Apologies are interesting.
Merriam-Webster defines an apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” In other words, it’s saying you did something wrong and following up by saying you feel bad about it.
I have had to break a habit over the years of apologizing too much. It’s so easy to say “I’m sorry” to make an excuse for any mistake you feel is socially or personally unacceptable. And while you may feel better afterwards, it’s possible that the other person feels bad that you apologize. So you feel that you must apologize again. And if that memory comes back in a few years, you may feel that you need to apologize for how you acted again. And so the cycle goes.
Sure, there are times and places for apologies. And if you don’t apologize for something you did wrong, that’s worse than apologizing too much by all means. But have we forgotten that apologies are serious matters? Have we been so worried about making others happy and comfortable that we diminish an apology’s significance?
As kids, we learn to say “I’m sorry,” and answer with an “I forgive you,” if we receive an apology. And we learn not to get revenge or get even, too. We don’t get to decide who gets an apology or who doesn’t. We don’t get to decide who’s forgiven and who’s not. That’s not what the Lord and Savior who loves us wants. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
So, who should we apologize to? To put it honestly and simply, we should apologize to anyone who needs to be apologized to. Did you wrong someone? Did you hurt someone’s feelings? Whatever it is, you need to make sure that the person you wronged receives that apology, no matter what you think or feel their reaction will be.
Now, once you’ve apologized, you don’t need to rehash it over and over again to the person you gave the apology to. There is some truth to the saying, “forgive and forget.” Though it’s easier said than done, sometimes, letting bygones be bygones with certain people can be beneficial to you both. The other person doesn’t want or need to be reminded of the way you wronged them, and vice versa. Usually one apology is all you need. Speaking of frequency…
When do we apologize? As soon as we possibly can, we should give whatever apology we need to. This way, we don’t harbor any resentment towards the other person, and if there’s any closure that the other person needs, they can receive that closure in due time. Plus, our theoretical bases will be covered; they cannot get angry with us for not apologizing. Now, I understand that it’s hard to apologize sometimes. I’ve been there. I’ve felt like I was not in the wrong, but then, I have to remember to consider the other person’s feelings. Sometimes, an apology is all it takes to clear misunderstandings and potentially mend friendships.
Now, is there a time and a place for apologies to be made? Yes. There is definitely such a thing as an ill-timed apology. Saying “I’m sorry” at the wrong time – especially when you’re angry – can come across as insincere, forced, or even sarcastic. That’s the last thing you want if you’re trying to mend things after a conflict.
And, again, should you rehash apologies? No. Once you’ve apologized, that should be it. You’ve done all you can do, unless you need to forgive the other person for any reason.
So, why do we apologize in the first place? If there are so many rules and regulations, why bother?
Honestly, it’s best not to consider them as rules, but rather as considerations for the other person. An apology is not a perfect little bandage that solves every problem. An apology is not a skeleton key, either; it’s not meant to open all doors to resolve all conflicts. But it does show the other person that you care about them. It’s yet another way we can put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:4). And, ultimately, that’s what the God we serve wants.
So, before I close out this article, I want to ask one final question: why should we accept apologies and offer forgiveness?
We should accept apologies because God accepts us, flaws and all. Many showed remorse for their actions in the Bible, from the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), to David, the man after God’s own heart (Psalm 51). Were their situations different? Yes. Did that matter? Absolutely not. We should be gracious to those who offer apologies to us, no matter what their wrongs may be, whether it’s being bumped in the shoulder on the sidewalk or having feelings be hurt.
We should accept apologies because of the Golden Rule. We want others to accept our apologies, right? As such, we should be ready and open to listen to the apologies of others, regardless of how we feel in the moment. It’s all part of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would want them to do unto you (Matthew 7:12).
Besides accepting apologies, we as Christians should offer forgiveness because Christ forgave us. This should go without saying, but because Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice to absolve us from all sin, forgiveness on our part should be a given. And it shouldn’t be us going through the motions of forgiveness, either. Do you think Jesus was going through the motions when He, in pain on the cross, asked His Father to forgive those mocking Him (Luke 23:34)?
Jesus Himself gave an example of forgiveness in a parable He told (Matthew 18:21-35). He told His disciples about a man who was forgiven for a debt he could not owe, only to turn around and refuse the same for someone else. Dear readers, we are given the chance to eternity with the Lord we love and serve, who loves us beyond all comprehension. The absolute least we can do is to obey His Gospel, which calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Part of doing that is offering forgiveness not at the bare minimum, but, figuratively, “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
So, at the end of the day, how should we as Christians handle apologies?
First of all, we should apologize if we need to. We need to know and consider who to apologize to, when, and why. Then, we need to accept when those who wrong us apologize to us, along with forgiving them for whatever it is they’ve done, because Jesus gave the greatest example of forgiveness through His death.
Apologies are definitely interesting. In a way, they’re a means to show that we care about the relationships we have. And if that’s just another way we can love others, I’ll take the interesting route any day.
By Savannah Cottrell