Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Do you know what the hardest three words are? Perhaps you say they are, I love you. No. The most difficult three words for most of us are, I am sorry.
You know what it’s like. You’ve said something in the heat of the moment, and you regret that moment. You shouldn’t have said it. Maybe you lost your temper and let fly with some words you now regret. What do you do? I think you should apologise. It’s not a sign of weakness—actually it’s the opposite. Norman Vincent Peale wrote,
A true apology is more than just acknowledgement of a mistake. It is recognition that something you have said or done has damaged a relationship—and that you care enough about the relationship to want it repaired and restored.
And I think that’s about the best definition I have read. To apologise can be difficult and it’s certainly humbling, but mistakes are human. No-one is perfect and we all make mistakes like this. Psychologists say an apology is crucial to our mental and even physical health. Research shows that receiving an apology has a noticeable, positive physical effect on the body. An apology actually affects the bodily functions of the person receiving it—blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows and breathing becomes steadier. Amazing, isn’t it? Apology helps us to move past our anger and prevents us from being stuck in the past. And opens the door to forgiveness by allowing us to have empathy for the wrongdoer.
Rev. John Plummer was a pilot in Vietnam who called for an air strike on the village of Trang Bang. Twice, before acting, he was assured there were no civilians in the area. Later, he saw the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of nine-year-old PhanThi Kim Phuc running from Trang Bang naked and horribly burned by Napalm, and was tortured by “the realization that it was I who was responsible for her injuries.”
Years of torment ensued as he silently endured his guilt, finding no way to express his remorse. Then he saw a story that the girl was living in Toronto and would attend a Veterans Day observance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. He felt compelled to see her. Upon hearing what had happened to her family, he broke down saying over and over again: “I’m sorry….I’m so sorry….I’m sorry”.
The power of sincere apologies
Hugh Mackay, author of Right and Wrong, talks about this. He says that when you apologise, you must find a way to make it up to them. “You must do whatever is necessary to secure the forgiveness of the person you’ve wronged,” he says. Sometimes our apologies can be insincere, like the speaker who said, “If I offended anyone out there, I’m sorry”. It may sound OK, but to me it has a hint of insincerity. “I really, from the very bottom of my heart, want to apologize for statements I made about Christianity. I did it mainly out of frustration. At one time or another, I’ve offended almost every group. I’m sure I’ll be apologizing again,” said Ted Turner. Now, is that a real apology?
So, when we’re talking about apologising, don’t say sorry simply because:
- someone made you do it
- it is what everybody expects of you
- you will get you something out of it.
No, of course it needs to be genuine. We may not always realise it, but a personal apology is very powerful. In fact, it has the potential to transform the world. Margaret Lee Runbeck wrote, “Apology is a lovely perfume. It can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift”.
Why is all this important? God has called us to live in peace. The Apostle Paul opened many of his epistles saying, ”Grace and peace be to you.” Peace comes when we work for it, and constructive efforts such as a simple I’m sorry, supported by a sincere desire to live at peace and to keep it that way, make great strides toward that peace. Giving and receiving an apology is a very powerful part of life.
So when we have done something wrong, let’s face it, we have done something wrong! No amount of Sorry can undo it. But we can sincerely apologise.
The Scripture says in 1 John 4:7-8:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (NIV)
Apologies—even small ones—are great big doorways through which grace can pour in. Apologies can mend relationships, soothe the wounds, because we are offering respect and care. Apologies make space in relationships for new life to happen. May God help us to be quick to apologise when we should do so.