Forgiveness without an apology is often encouraged for the benefit of the forgiver rather than the benefit of the offender. Such forgiveness does not lead to reconciliation. When there is no apology, the Christian is encouraged to release the person to God for justice and to release one’s anger to God through forbearance.
Genuine forgiveness removes the barrier that was created by the offense and opens the door to restoring trust over time. If the relationship was warm and intimate before the offense, it can become loving again. If the relationship was simply one of casual acquaintance, it may grow to a deeper level through the dynamic process of forgiveness. If the offense was created by an unknown person such as a rapist or a murderer, there was no relationship to be restored. If they have apologized and you have forgiven, each of you is free to go on living your lives, although the criminal will still face the judicial system created by the culture to deal with deviant behavior.
A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward restoring goodwill. The absence of the words “I’m sorry” stands out to some like a very sore thumb. Quite often offenders will not realize that they have left out some “magic words,” but you can be assured that the listener is scanning the silence for those missing words.
SORRY FOR WHAT?
An apology has more impact when it’s specific. When we’re specific, we communicate to the offended person that we truly understand how much we have hurt him or her. Specificity places the focus on our action and how it affected the other person.
The details reveal the depth of your understanding of the situation and how much you inconvenienced your friend.
STATEMENTS OF REGRET
- I know now that I hurt you very deeply. That causes me immense pain. I am truly sorry for what I did.
- I feel really bad that I disappointed you. I should have been more thoughtful. I’m sorry that I caused you so much pain.
- At the time, obviously I was not thinking very well. I never intended to hurt you, but now I can see that my words were way out of line. I’m sorry that I was so insensitive.
“I Was Wrong”
We may admit that what we did or said was not the best, but our behavior was provoked by the other person’s irresponsible actions. Thus, we blame others and find it difficult to admit, “I was wrong.” Such blaming is also a sign of immaturity. Children by nature blame others for their negative behavior.
Mature adults learn to accept responsibility for their behavior, whereas immature adults continue with childish fantasies and tend to blame others for their mistakes.
STATEMENTS OF ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY
- I know that what I did was wrong. I could try to excuse myself, but there is no excuse. Pure and simple, what I did was selfish and wrong.
- I made a big mistake. At the time, I didn’t think much about what I was doing. But in retrospect, I guess that’s the problem. I wish I had thought before I acted. What I did was wrong.
- The way I spoke to you was wrong. I spoke out of anger, trying to justify myself. The way I talked to you was unkind and unloving. I hope you will forgive me.
“How Can I Make It Right?”
Restitution often extends beyond expressing love through speaking one of the five languages of love. It may require repayment or restoring of something taken—a damaged car, a scratched watch … or even a good name.
The desire to make amends for one’s wrong behavior is a natural part of apologizing if one is indeed sincere.
STATEMENTS OF RESTITUTION
- Is there anything I can do to make up for what I have done?
- I know I have hurt you deeply, and I feel like I should do something to repay you for the hurt I’ve caused. Can you give me a suggestion?
- I don’t feel right just saying “I’m sorry.” I want to make up for what I’ve done. What would you consider appropriate?
“I Want to Change”
How then do we speak the language of repentance? It begins with an expression of intent to change. All true repentance begins in the heart. We recognize that what we have done is wrong, that our actions have hurt the one we love. We don’t want to continue this behavior, so we decide that we will change.
Then we verbalize this decision to the person we have offended. It is the decision to change that indicates that we are no longer making excuses. We are not minimizing our behavior but are accepting full responsibility for our actions. When we share our intention to change with the person we have offended, we are communicating to them what is going on inside of us. They get a glimpse of our heart—and this often is the language that convinces them we mean what we say.
STATEMENTS OF GENUINE REPENTANCE
- I know that my behavior was very painful to you. I don’t ever want to do that again. I’m open to any ideas you have on how I might change my behavior.
- How could I say that in a different way that would not come across as critical?
- I know that what I am doing is not helpful. What would you like to see me change that would make this better for you?
How Do You Say You’re Sorry?
A “10” APOLOGY
But what if you’ve apologized and you sense that the other person still hasn’t fully forgiven you? Here is an approach that may help you deepen the level of forgiveness. A day or two after you have offered your apology, say to the other person, “On a scale of 0–10, how sincere do you feel my apology was the other night?” If the other person says anything less than 10, then you respond, “What could I do to bring it up to a 10?” The answer will give you the practical information you need to continue the apology process until you have done everything possible to pave the way for forgiveness.
Truly Sorry, Truly Forgiven
The art of apologizing is not easy, but it can be learned, and it is worth the effort. Apologizing opens up a whole new world of emotional and spiritual health. Having apologized, we are able to look ourselves in the mirror, look people in the eyes, and worship God “in spirit and in truth.” It is those who truly apologize who are most likely to be truly forgiven.
When apology becomes a way of life, relationships will remain healthy. People will find the acceptance, support, and encouragement they need. Fewer people would turn to drugs and alcohol in an effort to find escape from broken relationships. And fewer people would live on the streets.