Tag Archives: apology

Trump’s Apology and Cheap Grace

Trump's apologyDonald Trump’s apology last week,  and the quick acceptance by some of his apology,  provide us with a teachable moment. I’d like to bring some clarity to what makes up an apology so we can all be better at it.

(Please note, this is not a political statement. My blog and books are dedicated to helping people to be spiritually and emotionally healthy. Put aside your politics for a moment. See what you can learn about apologies so you can apologize well and expect more from those who apologize.)*

What Is An Apology?

First, let’s look at what makes up an apology. I’ve written a number of posts about making an apology on this blog. In fact, I wrote four posts on each aspect of an apology. But here is a brief overview of the four components to an apology:

  1. Fully admit (100%) to what you did, and it’s impact, to everyone offended.  Resist the temptation to excuse, minimize, blame others, or justify your actions in any way.
  2. Express true sorrow for the impact of your offense. Speak in terms that show people you understand the pain you’ve caused them (empathy).
  3. Ask forgiveness of all those offended.
  4. Work to rebuild trust by stopping the offensive behavior, taking corrective action, and making amends.

When you take these four steps, there is a good chance that people will forgive your behavior. They might also give you a shot at  restoring the relationship. If you cut corners, you run the risk of intensifying the offense instead of removing it.

Measuring Trump’s Apology

If you read/watch Trump’s apology, observe how it lines up with these four steps. Trump’s words fail the test of a true apology at each point. For example:

  1. Full admission: Trump said he has “said and done things” he regrets, but he never mentioned what they were. He never apologized directly to the women he referenced. He minimized his actions by saying his words were merely “locker room talk,” a mere distraction to more important issues, and that the event was ten years old.
  2. True sorrow: Trump never mentioned the impact that his actions had on anyone or expressed sorrow for the impact.
  3. Asking forgiveness. He did not ask for forgiveness of any individuals or the public at large.
  4. Making amends. Nothing was said about how he would try to make this up to the people he hurt or the trust he broke. Eighty percent of the words in his statement sought to justify himself, divert people’s attention, and even attack Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Chris Christie, one of Trump’s biggest backers, thought the statement fell short of an apology:

When asked whether he thought Trump’s apology was enough, Christie responded, “I didn’t think it was on Friday or Saturday, and I told him that. I would have done it much differently.” “He should have been much more direct and much more focused on saying, just saying, “‘I’m sorry’ and only ‘I’m sorry,’” Christie added. ABC News

What bothers me so much about Trump’s statement is that it set a poor example for other people to follow.  It reinforces our low view of what makes up an apology. He’s not alone. Most people in the news offer an apology similar to Trump’s.

These “apologies” confuse people about what is necessary to reconcile an offense. Just because they use the words “I apologize” doesn’t mean it’s a true apology. We should expect more from them.

Cheap Grace

The response that I’ve heard from many people is that, “He apologized. I forgive him. Let’s move on.” I’m all for forgiveness, but the sentence I just quoted lacks a great deal of logic for these reasons:

  • “He apologized.” No he didn’t, for the reasons I mentioned above. He only said the words “I apologize.” It was merely his attempt to appease people who were offended.
  • “I forgive him.” To “forgive” simply means to give up the right to get even with someone: to pay them back. So yes, we can hopefully all forgive Trump and not try to pay him back. No one should slander him or rob him of dignity, even though his words did that to others.
  • “Let’s move on.” To move on just because someone used the words, “I apologize” is naive at best. If the behavior in question is a pattern, then we have a right to ask for verification of a change of behavior.  We aren’t talking about the misbehavior of a neighbor or co-worker here. This is a candidate for the presidency of the United States. It’s fair to expect more.

I can forgive you for your behavior, but if your behavior broke my trust, then you need to rebuild my trust before I gift you with it again. To trust someone who hasn’t shown, what the Bible calls, “the fruits (evidence) of repentance” is foolish. You are asking to be hurt again.

It’s shameful to accept an “apology” or offer forgiveness simply to white-wash immoral behavior and release someone from their accountability to their behavior. That is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace.” God’s grace is more than mercy. It’s the power to live a new life and be a better person. I can forgive Donald Trump without him changing his behavior. But to trust him without him offering a true apology and rebuilding trust is to misunderstand and misuse the grace of God.

Seizing a Teachable Moment

I’m not writing this post to promote Hillary Clinton. She might be just as guilty of what I’m saying about Trump. Trump’s behavior is what’s in the news right now and provides us with a teachable moment on the issues surrounding what it means to apologize. Vote for whomever you’d like, but let’s be clear that the examples of Trump’s apology, and his supporters acceptance of that apology, miss the mark. My hope is that you and I will have a higher standard whenever we seek to recover from a broken relationship.

You might enjoy this article by two experts in the field of forgiveness.

  • updated, 10/15/16, 11:30 a.m. CST.

