What Good are Apologies?
By definition, an apology is a written or spoken admission of an error, discourtesy or regret. There wouldn’t be any need for apologies if we were all perfect, but sometimes we fail to treat each other with love and respect. If we want to maintain healthy relationships, then it follows that we will have to give and receive apologies and forgiveness. When a relationship is fractured by hurt and anger, an apology is always in order. Any violation in which human value and dignity are compromised or diminished requires an apology. Apology is an important action of heart, mind and soul will that benefits both the person who receives the gift of apology and the person who gives the apology.
Apologies foster compassion and forgiveness. A simple apology can melt even the hardest of hearts and tear down the strongest of walls. Forgiveness and apology are distinctly different actions. Forgiveness stems from the person who has been hurt. Apology stems from the person whose conduct caused the hurt. Forgiveness often flows after an apology has been extended. By offering or withholding the gift of an apology, you can forever change lives.
According to anthropologists, all normal people have an innate sense of morality. In other words, they “know” that some things are right and other things are wrong. This is sometimes called the conscience. It is also referred to as the “sense of ought.” Normal people are born with an innate knowledge of what ought to be done. Culture influences the standard by which the conscience condemns or affirms. The standard of right differs from culture to culture; however, all normal people have a sense of right and wrong. However, neither apology nor forgiveness is innate qualities; they must be learned and encouraged.
Even a minor offense injures the harmony of a relationship. If you’re the one offended, you may feel hurt, anger, disappointment, disbelief, a sense of betrayal, and rejection. Your sense of justice has been violated. You question: “Why did they say or do that?” “If they really cared for me/loved me, how could they hurt me like that?”
Adult children who were neglected, abused or abandoned by their parents may long for their parents to acknowledge how their behavior damaged them. Unfortunately, this apology seldom if ever comes, and continuing to hope for it keeps these adult children stuck in the past with their pain and grief. Not receiving an apology can cause them to remain focused on the past, and may also prevent them from moving forward and from trusting and loving again.
FIRST, MAKE SURE THERE IS NO MISUNDERSTANDING
A good understanding prevents a misunderstanding.
The biggest favor you can do to yourself is to make sure the situation really is an offense and isn’t a mistaken interpretation on your part. Don’t borrow hurt. Don’t rush in and accuse and be made a fool because you didn’t check things out thoroughly. Ask questions, seek additional information and investigate. Hold off being hurt until you’ve thoroughly investigated the matter. Ask for clarification and definitions. It removes or erases assumptions. Perhaps there is a simple misunderstanding and clearing that up will remove the barrier. If you adopt the habit of always asking for definitions of ambiguous or vague words/terms before drawing conclusions, it will have a direct impact on your happiness and relationships. This practice will prevent you from needlessly feeling hurt, disappointed, worried or angry. Until you are sure the person intended to say what you think you understood him to say, why get disturbed? Why run to accuse, jump to unfounded conclusions or race to pin blame? Why not make CERTAIN before going off the deep end? Isn’t it better to give someone the benefit of a doubt — and save yourself the unpleasantness of getting all upset over nothing and perhaps looking like a fool?
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not…investigate.
WHEN THE OFFENSE IS REAL
On the other hand, your investigation may confirm your worst fears, and you find the offense was intended and perhaps worse than you thought. The person has truly wronged you. He has hurt and humiliated you. Their words were unkind, unloving or disrespectful. The offense now sits as an emotional barrier between the two of you and your relationship is fractured. Unless there is an apology, the emotional barrier will never be completely removed. It’s not possible for the two people to live as though the wrong had not been committed. Something inside the offended person calls for justice.
Not speaking up when someone treats you with disrespect, inconsideration or cruelty is the same as giving that person permission to treat you poorly. Asking for an apology is a polite, assertive way of telling the other person that you expect to be treated with respect, consideration and kindness; and that you will accept nothing less. You are giving the other person the chance to recognize their hurtful behavior. You’re being fair and giving them a chance to explain a mistake or to apologize. That is a gift. You’re not taking offense without giving them a chance to answer for themselves. If they choose not to appreciate your gift and you are rebuffed, your willingness to be fair and acknowledge that you are hurt will free you up to deal with your own anger and pain. If you don’t give the Offender a second chance to explain or apologize, you will likely always wonder if things might have turned out more positive if you had.
