The Profile of an Apology
17But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” —Luke 15:17-19
The scary thing about an apology (and why we hesitate to say it) is that moment after we ask for forgiveness and feel the exposure that the other person might say, “No, I won’t forgive you!” If they say that, we could end up getting hurt just like we hurt them!
Here are a couple of tactics we use to minimize the exposure and thereby nullify an apology. First, we make it about us, not them. The worst example (and most common) is our habit of thinking that “I’m sorry” is an apology. It is not. It is merely a report of how we feel that doesn’t take into account what the other person feels, or our need to have them release us from the debt we incurred when we hurt them. We don’t even invite a response. Therefore “I’m sorry” is not a request for forgiveness.
Second, we undercut a confession by slipping in an excuse. “I know I hurt you, but I was having a really bad day.” “I realize I betrayed you, but I was tricked.” We can come up with these by the dozens. These statements deserve an answer: Yeah, I want to forgive you, BUT, it doesn’t sound like you really want forgiveness.”
Third, we try to spin the apology by adding a condition. “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” “If I offended you, I apologize.” It makes the offense their problem rather than our responsibility.
Here’s a rule: an apology is a “no ‘buts’ or ‘ifs’ zone.” An authentic confession has three parts: admission of wrongdoing, request for forgiveness, and room for response. “I was wrong when I …; will you forgive me? (silence).” Acknowledge the debt; ask to be released; then wait. In the case of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the son got the admission of wrongdoing right but his father interrupted his confession because he was so eager to forgive—he had already forgiven his son. He was just waiting for him to return.
For many of us, “I was wrong” is the hardest phrase to speak. Yet they are the words that verbalize our need for forgiveness. If we can’t admit we were wrong, then we can’t ask for forgiveness.
· Who do I need to ask forgiveness of?
· Who have I apologized to lately? Did I just say I was sorry, or truly ask for frogiveness?
Prayer: Father, thank You for showing me Your way of apologizing. It’s true that I say “I’m sorry” without really taking into account how the other person feels. Help me to be humble, admit when I am wrong and then ask for forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.