Sunday, January 8, 2012

Don't Tell Me You're Sorry

“Michael, tell your sister that you’re sorry, then give her a hug.”

Little Michael mumbles a meaningless, “Sorry” and as he and his sister embrace in a hug that is absent of all affection, it is evident that they still want each other’s heads on a platter.  Michael is not truly remorseful for what’s happened; he’s just mad that he got caught.  Little sister hasn’t truly forgiven him because she’s still hurt and angry.  So their little exchange of, “Sorry” and a hug did nothing to repair their hurt relationship – it probably just added resentment towards one another.

And this is why the word “sorry” is not allowed as an apology in our home.

(Ok, for all the legalistic thinkers: we DO use the word "sorry" when we accidentally bump into each other, or drop an item when trying to hand it to someone, etc.  I am not referring to the little accidents that are void of anger, revenge, hurt feelings and perceived rights trampled upon.  Of course, the word “sorry” is perfectly useful and acceptable in those situations!)

Recently, a friend had some people take advantage of her goodness and abuse her generosity.  Because there were many people involved in a public way, it couldn’t be ignored or swept under the rug.  Over the course of the next few days, people came to her to apologize.  She told me that most came with limited eye contact and a half-hearted, “Sorry for what happened.”  There were far fewer who came to her broken, in tears and asking her forgiveness for their poor judgment and character.  Although my friend had a genuine heart of forgiveness towards all involved, she said it was obvious to her those who were truly remorseful over all that had happened versus those just giving lip service, with a half-hearted attempt to save face.

Consider the word “apology” itself.  The etymology of the word is from both the Latin and Greek apologia, which is to give a defense; justification.  When one studies Apologetics, they are learning to defend a position (often religious) through the systematic use of reason.  If someone wronged you and came to you to defend their actions – to give justification – how would you take that as their apology?  It’s really not a remorseful, sincere effort to make the wrong situation right again!  More than just apologizing to someone, the heart needs to be in a position to take the right steps to admit the wrong and restore the broken relationship.  So, when I use the word “apology” understand the context in which I say it…. it is repairing a relationship.

When I was growing up, mending the break in a relationship with someone was a three-part process.  I thought it was normal; that it was how everyone apologized.  My own children are well versed in the three-steps to forgiveness and I consider this one of the better parenting choices I have made.  I have also become convinced that “sorry” is the coward’s easy way out.  It’s another way of saying either, “I’m just sorry I got busted” or “I’m sorry that you’re so sensitive and that you had a problem with me.”  There is no ownership of the hurt or offense done.  It is the pinnacle of blame shifting.

(Again, this is not going into the specifics when you might unknowingly hurt someone, where absolutely no hurt was intended.  Even in those cases, it’s best to take the high road, be the “bigger person” and apologize – it will only help the relationship.  There ARE the cases of people who live to be hurt and there’s no way to keep up with them and their chronic offended-ness.  Gratefully, they are few and far between.)

Three Steps For Asking For Forgiveness:

      1)  State the offense and be specific.
It is not being specific to say, “I’m sorry I made you mad.”  It is specific to say, “I was really angry and kicked and smashed your Lego tower.”  There is something humbling about taking ownership for exactly what happened.  It feels uncomfortable.  Our pride takes a kick in the teeth when we verbalize exactly how we were the cause of someone else’s hurt.

      2)  State that you were wrong.
This makes it clear to the person who was hurt that you know and acknowledge their pain and are taking full responsibility for causing the hurt.  “I was really angry and kicked and smashed your Lego tower.  That was wrong of me to take out my anger on you and lose it.  I was wrong for doing that.”   This can get especially hard for children when the seemingly innocent, hurt one was egging on the one apologizing.  We always used this time to explain that self-control needs to come into play, even when you’re a little kid.  It has to start somewhere – the sooner the better!  We would teach that it’s best to walk away from a situation than to stay and make a bad situation get worse by lashing out.  

      3)  Ask for forgiveness.
This is the third step of reaching out to repair a broken relationship and the first step in reconciling the relationship.  As my mom always explained: with relationships being like a tennis match, asking for forgiveness will volley the ball back into their section of the court.  “I was really angry and kicked and smashed your Lego tower.  That was wrong of me to take out my anger on you and lose it.  I was wrong for doing that.  Will you please forgive me?”  It’s up to them to receive the apology and to agree to put the hurt behind and move ahead.  Be sure to avoid saying “That’s ok” (it’s NOT ok!) and instead say, “You are forgiven.”  The majority of the time, forgiveness is granted, especially when the apology is done with true humility and remorse.  Even kids have a pretty good sense of knowing when an apology is sincere or when it’s been forced to happen. 

When forgiveness is given (“apology accepted”), you are declaring the offending party “not guilty.”  It is releasing them from your anger and resentment.  (Not from the natural consequence of the offense, which is something we can’t always control.  If you lie to someone five times, you may be forgiven, but you won’t be trusted on the sixth time.)  To say you forgive someone and then remain angry and treat him or her as a guilty party is making you a liar, as you did not truly forgive.  As parents, we need to work with our kids on both “sides” of the situation – the forgiveness seeker and forgiveness granter.  I do not believe it is accurate to encourage someone to forgive and forget.  Humans do not have the capability of forgetting, short of amnesia.  We can practice to forgive and CHOOSE to not remember.

Any relationship that we hold dear is worth preserving, even if one needs to get humbled and do “the long apology thing” as I once heard it called in our home.  (Even if you don’t hold the relationship dear, just man up and apologize the right way.  That’s called good character.)  And, as I need to remind myself, this is not the three-steps for just how a kid should apologize.  It’s also how mom needs to apologize to teen son.  How dad needs to apologize to mom.  How friend needs to apologize to friend.  Your relationships are valuable, so stop cheapening them by saying “sorry” and making your kids say “sorry” to one another. 

And, sorry if that sounds harsh.


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