All sincere apologies have the same two goals: that the Offender be forgiven and the relationship be restored. When forgiveness and reconciliation occur, the relationship can continue to grow. However, this does not mean that trust is immediately restored. Sometimes forgiveness is granted to the person without forgiving the hurtful act that was done. There can also be reconciliation without forgiveness.
The need for apologies permeates all human relationships. Marriage, parenting, dating, and vocational relationships all require apologies, as well as groups, societies and even countries. Without them, anger builds and may demand justice. If justice does not come, some take matters into their own hands and seek revenge on those who wronged them, which sometimes ends in violence.
You can’t purchase an apology. You can’t buy back affection and trust. Extravagant gestures cannot truly take the place of an apology. They can be an extension of your apology, but not a replacement. Don’t think you can purchase an apology gift and that the offended person will know you are sorry by your gift. Send a dozen roses? Be sure they go with a card, for it’s what you say on the card accompanying your gift that is the greater gift. Without your personal expression of apology, your gift can backfire and be viewed as a bribe or a painful reminder, rather than a peace offering.
The Art of Apology can be learned. Understanding and applying the main points of an apology will enhance all your relationships. There are five (5) fundamental aspects of an apology, according to the book The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. Restated, these are:
- Confession, regret and acknowledgment of their hurt/harm/pain: I am sorry
- Accept Responsibility: I was wrong
- Genuine Repentance: I will not do this again
- Restitution: What can I do to make this right?
- Forgiveness: I hope you will be able to forgive me.
Each of the five (5) fundamental aspects of an apology is important. For a particular individual, however, some of the points may be more important than others. If the particular points that are important to the other person are not addressed in an apology, then it is more difficult for them to forgive, because the apology doesn’t seem heartfelt and meaningful to them. It feels lacking.
For instance, one person may feel that the request for forgiveness is an integral part of a sincere apology; and yet, this aspect may not be very important to another person. Some think saying “I’m sorry” is enough for an apology. However, it takes more than “I’m sorry” for some to forgive. The key to keeping good relationships is learning what apology aspects are important to the other person and using them genuinely in your apologies.
It is a common misconception that apologizing reflects weakness. Girls are taught that saying “I’m sorry” is a courtesy. Some boys equate apologizing with losing and defeat. They fear losing and making mistakes. For some being “right” is more important than accepting responsibility. Some value achieving and winning far more than courtesy, kindness and concern for the consequences of our actions. Some see not apologizing as a strategy for staying in control. Some do not apologize because it is an admission that they are flawed and fallible. If someone wants to have the upper hand, it’s essential that he be right all the time. It’s no wonder that adults struggle with conflict resolution and owning up to their mistakes and taking actions that demonstrate regret.
On the contrary, apologizing takes strength, courage, trust, character, hope and humility. These values can restore communication, enhance relationships, lead to personal growth and bring freedom.
Making an apology is a serious thing. It is important to plan and prepare for your apology in order for it to be a positive experience for both of you. For those major mistakes and transgressions, take time to think about what you want to say. Spontaneity may convey disrespect and botch your efforts at apology. We don’t often get a second chance to apologize, so rehearse it beforehand and give it your best effort.
Don’t assume that too much time has passed and that it is too late to apologize. A survivor of any crime, insult or harm is entitled to hear words of apology, no matter how late they are in coming. It is important to express your apology now while you and the person you offended are alive and have the opportunity to do so. To avoid making an apology has significant consequences and repercussions. On the other hand, difficult situations can also be diffused by the Offender’s willingness to accept responsibility for his wrongdoing and by demonstrating a desire to rectify the matter with an apology. A genuine apology can avert negative consequences. NOW is the time…
Your apology does not guarantee restoration. What the other person chooses to do with your apology is outside your control. The outcome you desire may or may not result. There may be anger. There may be rejection. But regardless of what happens, you will have done the “right thing,” the honorable thing. You may not see an immediate healing or reconciliation, but your sincere apology is honorable and right. Days, weeks, months or years may go by before you both fully realize the impact of the apology on your relationship.
