Do You Really Need to Apologize?
‘I NEVER apologize,’ wrote George Bernard Shaw. ‘What is done is done,’ others may say.
Perhaps we ourselves are reluctant to admit a fault for fear of losing face. Maybe we rationalize that the problem lies with the other person. Or we may intend to apologize but put it off until we think the matter has finally been overlooked.
So, then, are apologies essential? Can they really accomplish anything?
Love Obliges Us to Apologize
Brotherly love is an identifying mark of Jesus Christ’s true followers. He said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) The Scriptures urge Christians to “love one another intensely from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) Intense love obliges us to apologize. Why? Because human imperfection inevitably causes hurt feelings that inhibit love if they are not healed.
For example, because of personal differences with someone in the Christian congregation, we may prefer not to speak with him. If we have caused offense, how can a loving relationship be restored? In most cases, by apologizing and then making the effort to converse in a warm manner. We owe our fellow believers love, and when we say that we are sorry for having caused offense, we discharge some of that debt.—Romans 13:8.
To illustrate: Mari Carmen and Paqui are two Christian women who had a long friendship. Because Mari Carmen believed some harmful gossip, however, her friendship with Paqui cooled off. Without explanation, she shunned Paqui completely. Nearly a year later, Mari Carmen learned that the gossip was untrue. What was her reaction? Love moved her to go to Paqui and humbly express her deep regret for behaving so badly. Both of them gave way to floods of tears, and they have been firm friends ever since.
Though we may not feel that we have done anything wrong, an apology may resolve a misunderstanding. Manuel recalls: “Many years ago my wife and I stayed in the home of one of our spiritual sisters while she was hospitalized. We did our utmost to help her and her children during her illness. But after she returned home, she complained to a friend that we had not administered the household expenses properly.
“We visited and explained that perhaps because of our youth and lack of experience, we had not taken care of things as she would have. She immediately responded by saying that she was the one who was indebted to us and that she was truly grateful for all that we had done for her. The problem was solved. That experience taught me the importance of humbly asking forgiveness when misunderstandings occur.”
Jehovah blessed this couple for showing love and ‘pursuing the things making for peace.’ (Romans 14:19) Love also involves awareness of the feelings of others. Peter counsels us to show “fellow feeling.” (1 Peter 3:8) If we have fellow feeling, we are more likely to discern the pain we have caused by a thoughtless word or deed and we will be impelled to apologize.
“Gird Yourselves With Lowliness of Mind”
Even faithful Christian elders may occasionally have a heated exchange. (Compare Acts 15:37-39.) These are occasions when an apology would be very beneficial. But what will help an elder or any other Christian who finds it difficult to apologize?
Humility is the key. The apostle Peter counseled: “Gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another.” (1 Peter 5:5) Although it is true that in most disputes both parties share the blame, the humble Christian concerns himself with his own failings and is willing to admit them.—Proverbs 6:1-5.
The one receiving an apology should accept it in a humble manner. By way of illustration, let us suppose that two men who need to communicate are standing on the tops of two different mountains. Conversation across the chasm that divides them proves impossible. When one of them descends to the valley below and the other follows his example, however, they can converse easily. Similarly, if two Christians need to resolve a difference between them, let each one humbly meet the other in the valley, so to speak, and make suitable apologies.—1 Peter 5:6.
Apologies Mean a Lot in Marriage
A marriage of two imperfect people inevitably provides opportunities to apologize. And if husband and wife both have fellow feeling, it will impel them to apologize should they happen to speak or act inconsiderately. Proverbs 12:18 points out: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” ‘Thoughtless stabs’ cannot be undone, but they can be healed by a sincere apology. Of course, this requires continuous awareness and effort.
Speaking of her marriage, Susan* says: “Jack* and I have been married for 24 years, but we are still learning new things about each other. Sadly, some time ago, we separated and lived apart for a few weeks. However, we listened to Scriptural counsel from the elders and got together again. We now realize that since we have very different personalities, clashes are likely to occur. When this happens, we quickly apologize and try really hard to understand the other person’s point of view. I’m happy to say that our marriage has improved considerably.” Jack adds: “We have also learned to identify those moments when we are prone to get upset. At such times we treat each other with extra sensitivity.”—Proverbs 16:23.
Should you apologize if you think that you are not at fault? When deep feelings are involved, it is hard to be objective about where the blame lies. But the important thing is peace in the marriage. Consider Abigail, an Israelite woman whose husband mistreated David. Though she could not be blamed for her husband’s stupidity, she apologized. “Pardon, please, the transgression of your slave girl,” she pleaded. David responded by treating her considerately, humbly admitting that if it had not been for her, he would have shed innocent blood.—1 Samuel 25:24-28, 32-35.
Likewise, a Christian woman named June, who has been married for 45 years, feels that a successful marriage requires a willingness to be the first one to apologize. She says: “I tell myself that our marriage is more important than my feelings as an individual. So when I apologize, I feel I am contributing to the marriage.” An elderly man named Jim states: “I apologize to my wife even for trivial things. Ever since she had a serious operation, she gets distressed easily. So I regularly put my arm around her and say, ‘Sorry, Love. I didn’t mean to upset you.’ Like a plant that is watered, she perks up immediately.”
If we have hurt the person we love most, a prompt apology is very effective. Milagros heartily agrees, saying: “I suffer from a lack of self-confidence, and a sharp word from my husband unnerves me. But when he apologizes, I feel better immediately.” Aptly, the Scriptures tell us: “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.”—Proverbs 16:24.
Practice the Art of Apologizing
If we make it a practice to apologize when necessary, we are likely to find that people will respond favorably. And perhaps they will even apologize themselves. When we suspect that we have upset someone, why not make it a custom to apologize rather than go to great lengths to avoid admitting any fault? The world may feel that an apology is a sign of weakness, but it really gives evidence of Christian maturity. Of course, we would not want to be like those who acknowledge some wrong yet minimize their responsibility. For instance, do we ever say that we are sorry without meaning it? If we arrive late and make profuse apologies, do we determine to improve our punctuality?
So, then, do we really need to apologize? Yes, we do. We owe it to ourselves and others to do so. An apology can help to ease the pain caused by imperfection, and it can heal strained relationships. Each apology we make is a lesson in humility and trains us to become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As a result, fellow believers, marriage mates, and others will view us as those who deserve their affection and trust. We will have peace of mind, and Jehovah God will bless us.
Not their real names.
Not their real names.
[Pictures on page 23]
Sincere apologies promote Christian love