When we were raising our kids we taught them there is a time for a simple apology and a time to ask forgiveness. How do you know which is appropriate? An apology is for those occasions where something happened completely accidentally.
- I moved back in the checkout line and bump you
- I come around a corner and we collide
- I spill my water and it splashes on you
- I sit down in the couch and the TV channel changes in the middle of your record setting run in Crash Bandicoot
- I forget you are in the shower, until I hear the scream, when I use hot water at the kitchen sink
- I am removing the fresh baked cookies from the oven, turn to set the tray in the counter, it brushes your cheek causing a small burn
Do you see what I’m getting at here? There was no intentionality in any of these actions. Also, the “injured” party suffered no harm or loss. However, it could be argued in my last example that my careless treatment of the hot cookie sheet caused the burn. Therefore, I should instead ask forgiveness. However, this situation actually happened and my daughter walked right into the hot sheet. Oh yes, I felt like the worst parent in the world and was sure she would be scarred for life…but I did not act in a careless way or purposely seek to hurt her.
Ok, you say, what about asking forgiveness? When my actions or lack of action, please note this includes words, cause someone harm I need to ask forgiveness. Asking forgiveness acknowledges I need to make a change in my actions or my speech. In other words, how I treat you. It also indicates I am willing to try to change. Whereas an apology acknowledges the incident but does not indicate I am aware that this behavior is problematic and causing you harm.
For example, I stomp on your toe because I am angry with you. I apologize. All is good for a while until the next time I am angry with you and I stomp on your toe again. Again, I apologize and the cycle continues. I continue to go on my merry way, hurting you if I feel like it when I am angry with you. I don’t acknowledge the wrongness of my actions, the actual pain I am causing you, and the damage I am causing in our relationship.
What about when you do something that causes me to hurt you? Ah, the backhanded apology is born! Any time I find myself saying, “I’m sorry, BUT …” I know I am in the wrong. This type of apology is simply self-justification for my bad behavior.
I’m sorry I (insert behavior here) but you made me (insert feeling here) when you (insert behavior here).
I’m putting the responsibility for my behavior on you and avoiding taking responsibility for my actions. My bad behavior has got to be someone else’s fault. If you wouldn’t have done X, then I wouldn’t have done Y. So often we seek an easy way out of a situation. Unfortunately, this type of apology usually causes more harm than good in our relationships.
When do I need to ask forgiveness of someone? My first indication is when I have responded from a place of anger. I probably behaved in a way I would rather not have behaved and said things I wish I could take back. Unfortunately, once it’s out there I can’t take it back. I can make amends. That means I ask forgiveness.
Did I treat someone badly because I was having a bad day? Maybe my boss asked me to do a job I don’t like, the kids are acting out, my lunch appointment no-showed. Now I head to the grocery store to grab a salad and the checker can’t find the code for the salad. Here it comes, I lash out, “You should learn how to do this job right or find yourself a different one!” or something like that. Feeling vindicated and much, much better I march out to my car and climb in with my head held high. Hopefully I realize what I have done before too much time passes….preferably before I leave the grocery store. Again, I can make amends. That means I ask forgiveness.
What about how I treat those I love. It seems those I love, particularly my mate, fall victim to my bad behavior. I ignore, bait, call names, deride, judge, order, deceive, and offend my mate much more often than I would like to admit. Hopefully, I realize what I am doing before too much time passes…preferably in the moment when I see the stricken look on his face. I can make amends. That means I ask forgiveness.
How do I ask forgiveness? It’s actually pretty simple. The real difference between an apology and asking forgiveness is I must make myself vulnerable to ask forgiveness. I give the other person power to forgive or not to forgive. It’s hard. It goes against my nature. The words themselves are simple, but the change of heart required for me to truly seek another’s favor and become willing to change my own behavior is more than challenging.
It takes courage to ask forgiveness. Going back into the store, waiting while the checker finishes with their customer, stepping up and saying:
“I was completely out of line when I told you how you should be doing your job. I was rude and disrespectful. Will you please forgive me?”
Yep, tough. I know. I’ve done it. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t learn from the first time either. It has been an experience I’ve had on more than one occasion. The same is true for the many times I have reacted in anger and the many times my spouse and other loved ones have seen my worst side.
Too be completely honest, it is an experience I fully expect in the future. Really? Why? You might be asking. Well, I’m never going to be perfect. I can’t stop myself from acting when I’m angry every time, I won’t always treat people with respect. But, when I mess up. There is a way to make it right, learn a valuable lesson, and move on. Make amends. That means ask for forgiveness.
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