Some Offenders say that they have confessed their sin before God and made their peace with Him, and that they have been forgiven by God, and have gotten the victory. They promise not to repeat the offense. Yet, they have not shown any evidence of “fruits meet for repentance.” In other words, they have never made things “right” with the one they offended. They have never made a meaningful apology to their victim. They have not offered the Victim any restitution.
O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father. Matt 3:7-9
Jesus taught that the Offender is to FIRST be reconciled to the offended person and THEN go to God. It’s unbelievable that an Offender could think that he could ignore and circumvent the Victim and go before God and expect God to forgive him. He hasn’t followed the scripture and he hasn’t first made things right with the Victim. He is living in sin.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; FIRST be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Matt 5: 23-24
And even more outrageous is that some authorities have on occasion accepted the Offender’s word that he has made peace with God and his assurances that he will not repeat the sin. Further, they have allowed him to continue in his role of authority as minister or elder. Were they given proof that he made a meaningful apology? Did they verify that it was received by the Victim? Some Offenders have apologized to the Victim’s parents and think they have absolved themselves, even though they ignored the hurt of the one they actually harmed. Again, this is not according to Jesus’ teaching.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1: 8-10
The teachings of these verses make it clear that without reconciliation, your “gift” is left at the altar and is not received or accepted by God; and there is a gulf between you and God.
APOLOGY ASPECT #1
Confession, Regret and Acknowledgment of their Hurt/Harm/Pain
I’m sorry that I …
Regret and remorse focus on the past, a past that you cannot change. Regret focuses on what the Offender did or didn’t do and how it has affected the other person. It is a confession of the bad deed. It focuses on the Offender’s behavior and expresses sympathy for the pain and suffering of the other person. Carefully consider the effects your actions had on the hurt person. R egret should be a plain statement of total remorse. Having empathy for the hurt person is an extremely important part of an apology.
The Victim’s loss may have taken any number of forms. It may have been hurt, harm, disappointment, inconvenience, betrayal of trust, disrespect, loss of innocence, etc. The offended person wants some evidence that the Offender realizes how deeply he has hurt them. The Offender should restate all the areas in which he realizes that he hurt and caused pain to the Victim. The focus should be placed on the Offender’s misbehavior and how it negatively impacted the injured person. An apology should never be followed by “but” or “however,” or any other words that will devalue the apology.
For many people hearing the Offender empathize with their pain is what makes the apology sincere for them. Without acknowledging their pain and loss, many feel an apology is lacking.
I am sorry that I did________ (be specific); and that I hurt you.
I do so regret that I _______ and I am very sorry that I hurt you.
I’m very sorry for the pain I caused you when I_____
I realize that I hurt you immeasurably when I _____ for my own selfish pleasure. I am so sorry.
APOLOGY ASPECT #2
I was wrong in that I…
For many individuals, the most important part of an apology is the Offender’s admission that their behavior was wrong. Mature adults have learned to take responsibility for their behavior, and central to this is the willingness to admit, “I was wrong.” An apology means taking responsibility for your actions and being willing to admit your failures.
It is very hard for some of us to admit we were wrong. Some rationalize and blame their actions on others. They may admit that what they did or said was not the best, and claim their behavior was provoked by the other person’s irresponsible actions. NEVER apologize and then blame the other person for causing your misbehavior. (Not: “I’m sorry, but she made me mad.”) No one made you do what you did, no matter how the other person behaved. There will not be any “BUTS” in a genuine apology. Blaming the other person makes the apology insincere and ineffective. Anytime the blame is shifted to the other person, you have moved from an apology to an attack, which never leads to reconciliation and forgiveness. Excuses nullify an apology entirely. On the other hand, sometimes giving some background details or context will help to explain why you did what you did, even though it was wrong.
There are times you may not have intentionally hurt someone, but you can still explain and say, “I’m sorry my behavior has caused you so much pain. I never intended to hurt you.”
