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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Guys, one Bible verse that can transform your marriage

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

COMPELLED by the Holy Spirit, very imperfect as a human, very indicative of a man, I report this for husbands, for their reflection; for wives too, for their hope. The only thing that makes me worthy to write this is I have failed so much, and still do; but I have had enough success to see it work.
The one Bible verse undoubtedly designed to guide husbands most in their relationships with their wives is as follows, from the pen of the apostle Paul:
Husbands, love your wives,
just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her…

— Ephesians 5:25 (NRSV)
This is a biblical present imperative, which is interesting. The Greek verb agapāte for ‘love’ in “Husbands, love your wives” is in the present tense, active voice, imperative mood; meaning it is a command for Christian husbands to love their wives, and with continual and ongoing effect, meaning it is never complete, and, with the following part of the verse above, means their love rises to the standard of Christ.
A husband’s love is to be visible and sustained, and not so much of Christlike standard in the realm of holiness, but of Christlike standard in the realm of sacrifice. Sacrifice is achievable.
Here is my own raw experience, even as it stands as two incidents on the very same day. Both incidents I was, as husbands can be, harsh of word and demeanour, through a lack of discernment based in a lack of care. At least I was initially. Within seconds, however, I could feel God convicting me. I know this feeling well and it is always awful, because my mindset is so prideful in these moments. But there was sufficient humility on these two occasions to pour contempt on that pride.
I approached my wife, but not in a noisy, authoritarian sort of way. I was careful to be silent, ready to accept her resistance and do nothing threatening nor distancing in response. My attitude took responsibility for the conflicts we had had, and I let my actions speak from this attitude. This attitude completely disregarded any of what could be termed ‘her fault’ as if it were irrelevant — because it was. Even as I trusted the Holy Spirit, not knowing what I would do or say, or commit to, I found myself saying sorry, endeavouring to convey understanding, offering and making restitution, repenting of my actions, and seeking forgiveness, whilst at the same time forgiving her.
As husbands, and this is just the same as wives, we expect our partner to change — we make demands, then judge and punish them if our demands are not met — when our prerogative as a husband is to lead in the marriage. Now, biblical leading is upside down, or the other way around, compared to how the world sees what leading is. Biblically, leading is serving. It is taking the lower place; bottom if possible. It is washing feet as an example of what ought to be done. Biblical leadership is pure example, never taking the high ground, trusting the Holy Spirit for change in others much as we trust the Holy Spirit to exhort change into us.
Husbands are to desist from requiring change from their wives. But more. They are to become the change their wives seek for. What seems logical — a ‘worldly wisdom’ — is utter madness. It never works. It only causes marital derision. Only the upside down, other-worldly truth works — to give our lives away that we might save another’s life, much like as Jesus saved us. That way, through the change wrought through the Holy Spirit’s power in husbands, they save their marriages, not least their wives, who, because they’re not tested to frustration, can be ‘holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:27) on his account. Husbands are not to exasperate their wives. They are not to be the cause of her distress.
The practical outworking in a husband’s working on himself is something transformative in what the wife sees.
No longer does she feel unworthy and unsafe, not to mention frustrated and alone and without hope. She begins to feel the freedom to observe and quietly celebrate change in her marriage. She is empowered even as she sees that change unfold within her family. She is encouraged, because this change came seemingly out of nowhere, as all things of God seem to do. She is comforted, because finally her husband is equipping the family.
Here is an encouraging truth for husbands. Wives, often being spiritually and emotionally deeper than their husbands, watch for and notice nuances of change. Small changes are not lost on most wives when they have an appreciative mindset. The little things are the big things for them. And while she watches her husband lose his life to save hers — making the kind of sacrifices for her that Christ would make for His church — the Holy Spirit begins doing wonderful things in her. The Spirit has her implicit permission. The only blocker, ever before, was her husband. He, alone, stood in the way. Now that he no longer does, she is free to become that impossible version of herself both she and he wish to experience. His heart has been changed, and this has produced a brand-new mindset. Praise the Lord, the husband cannot return to who he once was. The husband has truly let go to let God change her, according solely to His will and timeframe. Both husband, as he leads, and wife, as she reciprocates, cease to have demands on the other.
The husband now has no claim on her to change; his change of mindset is so sweepingly vast he wishes her to stay exactly as she is. From this relational locale, both husband and wife can only be further blessed. They have learned to appreciate and accept each other.
When a husband accepts his wife for who she is, suddenly she accepts he is who God anointed for her.
I usually hate reading these types of articles, by some guy who thinks he’s the ‘guy of all guys’ with such a sweet marriage, who has life all worked out. Well, thankfully, I have none of those qualities, because I’d be conceited if I did. Just take this for what it’s worth — words on a screen or piece of paper — for that’s all this is… until the concept is taken, buried deep in the heart, a seed germinating into a transformed husband, who is not one iota better than the momentary second allows.
The final comment is for wives. If your husband is genuinely trying to love you as Christ loved the church — trying and failingadmire his intent. When we stand away a distance to really see what’s going on, there is nothing sweeter in marriage than a husband with potential. Your instinct for grace will inspire within him the confidence to succeed more often.
In the marriage context, when husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, men are being men in allowing women to be women.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Never taking Gratitude for Granted again

Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

TAKING life for granted is something we’ve got down to an art form, especially in the West. Yet, there are myriads of blessings showered upon us daily, many of which sustain our lives; that we never quite think will fade… until they do.
Take a walk along the wild side and imagine the Procurer of Life doing what only He can do:
God’s love breathes down when our lungs swell up.
God breathes His love into us when our lungs fill with air. Every cell He engineered and built and sustains. Every cell He fuels and maintains. Every air molecule purpose designed to catalyse creative effort. And as we exhale that air is purged into air that’s safe to re-breathe.
God supplies the next breath. He, indeed, is breath — YAH… WEH — inhalation (YAH) and exhalation (WEH); the God of all. His name is the only two syllable word that can be simply breathed. By breath He is. He is ours as we live to breathe. We are His, for we cannot survive without this precious mix of compound gases for our lungs, for our cells and our being; for our existence. He has given us that 20 or 21 percent oxygen that we need — beautifully and intelligently designed in fresh air.
He invents the senses, energises us to feel them, and grants us the capacity to perceive.
From atoms to the astronomical this God of love has loved through cohesive creation.
He touches us through the oddest, worldliest thing, a fascinating narrative, the expression of emotion, yet we know He is behind the wondrous mystery that captivates the moment.
He opens His mouth and speaks life and hope into us. Especially, mostly, when we have waited, impatiently, impetuously, for a Word before its time.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

5 things to hate about Christmas (and any other celebration)

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THINK of anytime in the experience of life as a celebration, and there’s another side; the experience of that time for those suffering grief.
Loss has the irrevocable fact about it that it highlights what we’ve lost. We cannot escape it. Loss taunts us. It piques those things we somehow took for granted (though we never knew we did) and we see in others’ lives that which is now gone from our life.
5 things to hate about Christmas through the lens of grief:
1.      Those precious Facebook and Instagram posts of family celebrating joyously — everyone happy; another ‘incredibly successful’ family event — a reminder of what we’re now missing.
2.      Those days visiting packed shopping malls for gifts we don’t want to buy, including the strained interactions we have with shop-store staff, and the snarls of shoppers knowing they too are caught up in a commercialised racquet.
3.      Those hours leading up to Christmas where we lay awake in bed pondering how we’ll endure the moments where we either want to weep or scream.
4.      Those minutes on the day of Christmas itself, sitting at the family event wondering what on earth we’re doing, a mind on what we cannot get our minds off, or an aimless walk alone on a beach as if nobody knew we were alone or cared.
5.      Those seconds where we’re lectured about how good Christmas is, and how good it would be if we understood how grateful we should be of it.
I thank God for the experiences of two consecutive lamentable Christmases. They taught me what should be obvious. Not everyone is happy at Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

