they are always attached to excuses, justification, or minimizing.

“If you hadn’t done that thing, then I wouldn’t have responded the way I did.”

“But you did this…”

“I guess maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”

Do any of these sound convincing to you?  I sure hope not!  The problem with using excuses or justifying ourselves is that we are trying to avoid blame.  Yes, the other person may have had something to do with the issue, but that’s not the point!  You are apologizing because you value the relationship more than being right.

Step 3: Admit Specifically

Ok now we’re getting to some nitty-gritty, ugly, heart-stuff.  When we admit specifically we are naming and owning the attitudes and actions that caused harm to the person.

Pause and think about it:  Are you starting to see a trend here?  In order to apologize effectively you are going to need real humility and spend some time searching your heart beforehand.  A genuine apology triggers genuine forgiveness and reconciliation (which are fancy ways of saying the authentic restoring of relationships).  If you want real restoration in your relationships, you are definitely going to need Jesus to help you.  Ask Him to show you the ugly places in your heart that caused the problem, repent and ask Him to heal you.  You can even use these 7 A’s of Confession in talking to the Lord about things you want to change in your life!

Ok, back to admitting specifically.  I’ve noticed in my own life that the real reason I don’t want to admit specifically what I did wrong is because I don’t like looking at these things about myself and I am embarrassed by them.  When I bravely choose to own exactly what I did wrong and shed light on those dark places in my heart, I am opening a door to my own life change, and a door for healing in the relationship.  It’s painful, but it’s worth it.

Step 4: Acknowledge the Hurt

This step walks hand in hand with admitting specifically what you did wrong.  Take the time to express sorrow for hurting the other person.  If you have taken the time before the Lord to look at the attitudes and behaviors that hurt someone, you will have also had time to consider what that felt like to the other person.  Talk about it!

Whew!  We made it through the first four steps.  If you have made it this far in your apology building, well done! We’re done right?  We can just ask for forgiveness and call it good right?  Nope! There are two more important steps before we can get to asking for forgiveness.

Step 5: Accept the Consequences

Ouch.

Pause for a moment and consider this:  Do we apologize because we want right relationship?  Or do we apologize because we want to avoid the consequences of our actions?  Real repentance doesn’t avoid consequences.

And the hardest part of this step, is many times, you don’t get to decide the consequences.  The person who you hurt might want to set up boundaries that change the dynamic of the relationship, or you may need to pay to cover the cost of or replace a damaged item.  If you are willing to do some heart work before hand, you can keep this in mind, “This relationship matters to me, so I am willing to do whatever it takes to make it right.”

Step 6: Alter Your Behavior

An apology is empty unless it is accompanied by authentic life change.  Do you have a plan in place for how you are going to modify your behavior?  Share this with the person you caused harm to!

Step 7: Ask for Forgiveness

Genuine apology is a very vulnerable experience.  You bring your heart attitudes and actions before God and before another person, repent specifically and acknowledge the damage.  Once you’ve done that, you may ask one thing:  Will you forgive me?

Why this is important:  Sometimes when we apologize we expect for other people to simply accept are apology and be ok with it.  Unfortunately, that is an unfair expectation.  If we have truly acknowledged the hurt we caused to someone, then we need to give them space and time to process that for themselves.  We cannot demand an instant restoration of relationship.  Out of humility, we can ask for forgiveness and, if it’s not offered right away, we can wait patiently, trusting that God will help heal their hearts as well.

An apology is not a say-it-once-and-it’s-over process, it’s a first step in a journey toward healing.  But, if you will take the time and make sure that your apology contains these seven ingredients to an effective apology, you might be surprised by the outcome!

To purchase a copy of Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, click here.

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These Things Can’t Satisfy Me

by Dani Maddox

I’m a mom of three. If you’re a parent or have ever taken care of kids, you know it’s a pretty demanding responsibility. My kids are always asking for something. They are always in need of attention, entertainment, or food. My days usually consist of me running around like a crazy person trying to meet the demands.

My 5-year-old is bored. “You can have computer time,” I respond.

My 6-year-old is mad. “Go play with your Legos,” I tell him.

My toddler is cranky and whiny. “Here are some snacks.”

The cycle continues again and again and again. They have a boo-boo, I fix it. They are bored, we go do something fun. They are upset, I give them food or a toy or whatever.

