How should I receive an apology?

I’ve recently been asked on two separate occasions, “How should someone receive an apology as a peacemaker?” 

It’s a great question. We talk a lot about how to give good apologies, for example in using the 7A’s of apology.  But as people seeking to build peace and reconcile relationships, how should we receive one?

Our natural response 

Take a moment and think back to the last few times when someone has said sorry to you.  How have you responded?  

In fairness, your response will likely have been impacted by at least two important factors – what the apology was for and how it was delivered. For example, how we respond to the stranger who says a fleeting, “sorry” after bumping into you at the supermarket is going to be different (or it should be) to our response to the family member who offers a genuine heartfelt apology for the hurt and disruption they caused by their recent words and actions. 

In reflecting on my own responses, I’ve identified three broad types of responses that reflect the slippery slope.

PeacefakingAwkward dismal
PeacebreakingFrosty rejection
PeacemakingLoving honest reflection

First, there are the peacefaking responses, that I would describe as being an awkward dismissal of the apology. It’s a response that wants to quickly remove the uncomfortable nature of the moment and rescue the other person from their vulnerability. It’s often expressed with words like “no worries”, “it’s fine”, “no need to apologise” or “forget it”. As a peacefaking response though, it means I’m not actually telling the whole truth. For one thing it means I don’t share what I’m truly feeling about what has happened, so the person who has delivered it can be left feeling like the air is not really cleared despite my assurance that everything is fine.   

Second, there are the peacebreaking responses, that see the apology meet with frosty rejection. It can often surface when I’m a bit more stressed or still hot under the collar from the offense. It sees the apology met with short sharp phrases like “So you should be”, “What did you think was going to happen?”, “Well don’t do again” or simply “I don’t accept your apology”.

Finally, there are the peacemaking responses, that meet the apology with loving, honest reflection. As I am learning, peacemaking apology responses begin with honest self-reflection. And to be delivered, they often require the same humility and courage the person delivering the apology has had to muster themselves. 

So, how can we be ready to share a peacemaking apology response?  

Being ready to share a peacemaking apology response starts with us looking at our own hearts to understand the impact the offence has had on us. It starts with us being honest with ourselves. It may be the incident has had little (if any) impact, our hearts have not suffered injury and we have not experienced harm in any tangible way. On the other hand, we may have genuinely experienced hurt and our hearts have been damaged. A peacemaking apology response acknowledges this truthfully. 

Before being expressed though, this acknowledgment of hurt must be balanced with honest reflection on our own contribution to the conflict as well as God’s forgiveness of us. In 1 john 1:8-9 we read the following words:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

The words call on us to recognise our own brokenness, to see that we are just like the one who is offering the apology to us. Reassuringly, these verses also remind us that God in his love, grace and mercy is faithful and just and when we confess our wrong, he forgives. As people who are called to “forgive as we have been forgiven” (Colossians 3:13) and so reflect the grace that has been shown to us, we are then ready to express a peacemaking apology response.  

So, with our heart prepared, what does a peacemaking apology response expressed look like? 

I would suggest that peacemaking apology responses expressed have three parts:

1. Acknowledge

The first part is it acknowledges the apology has been given. This could be as simple as saying, “Thanks”, “Thank you so much for saying sorry” or “I really appreciate you saying that.” This acknowledgment helps to assure the other person that you have heard what they have said even if they aren’t doing a great job. 

2. Share

Following acknowledging their apology, it can be helpful to share. What you share will depend on the nature of the incident and apology. 

In incidents where no real hurt has been suffered (for example, from the person who has bumped us in the supermarket) it might be as simple as saying “No worries” or “It’ll be fine.” As distinct to a peacefaking dismissal though, this response is truthful and reflecting your heart. 

In circumstances where there has been hurt, it can be helpful to share what is honestly going on for you. This may include sharing your own apology for your own contribution, acknowledging the depth of hurt that you have felt, or clarifying other areas of hurt or concern not mentioned in the apology shared. 

3. Assure

Lastly, it is helpful to conclude with some assurance that the apology has been accepted. If the apology has included the question, “Will you forgive me?” you can directly answer this question. Even if they haven’t directly asked, you can share with them your forgiveness and potentially talk through with them what this means for you, drawing on the four promises of forgiveness. 

Of course, it may be that the hurt has been so significant or the apology so far short of where it needs to be, that this assurance cannot be given at this time. If this is the case, it’s good to acknowledge this and, if appropriate, let them know what could help this to happen. 

Like many aspects of peacemaking, responding to apologies in peacemaking ways is not always easy or natural, but with Jesus’ help through his Holy Spirit, it is possible. 

To find out more about how you can live as a peacemaker in your relationships, why not consider coming along to one of our upcoming training events or picking up a book on forgiveness in our store.

This article was written by Wayne Forward. Wayne is the CEO of PeaceWise. He loves Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” He is committed to helping as many people as possible of every age know and experience this promise for themselves. 

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