‘Tis the season full of folly

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash
BESIDES the commercialisation of the Christmas season, I have found it to be a bizarrely stressful season for so many.
Certainly, the pressure on people to buy unusually special gifts for their friends and loved ones can be enormous. But there is also a great deal of stress on relationships, notwithstanding the stress that comes with the consumption of food and drink that comes with the season.
Just today I was going through a roundabout and was almost hit by someone insisting they betray my right of way. Didn’t even seem to look. But it’s indicative of the hurry and folly of the season.
There is, however, a danger in anticipating such a season as more problematic socially than other months of the year. We begin to see only the bad. But it can also be an advantage if we’re motivated to help people who seem to be stressed more than usual.
What can we do? For ourselves… for others…
Reminding ourselves that we have a choice at any given moment to embrace the moment’s rest, even when we’re working hard, is the recognition of a transformative mindset. For others it’s a case of simply understanding into the stresses they might be facing and enduring.
Tapping into the conversation going on in our minds is useful. The banter we have with ourselves can either increase the stress or decrease it. It can expand our joy or shrink it. Isn’t it ironic that the Christmas season is sold as the time we reflect on what we’re grateful for, yet, being a season that truncates time within the enormity of a plethora of tasks to do, we can quickly end up jaded.

Between consumerism and consumption, and the contraction of time within the complexity of many tasks to do, Christmas in the modern-day breeds dis-ease in anyone seeking peace. It’s important to get back to Christmas’ core message. A baby was born to become a man, to endow the world with God’s salvation plan.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Do you see what I see?

ALL our lives we search for the secret, the meaning, heaven on earth, nirvana. And do we find it? No, we never do. This is because we never challenge ourselves to break past our comfortable thinking zones.
We never think why Jesus was always seeking to connect our understanding to the connected themes of forgiveness and the abundant life, i.e. forgiveness leads to an abundant life; abundant living is contingent on forgiveness.
The fact is we cannot hope to experience His abundant life while we harbour bitterness of any sort or size in our heart.
There is a direct correlation between hatred of another person and hatred within our person.
If we have anything against anyone we bear fear that no human was designed to bear.
God made us in His image to love and be loved. Any departure from that brings disconnection and alienation. We were designed from the beginning to experience a constant state of healing. Now, because of sin, we have to enter such a space of healing through intention, because God loved us so much to give us free will. We need to want it. Because of sin it is no longer automatic to think, say and do things that are blessed. But not many choose healing by intention, and those who do are challenged to do it consistentlywhich can only be learned through the discipleship of following Jesus by bearing our cross as He beared His; that occurs over the refining years.
Now is the opportunity to connect our will with the Divine will, for Gods glory. This is to begin to see that our healing is utterly dependent on others’ healingthat, as they heal through the agency of our forgiveness, we heal. And the foretaste of such healing is the experience that we’re no longer threatened by others and can therefore never be a threat to anyone. (I speak in terms of having attained this, as illustrative, so we know the reward we’re striving for.)
The key to making this work, more and more, as we grow into it, is to encounter others as individuals glorious in God’s making and sight. That, because of Jesus, God has maximum pleasure in them as they are. The invitation is to swap our limited sight of heart for the sight of heart God has for the person we’re encountering. We imagine this other person, whether we like them or not, and especially if we dislike them, inviting us into themselves through the question, do you see what I see? to see not so much into their world, but from their world; from their eyes, ears, mind, and heart.
The moment we’re grateful for the person who has wronged us is the moment our heart is being transformed by forgiveness. We cannot do this without God doing something majestically graceful in us. Remember what is impossible for humans is possible for God.
If we see how others see we begin to understand the world how they understand it. Then it is no large leap to forgive them. And as we continue relating with this person, God continues opening our heart to how they experience the world. Then, suddenly, there is connection, our fear fades, and the abundant life approaches and comes into the realm of our experience. All because we were no longer estranged to God in them.
A fundamental Jesus reality: we cannot heal without others healing; we do not understand unless we seek to understand as they understand. His abundant life is intrinsically linked to our forgiving others.
What compels us to forgive? We get sick of the pain of bitterness and missing out on Jesus’ abundant life.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Are you prepared to give what you demand for yourself?

