The Power Of An Apology

Humble pie. Eating crow. Making amends. Building bridges. Making something right… Being the one to initiate an apology is tough. It usually requires a good amount of humility and an unpleasant swallowing of pride.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you know you needed to apologize, but you really didn’t want to, or you were hurt by another and wanted an apology? If you have ever been on the receiving end of an offense, an apology is like cool water to your soul, yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, and apology withheld can breed anger and a host of other negative emotions.

An apology to someone you care about when you genuinely hurt them is relatively easy for most. “I’m sorry” rolls off our tongues with ease when our hearts are tender toward another; we can quickly render reparation for an inadvertent mistake, revealing the love and care we have for another.

A quick offering of sincere confession builds trust and respect in any relationship. We all make mistakes. We all need to apologize on a regular basis. A well-timed apology covers an offense in short order, removing the opportunity for seeds of bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness to gain any ground.

Melting Barriers Or Building Walls

Apologies can repair the most difficult of situations, and at the same time, a lack of an apology can build walls of division destroying relationships, removing job opportunities, and dividing nations.  A refusal to apologize, even over the most minor of offenses can add layer upon layer of distrust or resentment, eating away respect one has for another until there is only a shadow of a relationship where there should be vibrant intimacy.

Consider a probable scenario in many homes: A young child eagerly awaits the arrival of a parent at the end of the day. Day after day, a father or mother may come in the door from a long day at work and instead of being overjoyed at seeing the child, sharply chastise them upon entering the door regarding insignificant things they see out of place, “Why is your backpack on the floor?!”, “Go turn off the light in your room.”, “Did you do your chores?”.  Reasonable questions from a parent, but misplaced and ill-timed when first walking in the door. I remember as a child muttering under my breath, “Hello to you, too.” (Father’s do not exasperate your children. Eph. 6:4)

This situation can sometimes be followed by a request from the other parent to be attentive and kind toward the child, yet this request is also met with a sharp rebuke and personal attack. After a few days of repeating this scenario, the child becomes withdrawn, and the other parent learns that they are not able to offer helpful suggestions. As a result, it doesn’t take long before walls are built up to the point that a child-turned-teenager has nothing but angst toward the parent, and the spouse has withdrawn, protecting their heart from quick and callous words. Even in such a desperate situation, a humble heart willing to swallow any embarrassment and offer up a deep, genuine apology can take the hardness of heart that was developed over the years and melt all barriers when it is followed up with a change in behavior.

Even a heart that appears cold and silent towards another can find the resurrection fire of relationship rekindled with the breath of an apology born out of pride-less spirit.

african american couple

Is It Ever Too Late For An Apology?

No….but, understand there may be deep wounds. It is never too late to do the right thing, but to expect a relationship or situation to be repaired to what it was at the beginning, or it’s original potential, may no longer be possible – or it may take some time to correct. Sometimes the pain continues over time and with every harsh word or boorish behavior, more and more water is poured on the fire of the heart until it sits cold and dormant. When an apology does arrive, there may be release on the part of the offender, but the recipient, although willing to forgive, has nothing left for the relationship. Consider the following:

  • The father who offered criticism and harshness to his children, knowing that apologies were in order but refused to do it, may find that at the end of his life his children, while loving him dearly, have withheld the hand of intimate fellowship and friendship because the wounds are so deep.
  • The husband who berates and criticizes his wife over and over, and if she ever does ask for a simple apology for something specific, instead not only withholds an apology, but launches an attack on her character, will find that over time she will pull back and protect her heart from the one she ardently desired to give it to years before. Before long, a stale and lifeless marriage develop. A broken man with an apology can mend years of verbal abuse quickly…if he will humble himself and acknowledge the wrongs without an excuse or blame.
  • The wife whose bitterness of soul and criticism chipped away at the confidence of her husband, will over time find that he finds refuge in work, tv, or other people. Yet, a genuine apology and acknowledgment of her failure to build him up and see his potential, followed with coinciding actions, can restore the luster of a dead marriage and build the confidence of her man – possibly changing the direction of their lives!
  • The employee or business owner who lashes out at an employer/client because of real or imagined injustices, will lose opportunities for promotion and growth; and while an apology is appreciated, the trust is broken and the damage is done. Word may get around to other businesses of the character of this person, making it difficult to sway the opinion of a potential new employer or client. It may take a little time to restore confidence in more appropriate, professional behavior.

