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The Art of Apology

This past weekend at Faith Church, we concluded our 4 week series on navigating conflict called “weHarmony” by focusing on the topic of forgiveness. In that message, we thought about what forgiveness is and is not. In particular, we need to know that forgiveness is not sweeping the offense under the rug for the sake of the relationship, forgetting or ignoring the offense, making up excuses for people who hurt you, or being totally reconciled (forgiving someone does not mean that the relationship is restored and just like it was before). Rather, forgiveness is pardoning an offense and giving up our right to harbor resentment or seek revenge, which means that it is a process that involves acknowledging the wrong, facing the pain and hurt so we can then let it go, and finding freedom from past hurts.

This is helpful advice on forgiveness, as we an incorrect understanding of forgiveness gets in the way of true forgiveness. Not only is it important for us to understand how to forgive those who wrong us, it is also important for us to understand what it means to apologize to others that we have wronged, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:23-25 that we are to go and be reconciled when a brother or sister has something against us.

One of the most helpful books on conflict that I have read is Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker. Among the many amazing insights in this book, he offers 7 A’s that help us to think through what is involved in confession and apologies; these are found in chapter 6 of the book and come from passages like Matthew 7:3-5, 1 John 1:8-9, and Proverbs 28:13. Here they are:

  1. Address everyone involved.

We need to make sure that we think through all who are affected by our sin or wrongdoing. This might mean that it is just between two people. However, other times this might mean there is a group of people that we need to confess our wrong and apologize. Even when we think it is just between us and someone else, we need to think through how others have been affected and if we need to apologize to them as well.

  1. Avoid “if,” “but” and “maybe.”

When you say these words, it is no longer an apology but a way to blame others or make excuses. Think about when people say these when they have apologized to you - it makes you feel like it is an non-apology. This is how others would hear your words as well, so let’s avoid them.

  1. Admit specifically.

We need to own specific actions and behaviors and not just make a blanket statement. If we cannot name the specifics, there is a high chance we do not fully understand what we did wrong and will not seek to change that in the future. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry,” but be specific about what you are sorry about.

  1. Acknowledge the hurt.

We don’t like to dwell on our hurts and we don’t like to think about the way we have hurt others, but if we cannot recognize and discuss the hurt, we may not have empathy for the other person. We need to have sorrow for the way that we have hurt others, and the only way we can have sorrow is to recognize and name the hurt. .

  1. Accept the consequences.

Know that being sorry does not mean that you escape the consequences of the action. The hurt has been real, and there may need to be some consequences. Being willing to accept those consequences is a sign that we are genuinely confessing our sin and apologizing to the other person.

  1. Alter your behavior.

Repentance involves a judgment that what you did was wrong, that you do not like it and you wish you didn’t do it. Then means that you want to make sure that you don’t do it again. Of course, this does not mean that you must be perfect, but others should be able to tell that you are trying to change, not happy with the person you presently are.

  1. Ask for forgiveness.

When you apologize, be sure to specifically ask for forgiveness. This is their choice and we cannot say that they must forgive us just because we have apologized. In fact, asking them to forgive you gives them dignity and agency. We need to recognize that this might not happen right at the moment or overnight. We can’t force it, but we can and should ask for it.

Forgiving and Being Forgiving

We will experience conflict in this world. May we be the peacemakers that Jesus calls blessed because they are children of God as we learn to forgive others and learn to ask for forgiveness in the form of genuine, sincere apology and confession.

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