How NOT To Apologize

Filed under: General — Chad at 7:34 pm on Monday, December 12, 2005
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One of my former Pastors taught me a good lesson on apologies and repentance. During a rather heated dispute, one church member, we’ll call him Fred, was offended by another church member, who we’ll call Ted. When the offense was brought to the attention of Ted, he agreed to apologize. So he told Fred, “I’m sorry you were offended by what I did.”

But as my Pastor pointed out - this is no apology, it’s a self-justifying, blame-shifting avoidance of an apology. Ted didn’t apologize for what he did - he simply implied that it was too bad that Fred was overly sensitive because what he did wasn’t really wrong. In Ted’s mind, the fault was still with Fred’s thin skin, not with Ted’s actions. Ted shouldn’t have apologized at all - his apology” just made things worse.

Here are some more examples of how NOT to apologize or repent to someone:

Dear Ted,

I am writing you this letter to repent of my sin of impatience with you. I should have realized that you are not the brightest light in hall, and that I needed to spend more time bringing things down to a third-grade level so that you could understand them. I didn’t take into account that you’re a spiritual infant and needed to be breast-fed basic bible doctrines - and for that I repent. I only wanted to explain to you the deeper spiritual truths that God has shown me up here in the rarified air of holiness that I breathe, but that does not excuse my blunder of completely overestimating your intelligence. I pray that you will find it in your callous and black heart to forgive me.

Dear John,

I am writing this letter to repent of my sin of contributing to your hell-bound course of action. Because I am an imperfect sinner, I unknowingly and through no fault of my own became the object of your sinful malice and anger problem. Because I was not able to achieve sinless perfection in my own life, somehow you took the small flaws in my character and became my enemy because of them, which resulted in your being handed over to Satan for the destruction of your body. For this, I am deeply sorry.

Dear William,

I repent for not being clear about my intentions when I smacked you across the face. Though I only had the most righteous and holy concerns for your well-being, you of course are too much of a spiritual moron to see that. In doing that, I failed to be a good shepherd of your soul, for you became unrighteously filled with wrath and and the enemy of God’s anointed.

Dear Billy Bob,

I’m sorry that you broke your nose and got mad. This was not something that I did to get back at you for cutting in line, but rather to protect the decent order of the proper administration of the beer supply. I really had no idea that you were so clumsy that my little old foot would send you sprawling face first into the keg, and for that lack of foresight I must repent. Though I am the captain of the church soccer team, I misinterpreted the complicated physics involved in the scenario as it unfolded.

Now, I admit that those are somewhat silly. But as an objective observer, you can easliy see that those apologies are not apologies at all - I don’t even have to tell you that the person apologizing was rude and obnoxious and lied to Ted, and gossiped about John’s marital problems, and whacked William in the face just to amuse his friends, and tripped Billy Bob in a drunken stupor. Even not knowing all those details, its evident to everyone else that this person doesn’t know the first thing about repentance.


Comment by KS Milkmaid

12/14/2005 @ 12:34 am

Timely post. A customer spoke impurely to me when my husband was absent. When I reminded him of scripture, he said, ” I am sorry you were offended. I was just joking and get your mind out of the gutter. I was just trying to flatter you.” I get a little angry with this one.

Comment by Walter

12/15/2005 @ 9:42 pm

A simple “I am sorry” said sincerly and meaningfully is what we teach our children.

Comment by Scott Holtzman

12/15/2005 @ 11:07 pm

“I’m sorry you were offended by what I did.”

This was the very quote used toward me several years ago regarding a very affronting governing issue regarding the local assembly. Needless to say over time, there were more than, but many like, this that lead to hard spiritual remunerations earned on my part in accords with adversity and trial, the like of which ‘light affliction’ lasted the better part of three years before I could find “Forgiveness” for their “Apology”.

I touched on this briefly in a November 16th 2005 post “Good Thoughts in Bad Times” (sorry I don’t yet know how to create a link in comments) Thank you for bring the facet of How NOT to Apologize to light, it was (healingly) helpful, as I can laugh about the encounters and comments thrust my way today, back then they we’re none to funny. Regards.

Comment by deputyheadmistress

12/17/2005 @ 1:38 am

Good post! I’ve been trying to teach our children that a sincere apology never, ever follows ’sorry’ with the words ‘but’ or ‘you.’
I’m sorry, but; I’m sorry you… both take the attention off of the offender and place it back on the offended part. Too many adults don’t realize that, either.

Comment by Chad

12/17/2005 @ 9:22 am

Thanks for the comments, all.

