On occasion a particularly young and/or naive person asks me for advice about being a husband or a dad. (Not many wise and experienced people bother) Since I got married young and had kids young I have “experience”, I guess. By “experience”, of course, I mean scars and bruises from stumbling into obstacles created by my own idiocy and arrogance.
When the question is put to me “What piece of advice would you give to a new husband/dad?” I want to leave minds blown and mouths agape. I want to utter a witticism that would make Solomon jealous and Confucius plagiarize. Instead, all I have ever been able to come up with is this: “Always apologize first.”
Somewhere along the way I was given this piece of advice – or pieces of advice that added up to it. It’s so simple but time and again has proven itself to be the piece of advice I needed. It falls under the grand banner of “A soft answer turns away wrath” and enforces both humility and self-examination. Apologizing first is the bucket of water which douses the flames threatening to burn bridges between wife and husband or father and children.
To apologize first requires a person to genuinely reflect on his role in any conflict. I can’t remember many occasions when I was totally innocent in a conflict with my wife or children. Even if they’ve wronged me I nearly always contribute to the conflict with self-righteousness, pride, or just generally being a jerk in return. I always earn the right to apologize (and, be honest, so do you). If I am always intent on apologizing first I will dig through my heart to find that word or attitude that caused hurt or conflict. I will figure out what debt I owe to my wife or my daughters and go settle accounts with them
Apologizing first encourages the other person to apologize. By walking back their way you shortened the distance they have to come to make their own apology whenever they are ready. It’s much easier to say “I’m sorry too” than it is to simply say “I’m sorry.” Do the hard part so that it’s easier for others to follow in kind.
Apologizing is a beautiful example for your children (and spouse). I know too many people who can’t remember their parents ever admitting wrong doing or apologizing for anything. To apologize to my girls for losing my temper or being inattentive to them is a significant example for them and necessary deflater for me. It does much to create a culture of humility and forgiveness in our home so that when wrongs happen they don’t fester. It builds trust because they learns it’s safe to say “I’m sorry” because forgiveness follows. Most importantly, apologizing first helps me explain how far from perfect I am and my own need to be forgiven by God for my sins.
I write this to share something that has helped me enormously. I hate being wrong, so apologizing is something loathsome to me. I’d rather explain, defend, and justify. Of course that just means apologies are something I need to offer all the more. It is a struggle every time to set aside my own ego and admit my fault and ask forgiveness. Maybe that’s why someone offered me this advice – they saw my own need. Maybe you are humbler than I am, but for those who aren’t give it a try. Apologize first. It will do wonders for your relationships and heart.
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