For many people, hearing the words, “I am wrong” is what makes the apology sincere for them. Some do not feel that an Offender has sincerely apologized unless he admits to doing wrong. “I’m sorry” is just not enough—the other person wants to know that the Offender realizes that what he did was wrong. It is critical that the Offender take responsibility for his wrongdoing. He should frankly admit that he knowingly and willfully engaged in wrongful conduct.
I know what I did was wrong and selfish. It was my fault.
I accept the blame for my actions which have negatively affected you and many others.
My actions were purely selfish and inexcusable.
The way I ____ to you was very wrong of me.
APOLOGY ASPECT #3
I will not do this again…
True repentance is more than saying, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. How can I make this up to you?” Repentance begins with an expression of an intention and commitment to change. It is saying, “I will not do this again or anymore.” The word “repentance” means to turn around or to change one’s mind. It can be illustrated by someone walking west and suddenly turning 180 degrees and walking east. In the context of an apology, it means the Offender recognizes what he has done is wrong, that his actions have hurt the Victim, and he chooses to change his behavior.
People who have been hurt want to know: Do you intend to change? Will this happen again? What changes will you make so that it will not happen again? Have you learned anything from this experience?
Expressing your desire to change and coming up with a plan is an extremely important part of an apology. In some cases, it is acceptable to invite the offended person to help you come up with a plan for change is a good way to show repentance. For some people, it is repentance that convinces them the apology is sincere. Without this, the other aspects of the apology may fall on deaf ears.
All true repentance begins in the heart with an expression of intent to change. A sincere apology must indicate a willingness and commitment not to repeat the offense.
I assure you that it will not happen again, and this is why…
If I could do it over again, I would NEVER have done it this way
I don’t want to keep hurting you in this way. I’m willing to listen to any ideas you have on how I might change my behavior.
I really do want to change. From now on, I will______ (give plan for improvement)
I’m going into therapy so that I can understand why I act the way I do, and so I can control my actions.
Often apologies fail to be successful in restoring the relationship because there is no plan for making positive changes. There must be a commitment to stand behind the words and a plan to implement changes. Plans do not need to be elaborate, but they do need to be specific. The changes may be major or minor. Sometimes implementing a plan can be costly; a change in jobs; a move, a reimbursement. If you fail, get up and try again.
APOLOGY ASPECT #4
RESTITUTION & REPARATIVE DAMAGES
What can I do to make things right?
When one is truly sincere, it is natural to want to make amends for your wrongdoing. New Webster’s Dictionary defines “restitution” as “the act of giving back to a rightful owner,” or “a giving of something as an equivalent for what has been lost, damaged, etc.”
The American judicial system has a legal term called “reparative damages.” This concept is based on the innate human sense that when a wrong has been committed, it should be “paid for.” Convicted Offenders pay their debt to society with time served in prison. However, this does not repay the Victim. Offenders also need to pay their debt to the person they wronged. This is called “Reparative Damages.” The Bible mandates making things right with the Offended person BEFORE going to God with a trespass gift.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; FIRST be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Matt 5: 23-24
Offering restitution equalizes the balance of justice. When someone causes hurt or harm to a person and they lose something, it is the duty of the transgressor to offer to make up for the loss. It may require repayment or restoration of something taken—a damaged car, a stained garment, a lost book, stolen money or even a good name. In some cases, this is fairly easy to do; while in other situations, it may be very difficult. What works in one situation may not work in another. For instance, it’s much harder to pay reparative damages for crimes of rape, murder or child molestation. How does one make restitution to the victim or surviving family members?
While exact restitution is sometimes impossible, if you put your mind to it, you can come up with creative ideas on how some form of restitution can be made. In cases of emotional or physical abuse, you could donate money to organizations that work to help victims of abuse. Restitution is not a bribe, and it should not be misconstrued as paying for forgiveness. It is not to be forced; and should be given freely, voluntarily. It is an essential requirement in order to be right with God. God made the laws and obviously intends that restitution should be costly. Harming one of “these little ones” is no small sin. Forgiveness does not come cheap.