Six Ways to Rebuild Trust

rebuild trust

Six Ways to Rebuild Trust

When you’ve let someone down, you have one task: to rebuild trust with the person you hurt. The problem is, since you weren’t the one offended, you are often out of touch with what it takes to rebuild trust.

I often work with addicts. They have a long line of people with whom they’ve broken trust. The other day someone asked me what they can do to rebuild trust with their family and this is what I shared with them…

Six Ways to Rebuild Trust

  1. Apologize well. I cover this in other posts. But the idea is to fully admit your errors with sincerity and ask for forgiveness. If the other person can see that you mean what you say, you’ve started well.
  2. Ask what they need to see from you. The person you betrayed lives in fear of you offending them again. So, ask them what those fears are. What will undermine their trust in you? It is better to ask up front about their concerns and not find out later when they are ready to give up on you.

    Trust is what makes a relationship safe and allows for intimacy.

  3. Give them permission to not trust you. People often confuse trust with forgiveness. They know they should forgive you but they wrongly think that means they should trust you too.  That makes them feel guilty. They shouldn’t. You can alleviate their guilt. So tell them that you’d love their forgiveness but you want to work to earn their trust and you are committed to the long haul. They will appreciate that. It will remove a burden from them.
  4. Change your behavior. This might seem obvious but I need to list it here. This is what trust is ultimately about. Work at being consistent. Gaps in your behavior set the clock back to zero and you have to start all over again.
  5. Over communicate. If you know you will be home late, call to let them know. Check in with the person at key points where they might be wondering what you are up to. To you, it might seem petty. But they will appreciate your thoughtfulness. If you take the mystery out of your behavior, they won’t have to wonder if the other shoe is going to drop.
  6. Don’t pressure people to trust you prematurely. Rebuilding trust always takes longer than you can imagine or want to believe. If you pressure them to trust you, you might lose them. You aren’t the one to decide if you’ve done enough to rebuild trust with them. They are. If you broke trust for years, it might take years to win it back.

Trust Takes Work

Trust is what makes a relationship safe and allows for intimacy. It’s a beautiful thing. But it takes significant work to create it. You have to decide how much it’s worth to restore the broken relationship.

Are there other ways you can think that will help build trust? Scroll to the bottom of this page to add your comment. Share this with a friend who needs to rebuild trust with someone.


Lance Armstrong and The Principle of the Path

I started discussing The Principle of the Path last week before Lance Armstrong hit the news. But actually, Lance Armstrong is a great example for this discussion. lance armstrong

The Principle of the Path is a book by Andy Stanley.

The Principle of the Path is this: Direction, not intention, determines our destination. It doesn’t matter how much you want to go to Florida. If you are driving north out of Chicago, it’s not going to happen.

We Need A New Direction, Not a Solution

In chapter two of The Principle of the Path, Andy makes an interesting point: we often don’t need a solution. We need a new direction. For example, if I find myself in Green Bay after driving two hours north of Chicago, I don’t need a solution. There is no solution. There is no quick fix. What I need is a new direction. I’ve got to admit that I’ve wasted four hours, turn around, and get on the road to Florida.

Lance Armstrong Doesn’t Need a Solution

This is where Lance Armstrong might heed Andy’s advice. Lance doesn’t need a solution right now. Nothing will fix what he broke. He might think that making an apology will at least buy him back the right to compete in future sporting events. But if he looks at his apology as a solution he’s sadly mistaken. What people want to see is a new direction. They want to see that month after month and year after year he follows a new path. Then, and only then, might they decide to grant him the right to compete again.

The Mistake of Apologies

This is where offenders often go wrong. They come clean and confess. That is SO HUGE to them they think they’ve done something radical. Something noble. They think they’ve found a solution to their problem. They want the world to applaud them and allow them to continue on. But that’s only the beginning, not the end.

What people do after the apology tells us what we want to know: will they follow a new path? Have they found the right direction? Will they stay the course? Only time will tell if Lance Armstrong sets a new course and follows it as closely as he followed his bike tour routes.

Are You Looking for a Solution or a New Direction?

What about you? Maybe you are in a jam right now. You realize that you’ve blown it. Are your scrambling for a solution? Desperate for THE answer? Consider a new direction.

New Direction + Time = A Better Place

Question: Can you relate to this distinction between solution and direction? Have you wasted time looking for a solution when what you needed was to start moving in a new direction? Take a second and tell me about it below.

Get my free e-book, Forgiven…once and for all,  when you subscribe to this blog.


Lance Armstrong and Why We Lie

You’ve probably heard by now that Lance Armstrong came clean to Oprah Winfrey about his use of performance-enhancing drugs as reported in the New York Times.  He adamantly denied any illegal activity prior to this. Now, it’s clear that his involvement was extensive.

