Let’s talk about “I’m Sorry”. In 1970, Ali McGraw proclaimed the seemingly true statement, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” The popularity of the movie and the tenderness of this “Love Story” made this seem so true. Really? Is this true? In my experience it is actually a great relational skill to be able to apologize sincerely and to accept an authentically sincere apology in order to build a path to a closer more trusting relationship.
I know folks who find it very difficult to express their sorrow for wrong doing and those who have never accepted the apology of a friend, co-worker or family member.
First, let’s talk about some of the ways we try to say we are sorry. There is the tone of voice, the body language and facial expressions. Then there is the deeper motivation for even admitting the wrong doing that comes from the heart condition. I have known people who say… “I said I was sorry, what more do you want?” This is the kind of “sorry” that may mean, “I am really sorry I got caught”, or “you are stupid if that hurt your feelings, but if you want me to apologize, ok.” Then there is the “I’m sorry, BUT you should have…” or “ I’m sorry, BUT you were so…” This is the sorrowful and hurtful apology that is going to cause more harm than good.
Jesus helps us pave the pathway to offer an apology. First, the apology always comes at a cost to self. He laid down his life to make a sacrificial apology to the Heavenly Father for all our offenses. When we offer an apology there is a cost to our own person-hood. Usually a sincere apology lays aside our own defensive position and considers the hurt that the other person has suffered- no matter how ridiculous we may think they have been to be hurt in the first place.
The offense could have been minor, such as making a thoughtless side comment to a friend about her or someone else. The offended may be courageous enough to come back to me expressing that her feelings were hurt by the comment. I have a choice to say, “well, you shouldn’t be offended, I meant no harm” or I can humbly consider her hurt feelings, admit that what I said was thoughtless. A sincere apology is never accompanied by a defensive tag-along. Just say, “ I am sorry I said that, it was thoughtless and I can understand how you would feel hurt about that. It must not have felt good. Forgive me.” PERIOD. No excuses, no judgement about whether it should or should not hurt, no defending my own position. My grandmother might have said, “No if’s, ands or BUTS about it!”
When I do this, my feelings inside do not always feel great. In fact, usually I feel awful and upset inside. This is a time when doing the right thing may not feel good at the time. Take a breath and exhale…then take another breath and exhale again. Let it rest. The “flared-up” feelings will pass…usually in 15-20 seconds or less. You can stand it and you won’t die, I promise. Whether the person accepts your apology or not is not the point. You paved the way for reconciliation and restoration to begin. If the other person accepts then you have the opportunity to build bridges and enjoy a restored relationship.
Of course, this isn’t a license for other people to keep abusing you. Some offenses need deeper healing and more support to get through. Get help if you need too. You can set healthy boundaries and you can help redirect if things go off course. I will talk more about forgiveness and boundary setting in another writing. For now, focus on the true heart and helpful apology. Keep it simple. Acknowledge the other person’s hurt. Admit your wrong doing without any defense or excuses. Apology sincerely from the heart and ask for forgiveness. Then be willing to let it go and move on.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16 (NIV)