As God has been drawing me to a closer relationship with him, he’s been revealing a lot of sin in my heart. The way I parented was in response to how I generally cope with life. Instead of going to God for connection, I automatically turned to things that would make me feel better temporarily. Psychology calls these coping mechanisms. The Bible calls these idols.

Anything we turn to for comfort, connection, happiness, or fulfillment is an idol. God alone is the only one capable of filling these needs. Jesus says in John 4:14 that, “’whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” Jesus Christ is that living water.

Idols always leave us wanting more and more. They never satisfy, so we will spend our entire lives chasing after these things to find fulfillment. If our idol is food, we are left continually hungry. If our idol is money, it’s never enough. If it’s a spouse, we will constantly be sucking them dry and blaming them for not making us happy.

When it comes to parenting, we usually pass down our idols to our children. My idols of choice are usually food and busyness, so when my children would cry out for attention, I would give them food or something to keep them busy.

As God continued to reveal the ugliness of my heart, I began to see the ways I was teaching my kids to turn to idols. Like me, my kids truly just needed love, acceptance, and connection. Instead, I was giving them a shallow substitute, which left them feeling disconnected from me and always wanting more.

God has slowly been peeling away the layers of sin in my heart, revealing a heart that is so desperate for true connection. As I realize my need for Him, He continues to pour out His love on me and show Himself faithful time and time again. God’s love for me has translated into a deeper love for the people around me, especially my kids.

For the first time, I feel as though I truly know my children. As I seek to understand them more and empathize with their emotions, God reveals their little hearts. Instead of merely judging their actions and offering them a cheap substitute for my love, I offer them myself—my love, my empathy, my acceptance.

It’s no wonder parents feel the pressure to give so much to our children—expensive trips, nice gifts, fun outings, the newest gadgets, delicious food, etc. We feel as though these things are necessary because they have replaced actual heart-to-heart connection. We have this attitude like, “I do so much for you! You should know I love you!” When, in actuality, the gifts we give and the fun time we spend together should be our secondary displays of love, a lesser manifestation of the affection in our hearts.

This really ought to be a relief for us as parents because that means it doesn’t matter how much money and resources we have. We have the ability to express love no matter what our financial situation looks like.

The amazing thing is that when we begin to spend the time connecting with our children, accepting them exactly where they are, and getting to know their hearts, their neediness begins to subside as they are now filled up with genuine love. Which was all they wanted in the first place!

I’m also reminded of how the crowds responded differently to Jesus’ miracles. Miracles are a sign from God that point us to him, just as an outward expressions of love is a sign of our love for others. Jesus performed miracles for the purpose of drawing people to Himself, not just to give people health and sustenance. For some, miracles caused them to put their faith in Jesus. For others, Jesus become merely the source of what they wanted (the outcome of his miracles).

In John 6:26-27 Jesus responds to the latter: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Jesus didn’t continue to miraculously produce bread for these people. He had already performed miracles so that people could see that he was sent by the Father. When the people insisted that he prove himself once again, Jesus declared in John 6:35-40:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

As in all things in life, I’m realizing that the answer is always to seek God with all your heart. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Before anything, pursue God.

I can only do so much in my own strength, but God gives me the wisdom (John 6:45), the ability (Philippians 4:13), and the resources (Romans 8:32) to accomplish his will.

Not-So-Great Expectations: Letting Go of the “Shoulds” and “Ought Tos” to have a Joy-Filled Christmas

By Dani Maddox

Christmastime. Isn’t it fun? Well, it’s supposed to be, right? Fun parties, good food, glorious desserts, friends, family. Why wouldn’t it be an enjoyable time?

Many people chalk it up to the fact that it’s just too busy. Maybe there’s the constant family drama that keeps people from truly enjoying this holiday season. Or perhaps we’re just losing our focus with all the presents and activities.

What God has been speaking to me is that it’s all in my expectations—of the attitude I should have, of how others ought to behave, of the fun memories that should be had, of the games that ought to be played, of treats that should be baked, of the presents I ought to buy, of the parties I should attend.

Several days ago, God gave me an example of the power of expectations in an incident involving one of my children. We put on a movie for the kids and I allowed them to have some animal crackers as a treat. I then proceeded to offer my husband a snack, which said child thought she deserved along with the animal crackers I had already given her.

