How to Say “I’m Sorry” – No Ifs, Ands, or Buts


Sorry, not sorry.

Saying “I’m sorry” can be so hard to do.

It was late Sunday afternoon and the sisters on the playground had been having a great time. One of them did something to upset the other one. Each of them wanted to tell me what the other one had done wrong, and neither was anxious to confess her own wrongdoing. The gentle playground scene changed instantly when the squabble began, and the swings and climbing bars were disbanded because of their rift.

They came to me, each one expecting me to side with her. I pulled out my tricks of years ago and had them both sit in time-out for five minutes. Each one had to contemplate her own wrongdoing and be ready to tell me that first. How much easier it was for each girl to squeal on the other rather than admit what she had done wrong!


It’s in our genetics, and all of us have inherited this gene. I’ve never known a person who thinks it’s easy to ask forgiveness or to admit that they have been wrong.

Sometimes children need adults to help them figure out what they have done wrong. And sometimes, as adults, God uses situations and circumstances to help us figure out where we have been wrong. God has a way of bringing us to our senses.

Jesus tells us how to say “I’m Sorry” in a story

Jesus told the story we know as The Prodigal Son to his disciples and others who were listening. Now I know a parable is just a story, and this parable probably wasn’t based on real people, but it could have been. Jesus took a real-to-life situation in the culture of His day, and He used that story to tell not only about a father’s love, but also the correct way to ask forgiveness when we have been wrong.

Since this was a parable, I know that Jesus could give the story any twist He wanted. He chose the outcome of the story for a purpose. One of those purposes was to show how a person ought to go about asking forgiveness.

The prodigal son

But first, the fascinating story, which you can find in Luke 15:11-32.

Here is a father who has two sons and a bunch of servants. The older son appears to be a good worker and stays focused on the task at hand. The younger son; however, is restless and tired of life on the farm. He decides he is done with this kind of living and asks for his share of the inheritance.


We don’t know a thing about the home life or the dynamics of relationships inside that home. One could assume that the older son was a typical firstborn bossy brother, and the younger son was the spoiled little brother. We do know that the younger son came to his father one day and asked for his share of the inheritance.

He got it, then he left.

Scripture says, “. . . not soon after, he left home.”

We don’t know how long he was gone, but we do know a few things about his life after he left. He did some riotous living. He spent his money, all of it. There was a famine in the land.

The son was suddenly in want. His father was not nearby; his money (and we assume his friends) were gone. He became a hired hand because, after all, he needed money to live.


The reckoning

The farmer who hired him sent him out to feed the pigs. While feeding slop to the pigs, the younger son became so hungry that he considered eating the husks from the corn he was feeding those pigs. He had that “aha” moment. He came to his senses. It looked like Time-Out, for him, had accomplished its purpose.

PIGS on side wallowing

The son realized how far he had come from where he once was. Once the son of a man of wealth, a man who had servants, he, the son, was now a servant.

This son shows us how to admit a wrong, how to ask forgiveness, and how to make restitution. He shows us how to say “I’m sorry.”

Sitting there among the pigs with their slop, he made a decision.


How ridiculous this is, he told himself.  My father’s servants are treated better and are eating better than I am. I will go back, and I will ask to come back home as a servant. I’m going home, and this is what I’m going to say to my father:  I have sinned, and I’m not even worthy to become your son.  Please just let me be one of your hired servants.

Coming home

He made the trip back home. His father rushed out to meet him with arms opened wide. This did not stop the son from his agenda. He said exactly what he planned to say.

The son admitted his wrong:  “I have sinned against Heaven and against you.”

He acknowledged where his wrong had taken him and what he had lost: “I am not worthy . . . ”

The prodigal realized fully what he deserved because of his choices:  “I don’t even deserve being your son.”

He recognized what he lost because of his choices: “Just make me one of your hired servants.”

Sloppy “I’m sorry” ways

sorrySo often, in our sloppy attempts at apologizing, we shift the focus from our wrongdoing to the other person’s – just like the sisters on the playground. We choose words that aren’t really an apology, but rather a way of excusing our behavior.

While it may seem like we are apologizing, our words are empty because they are not sincere and genuine. This prodigal son didn’t do that.

While we might criticize the son for leaving home like he did, we can also recognize what he did right once he came to his senses.

What the son did right

  • He did not blame anyone else. He focused on and admitted his sin rather than dwelling on anyone else’s.  The prodigal did not say, “I’m sorry BUT if you hadn’t done so-and-so, I wouldn’t have. . .”  Or, like one of the playground sisters said to me, “Well, she gave me the fist first, so . . . “
  • The son did not minimize the pain he caused or imply the other party was too sensitive. He did not say, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you . . .”
  • The youngest son admitted what he did was wrong. He did not imply, “It wasn’t a big deal.”
  • The prodigal took responsibility for his wrongdoing and did not  shove it off onto the other person. Nor did he say, “You’re just too sensitive.”
  • He did not blame his past. Nor did he complain, “I had such a lousy home life.”

He made the trip home.

sorryHis father was waiting for him; he saw him and ran to meet him.

And the son stepped up to the plate and acknowledged his wrong. He said exactly what he planned to say before he made that long trip home.

The joy of his father at his return did not negate his responsibility for what he had done.

Jesus’ purpose in the story

I’m not sure exactly why Jesus told this parable. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons was to show us the love of our Heavenly Father, because this parable follows two others that talk about being lost – and being found.

Jesus preceded this story with a discourse on the cost of discipleship, the merit of salt, and the lack of flavor when salt has lost its saltiness. Part of being a true disciple of Jesus is living like He has asked us to live and having such flavor in our lives that it makes others thirsty for Jesus.

