The anatomy of an apology…and why it’s hard to own up to our messes

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the much-anticipated Lance Armstrong apology that is supposed to air tonight on Oprah’s network. I don’t follow cycling and other than living in the same town as Lance, I have very little in common with him. I’ve never crossed paths with him in Austin, but one of my neighbors swears he saw him riding his bike up a steep hill in our neighborhood a few years back. And yeah, since hearing that, I take my phone with me when I walk my dogs, just in case there’s another Lance sighting. Kind of creepy, I know. I guess I’m fascinated in the whole Lance story because there is so much attention and speculation directed at the anatomy of his coming “apology.” News sources have confirmed that he has in fact, confessed to Oprah that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Duh. We knew that already. So, what’s the real story here?

I think we can all relate to Lance on some level when it comes to the familiar face-off that occurs in our souls to either own our mistakes or brush them under the rug. It reminds me of Fonzie on the hit TV series, Happy Days that aired back in the 70’s and 80’s. He just couldn’t bring himself to say those three magical words, “I – was – wrong.” Oh, he tried on plenty of occasions, but he always fell short. In one scene with his buddy Ralph-Malph, he got awfully close. “I was wr-rr—-rr—- I was wrrr—-rr … I was not exactly right.” Close Fonzie, but not good enough.

Some people (a minority, I believe) have no problem admitting when they’re wrong and offering an apology. Others, like our friend the Fonz, wade around in the gray of “not exactly right.” Yet others (I dare say a majority), refuse to even acknowledge wrong actions and pretend as if they’ve never occurred. Trust me, if you’ve ever been wounded by someone who falls in the latter category, it would be a treat just to hear them utter Fonzie’s scaled down admittance, “I was not exactly right.”

Why is it so hard for some people to admit it when they are wrong? Or to issue a heart-felt apology when their wrong actions cause hurt to other parties? I’m not a psychologist, but I want to pass along some valuable wisdom I heard from a counselor years ago on why this can a struggle for some people. Early on in my marriage, I struggled with owning and admitting my mistakes. And by “struggle,” I mean, I stunk at it. My husband, on the other hand, was great at it. When we landed in a counselor’s office about eight years into our marriage (for a variety of issues), our counselor offered some insight into this particular problem. He shared that people who tie their worth to their performance or behavior have a hard time owning their mistakes because it attacks the very core of their being. For this person, admitting wrongdoing is the equivalent of admitting, “I’m a worthless failure.” Those who base their worth on their behavior or actions translate failures and mistakes into “I’m a horrible person” rather than “I’m a person who has done some horrible things.”

Once I went back to the drawing board and redefined my worth according to who I am in Christ (A sinner saved by grace and He loves me in spite of my wrong/sinful actions), I was better able to admit to my wrongdoing and apologize when my actions hurt others. Which brings me back to Lance. I think it’s safe to say that he has based his worth on his performance, awards, and accomplishments. At the end of the day, his rumored admittance to wrongdoing and “sorrow” will be either 1) sincere and God-centered or 2) insincere and self-centered (aka: damage control to win back the public’s approval and limit the negative consequences.) Or let me put it into layman’s terms for you. It will sound like either 1) “Yikes, I did something wrong and I need help – specifically, God’s help to figure out why I did these things and how I can change.” or 2) “Rats, I got caught and now I have to do damage control in order to return to the things that define my worth and make me feel better about myself.” The Bible highlights these two contrasting types of “sorrow.”

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:10)

Think for a minute about a time when someone’s wrongdoing hurt you personally. What would have ministered to your hurt at the time? Silence? Nope. You wanted them to own it. Excuses? Nope. That probably made the situation even worse. Just an apology? Nope. It’s a first step, but for most of us, we want more than a simple apology. G.K. Chesterton once said, “A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.” We want an apology, but we want it to be sincere, contrite, and heart-felt. And most importantly, we want the sorrow to produce change. A turning from the offense and a turning to God for help. We want to see repentance. We want to see grace at work in the person’s life. We want to celebrate the beautiful love story of redemption being played out in yet another sinner’s life.

