It was our first interaction, our first meeting and her vocal knife sliced the conversation. “As a retired school teacher, I’m very concerned about the future of your children if you continue to homeschool them,” she stated.
Stunned doesn’t begin to describe the emotions swirling. I took a deep breath and prayed for discernment as she continued to spew on topics ranging from my educational, vocational, political, and even spiritual choices. I’d never experienced anything like this and was confused as to where this animosity stemmed? She’d never met me or our children, so I shouldn’t take this personally, right?
The cliche rings true: Some things are easier said than done.
Over the past ten years, I’ve developed an amiable relationship with this distant relative, yet never received an apology. Our world and life views stands in direct opposition, so it’s made for lively family visits, regardless of how often we remind our children to avoid spicy topics, especially during election year.
I’m sure we can all think of someone in our life who rarely apologizes. It’s our natural tendency to gloss over mistakes, underestimate our sin — along with the painful process of admitting “I am wrong.”
Yet, a heartfelt apology can change lives and I want to be one who freely gives them when I’ve offended. It’s the most underrated act by which we can completely alter relationships.
Acts 3:19 reminds us:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
I camp on that last phrase: times of refreshing. Unforgiveness limits our joy. It robs us of the full life God intends for us, while forgiveness breathes new life into relationships.
So when my relative finally apologized for her actions, why did it feel so insincere? Is there a “right” way to apologize?
Years ago, I sat down with my friend, Jennifer Thomas, co-author of 5 Languages of an Apology: How to Experience Healing in all Your Relationships. She shared how everyone has separate “apology languages,” and we all receive apologies differently. Those familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s work, The Five Love Languages, recognize this concept of “languages.” Dr. Chapman’s premise is that many relationship problems stem from miscommunication. Specifically, he recommends that in order to be “heard” by others, we need to speak not in our natural language, but in the language of the listener.
How do apology languages work?
Have you ever tried to apologize, only to be rebuffed or misunderstood?
Most likely, you were offering a partial apology in a “language” that was foreign to your listener. The five languages of apology include:
Apology Language #1 – Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.” If this is a person’s primary apology language, they desire an apology that connects with their emotions. They need to know that you truly feels sorry for your actions and for how they were wounded. When apologizing, list the hurtful effects of your action with genuine remorse. It doesn’t count if the person is only sorry they got caught! It often sounds like, “I’m so sorry for ‘x, y, z.’ I feel awful for what I’ve done.”
Apology Language #2 – Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.”
Name your mistake and accept fault. Note that it is easier to say, “You are right” than “I am wrong,” but the latter carries all the power. The person with this apology language needs to know you understand that you were wrong and all they need to hear is that simple admission of fault.
Apology Language #3 – Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
For this apology to feel genuine, they need to know what you will do to make amends. What can I do? Is any debt owed or repayment due? Do they need help getting back up on their feet?
Apology Language #4 – Genuine Repentance: “I’ll try not to do that again.”
True repentance literally means to shift actions, express regret, and then engage in problem-solving without excuses. The person who has this apology language needs to be assured that you desire to change and won’t make the same mistake again.
Apology Language #5 – Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”
Many assume that this step is a given, but this person needs to actually hear the words, “Please, will you forgive me?” Be patient in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. They may need time of reflection or greater clarification of your input from Apology Languages 1 – 4. Unfortunately, there are times when forgiveness will never be granted. The restoration desperately desired may not happen in your lifetime, yet you will be free.
Ben Franklin reminds us, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” It means, there are no “buts” in an apology. We can’t apologize and then qualify the reason. Even when feeling justified in our actions, to truly seek repentance, often the hardest thing required is to apologize and stay silent. NO ‘BUT’s ‘ allowed!
This is why my relative’s apology didn’t ring true. It was riddled with qualifiers.
In summary, when we know we’ve offended someone, act with urgency to repair the problem, speak what you’ve done wrong, empathize with how it has hurt them, show concern, and explain what will be different next time.
In order to give the most successful apologies, ask those close to you what they most appreciate hearing in an apology. Understanding these languages allows us to go even deeper by giving targeted apologies. My desire is to communicate with sincerity and this has the potential to impact relationships in a powerful way.
Which language stands out most to you? When you’ve been wronged, have you received the apology you most needed?