If we don’t do that, He says, we can’t be His disciples.

“Oh, and by the way, when you’ve failed at being a disciple; when you have lost your saltiness, this is how you make it right,” He says.

More of the story

There’s more to the story here.

There is the negative response of the older brother who stayed at home and helped keep the family estate running; there is his rejection of the joy and the party that is thrown when his younger brother was reinstated by their father.

Life doesn’t guarantee reinstatement after a confession of wrongdoing. Yet, there is guaranteed reinstatement with Jesus, even if we don’t receive it from family members or those whom we have wronged.

A plan for saying “I’m sorry”

The part I love best about this story is the lessons I learned from this son whose eyes were opened in that pigpen somewhere in another country away from his family. His decision to go back home and his clear plan for asking forgiveness leave me with a guide for the times I have failed and been wrong.

Suppose the person you’ve wronged isn’t near you? Ask God to help you find a way. Plan what you’ll say so that when God puts that person in your path, you’ll  be ready. I know this plan works because I’ve experienced it myself.

Whether we’re adults or children, it’s never easy to ask forgiveness. But having a plan makes taking that first step so much easier.

That evening on the playground, the sisters took turns admitting what they had done wrong. “I am sorry for hitting you,” one said. “It was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”

There will be more spats down the road when they’ll need to apologize to each other again, just like the rest of us do as adults.

When I’m tempted to ignore the nudge of the Spirit to make things right, I remember the lessons I’ve learned from the once-prodigal son:

  • Admit my wrong.
  • Acknowledge the pain.
  • Ask forgiveness.

When I follow the pattern set out for me by this once-lost son, I, too, can be reinstated. I can also experience the wonder of a restored relationship. And I, like the prodigal son, can know the wholeness of a conscience that is clear and clean. And so can you!

Saying I'm sorry


This post is a re-post from over five years ago. Sometimes I go back and read it myself. You might want to read it again as well. 🙂

Photo attribution:

Why Our Boys Paid for Windshield Wipers – Teaching Responsibility

We had three boys, but this time it only took two . . . .

I had no idea we were about to embark on a lesson in responsibility the day the front door of the house opened as Dave marched two little guys inside.  

I didn’t even have to turn around to look – I  knew there was trouble when I heard the thud of his feet as he came across the porch.

I took one look at my boys and knew they were the culprits. When I heard what had happened, I had to hide my face. What they had done was rather ingenious and funny, even though I couldn’t let them know!

“I am too upset right now to deal with this,” Dave told me. “These boys are yours for now and I’ll deal with it when I’ve  had time to think about what to do.”

Dave had taken our guys with him as he made his rounds fixing the fence around the pasture on the farm he was managing. They loved to ride in the pickup and “help” their papa. Only this time, they had tired of all the walking necessary to fix the fences, so they stayed behind to play in the truck bed while he was within sight of the truck. It wasn’t long until they decided they wanted to slide – and the easy way to have a slide was to climb on top of the cab and slide down the windshield. Today, the oldest one says he’s pretty sure it was the youngest one’s idea. We’re pretty sure he is right.

The hood of the truck was a safe landing place. After landing, they’d climb up the windshield and slide down again. All was going well until their father came back and found two broken windshield wipers. That’s when he brought them back to the house.

“Because,” he told me, “they’re your boys right now. We’ll figure out what we’re going to do about it tonight.”

One of the problems was that this wasn’t Dave’s truck. It belonged to the farm owner. We would be paying to replace those wipers! Not only was the damage to the property wrong, their behavior showed a lack of respect for equipment, especially when it didn’t belong to our family.

That’s why he corraled his sons and brought them to their mother. Dave was too upset to deal out consequences, and he needed time to cool off. I’m so grateful that he didn’t just give them both spankings on the spot. They certainly deserved one, but it would have been given in a way that was not biblical because Dave was angry at their behavior. That evening, we came up with a plan that would help them learn responsibility.

  1. Dave would pay half the cost of the wiper replacements. The boys would pay the other half.
  2. The boys would do jobs for us around the house or on the farm to earn money for their share of the bill.

We made a chart and put it on the wall. Each quarter they earned was documented as the amount was measured. What the boys didn’t realize was that the money, though earned by them, was still coming from their parents since we were paying their wages!

The cost of the wipers (25+ years ago) was $24.00. Dave paid $12.00 and that left $12.00 for the boys to shell out. $6.00 per boy. Let me tell you: it was a long time coming, this paying on the wipers. You can be certain that a windshield was never used as a slide again. You can also be certain that they learned some things about responsibility!

When they took a turn vacuuming, they remembered. When they had to take out the trash, they remembered. When they chose to use their money for an ice cream cone toward the debt, they remembered. They were learning about responsibility and consequences of poor choices.

Every day, the chart in the hallway was a reminder of their infraction.

There are some things our boys learned from their windshield-turned-slide experience.

  1. Even when something doesn’t belong to us, we need to take care of it.
  2. When I choose to do wrong, I can’t choose the consequences
  3. When a harm is done, restitution must be made, no matter how long it takes
  4. When restitution has to be made, it will help me think before I just decide to do something that I think is fun.

Dave and I learned (again) that there are deeper ways to instill truth into our children than just giving them a spanking. We were reminded that doing this parenting thing right is a lot of work; we could just have paid it ourselves and been done with the chart-keeping and chore-doing. It certainly would have been less hassle. Yet the outcome would not have been the same.

“Why you can’t use the windshield for a slide . . . “

Next time you’re tempted to just fix something your child has damaged, maybe you can think about this story and those windshield wipers. Help your child(ren) become responsible adults by helping them be responsible now.

It’s a win-win, for sure.