For a while now I’ve noticed something disturbing, and I bet you’ve noticed it, too. Our society does not know how to apologize. Just watch the next politician, athlete, or celebrity who is forced to make a public apology. Odds are, they’ll say nice words, but they won’t actually apologize or seek forgiveness.
This inability to genuinely ask for forgiveness isn’t just a problem for the rich and famous. It’s also a problem for Christians. I talk to couples whose marriage is in crisis, and I often see people who appear incapable of a genuine apology. I talk to fellow church members who find themselves in conflict, and again I often see people who appear incapable of a genuine apology.
My guess is most people struggle with how to offer a genuine apology. So the next time you say something foolish or do something hurtful, beware of the following three apologies that aren’t:
- I’m sorry that I offended people by my words / actions. Don’t get me wrong, if your words or actions offended other people, you should say these words. The problem is too many people start and end with these words. This is the sum of their apology. They regret what they did because others were offended. When this is the sum of your apology, you’re really verbalizing regret over the consequences of your words or actions. Too often this sort of apology is offered without expressing remorse for the actual words / actions that caused the offense.
- What I said / did does not reflect who I am. I want to be gracious, and I want to believe the best about people. I never want to take one statement and hold it over against a lifetime of action. However, I truly believe these words have no place in a genuine apology. For one thing, Jesus himself said your words come from your heart (Luke 6:45). If it comes out of your mouth, it started in your heart. Additionally, your words always reveal something about you. Take racist comments as one example. I don’t believe one racist comment should cancel out a lifetime of treating people justly and fairly. I do believe one racist comment reveals something about you. That something may be a desire to fit in or a lack of self-control, but our words always reflect something about who we are.
- I’m sorry, but … These words are all too common, and they have no place in a genuine apology. This is the person who briefly takes ownership for their words / actions, but quickly shifts the blame to circumstance or other people. The “but” in this line acts to deflect ultimate blame. The blame may be shifted to difficult circumstances or difficult people. This is essentially Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. They didn’t deny eating the fruit, but they were quick to blame someone else for their mistake (Adam blaming Eve, Eve blaming Satan).
When you apologize, beware of these three apologies that aren’t. More than likely, they’re the first words that will pop into your head when you realize you’ve made a mistake or said something foolish. But a genuine apology goes far beyond these faux-apologies. Take ownership for your mistakes. Confess them as sin to God and others. Admit your brokenness, and refuse to blame others for your sins.
Originally published October 10, 2016 on landoncoleman.com.