In honor of Valentine's Day, that infamous holiday full of high expectations and less-than-ideal realities, I thought I'd post an article that I wrote and had published in In Touch Magazine several years ago. Check it out and see if you agree that this topic is most appropriate for the Day of Love and Romance!
My Sincerest Apologies
was a stalemate. I had apologized and my husband followed suit. But I had also
couched my apologies with a snide remark about him being overly sensitive.
Likewise, he had explained away his behavior as a reaction to my poor behavior. We sat across from
each other feeling no better than we did before we began our apologies. Indeed,
we had done a sorry job of saying, “I’m sorry.”
20 years of marriage my husband and I have confessed “I’m sorry” to each other
hundreds of times. Actually, he has probably apologized one hundred times to my
every one apology – not because he has needed to apologize more, mind you, but
because he’s truly the better person. When I feel contrite over an action or
misspoken word, the apology formulates in my heart, takes shape in my mind, and
then gets stuck like a big wad of paper in my mouth. I believe the theological
term for that big wad of paper is pride.
you ever tried swallowing a big wad of paper? Even if you haven’t, you probably
know how hard it is to deal with your pride and offer a true apology. Most of
us have to apologize on some level quite often, whether it's for an honest
mistake or willful bad behavior. Apologies are simply
a necessary part of relationships. But there’s a difference between a sincere
and effective apology that clears the way for reconciliation and one that
simply muddies the water.
remember the first time my husband called me into question for using the word
“but” in my apology. I was stunned. I honestly thought I was doing a pretty
good job of expressing my regrets. But he explained that whenever you offer
your apology and follow it with “but ________________” you actually negate
everything previously said. Still perplexed, I put my hands on my hips and
challenged his assertion. My husband proceeded to give me the first rule I had
ever heard about apologies. Who knew there was a right way to apologize? I
you say, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t call to tell you I’d be late, but you should have known where I was,’ the ‘but’ statement cancels
out the apology. You can’t use the word ‘but’ in an apology,” explained my
husband. I didn’t want to admit it, but he was right. I was offering the words
of an apology, while still rationalizing my behavior without regard for his
feelings. A true apology costs the offender something and shows respect and
consideration to the offended without making excuses.
the years, my husband and I have settled on a few other guidelines for offering
sincere apologies. When we honor those rules the apologies have more sticking
power. I’ve even found that with practice apologies get a little easier and the
big wad of paper gets stuck in my mouth less often. See if the following tips
for effective apologies help you make your amends.
Be real. An
insincere apology only stokes the fire. It belittles the other person’s
feelings, undermines the offense, and circumvents true repentance. If you do nothing
else right, at least offer a sincere apology. Tone of voice, body language, and
word choice all communicate the authenticity of my apology, and humility is the
key in all three areas. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask for God’s assistance
before you attempt to make amends. A careful reading of Philippians 2:1-8 helps
me swallow that “big wad of paper” I mentioned earlier. It reminds me that
Jesus humbled himself to the point of death for me. Surely I can humble myself enough
to apologize with sincerity.
When I’m uncomfortable I wiggle a lot. Apologizing is very uncomfortable for
me. Have you ever tried to offer an apology while wiggling your way out of it
as you go? I know I have. But true apologies leave no wiggle room. If I’m
really contrite about my actions and concerned about the other person’s
feelings, I take responsibility for my actions and the hurt I have caused them.
I may say something like, “I didn’t tell you I’d be late for dinner and that
was inconsiderate of me.” I don’t have
to exaggerate my offense or claim responsibility for things I did not do, but I
should be up front about my behavior.
I’ve acknowledged my wrong behavior I need to stop right there. I don’t need to
add, “I just got busy doing important things,” or “You did the same thing last
week,” or “I thought you would know where I was.” Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. And
remember my husband’s rule: “buts” wiggle you out of the apology every time.
feelings. The Bible tells us in Philippians 2:3-4 that we shouldn’t only
look at things from our own vantage point, but should consider others’ feelings
first. For the sake of reconciliation I may need to put my own feelings aside
and take into account how my actions affected the other person. Let’s face it,
sometimes the other person claims our actions hurt them and we just don’t
understand why. The same behavior would not have fazed us in the least, or so
we think. But regardless of how we would have responded to the same treatment,
we can at least value the other person enough to acknowledge their feelings. I
might not care if my friend forgets my birthday, but if I overlook her 40th
and it causes her to question my love for her, I need to value her feelings. I
could simply say, “I see that my thoughtlessness hurt your feelings and made
you think I don’t care.”
Say “I’m Sorry.” Perhaps
those words are slightly overused, but they still have a powerful place in a
sincere apology. By saying “I’m sorry” I tell the one I’ve offended that I
regret the hurt I’ve caused them, whether I’ve hurt their feelings, stepped on
their toe, or ignited their anger. Of course, you can word your regrets in
other ways: “It breaks my heart that I hurt your feelings,” “I regret the pain
I caused you,” or “I am so ashamed of my words and how they hurt you.” Just
keep it sincere.
Ask for forgiveness. Asking
for forgiveness is often the step that actually seals the deal. It puts the
ball back in the other person’s court, giving them the opportunity to erase
your debt and credit you a little good will. It tells them you value the
relationship enough to seek their renewed good favor.
I ask my son to forgive me for picking him up from school late, I let him know
that I esteem him and his forgiveness is important to me. Conversely, if I
simply say I’m sorry and continue on without granting him the opportunity to
issue forgiveness, I communicate to him that he just needs to get over it, deal
with it, get a grip. While I may have expressed some regret, I haven’t shown
him much respect or honor.
Listen and let go.
Just when you think you’ve offered a humdinger of an apology, you realize it’s
not over yet. Unfortunately, by asking for the offended party’s forgiveness,
you’ve just granted them permission to express themselves. You may be blessed
with a simple response of “Ok. You’re forgiven. Let’s move on.” But you may
hear something more like, “Fine, but next time… and I would never do that to
you… and I hope you’ve learned… and it may just take me a while to get over
this…” Sound familiar?
this point you can either cough up the big wad of paper (pride) that you
swallowed in order to apologize in the first place or you can listen and let
go. If you want to go back into the ring for round two, go ahead. Just
remember, you’ll have to cycle back through the whole apology again eventually.
Do you really want to do that? On the other hand, if you keep the humble
attitude of Christ in I Peter 2:21-24, you can usher in true reconciliation and
peace much sooner. Jesus didn’t yell back from the cross at those hurling
insults at him. He didn’t call down a legion of angels to set them straight
either. He just died for them instead. True apologies require a sort of death
as well – a death to self.
there is an art to offering a true and effective apology. Who knew? But the
good news is, for most of us, there are plenty of opportunities for practice.
Labels: Two for the Trail