“Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego.”—Positive Outlooks
It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me.
I repeated the mantra in my head over and over again. I set it to a tune. I hummed it in my mind. But it still wasn’t sinking in. It felt like it was about me. In fact, it felt like I was under attack. Being falsely accused of something I didn’t do.
But, it didn’t matter.
It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me.
It wasn’t about me. There was a larger story at play. The one of my family, especially my children, suffering the consequences of an argument that I didn’t start, and couldn’t seem to end. It had gone on for years, and my attempts to get anyone to even acknowledge my viewpoint, were futile.
David struggled with this as well. In Psalm 69, he calls out to God in the midst of his accusers:
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.”
He was forced to restore what he did not steal. Accused of things he did not do.
Relationships are messy. And Jesus clearly understood. In fact, he specifically instructed us on what to do should we find ourselves in a disagreement with others. In Matthew 5:23-24, He said:
“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”
I love how this doesn’t specify who is at fault. To God, who is at fault is not the question. It is about making things right, regardless of who is at fault. It doesn’t mean that we are taking the blame, but instead, taking the initiative to live in peace with that person. I know—it seems impossible. But, as believers, we are called to a higher standard. Called to love others as we would like to be loved—not as we are loved. A much different thing.
The truth is, there is an art to disagreeing. And, like most art, it’s not always easy to understand at first glance. The meaning, and the methods used, may not be clear in the beginning.
When it’s time to apologize:
- The relationship with the other person is one that has lifelong potential, such as a family member, spouse, or long-time friend, and you value the relationship in spite of the disagreement.
- You have approached them in love, and been refused.
- You have tried to find a common ground, willing to give in, and been refused.
- When you approach the person who has offended you, there is a rehashing of what happened—as if it just happened—instead of a willingness to find resolution.
- The matter is affecting other people who were not part of the original disagreement.
- You avoid gatherings where the person might be.
- You have prayed about the situation and don’t feel the need to create a permanent boundary (you should not compromise in situations that involve physical or mental abuse of any kind).
- You feel certain that if you apologize, the matter will end.
How to get your mind around apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong:
- You can show regret for the feelings the other person has incurred as a result of the situation without taking blame for the situation itself. This assumes that you did not intend to hurt feelings, or that the original action was intended for good and had unforeseen consequences for which you were not responsible. When doing this, make sure that you apologize with no caveats. Instead of “I’m sorry if you were offended by something I said” (putting the reaction back on them), say something like “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you” (putting the responsibility on you).
- Decide what you are apologizing for, and state it plainly. An open-ended apology that makes you feel exposed to accepting something you did not do, will not end the disagreement. More than likely, it will cause bitterness that may escalate it. Instead, you can show grace to the person who offended you, and apologize for the part you played in the situation that followed the offense (such as: isolation from that person, bad feelings towards that person, etc.)
- Don’t dwell on the truth. In many cases, the truth will lie between you, the offender, and God alone. In long standing disputes, the truth doesn’t matter as much as the separation it has caused.
- Don’t make excuses for the person who caused the offense. Instead, offer mercy, knowing that you are freeing yourself as much as you are freeing them. They don’t have to answer to you for their actions, but you do have to answer to God.
- Agree not to discuss it again. When both parties have been hurt, and an agreement of wrongdoing cannot be settled, it is best to let the situation go. In order to move forward, both parties need to agree that it is forgiven, and that it is best not to discuss it for the sake of the relationship.
In long standing disagreements, it’s not really about who is right or wrong, but who is willing to listen to the other person, and show understanding toward them. Most people don’t want conflict between themselves and others, but pride keeps them from admitting wrongdoing. Often, the person who suffered the mistreatment will be the one who is forced to end the argument with no apology from the other side. Showing grace and mercy to another who has offended you is not only an incredible gift to that person, but a living testimony of how your Savior would treat you. And, that alone, sisters, is enough to break the silence.