How to say ‘I’m sorry’
I read an end of the year article on the internet entitled “The Year of the Apology.” It noted the large number of famous and powerful people who were disgraced by scandal this year. And it also noted that most of the apologies that have come from these scandals have appeared to be less than sincere.
There’s a scripture passage that talks about the importance of apology. It’s Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
Proverbs are kind of like forks in the road. So many of the individual Proverbs give two choices: the way of the wise, and the way of the foolish. The way that leads to life and blessing and success; or the way that leads to death and cursing and destitution. You have a choice.
This Proverb is about our sin. When it comes to the mistakes and wrongdoing and hurtful things we do, we have two choices: we can conceal it or we can confess it. We can choose the path of foolishness, or we can choose the path of wisdom.
First, the option of concealing. When we sin, we can cover it up. We can try to make it look like we never do anything wrong. In the context of interpersonal relationships we can never admit to making a mistake. Never say “I’m sorry.” Never take responsibility for our actions.
And the way of concealment — the verse says — does not lead to prosperity. I take that to mean that eventually your sins are going to be found out. The chickens will come home to roost, as the saying goes. And when that happens — if you’ve been covering up — it’s not going to go well. We have seen this on the national stage when the misdeeds of powerful men have become public. They fall quickly.
And, of course, even if your sins are never revealed in this life, God sees them, and we will answer to him. Jesus forgives sin, but he only forgives sin we hand over to him. f we try to cover up our sin his word has no place in our lives. (I John 1:9-10).
More than that, if you never own up to your failings, people aren’t going to like you. If you never admit to being wrong, people are going to find you arrogant and pompous and unpleasant to be around. And you’re not going to prosper. In business. And also in your relationships. In your marriage and in your family, if you are always acting as though you don’t sin, you are not going to prosper.
So, the other path, the recommended path, would be the path of confession. To own up to your sins, to admit your mistakes, and to seek forgiveness is the way of wisdom. When we do that, the Proverb says, we receive mercy.
That’s true with God. The Scripture says that when we confess our sins God is faithful and just — through the work of Jesus on the cross — to forgive us (I John 1:9).
And also, it tends to be true in our relationships. Just because you apologize does not obligate the person you wronged to forgive you; but as a general rule when we sincerely apologize people are happy to show mercy.
So how do we apologize well? How do we “say it like we mean it?” Author Ken Sande, in a book called “The Peacemaker,” offers the seven A’s of apology. He says that these are the clear and necessary steps for a sincere apology:
First. Address everyone involved. As a general rule you should say sorry to everyone who has been directly affected by your wrongdoing.
Second. Avoid words like “if, but and maybe.” Making an apology is not the same as making excuses. In fact, if you find yourself making a lot of excuses for why you behaved the way you did or if you are trying to defend yourself, then you are not really apologizing.
Third. Admit specifically. A good apology means specifically naming the actions and attitudes that were wrong and taking responsibility for them.
Fourth. Acknowledge the hurt. If you want people to see that you are sincere in your apology, then you need to demonstrate an awareness of how your actions have hurt them.
Fifth. Accept the consequences. When apologizing, it is a good idea to explicitly accept the consequences of your actions.
Sixth. Alter your behavior. Apologies ring pretty hollow when you continue the same patterns that led to the mistake in the first place.
And then, seventh, ask for forgiveness and Allow time. A true apology recognizes that the final step is not in our hands, but in the hands of the person we have offended. All we can do is humbly ask for forgiveness and give them space to make a decision.
Good apologies are hard to do. And yet, they are an essential part of strong relationships. Learning how to say “I’m sorry” is the path of wisdom.