Whether your children are fully grown, or still crawling on your lap, the power of an apology can transform your relationship.

“I’m sorry” – two of the most powerful words known to mankind. These two words, given in love and grace, can make the difference between a life filled with emotional pain and one filled with joy and peace. It can be both easy and terribly difficult to utter these two words, depending on your understanding of what it truly means to be a godly father. But they are some of the most important words you can say to keep the relationships in your life healthy and filled with love. Perhaps none more powerful, or life-changing than a father’s apology.

This concept was clearly demonstrated in the hit movie, “Unsung Hero,” the true story of the Smallbone family – including the popular singers Rebecca St. James and her brothers from For King & Country, Joel and Luke Smallbone. As the film unfolds, we see the Dad reeling from a series of major setbacks in his business and the loss of his own father. In frustration and sorrow, he lashes out at his wife and his oldest daughter, Rebecca. The turning point is the father’s apology.

Without his apology – and then his subsequent changed behaviour – the lives of these now-famous people could have spiralled off in another less-successful direction.

A Life-Changing Father’s Apology

A similar turning point took place as a result of my own father’s apology from my own father.

My Dad was a talented, world-class portrait painter. Attending art school in Manhattan in the 1950s, he was told by a professor that he had the ability to be a successful portrait artist in any major city in the world – New York, Paris, London. Instead he moved back to our hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, married my mother, and went on to have 7 children. An artist in a small city with a large family typically cannot have a career as a portrait painter. So he worked as a graphic artist at the local newspaper and painted his portraits nights and weekends.

In frustration, Dad sometimes became harsh and verbally abusive to my mum, my siblings, and to me. He didn’t know any better. What he had learned from his own parents he was now demonstrating to his kids. The wounds he had received as a kid were now being passed on to his own children.

As the old saying goes, “hurting people hurt people.”

But a change slowly took place in my father’s heart. Having committed his life to Christ in his early 30s, he learned what the Bible says concerning the behaviour of a godly husband and father. Over time, my Dad came to the understanding that his behaviour during times of frustration had been wrong and hurtful to his family.

These angry outbursts had been so painful for me that I had moved out of the home and had maintained a strained relationship with my Dad. That all changed one day when I received an invitation to meet my parents at their house. Sitting together at the dining room table, my father unburdened his heart.

“As I’ve grown in my relationship with God and in my understanding of the Bible over the years, I’ve come to realise that sometimes I’ve been too harsh as a father. I know my angry words and actions brought you pain and hindered our relationship. I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

I was floored by his admission, and my father’s humble apology.

“Will you forgive me?” he implored.

As I processed this remarkable mea culpa, my own catalogue of sins and disrespectful behaviour unfolded in my mind. Not only did I agree to forgive my Dad, but I asked for his forgiveness for my own hurtful responses and disrespect. We prayed together and ended the evening in a memorable group hug.

My father’s sincere apology transformed our relationship. From that point forward we built a trusting, respectful relationship that lasted until he went home to be with the Lord.

The Apology Effect

Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Denise Cummins points to the proven power of saying you’re sorry. “The majority of research indicates that apologies do indeed serve a useful—and objectively measurable—purpose. They convert a desire for revenge into willingness to forgive and forget.”

The research points to the power of sincere apologies, which lead to forgiveness and reconciliation.

According to an article in the Psychological Bulletin, an analysis of 175 studies on forgiveness showed that an apology is one of the most effective indicators of interpersonal reconciliation.

The Elements of a Life-Changing Apology

To truly apologise, we must show a measure of humility and a dash of maturity. In order to truly say we are sorry, we must humble ourselves, admit we were wrong, and seek to repair the damage we have done. Every apology should include the following important elements.

Be sincere: Work to make sure the offended person knows your apology is from the heart. The word “sincere” means “pure, unmixed, unadulterated.” It is “free from pretense or falsehood.” It is commonly believed that the word “sincere” emerged from two Latin words, sine, “without” and cera “wax.”  In ancient Rome, potters would often sell ceramic vessels with the words sine cera, promising they had not added wax to plug cracks or small holes. Our apologies must also be sincere in order to be received by others.

Hear their heart: In relationships, people want to know that they have been heard. It’s important for us as fathers to let our loved ones know we have truly heard their perspective. This may require that we repeat what we believe we have heard to let them know that we understand what we’ve done to bring pain to the relationship.

If we are to rebuild the relationship, it’s vitally important that we acknowledge what we did to hurt the other person.

Say the words: It’s important to actually say, “I’m sorry.” By doing so, we express our regret and take responsibility for the wounds that have been received.

Rebuild trust: There is an old, wise saying: “forgiveness is given, but trust must be earned.” Over the years, people have asked me how they can forgive someone who hurt them when the trust has been shattered. Scripture makes it clear that we must forgive those who have “trespassed against us” (Matthew 6:12). As fathers, we must also work to rebuild the trust that was broken. It can be a difficult, painful process, but it is worth it to maintain peace in our families.

Doing the Repair Work

Rebuilding a relationship requires humility, wisdom, and trust-building actions. By doing something tangible to repair a wounded relationship with your children, we go beyond merely “saying” the words to “showing” our sincerity.

Our children are our kids forever. It’s worth a slice of humble pie from time-to-time when we step out of line to keep these precious relationships healthy. And though it can be awkward and difficult on our pride, a sincere apology almost always brings good feelings to everyone in the end.

© 2024 Focus on the Family. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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