Saturday, August 1, 2015

No Apologies, Part Two – What you should say to those who say they’re sorry.

Nice graphic representation of
an imperative sentence.
 In part one, I laid out three common types of apologies, and recommended that we should decline to accept any of them. That left the question, however, “If we were to refuse one another’s apologies, then what do we do about the misunderstandings, offenses and other damage we do in the course of our relationships?” Here’s the answer to that question.

Repentance as an Alternative to Apology – The worst thing about apologizing is that it fails to address any real change in the damaging behavior. Apologies allow us to avoid repentance. But before any suggestion that we need to repent, we need to know what that word means.

Repentance is rare enough in its partial and limited forms. But where some emphasize the emotions of being “sorry” for one’s sins, others portray it as merely stopping a particular behavior, while too few acknowledge that there are accompanying attitudes that need to change as well. In short, repentance involves “all of the above,” along with recognizing and implementing the positive behavior that replaces and displaces the pattern of wrongs that apologies reinforce.

Not a bad idea, especially if you have trouble imagining
the kinds of things that lead to and enable your bad behavior.
In short, here’s what repentance sounds like: “This is what I did. This is how it has hurt you. This is how I propose to repair the damage I have done. And these are the steps I am taking to change my behavior, the attitudes that led to it, and the other ways it shows up even when I’m not harming you in this particular way.” Is this level of detail necessary for every wrong we’ve done? Yes. Otherwise it is too easy for us to ignore the realities that repentance requires.

Jesus said that murder not only has its root in anger, but anger, even when it results only in abusive words, damages so severely as to merit similar consequences. Each harmful action requires repentance, because no single instance of wrong occurs without a supporting cast of underlying attitudes and enabling behaviors. So also it is with the lust that not only may lead to adultery, but that is adultery. Likewise any other breach in our relationships stems from a lack of consideration for those relationships. When we do harm to another, it is because the causes and patterns supporting that harm have taken root within our souls. Therefore, if we choose to repent, then the causes deserve as much attention as the effects.

For more on the "Non-Apology Apology," the "Apology as
Reset-Button," and the "Rationalizing Apology,"

see Part One.
This is why there is still one more element we have to eliminate.

The Folly of False Forgiveness – There is one other factor to be considered in our decision to decline an apology. Too often, Christians especially seem intent on demanding forgiveness in return for an apology. “I said I’m sorry. Don’t be so judgmental. Jesus said you have to forgive me, or you’ll go to hell.” That theology may seem a little warped to some. But the underlying causes of our judgmental attitudes and actions fit the same pattern as above and must be as directly confronted. (e.g., Matthew 6:14-15 and Romans 2:1-4.)

Wouldn’t the wiser path, then, be to simply ignore the wrong, forget the pain, and move forward toward freedom in having forgiven? That is the advice many well-meaning Christians would give. And yet, it requires the pretense that we can “move forward” as though “nothing ever happened.” Practically speaking, that is dangerous. Scripturally speaking, it is unsupportable, even when there is repentance.

God built our brains so that we learn from experience.
Forgiveness is a decision, based on knowledge.
There is no forgetting some of what has been done.
Even when someone claims to be truly repenting, forgiveness involves great risk, and should be undertaken only by those who trust Christ for their protection and provision. Showing mercy is always costly. Yet Jesus does admonish us that when someone comes to us, even seven times in one day, and says that they are repenting, we are to forgive them for what they have done in the past.

Still, forgiveness is not forgetfulness. The patterns of behavior that Jesus noted in the Scribes, Pharisees, Romans, crowds and others suggested that His hearers must constantly be aware of their probable responses and reactions. Whether refusing to cast “pearls before swine,” or to allow the crowds to make Him king by force, or even to let His own disciples thwart His mission by their insistence on turning Him away from danger, Jesus accepted that the attitudes and actions of others would eventually end His life, and yet forgave even those who stood by as He died at their hands.

Had to include this one since it shows my repentance
from intolerance for grammar and spelling errors.
So, we are free to forgive even the unrepentant, of course. But we need not do so ignorantly. Nor are we to do so on the basis of mere words, no matter how “sorry” someone may seem. And even where there is a claim of repentance, John the Baptist’s call to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” suggests that we would be wise to wait for a new pattern of behaviors to be well-established before choosing to entrust ourselves to the perpetrator in the future.

So, without apology, I recommend that you begin to decline apologies…and pursue repentance and forgiveness instead.

So, how would I recommend you respond to someone’s apology?

“Repent, sinner” works for me.


Anonymous said...

In Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the principles that stuck with me was his idea of "When at fault admit it quickly and empathically." Sometimes, when people try to apologize or repent, we excuse their behavior or they try and minimize ours... Ho many times have we said, "Oh, really it was nothing... no apology necessary," when we really meant, "What a lame excuse for an apology, but I guess it's the best I am going to get so I better appear gracious."

So, rather than say, "Repent, sinner," when someone tries to apologize, maybe we should do two things: 1) admit our fault and 2) push forward towards repentance and a deepening of the relationship. It might look something like this:

Other: I am so sorry for hurting your feelings when I insinuated at the meeting that you idea was dumb and something we had tried before.

You: I am glad you came to talk to me about this. I want to apologize to you, too. I was not honest with how badly your words hurt me. I try very hard to be a strong member of this team, and to have one of my ideas dismissed so completely was really defeating and caused me to withdraw from the discussion and from the meeting... really from my work for the rest of the day. I want to be able to give you the best I have to offer here at XXX church, but something will need to change about how we discuss ideas in meetings, and certainly something will need to change about my reaction to criticism--hurtful, meaningful, or otherwise. So, I want to admit that I was wrong to pull back after your hurtful words, because in doing so, I cheated you, our ministry team, and the work we are attempting to do for God and his Kingdom.

Other: Wow... I could tell I had said something to hurt your feelings, and I certainly want you to feel safe to share your ideas in our team meetings. I can see now how wrong I was to be so dismissive. I accept your criticism about the tone I have set in meetings and how it needs to change in order for us all to be effective in ministry. I would have been tempted to sweep this issue under the rug, but what you have shared with me just now makes me think that there are probably other times I have shut down discussion by not making others feel like their ideas will get a fair hearing.

You: I hadn't considered that, but you may be right. Perhaps if we came to the team and replayed this interaction for them, both admitting our part in not confronting this situation sooner, we could work as a team to set some guidelines for our discussions that will draw out the quieter members of our team... what do you think?

Other: I think that is a great idea. Let's put it out to the team before our next meeting, giving them time to think about the topic, but you and I lead in modelling the attitude of repentance we might all need to share in order to change the dynamic in our discussions that has become so unhealthy....

So, maybe it's a pipe dream, but this fantasy of mine just might work?? Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

That last comment was from Chris, BTW...

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Chris -
I'm not sure that the entirety of mutual repentance would be worked out in so brief a conversation. But I also recognize that I was unclear as to the mutuality of repentance I see as essential. Clarity was lost in my cleverness of saying "Repent, sinner" as both the reply to those offering an apology and the attitude I should take when another is apologizing to be. You rightly address the enabling behavior that allows apologies to replace true, relationship-building attitudes that ask, "How can WE word toward a better relationship, together?" Thanks for the feedback!

William Berkley said...

I am pretty sure that many people do not see apologies in this way, but the point is well-made anyway. Apologies--like love-- "must not be in word only but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). I have known people who said it but their following actions showed that they did not really mean it. Repeated offences are one but not the only indication of this. Ultimately, repentance must also be present, to demonstrate the sincerity of the words and an understanding of the impact of the offence.

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