A long time ago when I was in college, I had a very uncomfortable conversation. A person I was very close to needed to apologize about something and decided that the opportune time to do that was while we were on a long drive.
So there I am, having a conversation I really don’t want to be having, trapped in a moving vehicle with no way to get out. Was it intentional? Maybe—I’ll never know. But it was not ideal, not for me at least. My anxiety level about the topic of conversation was amplified by the feeling of being unable to move that I really was unable to fully appreciate or respect what the person was saying to me.
All of which is to say that timing, location, and what specifically you say all matters when it comes to apologizing to people. Sometimes the person to whom you are seeking forgiveness may need to get away, may need space to process, or may just be unwilling or unable to participate. When I meet with parishioners in my own office, I make a point of not blocking the door—if someone needs to leave, they will not feel like I am stopping them.
In addition, when it comes to doing the actual apologizing, brevity is not only the soul of wit, but also the soul of wisdom as well. Say what needs to be said, and then step back. Specifically
- a)What the person means to you
- b)What you have done, with no equivocation or excuses
- c)What you are going to do different in the future
- d)Leave the decision about what happens in their hands
I was thinking about the apology of the prodigal son in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. There is no long-drawn out speech on the part of the son. He just says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” Although to be honest, he doesn’t even get that far, because his father interrupts him after he says “your son” and embraces him.
Like so many aspects of this process, the where, when, and how requires forethought and empathy. Think about what the other person might experience, might need to do, and act lovingly, even sacrificially, about it.