Bad things happen.
People make mistakes. Say the wrong thing. Do the wrong thing. React and act out. It just happens. No one is always perfectly behaved, and sometimes our actions hurt other people.
When our actions hurt others, and there is a breech in relationship, repairing that breech and restoring the relationship need to be a top priority. One of the first steps we should take is issuing an apology.
Simple enough, right? We go to the offended party, admit our wrong doing, acknowledge the hurt we have caused, and say we are sorry.
If we are Jesus people, and our offense was sinful, we must also repent to the Lord. That is an absolute must, as our sinfulness also created a breech between us and God.
Still sounds easy, yes?
Well, not always. Repentance is pretty easy, but apologizing right can be hard.
DO YOU KNOW SELFISH SAM?
Sometimes, we are in relationships with people like Selfish Sam. Selfish Sam isn’t a bad guy. At least, he says he wants to be good. Yet, he isn’t really ready or willing or able to either recognize his wrong doing, or acknowledge how his offense has hurt another person’s feelings. People like Selfish Sam seem to think they inhabit a bubble, where their selfish or thoughtless actions only touch themselves.
Or, maybe they think everyone else is made of stone, with no feelings at all.
I recently witnessed an apology from someone a lot like Selfish Sam, and it spurred this post. His apology sounded a little like this: “I’m sorry, but there’s only so much I can take of her staring out a window crying. How am I supposed to put up with that?”
Yeah, I was horrified, too.
He went on to to say, “I always apologize. And, I always have a reason why I’m angry, and why I do the things I do.”
Did I mention how self-righteous he was about having an excuse for his wicked behavior? It was painful to watch this display of selfishness and arrogance, without saying something I might regret.
My tongue has almost recovered.
“How else am I supposed to react, when he does that?”
“I know I am wrong, but he’s wrong, too!”
“I’m sorry, but she just makes me so mad!”
“I’m sorry, but it’s not my fault.”
“I can’t help myself.”
When I hear these kinds of apologies, I know I’m listening to someone who still doesn’t get it. They are still not taking responsibility for their own behavior, and until we can own that, we aren’t apologizing well. We are acting like immature babies.
This is what an apology isn’t:
- An apology is never an excuse for wrongdoing.
- An apology is never an opportunity to point out someone else’s faults.
- An apology is never an accomplishment or a reason to boast.
It is going to take time for an immature person to understand that their actions aren’t all about them. Some folks lack empathy, and really cannot see how their behavior impacts others.
In those cases, if a person is really sorry, give them credit for that. It’s an important step. They may not understand the depth of hurt they have caused someone else, but that’s our opportunity to help them grow into more mature and caring people (Proverbs 27:17).
Note to Remember: our goal should be restoration in any relationship that has suffered a breech. That is not always possible, or profitable, but when it is, it is a responsibility of both parties. Always be willing to do your part.
A LITTLE EMPATHY GOES A LONG WAY
Sympathy is important. It shows we care that something bad has happened to someone; and it definitely has its place. However, not when we are the offender. The last thing offended an party wants is our pity. The last thing they need is for us to feel sorry for them. They want us to understand the seriousness of what we have done, and do something to show it won’t happen again.
The best way to do that is through empathy.
Empathy is identifying with another person’s feelings. It takes a measure of selflessness to do that, because we have to let our guard down. We have to be willing to suspend our preconceived notions and let go of our own perceptions. We have to be willing to accept that the other person’s point of view is 100% valid.
There may be some errors in their understanding of what happened, and they may be reacting in a bigger way than they should, but an apology is not the time to judge whether or not a person’s reaction is immature or if their point of view and how they feel is 100% fair or right. Explain yourself, correct the facts. In a relationship, there will be time to work those things out.
Saying we are sorry for what we did wrong is good, but understanding how the other person feels—as if the offense had happened to us, but instead of being us, we are them—is so important. This is not easy to do, but it helps us take responsibility for what we have done, and works to not only preserve our relationship, but strengthens the bond we share with the person we have done wrong.
The mark of a good apology is one that convinces the wounded party that their feelings are more important than the feelings of the offender. A good apology acknowledges that the other person was hurt, taken for granted, misused, or ignored.
Let me give you an example…
A brother steals his little sister’s favorite doll and uses it to play astronaut. He straps the doll to a rocket and fires it up. The doll falls back to earth in the neighborhood pond. She is lost forever, and the sister believes her doll has suffered a terrible death, and that she has forever lost her best friend.