Scott, here is a link to the article you wanted to link to: Good Thoughts in Bad Times.

Comment by Abundant Blessings

12/17/2005 @ 2:41 pm

This was funny- we look forward to hearing your “Plain Talk” converation with Rick Saenz…

Comment by Donetta

12/20/2005 @ 3:13 pm

Ok, on the flip side, how do you deal with people who *are* overly sensitive and expect apologies for things you didn’t do wrong?

For example a pastor who preaches on the sin of public insurance :wink: or the friend is offended by asking how she’s doing? And they really are out there. I’ve met them.

Comment by Jim

12/21/2005 @ 5:11 pm

Thanks Chad for the downright hysterical article. You’ve got a terrific sense of humor. We laughed and laughed about this one for a good long while.

I’d hate to think that I’m the only one here who made the connection between your knee-slapper and St. Peter Presbyterian Church and RC Sproul Jr. and his Session’s letter of so-called “repentance” to the Austins

Comment by Chad

12/21/2005 @ 7:23 pm

Donetta, I think I know exactly what you are talking about. There are situations where you want to express sympathy or sadness that someone else is hurt, yet the perceived offense is not real but imagined. Its almost second nature (and believe me, I catch myself doing it often) to say “I’m sorry your feelings are hurt”. But this is not an apology, its merely a case of where the word “sorry” in the modern parlance is probably overused and abused.

I am thinking that it might be better to be more clear with others in the future, and that I should be more precise when I encounter that situation. Maybe we could think of ways to express our sorrow for the “offended” party without being ambiguous as to whether or not we are intending to aplogize. Generally false aplogies can create some feelings of bitterness in both parties. One party is put out because they don’t believe that they should have to aplogize, and the other party is put out because they can tell that the “apology” is insincere. Honestly addressing whether the perceived offense is real or imagined may really be the only way to stengthen such relationships.

But the most important thing is to make a genuine apology when it is called for.

Comment by bob

12/22/2005 @ 6:09 pm

The art of graciously giving and receiving apologies is one that is quite difficult to master.

Awkwardness reigns on both sides. Our own pride and our haste to justify our position often renders it difficult for us to be sorry for offenseive behaviour to share our earnest remorse. Our pride and our haste to justify our position often renders it difficult to receive apologies, for we are either certain that the offense was so grievous that we tend to read something sinister into the apology or else we feel awkward for behaving as we have, and so we just say “Oh, that’s ok”, when we should say “I forgive you.”

I don’t believe my wife would mind if I were to share that she tends to be a very sensitive individual. This is a sharp contrast by my personality which seldom is bothered by anything. Over our 13 years of marriage, it has been difficult for me to learn how to deal with hurt feelings, for my tendency when I hear of the infraction to wonder why such a trival matter would cause such a passionate display of emotion. My first secret thought (which for years was my first spoken one) was “Why are you so foolish to allow such a trivial thing to offend you?”

I have not mastered the art of dealing with hurt feelings, but I am gradually learning that some of the most remedial spiritual graces need to be our foundational motive for how we address such things.

Our love must first cover a multitude of sins. It bugs me to no end to see how easily some are offended, but I strive to handle such with very gentle and careful hands. I strive to learn how to be forbearing and longsuffering with them and I am willing to allow myself to be their doormat, if need be, because I have been commanded “if at all possible, as much as lies within you, to live peaceably with all men.” If emotionally I must walk two miles when I am asked to travel one, then so be it.

Of course, as a husband and an elder I am always hopeful that sensitive people will learn to be more gracious in the manner in which they listen and that they will learn that a wise man will learn how to control his emotions. Instruction is needful in such cases, but we must recall that it is a “fit word spoken in DUE season” that is sweet and refreshing. In other words, when the nose is red and the pile of tissues is expanding may not be the time to burst out: “You know, your life would be a whole lot easier if you’d just stop acting like a baby by being so sensitive!” While the words may be very true, they will likely contribute only to much a louder sob and the need for a bigger box of tissues.

Finally, of course, we need to learn what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps if our love was stronger and our desire was not for so much our own things, but rather the things of others, we would learn how to truly feel remorseful when we have offended someone (even if we deem it to be a trifling matter).

These are hard lessons to learn - but we should be diligent in mastering them.


Comment by DEputyHeadmistress

1/10/2006 @ 1:19 pm

Jim, I for one didn’t make such a connection because I only just heard of the trouble at St. Peter yesterday.
I’m not sure I would have commented if I’d realized.

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