When we mess up, fail, or struggle, it is very tempting to make excuses. “The dog ate my homework” may be an old cliché, but our more “grown up” excuses aren’t any better. How can we handle this temptation ourselves, and handle other people giving us excuses?
Take the high road
We are most tempted to make excuses when we feel the emotions of guilt, embarrassment, or when we think we’ve let someone down. It is easier to blame someone else. It feels better to justify our actions. But God is clear that we are responsible for our own actions, and that we are called to be humble. “My boss grabbed me at the last minute, that’s why I’m late getting home” does not show the respect, care, and humility that is really due: “I had trouble telling my boss that I was leaving, and I’m sorry I didn’t call to tell you that I was running late.” It’s okay to share the reason for a mistake or a problem, but take ownership where you can. Apologize. Model humility. Tell the person what you’ll do differently next time to avoid the same problem.
It may be especially difficult to stop yourself from making excuses if other people are making excuses to you. But you can handle this frustration by offering forgiveness. This makes it easier for others to own up to their mistakes and to move from excuses to apology or ownership. Create a safe place for them. Remember how much God has forgiven you, and probably how much this other person has also forgiven you in the past, and that may help you today in the face of their excuse making.
Focus on relationship and not blame
Whether you feel tempted to make excuses for yourself, or frustrated by other people making excuses to you, it is helpful to pause, breathe, and remember that the relationship is more important than blame or accusations. Apologies strengthen relationships. Forgiveness shows people that we care. Honesty gives respect. Is it more important in the moment to be “right” or to have a long-term, positive, trustworthy relationship with the other person? Act out of love for the other person, and you’ll find yourself dealing with fewer and fewer excuses.