THE question is rhetorical. Of course, we cannot give to another that which we demand for ourselves.
Yet, so many relationships are pitched this way: you give me what I want (read: demand) and then I will give you what you want.
It is insanity, and if only both parties could take a step back and have an objective look as a third person would, they would know.
The conditionality of such a statement — you give me what I demand and then I will give you what you want — means no one is going to get what they want.
Either both win, or both lose, and nobody can win if one party refuses to soften their stance. And yet, it takes just one party to begin the heart-softening process, full of the spirit of humility (otherness). And such true softening is a stance that stays there. (It’s not a fleeting thing. A soft heart stays soft. But, in truth, most relationships need outside help when hearts are hard.)
Relationships never prosper when only one party gives all the time, and yet, when there is quarrelling, both parties mirror each other, saying — “I’m the one giving and giving and giving, all they do is take, take, take.” How can this be the true reality when the other person is saying basically the same thing? Ask any relationship counsellor, they’ll say this is common. It is infuriating for everyone, certainly most when you’re one of the parties to the conflict — “How can they say that?!” It just creates more derision.
So, who is right? If one is right, so is the other. If one is wrong, so is the other. So we’re advised to break past the thinking, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” The relationship can only tear apart if that attitude is sustained.
From their own view only, each party is right. But God’s truth works on the axis of reality, which is real from all viewpoints: all truth, one side of the truth in truthful tension with the other side of the truth.
We can only begin to see God’s truth in the vista of reality when we intentionally land in the other person’s shoes and commit to staying there. Only then will there be viability to the blessed hope of reconciliation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Look into the mirror and what do you see?

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

FOR all those who question their background, their basis, their being, here’s an irresistible truth:
Look into the mirror and who do I see?
Why, it’s Mum and Dad looking back at me.
(Author Unknown)
What is a biological fact, our very makeup, is incontrovertible. Whether we love our parents or are estranged, these two individuals who made us the human being we have become are solely responsible.
We are but one manifestation of who they both could create.
Those two people could have made trillions of different persons. Yet God used them both to create you. You won the race — the first one of ten or fifteen million — if you were naturally conceived. But this article isn’t actually about you. It’s about them.
What do you think when you think of them? They could be marvellous people. One parent could be marvellous. One or both could be frauds. But the fact remains, one man and one woman, their genetic material put together, made you. That person who looks back at you from the mirror bears their resemblance — you are from them.
Does that change anything? I’m not indicating it would. But for some it could change something. It’s like the idea that our progeny bear one half of us, whether they like it or not.
Within the generations there should be some empathy for the shared human condition. This life is fleeting. The twenty-year-old today has their fifty years of prominence, yet in twenty-five years their youth is gone. The years are long, but life is short.
I look into the mirror, and who do I see? It’s a fleeting moment of reality looking back at me.

Life is about relationships and time; abundance is in using time wisely to love well.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

5 Ways to recommit when your marriage is falling apart

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

PROMISES that are best, those that are also hardest to keep, are the proving ground of learning. Where daily determination meets with God’s grace, humility is nurtured, and wisdom is attained.
Besides when it is unsafe[1] to remain in a marriage, for yourself and/or others, it is always a good thing to keep working on marriage — where there is a collective will and a positive vision for a satisfying marriage in both partners. Both partners will not always feel like trying nor will they always feel positive about the future, but it’s what they feel when they believe the best is possible that counts.
Here are five promises we can make in recommitting to our marriages:
1.      Promise to have the faith to stick at a process for however long it takes. Our long-term happiness is not connected with our short-term happiness. These two are very different things.
2.      Promise not to run away, especially as that means obeying the voice of the Lord as you find yourself, mentally or emotionally, sprinting off. Take some minutes of solace, but do not leave.
3.      Promise to enter gently and graciously, i.e. with courage, into the cauldron, to love when love seems hard, even impossible, to do. Love starts from us as individuals choosing to love through kindness, patience, and compassion, etc.
4.      Promise to remind yourself that your partner lacks many degrees of perfection, as do you. Remind yourself that the things that bug you about him or her are possibility simple reflections of unconscious things about you that bug you. And remind yourself there are things about you that bug them — they’re staying with you as much as you’re staying with them.
5.       Promise yourself the reflection of this truth: a happy life is not simply about feeling happy; it’s more a life that is steeped in meaning. That’s because life is long. Purpose is established over years and decades. Where we give up on our marriages, we agree to overhaul the substance of our identity.