When I explained to her that she would not be receiving the additional snack, she began whining and complaining. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of her heart—ingratitude.

This may seem like such a small, trivial event, but God was showing me something very powerful and he revealed to me how I had contributed in creating this attitude in my own child.

God showed me that because I have expected (i.e.—needed) my children to behave, I was willing to offer them anything to get their obedience. It seemed to work just fine for all these years. I give them snacks, offer them movies to watch, give them computer time, make fun outings a regular occurrence, etc. and then I get the behavior that I want. It’s a win/win, right?

Wrong. The hearts of my children have become spoiled as they have learned to just expect things from me. And I fed into it. In the meantime, I am so exhausted from doing everything for them and maintaining the balancing act of co-dependency.

But thank you, God. You know our hearts and lead us in your way (Psalm 139:23-24). You show us the depths of our sin and reveal truth.

If I wanted change, I had to allow God to change me first. Through the refining of my heart, God has been able to bring me to a place of freedom where I no longer need anything from my children. I am free to love them and discipline them without my hurts, wounds, and unmet needs getting in the way. God is continually pouring out his love on me and filling me up, giving me the freedom to truly love my family.

After God revealed to me the hearts of my children, he proceeded to give me the wisdom in tackling this issue. They need to understand that they don’t deserve these things. It takes a whole lot more than just telling my kids this. They needed to experience it.

Without going into all the details of what this looks like for my family, I will just say that I had to apply more consequences for ingratitude. I had to take away the things they thought they just deserved. I also had to make them earn their special treats and privileges.

I do not, however, make them earn my love, acceptance, and empathy. That is my free gift to them. This also shows them that my love for them is not tied to these special things. Giving them presents is a manifestation of my love, not a substitute for my love. In other words, if I stop giving them gifts and special treats, they still understand that I love them because it’s been shown to them consistently no matter the circumstances.

Now, back to the topic of Christmastime. Could it be that we lack joy because, like my spoiled children, we have come to expect so much of the things that are essentially out of our control and we are lacking in hopeful expectation from God?

Let’s think about this. When your children have a bad attitude and you get overly angry, is it because you are expecting them to have the right attitude? When you roll your eyes at a family member creating drama, is it because you expect this person to behave? When you host a party even though your calendar is already jam-packed, is it because you’re placing impossible expectations on yourself? When you run yourself ragged trying to make this season as special and memorable as possible, is it because you have expectations of how things ought to be?

The fruit of unwarranted expectation is either anger and resentment if my expectation is unfulfilled, or ingratitude when I receive what I expect. Either way, its effects are relationally destructive. My thought for you is to notice these things that steal your joy and consider them the red flags of your heart, not merely outward things to fix or avoid.

Allow God to personally speak to you during these times of anger, sadness, and frustration. Allow him to reveal the deeper heart issues that no amount of fun, food, or festivities will repair. Allow the discomfort to pull you to our Healer and Comforter.

Psalm 4:7 states that, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Think about that. God can give us more joy in our difficult circumstances than when life is going perfectly smooth. Think about the joy we can have in celebrating the birth of our Lord. According to Galatians 5:22, joy is a fruit of the Spirit; joy is something God wants to give us!

We cannot expect anything from anyone because, sooner or later, we will be let down and utterly disappointed. But God has promised us abundant life (John 10:10), healing of our wounds (Isaiah 53:5), fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), and eternal life (John 3:16). And because God has promised it, we can expect it and receive it.

Now that is something to rejoice in!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13

Thoughts on Christmas

by Barb Rawalt

Don’t wait for Christmas to celebrate CHRISTMAS!

Christmas – that GOD came to our world, our wildly-dysfunctional world, our needy world.

He came in the Person of His Son, to:

– REDEEM the ‘Hostages’ (those in any kind of captivity)
*Redeem means He paid the payment needed for release!

– RESTORE the Broken  (anything that’s broken, splintered, un-whole)

– RETURN His children Home to their true Daddy, GOD.

Don’t miss Christmas! Celebrate, and RECEIVE, what He has done!

Turn Down For What?

by Melissa Parkhouse

Noise.

It’s pervasive.  Intrusive.

It’s so much a part of our daily lives that we don’t realise what we are hearing anymore.  We’ve dulled our senses to tune it out.