Godly sorrow is the only type of sorrow that brings about repentance or true change. Repentance is the gateway to life, peace, and salvation. Worldly sorrow brings death — not just a physical death (for the unbeliever who refuses to repent), but a death to the soul – a chasm in their relationship with God. I’m praying that Lance’s interview tonight indicates a first step toward life, peace, and salvation. A closing of the chasm between a sinful man and a holy God. Before we cast judgment, let’s remember that we are no better than Lance. We too, have our own mess-ups to tend to and experience the same face-off in our souls when it comes to wrongdoing. Lance gets to experience the face-off in the public spotlight. Let’s use this opportunity to turn the spotlight onto our own hearts. What sort of sorrow do we demonstrate in the face of wrongdoing?


  1. Michele Bone says

    I so needed this. I, too, have a difficult time always owning all of my mistakes & wrongdoings. I, also, have been at the other end of some very deep hurt & betrayal…..21 years in the making and it still hasn’t been made right. This helps me to examine my own heart & realize that while I’ve been deeply wronged, I have sinned by my words to this person, words spoken out of hurt, but not spoken with love. Thank you, Vicki, for your gentle reminder of true repentance, change & grace towards others because none of us is above reproach.

  2. says

    Well said, Vicki. From the time he refused to acknowledge that God might have had a hand in his beating cancer, I have longed to see his heart turn to God. He could have such an impact.

    And thanks for the reminder that we all need to examine our own hearts and lives. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”

  3. Deanna Lockett says

    Thanks for speaking truth Vicky. We all hate to admit we are sometimes wrong or have done wrong. God forgives and gives peace. Thanks for the article.

  4. Machelle says

    I was raised by two loving parents, but my dad always taught us, “NEVER admit you are wrong!” For many years I espoused that philosophy and the haughtiness and pressure that came with it. When I finally learned to just ADMIT–to myself, and then to others–that I could be wrong, my entire life was changed! And then, when I finally came to believe that I could be wrong, and not be less of a valuable person for it…WOW, what freedom and peace!! Thanks be to God for His patience and understanding with us, his children, and for His truth that frees us, even from ourselves!

  5. Kristi S says

    Great article! I have no problem apologizing but I do have a bad tendency in tying my performance into my self-worth. I apologize pretty quickly and often but then think I am a horrible person afterwards. And I have a kid who makes excuses rather than apologize and own up to it. On the other hand, I have a kid who apologizes all the time for no reason, sometimes so the apologize when really needed is not so heartfelt. Vicious cycle.
    We will see what Lance says! Thank you for your blogs!

  6. L says

    Thank you for this blog – it’s very enlightening. I believe I see this in my pre-teen son…feelings of failure and “I can’t do it right”, instead of “I made a bad choice”, or “I was being selfish or disrespectful”. I guess my challenge now, is to find a way to communicate what you so eloquently said above to him, in his terms. Since he’s not an open communicator by nature, that will be tough. Thank you for the insight though.

  7. Sheena Fleener says

    I follow cycling; before I got taken out by a truck (Thank you, Lord, I am alive to share that story!) I had my padded shorts and clip on I wasn’t going to watch the interview. I already knew he was a narcissistic jerk and didn’t want to torture myself watching Lance make a self centered attempt at redemption in order to be able to compete in triathlons thus returning to something that would continue to feed his inflated ego and allow him to collect more trophies and feel good about himself! —That is my total confession on what was going on in my mind as I set the DVR in case I changed my mind—- Oh my goodness did God convict me of being judgmental and self righteous!!!

    So far I’ve watched part I and I saw me on that screen before I knew Christ. I’ve been praying for Lance to fall in love with Jesus since I read his first book – I agree with Mocha with Linda. So I keep praying for him and am asking God to use this difficult time to break him and allow him to feel loved just because God made him, not for his performance. I am reminded to be grateful to God who has forgiven me for the times I wouldn’t own my bad choices.

    I was very wrong for being so judgmental toward Lance all these years. He’s just another sinner like me. We both grew up without an earthly father to role model our Heavenly Father and he has that huge father wound in his heart I had, that only God can fill. Lance, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’m praying for you. Your Daddy loves you!

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