But every now and then, it’s possible, that the apology needs to come from one of us, the parent, because of some way we reacted, or over reacted, or spoke hurtfully in a manner that not only poorly represented the face of Christ, but also created unnecessary distance between us and our prodigal. Such unpleasant exchanges lengthen the distance of the walk back home
So let’s talk about our apologies. Good ones and bad ones.
And since there are so many ways to give bad apologies, let’s start there.
• An apology as a guilt dispenser.
Son: Mom, why do you leave the lights on, day in and day out? This creates a big electric bill for me to pay.
Mom: I’m so sorry son. I just don’t want to trip over the furniture running to get your call if maybe, one day, in the far distant future, you were to call me.
Humor aside, Mom isn’t truly sorry. She’s annoyed Junior doesn’t call more often and has thrown an “I’m sorry” in there just to make his guilt all the worse.
• An apology as a pry bar.
Some use an apology as a way to get more information from another. “I’m sorry. See how I’ve apologized. Now . . . don’t you have something you want to tell me?”
In truth, the apologizer here isn’t really sorry. He still feels quite “right” about having been “wronged.” And he believes he deserves an apology. Indeed, he might. But starting this thinly veiled request for an apology with one of his own is disingenuous. And, it completely erases the value of the apology itself. A real apology concerns itself only with itself and the desire to right the wrong perpetrated. It carries no piggyback reciprocity requirement. It has no other agenda.
Some apologize in front of others in an effort to impress the folks listening to the apology.
I’m apologizing to this annoying person here, in front of the whole committee ,in an attempt to make it clear that I’ve done everything I could to please this easily disgruntled individual. No one can hold anything against me in this exchange. See how noble I am?
The goal isn’t making things right with the offended person; it is to gain the good graces and status in the eyes of those watching. But make no mistake. The person on the receiving end knows exactly what’s going on in this exchange. Maybe a father is apologizing to his prodigal in front of his wife so that they’ll garner “good parenting points.”
But again, the person receiving the apology knows the score. They may not be able to articulate it clearly, but they know full and well that something about this apology isn’t the real deal.
So now, if we really want to apologize to our child for something we’ve done, what’s the correct action? What brings honesty and integrity to the process? In other words, what makes a real apology? What makes it true, honest, and allows it to carry the possibility of healing a rift between the two parties.
1. Fully own 100 percent the portion of the problem that was yours, even if it’s only 10 percent of the issue. Don’t blame anyone else for your part of the issue. Own it. Don’t compare it. Don’t let it piggyback on a greater slight. Own and feel the weight of it. Take responsibility for it. And apologize.
2. Use more words than “I’m sorry.” Too little feels like you’re checking off a box that fulfills a duty rather than making clear that you “get it”, that you understand your wrongs, that you want to make it right. So say things like:
• I’m sorry that I . . . (fill in the actual offense)
• I know this must have hurt you.
• It was wrong of me to . . .
• No matter what else happened before I did this, I’m still responsible for what I did. And I’m sorry that I messed up.
3. Choose your venue with them in mind. If the person to whom you are apologizing would feel your authenticity more by having a witness, bring one. But don’t bring someone along if the objective is to make it easier for you. If your apology will be better received one-on-one, then go with that. Ask yourself, what will make my apology most believable and genuine for my child. It’s even possible that the best venue is a letter.
This is a good choice if you believe your listener will feel obligated to forgive you before they really want to, before they’ve had time to process their own feelings. Of course, don’t use a letter if it’s simply easier for you. The goal in an honest apology has nothing to do with the ease of the deliverer.
4. Ask forgiveness. It’s the Biblical model. Confession seeks forgiveness. It’s a humbling place to be, because forgiveness can be withheld. But it’s the same model that God expects of us, coming to Him without agenda, broken, and spiritually naked.
I didn’t say this was easy. But I do know that it’s healing.
What about you?
Are you able to apologize easily? Is it hard to separate your wrong from the nest of wrongs of others involved?