We have a mutual friend who tells the story of his father, who was by no means a perfect dad. But when his dad made a mistake, was wrong, or used poor judgment, he would always apologize. His dad took the onus for errors resulting from his own insecurities or bad judgments.
Our friend can smile now when he says,
My dad was the first to apologize and say he messed up. The older I got, the more I saw what a beautiful thing that was, saying he was wrong. That had to take guts and surely was embarrassing at times. Still, he did it. And that, in turn, took a ton of pressure off me growing up. When it was his fault, he owned it. And that’s a great character trait for a father to have. That is life-changing.
There are two parts to an apology, two things that cost the person giving it. And if you’re not willing to pay the price, there’s no reason to offer the apology in the first place. Sorry is just a word without some sacrifice attached to it.
The first is ownership. This is a hard thing to do. As we’ve mentioned, in our friendship and among our staff, we use the phrase “Onus on me.” Onus is a noun used to refer to something that is one’s duty or responsibility. It’s a funny-sounding phrase, but it says all that needs to be said: “That’s on me. I take responsibility for that.” Sometimes we’ll even pat our chest, to make sure it’s understood.
Once you begin taking responsibility for things you do wrong, you begin to break down the wall of pride. Pride is one of the biggest barriers to transparency and security in any relationship. You can’t always be looking out for number one.
You can also take ownership for something that you didn’t know at the time was hurtful. If someone has been hurt and you don’t understand it, take the time to figure it out. Ask, “What hurt you?” about this or that. Sit down and listen. Stop using all your energy to defend yourself.
If you will sit down with someone who is upset with you and say, “Help me understand,” you will see their walls of defense and anger start to come down. It’s kind of amazing to watch. And it’s so rare that it can take people by surprise.
Taking ownership of a hurt you’ve caused is an invaluable gift you give to another person. It’s saying with true conviction, “I care about you.” And it can strengthen your friendship or relationship more than you ever expected. You’ll find that it also does amazing work in your own heart, too.
The second part of the sacrifice is the action part. You can be sorry and really mean it, but if you continue to inflict the same injury over and over without addressing the cause, your apologies are empty. Sometimes, this is where the tunnel of chaos begins. Some conflicts and issues need more than an apology; they need to be worked out. The two of you need to sit down, try to understand each other, and come to an agreement you can both live with.
Reflection: Spend some time thinking about the ways God has forgiven you. Thank God for His forgiveness.
Challenge: Think about where you have gone wrong in apologizing in the past. List those and then ways to correct them the next time you find yourself in need to apologize.