Being older and wiser, the brother knows dolls do not die. He also knows that his sister will have many best friends in life, and a doll cannot really be a best friend anyway. His temptation is to discount her emotional reaction, because he recognizes it is immature and incorrect. He apologizes for taking the doll without permission and losing the doll in the pond, but he doesn’t acknowledge that his selfishness and poor judgment have caused her tremendous heartache. He just sees her doll as something that be easily replaced. Why should she be so upset?
This is a lack of empathy. When we are saying to ourselves, or others, that they shouldn’t be so upset, that it wasn’t that bad, or they’re overreacting, we are showing a lack of empathy. The brother doesn’t empathize with his sister’s feelings. He is judging her feelings as invalid, and therefore not putting her feelings first. From his point of view, it was just an inexpensive toy. He does not acknowledge the impact of his actions on her personally. Consequently, he has not gotten to know his sister better, he has not repaired the breech in their relationship, he has not helped restore trust, and has he not learned to be more sensitive to the feelings of others.
What has he learned? Not to launch his rockets near the pond.
ARE YOU THE OFFENDED, OR THE OFFENDER?
In such cases, where a nominal apology has been given, it will seem that all is back to normal. After all, the offender apologized, and the offended has forgiven.
Yet, under the surface there is still an unsettled feeling, and try though they might, the offended is finding it hard to trust the offender, again. The breech was not repaired. The relationship has been left vulnerable. The next offense, no matter how minor, will bring more destructive. The breech will widen, and it will be harder and harder for that relationship to survive—especially as a healthy relationship.
This is why it is so important for us to learn to apologize in a meaningful and effective way, to be sure we have shown our sincere concern for the other’s feelings. We can only do that through an honest expression of empathy.
You may be reading this is and saying to yourself, “This is ridiculous! I don’t need someone to empathize with me, or understand my feelings. People need to get over it!”
That might work for you, but it might not work for the person you’ve hurt, offended, misused, or taken for granted.
Ask yourself this: do you end up losing more relationships than you keep? Do you find yourself often blaming others for failing you, or forcing you out of their life? I encourage you to allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart. It may be that you are putting your own feelings before the feelings of others, and never realized it. It may not be intentional, but a reaction to your own unresolved heartache and mistreatment. The Holy Spirit can heal that hurt, if we will trust Him with it.
On the other hand…are you reading this and thinking about a wrong apology you have received, or a wrong doing you have suffered? Are your trying to cope with hurt feelings that just don’t seem to heal? Does it seem that you are the only one who can recognize the breech in a relationship? Do you feel resentment or anger or heartache over a long-awaited apology that still hasn’t arrived?
I want to urge you to go to consider Matthew 5:9, where the Lord calls us to be peacemakers. Partner that passage with Matthew 18:15-17, which instructs the one who is offended to go to the offender. Your temptation may be to believe the person who owes you an apology also has the responsibility to come to you, but the Bible shows us it works both ways. If you are sitting on an offense, you have an obligation to tell the person. How can it be right to allow that breech to sit unattended, growing wider by the day? Is that being a peacemaker?
Whether it is an unacknowledged offense, or an apology that just didn’t hit the spot, so to speak, go to your brother or sister. Don’t hesitate! “Hey, I know you apologized, but I’m still struggling with this. My feelings were really hurt, and it doesn’t seem like you even care about me.” If they’re clueless, clue them in: “You probably don’t realize it, but when you did/said that, it really made me feel bad.” As I mentioned above, our goal should be restoration in any relationship that has suffered a breech—whether we are responsible for the breech, to not.
Folks, let’s not hold grudges, or give place in our heart to bitterness. Let’s give people a chance to do the right thing. And, let’s do it ourselves. Be quick to acknowledge hurt we have caused, and quick to show empathy and offer sincere apologies. This will absolutely require being willing to take down some walls, or at least open some doors, to share with the other our hurt, or to acknowledge our failure. In either case, it is ultimately pride that will hinder such intimacy.
Yet, such intimacy can bring abundant rewards. While some relationships will not survive an offense, I believe that if we repair these breeches with healthy apologies and forgiveness, a relationship can prosper in spite of even numerous offenses. Even in a very dark, a place that has perhaps been dormant for years, the light of truth can bring forth new life. And, I believe this because it is my testimony. It is my own story.
I hope and pray you will find something here that ministers to you.
God bless you all!
2 thoughts on “What an Apology Isn’t”
Right on. Good word and always timely.
Rich reflection .
A real apology can be measured by the real commitment to repair what has been wrong.