Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of the church season known as Lent. It is a forty-day period before Easter set aside as a time of soul-searching and repentance. The forty days reflect Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for his own time of spiritual reflection. In the early church Lent was a special time when new converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism on Easter.
Historically, there are four spiritual acts of Lent:
- Giving to the poor
It’s that last one that has me thinking today. Repentance is often defined as “to feel sorrow for sin” and rightly refers to our sin against God. But, we also sin against each other in our marriage and family relationships. We offend and hurt the ones we love. And we are offended and hurt by the ones we love.
In every marriage and family there comes a time when we must repent for our actions or words. That is often followed by an apology. How you apologize and what you say in the apology is important. Here are four components of a biblical apology:
- Confess sin – “I am sorry.” It helps to be specific about the offense. Avoid saying “but…” That tends to void the apology. A house is not clean until you open every closet and clean every room. Confession includes no more secrets and genuine regret.
- Accept responsibility – “I was wrong.” Repentant people do not give excuses or shift blame.
- Genuinely repent – “I have deep sorrow over my sin.” True repentance is essential for God-honoring change. In a marriage or family relationship, an intention to not repeat the offensive behavior needs to be verbalized in order to build trust. Heart change brings about life change, so true repentance is critical. Changing the course of life involves a decision to live in obedience to God and a deliberate turning from the things that cause temptation.
- Request forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?” This sends a strong signal that you know you’ve done something that requires forgiving, not just excusing. It also lets the other person know that you want to see the relationship restored.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” – Psalm 51:1-2