How many of us, while trying to apologize, have run smack into a stone wall?
One person had apologized and then the other, but each added a remark as a last word of defense. One accused the other of being overly sensitive and the other commented that their behavior was justified as a reaction of poor behavior on the other’s part. Then they both stood there, holding their ground, feeling no better than when they started the conversation in the first place — and all because of foolish pride.
Dealing with pride while trying to make amends just doesn’t work. The right intention starts within us, is filtered by our brains and many times comes out of our mouths entirely wrong and is taken insincerely. Most of us have to come to terms with others many times, either due to an honest mistake or purposely bad behavior. Apologies are a necessary part of relationships. There is, however, a difference between a sincere and effective apology and the kind that is insincere.
The word “but” is the culprit most of the time in an unacceptable apology. How many of us have heard or said something similar to this: “I’m sorry I didn’t call you to tell you I’d be late, ‘but’ you should have known where I was”? The word “but” and the addendum cancels out any admission of guilt and negates the sincerity of our words. True repentance carries a cost for the offender and should show respect and sincere consideration to the offended without making excuses.
Here are suggestions to make amends correctly and manage your personal feelings and actions:
• BE REAL: Insincere contrition and fear of admission of fault make matters worse. They belittle the other person’s feelings, underscore the offense and lack true transparency. Always try to demonstrate genuine remorse and use the proper words and body language. Humility is the key; it’s best to ask for God’s direction before trying to make amends. Philippians 2:1-8 gives us a guide to keeping our pride under control. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death for us; we surely can humble ourselves more than enough to apologize with sincerity.
• TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: If we really are contrite about our words and actions and concerned about the other person’s feelings, we will take full responsibility. But remember that once you have acknowledged your offense, stop right there. Don’t add any “buts” to it.
• ACKNOWLEDGE THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS: Sometimes when we’re accused of hurting someone’s feelings, some of us wonder why; the same actions or words wouldn’t have fazed us at all. But we should value the other person enough to respect their feelings. Philippians 2:3-4 says we shouldn’t look at things simply from our view, but should consider the other’s feelings first.
• SAY “I’M SORRY”: These words may seem trite and overused, but they belong in a sincere apology.
There are other words to express your feelings, such as “I regret,” “Please excuse me,” “What was I thinking” — you get the idea. Be sincere and be yourself.
• LISTEN AND LET GO: For many, just when they think they have opened their hearts and given sincere apologies, they realize that “it’s not over ’til it’s over.” There may be some fear of retaliation. Be optimistic, have faith and know that being honest is the right way to go. It takes a large person with sound values to step up and do the right thing. The reaction may be “OK, let’s move on.” But if the hurt still is present, express humility and patience with the other person’s feelings. Things probably will turn around after a little time to realize sentiments and sort through any drama.
No one said mending fences would be easy, but if we consider the humble attitude of Christ we find in the words of I Peter 2:21-24, we can find real reconciliation and peace much sooner. Jesus didn’t yell from the cross at those hurling insults at him. He died for them. True apologies require a sort of death as well.
Who knew there is an art to truly offering an apology? The good news is that most of us having plenty of opportunities to practice.
If you or someone you care about could use sincere, caring help, call 320-7840 for a Stephen minister. We are free of charge, gender sensitive and confidential faith-based care givers. Learn more at stephenministries.org.
Scherer is a crisis intervention minister and the leader of the local Stephen Ministry.