The Old Testament law dealt variously with offenses requiring reparation. Ex. 22:1 addresses stolen goods already disposed of and required a 5 times restitution for oxen and 4 times for sheep. Stolen property not yet disposed of was repayable in double (Ex 22:4, 7). Gain by robbery, fraud or oppression that was confessed involved full repayment plus 1/5 th. of a man’s yearly income, or 20% (Lev. 6:2-5; Num 5:7).
In the New Testament, Zacchaeus apologized for his wrong behavior through the years and donated half of his future goods to the poor, when the Jewish law required only a fifth (20%). (Luke 19:2-10) He volunteered to repay the higher penalty of Ex 22:1 rather than the lesser payment of Lev 6:5. Jesus saw in his actions evidence of repentance and conversion.
The New Testament gives no set standard or guideline for making restitution. “Owe no man anything.” (See Romans 13:8-14) The principles behind God’s ruling for restitution were not just returning or repayment. Punitive damages were required also (4 times, 5 times, 2 times, etc.) That principle still stands. There is no New Testament command that indicates God has changed the principles for restitution. The principles of the Bible are the foundation of the laws of restitution in legal systems today.
For some, a willingness to do something to make up for the pain the Offender caused is evidence that will atone and make amends for the offense. For some, the act of making restitution is evidence that the Offender is earnest and sincere. If you are not sure what the offended person might consider proper restitution, ask.
I want to do everything possible to make this right with you. Can you give me any suggestions?
How can I repay your loss?
Whether or not our relationship is restored, I will do X to compensate for what I did to you.
APOLOGY ASPECT #5
PETITION FOR FORGIVENESS
The Desire for Reconciliation & Restoration
I hope you can forgive me?
The need for forgiveness always begins with an offense. Forgiveness is a response to an injustice (a moral wrong). Moral failures are barriers in a relationship and can only be removed with an apology and forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness removes the barrier created by the offense.
Forgiveness is a gift. Forgiveness should be requested as a desire but should not be expected and never demanded. Forgiveness says, “I care about our relationship.” Asking for forgiveness is an admission of guilt. It shows that the Offender knows he deserves condemnation and/or punishment. Requesting forgiveness shows the Offender is willing to put the future of the relationship in the hands of the offended person and is willing to humble himself and give the other person the upper hand.
Forgiveness is costly. If the offense is minor, forgiveness may be extended to you quickly. But if the offense is major and was repeated often, don’t expect to receive forgiveness immediately. The offended person may need to process painful memories in order to forgive you. It is not a small thing you are asking. They must be convinced of your sincerity and that could take some time. If your request to be forgiven is granted, you are a recipient of mercy, love and grace. In some circumstances, the request for forgiveness is beyond any human capacity and requires heavenly intervention.
Verbally asking for forgiveness after expressing all or some of the other aspects of apology may be the key that opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. It may be the one ingredient the offended person wants to hear; it may be what convinces them that you are indeed sincere in your apology.
I know that I do not deserve it, but I am asking you to forgive me if and when you can.
I hope that you will be able to forgive me, if not now, perhaps later.
I beg for your forgiveness, and I have no right to it.
Please forgive me, ____ (victim), your family, friends, co-workers, and God, if and when you can.
The above was adapted from The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman
The Power of Apology: Healing Steps to Transform All Your Relationships by Beverly Engel
SCRIPTURES FOR RESTITUTION and TRESPASSES
RESTITUTION: ADDING 1/5th to that which was taken:
NOTICE THE ORDER:
Lev 6: 2-7 If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour; ( 3) Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: ( 4) Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, ( 5) Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. (6) And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: (7) And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.
Numbers 5: 7 Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed.
OTHER AMOUNTS OF RESTITUTION:
Ex 22: 1-5 (1) If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. (2) If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. (3) If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. (4) If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. (5) If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.
Ex 6: 6-9 If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution. (7) If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. (8) If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. (9) For all manner of trespass,whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.
Ex 6: 10-15 If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: (11) Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. (12) And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. (13) If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn. (14) And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good. (15) But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire.
Luke 15: 18-19 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
1 John 1: 8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Matt 5: 23-24 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; FIRST be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
“NOW it is high time to awake out of sleep.” Romans 13:11