Among the most important words that must flow freely from your lips are the words, “I am sorry.” They are critical to the success of marriages and friendships, but are also key to success in the workplace.
The inability to offer sincere apologies is a form of narcissism or emotional, psychological and spiritual immaturity. Some of you are old enough to remember the television show, Happy Days. “Fonzie” was one of the lead characters who exemplified this in his struggle to say the words, “I am sorry.”
I’m writing this on a Wednesday. Already this week I’ve had to seek forgiveness from a co-worker I unintentionally, yet truly hurt by something I said. I’ve had to ask forgiveness from my wife twice this week, once for failing to do what I had promised I would do and the second for getting irritated instead of responding with grace in the midst of a conversation.
Apologies are so important that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
This teaching likely is given in Galilee. The altar he refers to is in Jerusalem, nine days' journey away. He says, in essence, If you get to Jerusalem, having walked nine days to offer your gift, and you realize you’ve not apologized to someone back home, walk the nine days back to apologize before offering your gift. Then walk nine days back to offer your gift!
You begin to see how important the idea of apologizing and reconciliation was to Jesus, and its connection to worship; we will continue to have a wall between ourselves and God, even in worship, so long as there is a wall between ourselves and those we’ve wronged.
One of the challenges is that we don’t always apologize well. We become defensive. Or we offer lousy apologies that seem inauthentic, self-serving, and cheap. We’ve all given them. “I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I did.” “I’m sorry you are so sensitive.” “I’m sorry if you felt I did something wrong.” “I’m sorry if something I may have done hurt you.” Or, “I’m sorry you are such a jerk!”
Sometimes our apologies are merely self-serving – trying to make ourselves feel better, or to benefit in some way from the apology, rather than truly understanding the pain we’ve caused and seeking to make amends. I think of sports figures or politicians who finally confess to wrongdoing in a “tell-all” autobiography as a part of their book tour, or who confess in order to rehabilitate their career.
So what does a good apology look like? Four things I think:
- It demonstrates a true awareness of the pain you’ve caused the other.
- It includes a real remorse for the wrong done.
- It takes full responsibility for one’s actions.
- It seeks to make amends while committing to change.
The biblical word for this kind of apology is “repentance.” This kind of apology or repentance has real power. It heals broken relationships and reconciles people in situations that seemed irreconcilable. It has the power to heal marriages, to restore trust, and, on a global scale, to prevent war and bloodshed.
In our hearts most of us want to forgive. We don’t like conflict with others. In my next post, we’ll talk about the importance of being willing to forgive others. But forgiveness is so much easier to offer when the other has apologized well.
Are there people in your life who still feel the pain of a sleight, a wound, or a wrong you did to them in the past? You have the power to help them find healing, to tear down the wall between the two of you, and to bring reconciliation. It is found in the power of an authentic apology.
Can you think of anyone you need to apologize to today?
Today's post is an adaptation of the sermon, "Six Words to Set You Free." It is third in the latest sermon series at Church of the Resurrection, Finding Joy in Real Life: 5 Habits for Living Well.