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How to bring healing with a good apology, part 1

I don't know about the rest of the world, but in Australia, "sorry" is frequently used in place of "excuse me".

"Sorry, could you pass the butter?"

"Sorry, I was here first."

"Sorry, could I slip past you?"

This is somewhat mocked in an Australian customs video called, "Don't be sorry. Just declare it." In this advertising parody, various people say "sorry"while presenting an excuse for breaking the biosecurity rules. Saying sorry while making an excuse is the opposite of taking responsibility. That kind of sorry feels cheap and even harmful.

What does it look like to bring about healing in your broken relationships with a genuine "sorry"? How do you move from sorry as a cheap excuse, or worse, blaming the other, to heartfelt acknowledgement of your wrongs? What are the elements of a healing apology? Here are three aspects to help you do this well. The first one will be covered in this post.

  1. Be clear about how you contributed to the problem.

  2. Be humble about how you deliver your apology.

  3. Be thoughtful about how you serve the person you hurt.

Be clear about how you contributed

A genuine apology does not flub around with generalisations and obtuse references to "things haven't been the best" or "what happened the other day". Truly taking ownership means clearly naming what you did or failed to do or what particular attitudes have been at fault. It's not necessarily a shopping list itemising every wrong action in a ten year conflict. To describe in detail a situation that hurt another person could bring about more pain. However, to say without excuse, "My pride and anger have led to me speaking words that hurt you"shows that you get what is going on at both the heart level and the action level. Clearly understand what you did and the attitude behind it, and you will be well on your way to articulating a healing apology.

Look at actions, words, attitudes and omissions

Consider what you did in the relationship breakdown. Look at the facts of your own actions and words, your tone of voice and attitude and where you have failed to be kind, generous and compassionate in the relationship. Take out a journal and write down what comes to mind. Find a trusted friend who isn't afraid to tell you hard truth and talk it through with them. Where did you fail to live up to your relationship commitments and values? Where have you been selfish instead of considering the other? It can be tempting to minimise our contribution, to make excuses and to blame things outside ourselves. Pushing away the guilt and pain of owning how our actions don't measure up robs us of the gospel power of forgiveness and redemption. The deep courage, humility and integrity it takes to shoulder our own stuff sets us on the path to true freedom and liberates us from crippling shame.

Find renewed relationship with God through repentance

Consider God. He cares about what's going on in your relationship. He already sees and knows everything about this situation and his love for you is unchanged. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, his heart of love and welcome runs to meet you as you come to him. You don't have to clean up your act first; just come with all the muck of the pigsty on you and let him clean you up. Receive his forgiveness and know that there is nothing that cannot be redeemed in Christ. When we honestly own our sin before God, the power of being cleansed and loved by him prepares us to engage genuinely in the apology process with the person with whom we are in conflict.

Stand in the shoes of the other(s)

Who has been impacted, directly and indirectly, by what you did or failed to do? Take an honest inventory of all those you have hurt and sit with the reality of that. This is an opportunity to consider what it has been like for them. This can be a hard place to linger. Except for the very hard-hearted, recognising the impact of our wrongful actions and attitudes on others is difficult to face. The temptation here is to look away in denial or minimisation or to make the hurt their problem and not yours. Here's an invitation then to a brave act of love that has potential to heal. Imagine yourself being on the receiving end of your judgment, your anger, your condescension, your minimisation, your sarcasm, your stonewalling, your betrayal, your manipulation, your failure to care. Imagine being the one silenced or shamed, blasted or blamed, nitpicked or named in gossip. Stand in those shoes for as long as it takes to connect with sorrow over your hurtful actions. And bring your sorrow to God. Let him hold you so that you have strength to hold the pain of the other when you go to speak with them.

Giving a healing apology takes a lot more than saying nice words in hopes of making the other person feel better. It begins with a reflective and honest process that sincerely engages with personal responsibility. In the next post, I'll cover more steps on the way to saying sorry with integrity.


Jane is passionate about equipping others to engage with their conflicts confidently and compassionately. In addition to coaching through Quiet Wisdom, she can be contracted for mediation through PeaceWise.


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