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

Lying has always fascinated me.  I’ve never understood it because when the lie comes out (which it almost always does) the person looks so bad and the consequences are so much worse.

That’s true for Lance Armstrong. Some people believed in him, against all odds. He was so insistent on his innocence that they didn’t want to betray him. Now they realize: they are the one’s who were betrayed.

The Beauty of a Lie

I spoke to a friend once about the thirteen years he hid an addiction by lying. I asked him what was going through his mind. How could he lie when he knew he couldn’t cover up forever and he knew he was hurting his family?  He said he considered telling the truth many times, but every time he came close to coming clean he would weigh the cost vs. the benefits.  Every time the cost of telling the truth was too great compared to telling the lie one more time.  His reasoning was, Why suffer today when I can put it off and hopefully people will never find out?

Disgust for Lance Armstrong?

The psychology of a lie is amazing. It works against all reason. Yet in the moment it is so convincing.  It’s really hard not to feel disgust for someone like Lance Armstrong.  Every time he lied he put his own interests above others that loved him and were dedicated to his cause.

…or compassion for Lance Armstrong?

But I have to buffer my disgust for Lance Armstrong with a solid knowledge of the frailty of our humanity.  As he said himself, he’s flawed. God speaks in the Bible through the prophet Jeremiah and says:  “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.” (17:9,10)

In other words, our hearts all have darkness: some more than others. So we need to be careful when showing “disgust”. Rather, it’s helpful to consider our own ability to fail, not to excuse wrong but to acknowledge that you too might have your own areas of denial. When you finally come clean you hope others treat you as you treated them…with compassion and not disgust.

The apostle Paul said it well in a letter he wrote to Christians: If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Galatians 6:1. The problem with showing disgust is that we only reinforce people’s hesitancy to come clean. They see the hatred and swear they’ll never expose themselves to it. It’s better to keep lying.

A Good Apology Can Help

I feel bad for Lance Armstrong and all the people he let down. He’s got years of mopping up to do. I wish he would have come clean earlier. I hope he doesn’t hold back and try to preserve his image. The best thing for his image now is full disclosure, true sorrow, and making as many amends as he possibly can. That might keep him busy for a few years. But he needs to be careful with his apology. A bad apology can add salt to a wound, not healing.

To learn more about recovering from past failure see my chapter on “How to Be Reconciled” in my new book, STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.

Feedback: What is your response to Lance Armstrong and his admission?  Leave your comment below.


How to BE Forgiven – Three Ways to Rebuild Trust

 How to Be forgiven: Three ways to Rebuild Trust

Rebuild the Bridge of Trust

I’m walking through how to make an effective apology in order to restore a broken relationship. We are imagining that I have betrayed you, my reader, and asking; What do you need from me to set things right?  Today I’m looking at how to rebuild trust.

Here are four things I bet you want to see. You want me to:

  1. Admit the Offense
  2. Express Sorrow
  3. Ask for forgiveness
  4. Rebuild Trust
Track back to read the posts on each of these points. 

Here are three more ideas on how to rebuild trust:

  • Ask your friend what they need to for you to rebuild trust. In bridge terms, ask them what kind of bridge they need for you to build; a rope bridge, a covered bridge or a super structure with lights and video cameras. It’s important to agree on the bridge that needs building. It should be fair to both people.

Some people ask for a super structure when only a rope bridge is necessary. They are hurt and unreasonable. Others ask for a super structure with no intention of ever crossing the bridge. They just want to punish you. And some act like trust is no big deal but they are in denial. They are afraid to admit that trust needs rebuilding. So before you launch into a ten-year reconstruction project make sure you both sign off on the project.

  • Follow through on what you committed to do. Up to now it’s been all words. If you don’t follow through then your words are a joke and they will make things worse for you.
  • Give your friend the time and space they need to trust you again without insisting on it and trying to intimidate or guilt them into it.

At some point in time the bridge of trust will be built. At that time the responsibility shifts from you to your friend. They will have to decide if they are willing to walk across the bridge and resume the intimacy of your relationship. But you are fully at their mercy. Sometimes people choose not to cross the bridge out of hurt, anger or fear. You should know that and be mentally prepared for that otherwise you will put too much pressure on them.

Now, the temptation on all four of these points is to cut corners. Like I’ve said, people rarely understand the depth of how much hurt they caused and so they are quick to pick up with the relationship before trust has been built. But if you really want to restore the relationship…you generally need to do more not less.

This all takes great amounts of humility, patience and self-control. But here’s the good news. God wants to give you whatever you need to make things right. So just keep talking to God and asking him for help to rebuild trust. He will give you what you need.

Reconciliation is worth it. Do what it takes. Spend the time and the energy. You’ll be glad you did.

If you found this helpful please “share the knowledge”  below and subscribe to this blog (in the right column). I’ll send you a free 60 page preview to my book STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.

