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Portrait of an Apology

August 15, 2011

Yesterday, working with the Genesis text about Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Egypt, I preached a sermon focused on themes of reconciliation and restoration of relationship.  The angle that I took was the very practical lesson of how to say you’re sorry.  It seems so simple, really, but when it comes right down to it, so many of us don’t do it very well.

Photo couresy of user Butupa, some rights reserved.

Many of you commented very positively about the sermon after the services, and I am always humbled by hearing your kind remarks.  I think one of the reasons why I was so struck when I initially learned what went in to a “correct” apology is that I had often been on the receiving end of an incomplete or insufficient apology.  I think, also, that this is the reason so many of you resonated with the idea.  We all have probably given poor apologies in our life, which means that it is just as likely that we have experienced receiving them.  We know what it feels like when we have been wronged and the “sorry” just doesn’t cut it.

As Christians was are called to be people of reconciliation.  We pray in Eucharistic Prayer A about how God sent Jesus Christ “to reconcile us to you” (God).  We learn about reconciliation and forgiveness from Jesus and it is He who calls us to be people of reconciliation and forgiveness as well.  Knowing how to make an effective apology is a good start towards that, no matter whether we’re saying sorry to God or to a family member, or to a friend.

The four key points I identified yesterday were as follows:

  1. Be specific.  Know what you are saying sorry for.  Don’t just say you’re sorry.  When you are specific in an apology it lets the offended party know that you know what it was you did, and that can make all the difference.
  2. Don’t make your apology conditional.  Never say, “I am sorry if I offended you,” because what that really communicates is “you probably shouldn’t be offended by this, and I don’t really respect you if you are, but if you are, then I’m sorry.”
  3. Don’t apologize in the passive voice. Own your apology.  Make it yours.  Don’t apologize on behalf of something out there in the ether; apologize on behalf of yourself.  Own it.  Don’t say, “I’m sorry that you were offended…” but rather, “I’m sorry that I offended you…”
  4. Don’t make excuses.  Nothing will ruin a good apology as quickly as making an excuse.  For example, don’t do this:  “I’m sorry that I did x, y, and z, but I was real tired, and I hadn’t had my coffee, and it was Monday, and…”  See how that just takes the wind right out of the sails of what to that point was an effective apology?  Don’t do it.  Sometimes you have to eat your piece of humble pie.

I hope you’ll find, as I often have, that by following these hints, reconciliation, forgiveness, and restoration of relationship are quick to follow.  No one wants to carry around extra hurt or grudges.  Those are heavy and burdensome.  But people do want to know that you are sorry.  A good apology is hard to say no to.  After all, we are Christians, and as Christians, we are people of reconciliation.

Fr. Ryan+

P.S.  For more information on making an effective apology, see On Apology, by Dr. Aaron Lazare.

P.P.S.  The title of this blog post is a reference to the wonderful Jars of Clay song by the same title – a song having more to do with a person coming out of a depression than apologizing, but it is a great title!

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 15, 2011 10:55 am

    I am not really sure why I am sorry or why I should apologize, but I believe it is what you want me to do. I am sorry that you weren’t happy, but it is because I am not capable of true apologies!

    I just wanted to violate all for rules! For violating these rules I am truly sorry.

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