The Mister initiated me early in our marriage into the way apologies were to work around our house. He made me mad, I pouted, threw a shoe at him or cried. He would wait, at least an afternoon or maybe up to three day,s depending on the severity of the offense. Then he would come home full of smiles and tell me how pretty I looked or sneak up behind me and kiss me or maybe offer to grill hamburgers but never, and I mean never, did he utter the words, “I’m sorry”. It took me about ten years of marriage and some more thrown shoes to realize that in fact, his way of apologizing, of making things right, was this sudden rush of affection….that is his apology. Fair? No, not really. But then again like my friend Horace says……. it only comes in the fall.
Don’t get me wrong, I will take The Mister and his dysfunctional apologies any day of the week. It works for us and he makes up for that one tiny fault in a thousand other ways. I suppose rarely hearing “I’m sorry” is not as bad as hearing it with regularity because the offenses, although confessed, never end. Without hesitation I know The Mister tries everything in his power to make me a happy girl and in his own strange way, “apologizes” even if I don’t hear those exact words…. “I’m sorry”. After twenty-three years my faults outweigh his 3 to 1 so I gave up on the apology deal a long time ago.
Which brings us to the mechanics of a good apology. Perhaps nothing is less heart-felt than a sibling apologizing after a wrestling match on the trampoline that went horrible wrong and now there is blood involved. Or worse, the jerk who beats his wife and declares, “I’m sorry for hitting you, but if you just would not have made me so mad….” Which of us in 2014 have not watched an awkward confession of a celebrity or politician stumble their way through an apology complete with some tears and half a dozen reasons why they did what they did while their wife stand beside them, face plastered with a strained smile?
Could we talk tonight about what is contained in a good, solid apology? We could talk about the how’s and whys, the who is actually at fault but that is another post for another night. Tonight let’s just talk bare essentials of an apology. Without these essential it’s just some jumble of words to ease our discomfort, not actually intended to ease pain. If you cannot muster up some of the following you would be better off to try some of The Mister’s diversionary tactics like kissing the neck of the person you offended…on second thought, that may not go over to well with your co-workers…read on….
1. Own it. Say it. Out of your mouth. Look them in the eye and say “I’m sorry” then tell them what for. Nothing is worse than a generic I’m sorry for “you-fill-in-the-blank”. If you did it, own it. Even if you don’t think its a big deal. Even if the other person was over reacting. Because an apology is owning that you caused pain to another person even if you don’t think what you did was particularly painful.
“I’m sorry I was late. That was very disrespectful of your time. Will you forgive me?” goes over better than
“Whoops, late again….sorry” and furthermore, apologize for what you did, not how the person feels. “I’m sorry if you feel offended” is worthless.
2.Don’t make an excuse. Building off of number one, let’s just say that no one really cares about your excuse. Of course there is a reason for you rudeness. Of course it is someone else’s’ fault you are acting insensitive and boorish but for the sake of argument, let’s remember that perception is reality in apologies. If I think you have offended me, you have, whether intentional (you avoided all my calls and texts prior to your weekend BBQ so you would not have to invite me) or unintentional, (you told an inappropriate joke about fat girls to my Aunt Bertha who is tipping the scales well over 400+). In both cases, you offended me and you need to own that without explaining why. Do you see that explanations are simply excuses and worse, they minimize the severity of another’s pain?
Sometimes it’s even OK to say “I’m a jerk”.
“I am so sorry for upsetting you when I kicked you dog. It was a horrible thing to do. Please forgive me.” is a classic apology that includes all the essential elements versus “Hey, I’m sorry your dog got hurt when I kicked it across the yard after the stupid mutt decided to gnaw my leg off. You really need to keep that Chihuahua penned up.”
If the words “….if you hadn’t….” come up anywhere in your apology, it ceases to be one.
3. After you have offered an apology and asked for their forgiveness, it’s their turn. You have to be quiet and sit in silence while they mull over your offering. You are not allowed to walk away. You cannot demand an answer until they are ready to give you one. They have the choice to grant you forgiveness or to turn around and walk away or curse at you. And you have to take it. Because when you really are sorry and you really desire reconciliation that’s what you do. It can get uncomfortable sitting there…..waiting…. listening to them cry or seeing them seethe….but you won’t die from sitting there and soaking in the effects of your carelessness. It will be good for you to see the damage you have caused.
Perhaps it will make you more careful with your words and actions. Perhaps it will make you a more compassionate person.
After reading this, you may think that I have a bone to pick with the offender who never apologizes and perhaps I do. Tonight I talked to a woman who has been waiting for an apology for a long, long time. She is a broken woman now from all the waiting. Maybe if she had met Jesus earlier and learned about true forgiveness things would have been different, but it is hard to undo years of hurt and calloused attempts at reconciliation.
I want to hurt less and love more. I don’t want to be the one to injure or cause more damage.
I want to reconcile, not separate.
When….. not if but when…. I hurt you, I want to rush to apologize. I want to run to reconcile our hearts.
I want to tell you I’m sorry and why, without a litany of excuses. I want to sit in the expectation of forgiveness, because that is what an apology is….the gateway for repentance….for change.