Sorry, not sorry. The lost art of apology

I remember asking my kids to apologize to one another and trying to teach them how to reconcile when something had gone wrong. It wasn’t easy. Our conversations looked something like this.

Me: How do you think what you did made your _______ feel?

Child: Bad

Me: If you were them, what would you want to hear?

Child: I don’t know.

Me: …

I didn’t want to make my kids apologize. I wanted their hearts to be tender toward others so that it was a natural response to the pain they caused. Making them apologize rarely achieved what I hoped. It was usually begrudging and mumbled “sorry.’ However, just because they said the word didn’t mean it was how they felt. If their heart were soil, it would be hard, barren land.

Have you ever been there?

Alternatively, how about this. Upon finding your child doing something you asked them not to do, you work toward an apology. Their concern is for the punishment they will receive. It’s clear that they were sorrier they got caught than for what they did! I know I have certainly felt that way! Again, I can’t make them do anything. I certainly can’t make their hearts soft.

What about this scenario? Have you ever talked with someone about how their behavior made them feel, and they say, “I am sorry you feel hurt.”? That is no apology. They are merely stating they are sorry you are upset. It has nothing to do with their behavior. You can see how the lack of moisture has left dry cracks upon the landscape.

These scenes play out as adults as well. It would be helpful if more adults pressed into this as I believe we have lost the art of apologizing. We are afraid of being wrong, afraid of someone having something ‘over’ us, fearful of losing face or influence. Fear dominates us. We can also believe we are right and therefore have no need of apologizing.

At the end of the day, the goal is a restored relationship. When people are hurt and offended, a break has occurred. Addressing it directly, not ignoring, blaming or shoving it under the rug, is the best way to handle things.

Handling fractures happens best in soil that is soft, with nutrients and moisture to nurture trust and compassion or even forgiveness. It requires humility. Humus is such soil.

The word humus refers to a rich layer of subsoil where roots are established. It is typically made of decomposing matter from plants or animals. This dead material provides nutrients for new plants to grow.

To explain the analogy, we need to create humus with one another. We must be humble. Humility means we have an accurate view of who we are, not to great and not too small. When we hold this view, we die to parts of ourselves that are out of order, either thinking we are better than we are, or worse than we are. When we allow those to die, we provide rich, decomposing matter for others to grow in. Our insistence to be right or win dries up the soil and sucks up nutrients, making it difficult to re-establish a healthy relationship. However, humility provides moisture and creates an environment which allows others to be wrong and apologize. It may even give that kind of space for you.

When it comes down to the act of apologizing, here are some steps which are helpful to remember and make sure you follow. I found these at This is a great site and wonderful ministry.

The Seven A’s of Confession.

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)

  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)

  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)

  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)

  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)

  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)

  7. Ask for forgiveness

These steps are just a suggestion, but they are a helpful guide to setting things right relationally. I could be that you need to make things right with someone in your world. Maybe you have offended someone and need to apologize. Perhaps you are the one who has been hurt. In each case, humility is key to moving forward. Humility and practicing the Seven A’s of confession as a skill gives us a tool to care and nurture the soil of our hearts to help us win back the lost art of the apology.


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