Have you ever been turned off by someone's attempt at rectifying a wrong with you? All of us offend someone at some point in our lives. It's probably a given that it's happened this week. Instead of judging too quickly someone's lackluster apology, why don't you plan on giving a meaningful (that is, sincere and full) apology the next time you are aware of offending someone or somebodies? Do you know how to apologize?
Jimmy Dodd, the founder and CEO of PastorServe, recently sent me a letter that was super helpful on the theme of apologizing: "The Nine A's of Confession." He said this: "... we make mistakes [and we sin]. We must apologize. Personally, when I apologize, I take a deep breath and think through the Nine A's. Each one is critical."
Read this prayerfully with an open heart and start right away with someone. Throughout this list, I've put brackets around my own additions or tweaks.
- Address everyone involved. When you hurt with words or actions, address EVERYONE impacted.
- Avoid "if, but, and maybe." This is essential! Using the word "if" declares that you are not fully taking responsibility for your actions or words. The phrase "if I hurt you" says that your actions may or may not have inflicted pain. The word 'but' conveys that you believe you were justified in your actions.
- Admit specifically. Just admit what you did! This is where the vast majority of apologies go horribly wrong. Don't justify your behavior. Don't beat around the bush. Just admit what you did or said. It's not rocket science. If a video tape shows you punching a woman— don't be so foolish as to say, "Everyone who knows me can confirm that I have the highest respect for women." In reality, that statement only confirms that you are an immature, narcissistic, blame-shifting individual; [not to mention, a liar].
- Acknowledge the hurt. Acknowledge the pain you caused. Use words like, "I know my actions caused deep pain." Make sure the other party is satisfied that you understand the depth of hurt your words or actions inflicted upon them.
- Accept the consequences. Yep. There are consequences to careless words and actions. Accept [humbly] what is coming your way.
- Alter your behavior. Commit that [by God's grace and Holy Spirit's power] you will never do this again. Tell the offended party that you will diligently work to change your behavior. [Even ask for and submit to some extra accountability like a fellow church member or counselor to hold your feet to the fire and encourage you in any progress you're making.]
- Allow the other person to share their emotions. Ask the offended party what else they need you to know. Often, there is deeper hurt than we ever realized. Practice active listening! Don't defend yourself, just listen!
- Ask for forgiveness. So basic but often overlooked. Every apology must include the words, "I am sorry. Will your forgive me?" [And if you've offended a family member, spiritual or biological, I'd add: I sinned against you on this.]
- Allow time for final reflection. Don't rush the apology. Sometimes, people need time to reflect, further acknowledge the hurt and ask questions to confirm that you understand the pain you caused. [Give them that space and keep the door open for them to "come in" and elaborate further on the hurt.]
For another helpful read about cultivating a church culture of healthy confession, check out John Lee's post "Confessing Sin is Always Awkward, Sometimes Costly and Absolutely Worth It".