Addressing some questions a reader has posed to me regarding “7 Purposes of an Apology.”
1. When do we owe an apology?
We need to apologize whenever there is damage done to the other person either emotionally, relationally, spiritually, sexually, physically or monetarily.
We also need to give an apology whenever the other person perceives a hurt. In other words, it doesn’t matter that we didn’t intended to hurt the other person. If that person feels hurt by our attitude or actions, we need to apologize for how it came across or simply be sorry for how the other person feels, even if we cannot see the damage. In this situation you might want to say, “I’m sorry that you feel specific feeling because of my specific action or attitude.”
2. How do we word an apology?
You could say, “I’m sorry for specific action or attitude. Will you accept my apology?” or “I was wrong about specific action or attitude. Will you forgive me?” Either way, you need to make sure to be as specific as possible in order to demonstrate genuine remorse. You could also add, “What can I do to make it up to you?” Finally, it is of utmost importance not to use your apology as a springboard to blame the other person. Never, never, never say, “I’m sorry for ___________, but I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t ___________.” A healthy and appropriate apology is one that takes full responsibility and does not cast blame. If the other person needs to become aware about an offense that he committed against you, then discuss that with him at a later time, but only after much prayer and preparation.
3. How do we truly accept an apology?
It’s also important to receive the apology constructively. A person who makes himself vulnerable enough to admit his fault and accept responsibility deserves a full acknowledgement. It would not be helpful or right to resist accepting the apology with statements like, “Words are cheap.” On the other hand, minimizing the damage done with, “It’s no big deal,” or “It’s okay” is equally inappropriate. Simply say, “I accept your apology” and/or “I forgive you.” If you cannot forgive the person, then say, “I accept your apology, but I need to work on forgiving you. And I will let you know when I’m able to do that.” Then make sure to work towards forgiving the other person and don’t neglect to get back with him as soon as possible.
4. What if you don’t get an apology when you think you deserve one?
Let’s consider some simple examples:
• What if someone walks in on you when you are in the restroom?
• What if someone makes a joke that you feel goes too far?
• What if you don’t get proper or polite treatment from a cashier or customer service rep?
• What if someone agrees to do something for you, but then doesn’t?
• What if someone simply neglects a relationship with you?
All of these are examples of injustices and offenses that we deal with on a daily basis. The hard truth is that we cannot require or even expect others to treat us properly. How we’ve been treated may be completely wrong, but if the other person does not see his violation, we cannot demand an apology. If we have a relationship of any depth, then perhaps we need to consider how to discuss this offense with the other person. But if the situation is with someone we only have brief contact with, then we need to call upon God for comfort and self-control. Perhaps it can be an opportunity for us to evaluate just how kind, polite or appropriate “we” are in every interaction. As Christians our calling is to show love no matter what treatment we receive in return. Remember: “They will know us by our love” (John 13:35).
5. What if the other person accepts your apology, but acts as if they have not forgiven you?
This is another example of a time to pray and carefully prepare for a difficult conversation—addressing the incongruity you sense. But depending on the depth of the relationship, it might also be an example of surrendering the situation to God rather than trying to take matters into your own hands.
6. What if the person apologizing appears to be insincere or sarcastic?
If this occurs, it probably means that the apology is being offered too soon or that the apologizer is not emotionally mature enough to take on full responsibility in the matter. You might want to say to the apologizer, “I don’t feel like you’re ready to apologize at this time. Let’s talk about this later when we’ve both had a chance to calm down, think and pray through this problem.” There’s no need to rush or push for an apology. Prayer during this time of waiting is the best course of action and will soothe the hurt feelings that you may have about the insincere apology in the meantime. You might also have to come to terms with the fact that some people are never going to see the hurt they’ve caused the way that you do, and therefore may never take responsibility for it. Thankfully, we are not left in this world without hope (1 Peter 1:3). When we turn to God, He can comfort and heal our broken hearts better than any human apology ever can!
Let me know if you have further questions or comments about this post!