[1] For me, safety connects to imminent risk of harm to trauma that may lead to injury, post-traumatic stress, etc. In all relationships, however, there is the function of conflict which produces hurt, which in turn provides opportunities for the relationship to grow in trust, as individuals grow, and as they choose to overlook offenses and forgive. The process can take years. Hurts are not unsafe in and of themselves, and it is amazing what we as individuals can endure. Overcoming feeling hurt is actually a key life skill in developing resilience. When it comes to being unsafe, though, we are advised to trust close friends, parents and siblings. If the majority are saying the same thing deem it as trustworthy and wise. Accept and trust the help you’re given.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The character of all-abiding sorrow in grief

ONLY 24-hours ago my family learned we had lost a dear member — my Uncle. He was a man full of humour no matter how hard life was. There is so much about him that could be written. A small article like this cannot do justice to his memory.
What is strange, however, is that while he was alive I made minimal effort to see him; only twice in the past year, both because I knew he wasn’t far from death.
Over the years of our adult lives, like with most extended family, we learn to live without each other. Life is busy, and our immediate families and friendships get priority.
So why is it that when I’m honest I’m full of an all-abiding won’t-let-go sorrow? It appears to me to be simple.
He is gone. Gone is he.
It’s too late to visit, to chat, to draw from his wisdom, to enjoy his quirky humour, to experience him in the flesh.
That is the nature of loss. It’s so final. It leaves us nowhere, if not numb, for the reality we cannot change and cannot yet accept.
There is but one plausible emotion if we’re honest. We have to be full of gut-wrenching sorrow. Not that we like it. We hate to suffer, but we also hate it that history cannot be reversed. And we hate it that we feel foreign to life suddenly. People are getting on with their lives with no idea what we’re going through. And there’s nothing we can do to change it or stop it.
My response to my Uncle’s passing isn’t steeped in depths of grief. In many ways his passing is a relief for him and the family. But if loss reminds me of anything it is this: we’re never truly prepared for it.
It’s only when our loved ones are gone forever that we truly miss them with an ache that lingers. Time helps us to accept the new normal, but time cannot bring them back.

Thankfully we’re helped as we join communities that assist us cope with our grief — that transport us into new ways of coping — that validate us in our all-abiding sorrow; the by-product of loss.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The truth about the ‘performance’ you

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash
YOU are not a human doing, you are a human being! Ever had that said to you, about you, or about another person?
It’s true, we are more than what we do, but what we do, and specifically how we do it, counts. But even that is only part of the story — a part of the story that is often exaggerated while another part of the story is neglected. That other part of the story is our performance is subject to enormous variability, dependant not least on how we’re treated, how confident we’re feeling, and how much we want to give as a result.
The truth is, in at least a crude estimation, our performance in any arena in life has three levels: times when we’re healthy and above average, times when we’re average, and times when we’re unhealthy and below average. If we’re capable of brilliance, we’re also capable of mediocrity. We’re not one or the other. We’re both. At different times. Even at the same time but in different spheres of life. And that’s okay.
I want to suggest something:
People cannot judge us fairly at our worst
unless they’ve seen us at our best.
If people only see us at our worst, perhaps when we’re performing at our worst, and that’s all they have to go on, they characterize us according to that poor standard. They will never believe we have more to offer, that we can and do offer more. The travesty for them and us is they may never see it.
Nobody ought to be stereotyped that they’re ‘this’ type of person or ‘that’ type of person. We’re all capable of a range of different behaviours and responses. It’s the environment and our own sense of well-being or ill-being in that environment that counts.
When experiencing a person at what could be their worst,
ask what could help them be at their best.
We are all capable of greatness and weakness,
nobility and depravity,
pride and shame.