Question: What do YOU need people to do to rebuild your trust? Leave your comment below.


How to Be Forgiven – Part Four: Rebuild Trust

How to Be Forgiven: rebuild trust

Building Trust Takes Work

I’m walking through how to make an effective apology and how to be forgiven.

We are imagining that I have betrayed you, my reader, and asking; What do you need from me to set things right?

So far I’ve mentioned three steps:

  1. Admit the Offense
  2. Express Sorrow
  3. Ask for forgiveness

Are we good yet? Is this all you need from me? There’s one more thing that will help and that is if I rebuild your trust. It’s great to have an apology but you want to know if things are going to change. If I just keep repeating the offense over and over then my apology is meaningless.

The Bible talks about a “godly sorrow” which means a sorrow that causes you to change your behavior (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). A change of behavior is the ultimate proof that you are truly sorry for what you’ve done and sincere about restoring the relationship.

How to Be Forgiven: Breaking Trust – Rebuilding Trust

The sad reality is that it takes years to build trust and only a second to break it. When I break your trust in me then I have to rebuild it. It’s like we were standing together but my offense put you and me on two sides of a valley. If we want to get back together then it’s up to me to build a bridge back to you. The greater the gulf the better the bridge needs to be. Small offense, small bridge. Big offense, big bridge.

The important thing to understand is…I’m not building this bridge for me. The offender rarely sees themselves as untrustworthy so they tend to build small bridges no matter how big their offense is. But I can’t build this bridge according to MY standards. I need to build this bridge according to YOUR standards.  I might think a rope bridge is good enough. But you say…oh no…if we have any future then I need a suspension bridge. You need to prove to me that you are trustworthy.

Let me give you a few things you can do to help build trust with someone you’ve offended.

  • Apologize well. That’s what I’ve been talking about in these recent posts.
  • Stop offending. This might seem obvious but some people are in the unhealthy habit of offend-apologize-forgiveness-offend-apologize-forgiveness, etc. etc.
  • Give the person permission to not trust you. If you’ve proven yourself to be untrustworthy then it’s only fair to not expect to be trusted. Communicate that to your friend. Let them know that it’s not their responsibility to trust you and you will not look or ask for it until you have rebuilt trust.

This post is adapted from the book, STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships. Come back for part five of this series on how to be forgiven to learn more about rebuilding trust. In the meantime “share the knowledge” by clicking below and  subscribe to this blog (in the right column).

Related posts:

  • Defining Forgiveness series starts here.
  • How to Forgive series starts here.
  • How to BE Forgiven starts here.



How to BE Forgiven – Part Three: Ask Forgiveness

How to Be Forgiven: Ask for Forgiveness

How to Be Forgiven: Ask for Forgiveness

I’m walking through how to make an effective apology. We are imagining that I have betrayed you, my reader, and asking; what do you need from me to set things right?

So far I’ve mentioned two steps:

  1. Admit the Offense
  2. Express Sorrow

Is that enough?  Are we good? Not quite. The apology actually needs one more thing; to ask forgiveness. 

How to be Forgiven: Ask Forgiveness

Forgiveness is often assumed in an apology but on the bigger offenses it’s important to be explicit.  Look the other person in the eye and ask, “Will you forgive me?” and then be quiet. Don’t dilute the question by rattling on for five minutes. Just ask the question and wait for the response.

Typically we don’t do that. What we say is that we are sorry and assume that forgiveness is granted. We say, “I’m sorry”. Or we might add, “I hope you can forgive me.” Sometimes people let us off the hook and say, “I forgive you”. That’s always nice because they offered it without us having to ask for it.

But sometimes they simply nod and say nothing and we let the question of forgiveness hang in the air. We never know if they forgave us or not and that’s not good. We need to ask the question and our friend needs to answer it so we can have closure. You both need to know the status of the relationship. No one should assume anything.

How to be Forgiven: Humility Helps

Do you know why we don’t ask for forgiveness?  It’s too humbling. It’s like kneeling before your friend and laying the relationship at their feet and saying…You have the power to let this relationship live or die. I messed up. I no longer have the power in the relationship. You do.

In ancient times kings had the power of the sword. If you came into the presence of a king they had the right to kill you on the spot if they didn’t like you. They had all the power in the relationship.

It’s the same way when I ask your forgiveness. I yield power to you. But most of us are too proud to humble ourselves like that. We are too fearful that the other person will reject us so we hedge by just saying “I’m sorry”. But humility is exactly what you are looking for if I’ve offended you, isn’t it? Admitting the offense shows honesty. Expressing sorrow shows empathy. And asking forgiveness shows humility. Each of these are essential to rebuilding trust after an offense. But there is one more step that remains.

Come back for part four of this series. In the meantime “share the knowledge” by clicking below and  subscribe to this blog (in the right column) and receive a sample of  STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.

Related posts: