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Becoming a Better Apologizer
March 21, 2008
I was in a bad mood yesterday. For weeks now I’ve been trying to figure out something simple with a nearby bank—or something that should be simple. It has been a comedy of errors, really. Every time I try to do something (anything!), it seems that their incompetence or ignorance is working against me. I’ll receive a phone call telling me to come in and sign papers, but when I get there I’m told that the papers are actually still at the head office. “We didn’t call you!” they’ll insist. Was the phone call a figment of my imagination, then? No, I guess it just turns out that the call center and the branch don’t have the best communication. The next time I went to the bank they ran around the branch scraping together some paperwork, all the while calling across the branch with personal details of my account and its contents (despite all kinds of other customers milling about). After a couple of weeks of this I had to admit that I had been holding on just to satisfy my own morbid curiosity as to whether they could actually follow through on any of their promises.
Yesterday I was told I could drop by to fill out the paperwork for a safe deposit box they had reserved for me. I took a few minutes around lunch time and drove up there. When I arrived at the branch I was told that all of the boxes were already spoken for. A little vein in my forehead started throbbing. I tried to explain with decreasing self-control that every time they called me to the branch I took time out of my day only to find that they had been wrong. The girl behind the counter explained that her manager and all other superiors were out at the moment but that they would call me when they arrived later. Of course I could also wait at the bank if I preferred. Well, I am a busy guy and can’t be waiting at a bank for a manager to arrive, so I rolled my eyes, barked something grumpy and stormed away with a black rain cloud over my head.
Fifteen minutes after getting home the branch called and left a message to say that there was a safe deposit box for me after all. Later that afternoon, when I had put aside work for the day, I headed back to the branch. I was just hoping that I’d be able to get in a word or two with that manager. There was so much I wanted to say. “I’d keep my money in a sock under my mattress before I’d open another account in your half-rate, two-bit institution!” I was ready. I was prepped.
I got to the bank and stood in line. In just a few seconds it was my turn and I marched up to the wicket to see the same girl there that I had spoken to that morning. This was going to be good. It was time for some justice.
And right then and there, God whacked me on the chest with a two-by-four. Or if felt like it, anyways. It was like my conscience was something physical, something palpable and something that was anxious to pull out of my chest. Suddenly I didn’t feel like fighting. All I could say was, “I’m sorry I was a jerk this morning.” She replied as people always seem to: “That’s okay!” And I said, “No, it isn’t okay. I shouldn’t have acted like that and I’m sorry.” And then, after many more delays, we opened my safe deposit box.
As humbling and humiliating as this was, I’m grateful to the Spirit that He struck my conscience in the way He did. I need His help. I’ve been trying to become a better apologizer. I’ve been trying to take the initiative, as the leader of my household, in apologizing. Too often I’ve seen apologizing as weakness—that a real man never apologizes. What will my wife and children think of me if I’m always apologizing to them? They’ll catch on that I’m pretty well a jerk and that I sin, you know, at least occasionally. But God has really helped me to understand that taking initiative in apologizing is the mark of a leader, not the mark of someone who is weak. God knows how many opportunities I have to practice apologizing. And He is showing me how important it is that I take them.
As I’ve been working on becoming a better apologizer, I’ve come up with just a short list of tips. I’ll post them in the hope that maybe they can help you, too.
Just Do It
Just apologize. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let bitterness take root. Don’t let pride sever your relationships. If there is anything that will keep you from apologizing, it is pride. Your pride will rebel against humbling yourself before God and before another person. Don’t trust your pride. Just apologize. When you offend someone, just apologize. If you’re anything like me, you won’t ever lack for opportunities to practice apologizing. As times goes on it may not get any easier or any less humbling, but it will become something you do sincerely and out of a desire to please God and to honor people created in His image.
Ask for Forgiveness
It is easy enough to say, “I’m sorry, ” But far more difficult to ask, “Do you forgive me?” Asking forgiveness allows both you and the offend party to understand that you are not merely seeking to salve your conscience by apologizing, but that you are seeking true reconciliation. Forgiveness is something that needs to be both given and received.There may be times when actually asking for forgiveness will be very awkward and there may be times you will choose not to actually force the question (as I did yesterday. The girl at the bank was already looking at me funny. I was worried she’d hit the panic button if I pressed much more). But you will generally want to ask for forgiveness.
Don’t Rationalize Your Sin
I try to teach my children that an apology does not include the words “but” or “if.” We do not say, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” We do not say, “I’m sorry I did it, but if you hadn’t…” We apologize sincerely and from the heart. If we cannot apologize without rationalizing our own sin, we are not truly apologizing. We will want to examine our hearts before attempting to make a true and sincere apology. We cannot make apologies that are really our attempts to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we’ve committed. So apologize sincerely and apologize from the heart, not as an attempt to clear your own record but as a step of love and obedience.
Learn to Forgive
And finally, learn how to forgive. As difficult as I find it to be the one asking forgiveness, I find it even more difficult and even more awkward being on the giving end of forgiveness. You may well feel the same. Far too often, when someone apologizes to us, we are embarrassed and inadvertently excuse their sin. “That’s okay! It didn’t bother me…” we may reply. But it is not okay; sin is never okay. So learn how to forgive.
If God grants me my three score and ten, I’m not even halfway through life yet. And while he has certainly been gracious in helping me overcome sin, plenty remains. I’m still a committed sinner. Dave Harvey, in his book When Sinners Say ‘I Do’ said something I love—that the more you get to know him, the more respect you’ll have for his wife. The same is certainly true of me and of my wife. Get to know me and you’ll soon see the kind of person that Aileen is. It’s not always an easy calling for her to be my wife. But even more, the same is true of me and my God. Get to know me and you’ll learn just how gracious and loving a God I serve that He would be willing to forgive a jerk like me.
I was wrong to bark at the girl at the bank. There’s no doubt. And I truly am sorry. But the fact remains that the bank really is a half-rate, two-bit institution and I really do think I’d keep my savings in a sock under my mattress before I entrusted them to this particular branch. Then again, they now have a safe deposit box in my name. Dare I entrust them with whatever I might want to stuff in there?