The Power of an Apology

Scott and I recently met a sweet mom who also knows the pain of the absence of her child.  As we were discussing our shared grief she volunteered that the doctor who was caring for her child has repeatedly tearfully apologized for the death of her child.   Even upon seeing them a year later he expressed his deep sorrow and sense of responsibility again.  His heart deeply aches with theirs, he grieves with them and it blesses them, perhaps even more than they realize.  Painfully aware of the fact that we live in a worldly culture that says you should legally protect yourself and your assets at all costs, Scott and I were immediately deeply touched by what she shared.  This doctor defied every medical malpractice lawsuit prevention symposium he had ever attended to minister to the hearts of the family of his patient.  I don’t know if he is a Christian, but he certainly has and is exemplifying Christ-like love as he, in a sense, sacrificially lays his life down for them.  We are so thankful for this blessing for this wounded family.

In stark contrast to the repeated heartfelt apologies of that tender-hearted doctor, I’ve been reading about the “nonapology apology.”  I was foolish enough to think perhaps I had coined a new phrase as it had been tumbling around in my mind over the past several weeks, but a quick internet search this morning proved me wrong.  The English Oxford Living Dictionary defines nonapology (also known as “nonapology apology”) as the following, “A statement that takes the form of an apology but does not constitute an acknowledgement of responsibility or regret for what has caused offense or upset.” 

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Men are most frequently presumed masters of the nonapology, but I’m fairly certain women are just as gifted at it.  Maybe the skill is birthed in each of us as children when invariably at some point our parents require an apology from our unrepentant selves.  Even as children our prideful flesh rears up in defiance, and through it, no doubt, our first nonapology is born.  The first one is probably far from masterful, and if siblings are involved it is most likely something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you made me hit you.”  Over time, though, as wordsmithing skills improve many go on to  become masters of the nonapology.

I know in my teen and college years I was quite adept at the nonapolgy, and sadly I exercised it most efficiently early in marriage.  As I’ve tried to recall those moments, I’ve thought much about my motives for offering a nonapology as opposed to a genuine heartfelt apology.  I ended up with three primary reasons one might give a nonapology, there are probably more but these three seemed to cover it for me.

  • I know I’m responsible for hurting or offending the person but my pride prevents me from acknowledging responsibility
  • I know I am responsible for hurting or offending  the person but I’m scared of the potential consequences if I acknowledge responsibility
  • I do not believe I am responsible for inflicting harm or offending and am determined to proclaim/ maintain my innocence but I also want the issue to go away

As I look at each of those three reasons, I see the focus of all three is one in the same – self.  My pride.  My flesh.  My comfort.  My convenience.  My wants.  I’m suspicious that any other reasons that could be added to the list above would be just as much steeped in self.

In contrast, an apology is defined by Dictionary.com as a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.”   With a nonapology the focus is on self and there is no acceptance of responsibility.    With an apology the focus is on the person hurt or offended and there is an acceptance of responsibility as well as an expression of regret, remorse or sorrow for the wound or offense (intentional or unintentional).  A nonapology is self-centered, and an apology is other-centered.  A nonapology is not an apology.

Heartfelt apologies are powerful.  The deeper the wound that precipitated the need for the apology, the greater the potential power of the apology.  Likewise, withholding an apology has potent negative effects.  A withheld apology possesses the potential to exponentially compound the pain of the wounded party when a deep wound is involved.  Apologies and reconciliation hold the power to bless not only the parties involved but the body of Christ at large.  Conversely, withheld apologies and unreconciled relationships hold the power to negatively impact the body of Christ.  At the very minimum, a withheld apology is a missed opportunity to demonstrate the beauty of the extension of God’s grace, mercy and love in our relationships.  At its worst a withheld apology deeply wounds those affected and sparks disunity and controversy, simultaneously delighting the enemy and grieving our precious Savior.

Christianity and nonapologies are incompatible.  To follow Christ we are called to crucify our flesh daily, to lay our lives down for our friends (Luke 9:23, John 15:13).  We are commanded to love one another, not just a little, but to love one another deeply or fervently from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).   The nonapology violates all of those mandates.   The nonapology indulges our own flesh at the expense of others.

As Christ followers we should be deeply burdened anytime a brother or sister in Christ has been hurt or offended by our words or actions.  Even if I don’t understand how my words or actions were offensive, my heart should still ache that something I said or did was received in such a way.  My deep love for Christ and His body (i.e. my brothers and sisters in Him) should compel me to walk in obedience to Matthew 5:23-24 (below).  As Christians we should have a gripping urgency to be reconciled to one another, not driven by legalistic obligation, but driven by the supernatural love of Christ that indwells us. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised”  2 Corinthians 5:14-15 [ESV].

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  Matthew 5:23-24 [ESV]

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:14-18 [NIV]

The blessings of this flesh-crucifying, Christ-like, fervent love for one another extend beyond the body of Christ, though.   He tells us that as we sacrificially love one another in this manner the world will know we are His disciples.  Undoubtedly the world seeing the fruits of His love among us will not only cause them to recognize we are His, but will also serve to advance the gospel.  Just as certainly, our failure to love one another with the fervent love of Christ will give the enemy opportunity to blaspheme the name of our precious Savior and impede the advancement of the gospel among us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35 [ESV]

May Your love in me O’ Lord be a consuming fire that melts away my pride and selfishness as dross, leaving behind only sacrificial love for You and others.  May I be marked by Your humility that others may see You in me, that You alone may be glorified and Your name be made known.

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

3 thoughts on “The Power of an Apology

  1. Thank you for sharing. The Lord continues to use you to minister to others and let HIS amazing Love shine through you. Forgiveness. A word that can be spoken so easily but yet so very hard to actually extend.

  2. Thank you, Karen, for sharing. The Lord is using your ministry to help us all. We love you and continue to pray for your entire family.

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