“But he said he was sorry….”
Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t backed up with a changed life. Promising to change doesn’t mean change is actually going to happen. Confessing you’ve done wrong doesn’t mean that you actually accept that you have sinned. Biblical repentance must take place.
When we repent, we turn away from our sins and turn towards God. True repentance is always characterized by a change of thought and changed behavior. When someone repents in the biblical sense, they have examined themselves in light of the truth of the Bible. They give up their foolish ways permanently. They cease to be prideful. They are willing, anxious even, to be held accountable by those more spiritually mature than themselves. They confess their sins and do all that they can do to make things right.
So how does this apply to your abuser? How do you know if he has truly repented and isn’t just saying he’s sorry in order to get you back or to keep you from telling someone about his abuse?
Here’s some things to look for:
- If he is truly repentant, he will confess that he has sinned against you. He will be open and honest about his failures, including his abuse of you, even though it is painful and humiliating. He will confess his sins–all of them–rather than trying to hide them under the rug. He won’t try to make excuses or hide what he has done.
- He will accept responsibility for what he has done. He will realize that he has caused you deep pain. He will do whatever it takes to try to heal the relationship with you and to build trust again. He will allow you to talk about your pain. He won’t try to make excuses by saying “If you hadn’t…” or “I know I did that, but…” or engage in some other form of excuse making. He will understand that because of his abuse of you, you are justifiably angry, disappointed, and hurt. He will be willing to listen to you when you want to talk about it.
- He will ask for forgiveness but he won’t pressure you to say “I forgive you.” He won’t feel as if he automatically has the right to have his relationship with you fully restored. He will realize that he hasn’t earned the right to forgiveness simply by saying “I’m sorry.” He will realize that he has to prove himself; this is even more true if he has a history of hurting you and then asking or demanding forgiveness and restoration. He will realize that it might take a long time for you to work through the pain of the betrayal. He will not get angry when you say that you do not trust him or that you need time to heal. He will realize that, if the betrayal was bad enough and the hurt is deep enough, it may take years before he earns the right to be trusted. He will realize that the consequences he is facing isn’t something you are doing to him but something he has done to himself.
- He will move on with his life. He will learn how to make better decisions. He will learn new patterns, new ways, of doing things. He will do the next thing set before him in order to heal and to grow rather than endlessly kicking himself, therefore making sure he is not pressuring you to offer him premature forgiveness and restoration. He will see himself as a sinner in need of God’s grace, do whatever he can to grow in grace and to restore his broken relationships, and let Christ do the rest.
- He will hold himself accountable for doing better in the future. He might meet with his pastor or elder. He might have regular appointments with a therapist or counselor. He might form friendships with those mature in the faith and/or those further down the road of repentance and get them to hold him accountable. He might read theologically sound books and books on manhood, being a husband and father and so on. He will do these things without drawing attention to the fact that he is doing them.
Restoration of broken relationships can happen but they don’t happen overnight. In truth, most abusers never come to biblical repentance but for those who do, there is hope.
photo credit: https://unsplash.com/aaronburden