The Power of an Apology

Saying “I’m Sorry” is sometimes one of the hardest things to do in life. To add to the complexity of things, TRULY saying “I’m Sorry” is definitely one of the hardest things to do in life. It forces us to be vulnerable and humble, to have our soul’s windows flung wide open and to be exposed to the very person we don’t want to show “weakness” to.

As a kid, I remember this as being one of the first lessons I had to comprehend. If I messed up (or even if I didn’t and my sister got me in trouble for nothing) you better believe I was going to have to say “sorry” until my mom or dad was satisfied that I truly meant it. Once I grumbled a sincere enough apology, we hugged it out and went on our way. Most of the time it was sincere, but I wasn’t happy about it at all. I didn’t understand the full impact of a heartfelt apology or even fathom the existence of self-righteous pride at such a young age. This household rule hasn’t changed through the generations. I’ve got three nephews and a niece and treat several children in my clinic every week, so I see a LOT of discipline going on. Whether they stole Lego blocks out of jealousy, gave a unsuspected gut shot out of anger, or marked all over the sibling with a Sharpie out of pure fun, the process remains fairly unaltered from years ago. The parent grabs them by the arm, positioning them into a face to face confrontation until both parties have settled their differences. If we learned this lesson so early, why does it remain so straining and so difficult to perform?

The absence of this difficult yet simple and short phrase has lead countless friends to never speak to each other again, family members to distance themselves both physically and emotionally, relationships to be shattered and ripped in two. Somewhere along the way we have been taught that apologies show weakness, and you can’t be weak in existence. Besides the weakness, it’s not our fault and not our place to apologize first anyway. The OTHER party needs to apologize first and THEN we will follow suit and mend the situation. The walls of pride built in these situations seems impenetrable and fortified, so we choose to just leave the other party on the other side of the wall rather than address the wall itself. Even if you’re not claustrophobic, the thought of walling yourself in and leaving everyone and everything on the outside should make us all scared and concerned. That’s not the type of life to live at all; we need each other. How do we make things right?

Most do see an apology as a trait synonymous with weakness, but I see it as just the opposite. It’s something that requires a HUGE amount of inner strength to get to the point that you honestly and sincerely apologize. Putting the burden of the situation on our own shoulders and wanting to make it right takes an incredibly strong soul, not weakness. Even if the origin of the problem is not our fault completely, we can all look at every situation and see that we could have and should have acted differently. We all make mistakes, no matter how much you’d like to think otherwise. Humility is one of the hardest things to practice, and heartfelt apologies completely require this of ourselves, but it opens the door to incredible growth and resolution.

I had a childhood friend that we did everything together growing up. We would bike the neighborhoods until the streetlights came on (and later during the summer), become the Undertaker and Hulk Hogan on the trampoline practicing our piledrivers and leg drops, gather a group of kids for an entire neighborhood game of hide and go seek, prank call neighbors (before the Caller ID was invented) and try to talk them into buying siding for their brick homes, and more adventures that go on and on. All that being said, something happened one time in middle school and we went our separate ways and never spoke again. We had the kind of fight that almost erupted in punches being thrown, but definitely finished with a friendship that was no more. All the fun memories couldn’t take the place of the prideful present we both owned, so the friendship was no more. It was just about five years ago that we finally saw each other and spoke again. The ironic thing is that neither of us can remember why we let our friendship go that day. We couldn’t recall the petty argument that slammed the door shut on a terrific friendship that was once legen….wait for it….dary. We actually apologized to each other for the general situation and are friends now, but there’s nothing that can make up for the time lost in between from the unknown battle. How is a probability of continued closeness not worth more than the possibility of losing it all based on sincerely placing two words in between the two parties? Why can’t we simply apologize?

When we get to the point of apologizing from the heart, incredible growth can occur. This simple act shows the recipient that you are willing to drop your defenses and be humbled in their presence. You also show how much you care for the relationship and prove that fact by doing such a selfless thing. It’s even more exponential when BOTH parties can apologize from the heart and move on from something disabling. An apology will not erase the error from ever occurring, or cause the previous door that was slammed shut to be removed, but it can open new doors to repairing and mending that relationship and building on the new future based on potential instead of pride.

The good news is that it might not be too late to change those relationships we have closed off. In my example above, there was still time for both of us to make amends and put the friendship back together. Some of us aren’t so lucky. There are countless people I know that have had a fight with someone and never had a chance for either side to apologize before one of them passed away, leaving nothing but regret and the wishful desire of just being able to make things right. If someone in our lives could use an apology from us to make that bond stronger, we shouldn’t wait until death to really know we should’ve corrected the situation. We should never hesitate to bridge relational gaps in our life; we are never promised that the person will be on the other side of the bridge in the future.  Leave everything on the table and never be afraid to apologize. Lives can be changed in an instant, even after years of holding onto baggage. Friendships can be renewed, marriages can be saved, relationships can be restored, families can be reunited. Just because a door is closed doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Sometimes in life our situations are more of a book than a door. Instead of closing the book and tossing it away, you just need to turn the page and continue the story. A new page brings a new part of the story and just because the chapter is over doesn’t mean that story is quite done being told. Most of the time there is a new chapter awaiting, sometimes even like a hidden track on a record or CD that we didn’t know existed until we discovered it randomly.

Let’s decide to walk the path toward healing and humility rather than self-righteousness. Let’s decide to love each other rather than pridefully distance ourselves from everyone just because we cannot utter two words. Let’s decide to apologize.




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