While we were preparing to get married, we heard our friend Ted talk about apologies – it could’ve been a sermon, a conversation, or during our premarital counseling. The years made the specifics of that fade. But he talked about how meaningless “I’m sorry” has become in our culture, especially. I observed how many of us move through our days – sometimes, apologizing for existing. Other times, saying ‘I’m sorry’ out of obligation or on behalf of other people, or for no reason at all. But more often than not, apologizing without ever taking ownership for what what they’d done wrong. Ted talked about how his family had committed to say “I was wrong.”
This resonated deeply with me.
YIKES, though. For real.
Who wants to say those words? Not me. Not really.
But the husband and I agreed that was the approach we’d take to reconciling our differences as we headed into marriage. And that carried over into parenting.
This strategy has helped me stop apologizing when I don’t need to, and it has helped me reconcile when I desperately need it.
Our method for this has grown, especially as we’ve taught it to our kids. It had to be adapted… I’ll talk that through as I address each piece and why it matters.
Let me also add the disclaimer that we don’t always do this well. Sometimes, my heart runs away at the idea of having to say, “I was wrong” out loud. And sometimes, it trembles at saying “I need your forgiveness.” Each step challenges me for the better. It seems to be a structure that works well to properly posture the heart for humility, courage, empathy, and growth.
The Four Pieces of Our Apologies
Simple: make eye contact.
This can be especially hard when I am experiencing shame. But it is absolutely necessary to making sure I’m facing what I did wrong. I’m faced with the humanity of another living being.
- Take Ownership.
This is the, “I was wrong” part. And it is certainly more than saying I’m sorry. For our family, it’s saying “I was wrong for _________.” And calling out exactly what it is that we did – taking ownership for our (wrong) action(s).
For example, one that the brave boy has mastered, “I was wrong for hitting you.”
One that I often practice, “I was wrong for the way I spoke to you.” Which is the perfect transition to the next piece:
- Express Their Worth.
Tell them what they mean to you. This reminds both of you of their inherent worth and what it means about how they should be treated.
- “You are important to me.”
- “I value you.”
- “I love you.”
- “You’re special to me.”
- Ask for forgiveness.
Pretty straightforward, this one: “Will you please forgive me?”
Sometimes, for an extra measure of vulnerability and courage, it comes out as “I need your forgiveness.” There’s a lot to unpack in that, but suffice it to say that we’re set free to forgive ourselves when others choose to do so, and sometimes I have to say that out loud so (let’s be real here:) my husband and kids know that I’m prone to torment myself forever should they decide not to forgive me. That’s how it weighs on me when I’ve seriously wronged them.
It seems simple.
It takes a ton of courage.
I promise that if you put into practice these steps to replace the language of apologies in your house, it will change things. For starters, it’ll push everything in the direction of being more authentic, which is what my next post is about. Stay tuned.
And, as always, if you have something to add on this – the elements of apologizing – drop it in the comment box below!