Faith, Prayer, Repentance, Forgiveness: The Power of Apology

There’s that one song on the radio that says over and over, “It’s too late to apologize, it’s too late.” That song bugs me, because if you’re still alive, it’s not too late. I mean (Pretend I’m talking out loud to my radio in the car. It’s been known to happen.), you might be too proud to apologize, or too scared to apologize, or it might seem too hard to apologize, but I guess that doesn’t make for good lyrics. Too late? Lame excuse.

The Family Proclamation lists the ingredients of successful marriages and families. If I were to rewrite one sentence from the Proclamation in the form of a recipe, I think it would look something like this:

It seems simple enough, but it is hard work (which, coincidentally, happens to be one of the ingredients). And since it is challenging, we mess up. Often. That’s why I think that the two ingredients that will have to be added over and over to the recipe are repentance and forgiveness. Consider the following words of wisdom:

“To be guileless is to have a childlike innocence, to be slow to take offense and quick to forgive. These qualities are first learned in the home and family and can be practiced in all our relationships. To be guileless is to look for our own fault first. When accused, we should ask as the Savior’s Apostles did, “Lord, is it I?”. If we listen to the answer given by the Spirit, we can, if needed, make corrections, apologize, seek forgiveness, and do better.” —Elder Robert D. Hales

“To any[one] within the sound of my voice who has trouble controlling his tongue, may I suggest that you plead with the Lord for the strength to overcome your weakness, that you apologize to those you have offended, and that you marshal within yourselves the power to discipline your tongue.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley

“The sweet peace the gospel brings never comes at all when we justify our misconduct or blame others for our unhappiness. But there is a way out. … Face up, quit, get out, confess, apologize, admit the harm we have done…” —Elder F. Burton Howard

“On a visit to see my Uncle Ray last year, … Hanging on the kitchen wall was a framed expression which my aunt had embroidered. It carried a world of practical application: ‘Choose your love; love your choice.’ Very often this will take compromise, forgiveness, perhaps apology. We must ever be committed to the success of our marriage.” —President Thomas S. Monson

“Every marriage is subject to occasional stormy weather. But with patience, mutual respect, and a spirit of forbearance, we can weather these storms. Where mistakes have been made, there can be apology, repentance, and forgiveness. But there must be willingness to do so on the part of both parties.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley

“You have felt [your Heavenly Father’s approval] in your family when you asked the pardon of your spouse or forgave a child for some mistake or disobedience. These moments will come more often as you try to do the things you know Jesus would do. Because of His Atonement for you, your childlike obedience will bring a feeling of love of the Savior for you and your love for Him.” —President Henry B. Eyring

There’s a reason I chose to write about the importance of repentance and forgiveness in family relationships. The reason is me. I make mistakes all the time. Just yesterday, I lost my patience with both of my sons for performing below their potential at school. What I considered tough love was probably, in part, actually a little unkind. This morning, I lost my temper when my daughter refused to eat breakfast and responded to me with defiance. Here’s the thing: I am the parent, but I am still the learner, too. So when the Spirit pricks at my heart and says, “You could have handled that better,” then I need to swallow my pride and apologize. When I dropped off Natalie at school today, before I let her hop out of the van, I pulled her up onto my lap, looked into her pretty blue eyes, and said, “Does Mommy need to apologize?” She nodded her head. I told her I was sorry and that I had acted wrongly. I asked her forgiveness. I gave her a hug. And as I drove away, I promised Heavenly Father that I would try (again and again) to do better.

One of my favorite things about my husband is that he usually says sorry first–even when the fault is as much or more mine than his. It is an immediate diffuser of coldness and distance. When someone sincerely says “I’m sorry,” we can breathe easier as we work through our disagreements. And because we hope our Heavenly Father will forgive us all the way when we make dumb mistakes, we need to be willing to offer that same kind of forgiveness to others, especially those with whom we have covenant relationships.  I’ve always loved this powerful analogy by Elder Holland:

Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is it charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried. Don’t keep going back with your little sand pail and beach shovel to dig it up, wave it around, and then throw it at someone, saying, ‘Hey! Do you remember this?’ Splat!

Well, guess what? That is probably going to result in some ugly morsel being dug up out of your landfill with the reply, ‘Yeah, I remember it. Do you remember this?’ Splat.

And soon enough everyone comes out of that exchange dirty and muddy and unhappy and hurt, when what God, our Father in Heaven, pleads for is cleanliness and kindness and happiness and healing. Such dwelling on past lives, including past mistakes, is just not right! It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

So when you find that your relationship with your spouse or your child is strained (as it will often be), put down your shovel and pail, put down your pride, and say “I am sorry.” When spoken with a humble heart, and then followed by an “increase of love” or any of the other ingredients, your marriage and family recipe is one step closer to successful. The song got it wrong: It’s never too late to apologize.


Click here to read a complete version of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. The celebration will continue through Sept. 30.

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