A few years ago when wind storms knocked out power throughout most of our city for 2 days, I was struck by how quiet it was!  Inside a home with no furnace running.  No electricity buzzing.  No appliances humming…

Just.  Silence.

With no power there was a different kind of silence too.  No TV.  No internet.  No email.  No distractions.

We live in a culture today that demands immediate attention at all times.  TV’s become the background noise to our existence.  Commercials get louder and more invasive.  Smart phones create immediate access to billions of bits of information at a moments notice.  They buzz.  They chime.  And all those the little red notifications of “look at me now! I demand your immediate response!”  Friends can text instead of call.  Exchanging brief moments of interaction for real connection.  We are distracted by everything that is vying for our attention.  And we are held prisoners by the demands of the lives that we have built.

But is this the kind of environment that the human heart was designed to flourish in?

Over and over throughout the life of Jesus we see him withdrawing from crowds, and even his disciples, to be still and pray (Luke 5:16).  He would withdraw from crowds, he would head out into the wilderness, he would find lonely places, so that he could be alone with his Father.

Even Jesus had to be intentional in creating space to hear from God.

So why don’t we?

There are several reasons we run toward noise and away from silence:

1. Silence is Confrontative.

Being still with only the company of yourself can be scary.  We often keep the noise level high because we don’t actually like who we are.  Stillness gives us time to evaluate the inconsistencies in our lives- and that can be downright painful!  We choose busy over growth.  We choose avoidance over change.  We choose noise to mask the discomfort of our existence.

2. We’re in Pain

Chances are there isn’t a person reading this blog who has not suffered pain in one way, shape, or another.  We are highly aware of the sting of rejection, the painful embarrassment of shame, the sharp stab of guilt, or other forms of assault that have damaged us to the core of our being.  When we’re in pain, we want to escape it.  So we choose our drug of choice: chronic busy-ness, technology additions and overpacked schedules.  We create elaborate, busy lives to stay far away from the pain in our hearts.

3. We’re Afraid

What will you discover if you were to put down the computer and just be still?  Are you afraid of what you will find?  Will what you discover force you to change?  Change is uncomfortable but it is absolutely necessary to live the life that you were called and destined for!

The other aspect of fear is we are afraid that if we set aside time to be still and listen and perhaps lean into the Lord, that He won’t show up.  That He does speak, but not to you.  That lie is straight from hell and designed to keep you far away from your loving Father.  The testimony of Scripture is that God is the God who loves to speak to his children.

One of the best things you can do for your personal and  spiritual growth is turn down the noise level in your life. That doesn’t just mean volume, it also means turning down distractions, interruptions and busy-ness in favor of creating space in your life where you can have quietness, stillness and focused attention on the Lord.  So I challenge you.  Turn down the noise level in your life.  For the benefit of your entire being, turn it down.

You might discover that you not only like it, but that your life begins to flourish as a result.

Here is a short list of things you might try as you work on turning down the volume level of your life:

1. Clear some time in your schedule.

Is everything on your schedule absolutely necessary?  Take some time to sift through the essential and non essential things on your to-do list and weekly schedule.  Block out time for stillness.  Put it on your calendar and schedule things around those times you have set.

2. Turn off the technology

Shut off the TV.  Turn off the music.  Walk away from your computer screen.  Turn your phone off.  Log out of social media. There is nothing in your life that is so urgent that you cannot leave each one of those technologies alone for an hour or more each day.  If you struggle with doing that, I challenge you to evaluate your addiction to the technology in your life.

3. Turn off the push notifications

You are not at the beck and call of a digital device.  You can decide when you want to check your email or social media page.  The urgency goes away when you don’t have chimes, vibrations and little red icons demanding your attention all the time.

4. Set some healthy boundaries

If your schedule is overpacked because you have a hard time saying no to people, it’s time to lovingly stop saying yes.   It’s important to be clear on your boundaries so you can determine who has access to your life and how much. That’s not mean or unChristlike, it’s wisdom!  Make a list: Who will I always give time to?  That should be a pretty short list and definitely should include God, time for yourself, your family and a few key friends.  Everything else can work around a reasonable schedule in your life.

Turn down for what?  Turn down for the benefit of your soul.  Turn down, to learn a new way of being.  Turn down, so you can connect with the Lover of your soul.  Turn down, so you can gain life.