Never are we beyond inspiring and disappointing people or ourselves.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2 steps to deep Pastoral Care engagement

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

DEEP connection is necessary for transformation within discipleship, desperation underpins desire, and pastoral care is the vehicle.
I have found two steps occur in attaining deeper engagement. These can be seen through these prayers of a would-be discipler:
1.      “Lord, help me establish affinity with this person so they would feel safe with me.”
2.     “Lord, help me say and do only those things that protect the trust this person has placed in me.”
The first prayer is about devoting sufficient time with the person, proving we’re genuinely interested in them by listening well, demonstrating care in ways they determine as worthy; in sum, establishment of a solid working relationship where vulnerability can exist and be safely explored. This all assumes that there is the want in the person to be helped, and we (the helper) have the personality, wisdom, experience, and confidence to help. When we have honoured God by our faithful authenticity with the person, He answers the prayer in the affirmative, and the second prayer can be viably prayed.
The second prayer is about protecting the trust we’ve established, and patiently building on the relationship. This is when I am praying about being a good steward of the relationship. I’m praying that I don’t offend the trust they have placed in me. I’m careful to continue to listen and serve. Trust is precious. There is more to lose when rapport is established, and trust is implicit. If the relationship is damaged at this point, it may not get a second chance. Usually relational damage cannot take place earlier than this as trust has not yet been established.
Deeper engagement is necessary as two people work together within a discipleship arrangement to promote transformation. A pastoral type of care is the vehicle that answers the above prayers in the affirmative. And yet none of this applies if a person isn’t ready (i.e. desperate) enough for soul work.

Being for a person, so that between us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we may see transformation. That’s discipling pastoral care.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

5 stereotypical Couple Conflicts that stagnate relationships

Photo by Frantzou Fleurine on Unsplash
The following five situations are metaphors for conflicts that commonly occur in couple relationships. Anyone who is or has been married knows it is not an exhaustive list.
1.      “How did we get here?”
Such a response occurs when one partner says something without thinking of all the potential consequences. Of course, we’ve all done it. And we’re bound to say and do many things that don’t cater for the myriad consequences that could occur.
Whenever we get to that frame of reflection the moment is pregnant with opportunity for learning. And a good apology[1] will save the day.
2.     “How can I / am I meant to accept this?”

Some realities are or seem untenable in marriage. There are both, obviously, but there are also times when we can learn to accept a situation. Many more situations can be accepted than cannot be accepted.
Abuse cannot be accepted, for one. Affairs (without seeking forgiveness — showing remorse — and providing restitution) are another. But most partners who have issues with acceptance have issues they could learn to accept. Practice acceptance and soon our feelings follow.
3.     “You mean to say that we haven’t resolved this one already?”
For one partner the fact that a particular issue isn’t resolved to their satisfaction ought to be evidence enough that they’re not the only party who needs to be satisfied. I wonder what might occur if this aggrieved partner thinks for a moment what it is like to be the other person.
The partner who thinks this question ought to be counselled by reality. Resolution comes with time and perspective and calm minds, and not beforehand.
4.     “I cannot believe how many times we’ve fought about this!”

Linked with the above, this is about those times when we’re exasperated in marriage. Exasperation often occurs in marriage. Where it doesn’t we may begin to think we’ve married ourselves, someone ‘easy’ to understand and accept. There are times in all couple relationships where one or both partners are incredulous that a certain matter continues to cause problems.
Through seasons of exasperation we’re challenged to grow personally and interpersonally.
5.     “Why have you not changed?”
Oh, all who read this should be able to see the problem immediately. But many won’t. There is nothing wrong with the question if we swap out the word ‘you’ with ‘I’ — “Why have I not changed?” Expecting our partner to change is often the wrong way of looking for the relationship to grow. There is one caveat though. Needing our partner to change, in some circumstances, is the only way a relationship can survive, e.g. addiction, fornication, etc.
All couple relationships feature irredeemable conflict. The sooner we accept this the sooner marriage moves into the realm of possibility.

[1] Peacewise.org.au suggests there are the seven A’s of confession for demonstrating sincerity and thoroughness; the heart of apology. We need to address everyone affected by our wrong actions. Avoiding the words if, but and maybe ensure the apology is potently unconditional; no excuses. Admitting the specifics of what was done wrong is so important to demonstrate we understand the issue(s), and we have the courage to name it. Acknowledging the hurt we caused allows us to express sorrow for having caused it. Accepting the consequences means we understand and agree with the justice required; no excuses. Promising to alter our behaviour in future helps them to consider trusting us again. Asking for forgiveness grants the other person power to acquit us should they choose to.