When An Apology Is Not Enough

Early on in my work as a youth pastor, I would do quite a bit of counseling with young people and the adults who served on my staff. Over time, I learned that I’m not a very good counselor. I warned people that I wouldn’t go to me for counseling!

But there are some simple things that people can do when they find themselves in the middle of a relational crisis. Perhaps the most important of these would be the willingness to apologize. I’ve seen people, who can’t stand being in the same room together, start to break down the barriers between them when one person is able to step up and say, “I’m sorry.”

But the apology can’t just be a relational tactic. It can’t be used as a way to manipulate the situation in order to simply reduce the tension. For example, do you remember when your parents told you to apologize for something. You went ahead and said, “I’m sorry” or worse – you just said, “Sorry!” At that point, your parents turned to you and told you to “say it like you mean it” (which is a strange thing to say because you DID just say it like you meant it). In this process, they were trying to teach you that an apology is meaningful only when it’s sincere.

That’s what I’m thinking about when I talk about those times that an apology isn’t enough. To say the words, even with some depth of sincerity, is still lacking at times. So I’m trying to be mindful of when I need to SAY I’m sorry, but then DO a little more…

I’m sorry…will you forgive me?
I believe it’s one thing to offer an apology. It’s even more to ask the other person for their forgiveness. You are asking them to set you free (and in a strange, spiritual sense to set themselves free). It is a request for grace and mercy from someone else.

I’m sorry…can I do anything to make this up to you?
This is called restitution. I know that I’ve harmed you or hurt you or taken something from you. I must apologize but also be willing to do what I can to make it right.

I’m sorry…you deserve better.
When we are in a position of conflict or tension with someone else, we can’t understand why they would do the things they do and vice-versa. There is a lack of understanding. An apology conveys that you shouldn’t have done what you did. But there also needs to be an attempt to show that you understand why it was wrong and how it hurt the other person. In this case, you are communicating that you understand what the other person would consider “better” and show why you didn’t honor that.

I know there are more examples of steps we must take beyond a simple apology to restore the health of our relationships (but like I said…I’m not a very good counselor). What would you say?

I guess if we’ve come to the place where we acknowledge the need to apologize and are willing to do it, why not go even farther and offer these other things as well?

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