Never delay doing what it right. It may bruise your ego, but the benefits far outweigh the meager satisfaction in proving a point.

What If You Are Not The One In The Wrong?

Perhaps you are in a situation where you are not in the wrong regarding the particular circumstances, however, your attitude was less than godly. You basically had an adult-sized temper tantrum. A bad attitude is just as damaging as an offense and is worthy of an apology. An apology in that instance is a bitter pill indeed. Apologizing to the one who wronged you is painful, but done in the proper fashion, releases blessings.

Recently I was faced with a situation where I felt taken advantage of with a client. I put in a lot of work on a project for them, but payment was delayed by months, and the amount they paid was considerably less than what I invoiced them for. I felt it was my duty to keep pointing out to this client what our verbal agreements were, yet with each contact, my communication was less and less friendly. I could not change the outcome, but I felt convicted to modify the atmosphere. I sent a short apology – no excuses – asking for forgiveness for a bad attitude. The release I felt was comforting. I am still disappointed in the situation, but the reality is, my attitude was keeping me from any possible future relationship with this client AND leaving the door open for a bad report about me to go out into the community. From the client’s perspective, they did not appreciate my tone of voice in demanding payment. With a little humility (which did not come easy for me), I was able to clear the air. It was well-received, and I left a bridge intact instead of burning it.

Those Who Refuse To Apologize

When a spouse or family member refuses to apologize for an offense, sometimes it is best to be wise and hold our tongues.When we are wronged it can make us angry – and there is nothing wrong with that! It is what we do with our anger that makes a difference. Release the offender into the care and responsibility of God; but if you do lash out when you are wronged, be willing to take responsibility for your actions and attitudes, no matter if another party refuses to do their part. You are accountable to God only for you. If it is an obvious and grievous offense, this is especially difficult. Someone I know has a loved one who, whenever they accidentally break something or accidentally causes an injury, consistently withholds any apology. For this person, the pain of the situation outweighs the physical pain being experienced. They have had to learn to forgive and ask God to intervene, not allowing a seed of bitterness to take root. [This can be so hard in certain situations. Sometimes an apology never comes or if you offer an apology for your part, is used against you as ammunition to put you further down. This is unhealthy and abusive on their part. Seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of respected mentors/leaders in such an instance.]

If you are someone who can not bring yourself to apologize for anything you do, and instead find reasons to blame the other party for your actions – then I implore you to wake up! You are not only destroying your relationships with the people you love, but you are also hindering the work of the Lord in your life. If you are determined to win the fight no matter the cost, you have already lost far more than you realize. I feel sorry for those closest to you because you have made their life difficult at best. That is not love. That is selfishness. (Consider others better than yourself… Phil. 2:3)

Enjoyment of life and strong, healthy relationships are built when you give up your right to be right and apologize. Years of wrongs can be made right in a few moments of genuine humility. Be pleasantly surprised at the willingness of the people you care about most to open their hearts to you for restoration when you apologize. For those longing for an apology: prepare your heart with forgiveness in anticipation of those who have yet to come to offer as such.

I’ve learned it is better to keep short accounts when it comes to apologies. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, I write out of my own lessons. (i.e. I’m talking to myself here!) Take the time to ask the Lord if you need to bring a peace offering to someone – even if they have forgotten about it! Clear your conscience and build a reputation of keeping short accounts. We all make mistakes, but for those who are willing to admit their mistakes and be quick to apologize are usually the ones who are the most revered and respected in their communities and have healthy families!


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