Apologizing When You’ve Done Nothing Wrong

“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.

7 Comments

  1. “You have approached them in love, and been refused.
    You have tried to find a common ground, willing to give in, and been refused.”

    I disagree on these points. It’s wrong to apologize in these cases – it is “peace at any price”. It is wrong to apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve found when this happens, the person isn’t interested in peace. You’ve done what you could. You are responsible for your half of the relationship; they are responsible for theirs. Jesus laid out clear instruction for how to deal with offenses and broken relationships. While we must be ready to extend forgiveness if and when the other person asks for it, we should not be apologizing for something that happened in the relationship that was someone elses doing. When guilt and responsibility are never acknowledged, and there are never consequences to wrong actions, there is no growth. God does not forgive us without repentance and a willingness to change. He does not ask more of us.

  2. I understand your points, and have lived them as well. The point of this is not to apologize for the things you haven’t done, it is to apologize for any part that you played that may have caused a rift in the relationship. I agree that you should not apologize for things that you didn’t do. That’s the same as lying in many ways. But in most long standing disagreements, there is bad behavior on both sides, and if the relationship is one that has long-term possibilities (such as a marriage, family member, life-long friend, etc.), then apologizing for whatever misunderstandings you may have caused during the disagreements may be the only way to heal the relationship. It’s not taking responsibility for something you didn’t do. It’s showing grace to someone you obviously do not see eye-to-eye with. This can be extremely difficult, and heart-wrenching, and it’s not meant for all relationships or situations. And, you shouldn’t do this in a situation in which harmful behavior toward you will continue. But, God does ask us to show grace and mercy, as we have been shown it. And, in most cases, as in my own life, that often comes before our own repentance. In fact, it may lead to it.

  3. Laura,
    I just came across your article on apologizing, posted on July 12, 2012. I have a scenario I’d like your input on, if you have time and don’t mind.
    When I was a child, my uncle, who was engaged to be married, went for a walk with me one afternoon into the back fields of my grandparent’s farm. He suddenly grabbed me and started kissing and groping me. He didn’t molest me sexually…just feeling me up. He never apologized then or to this day. I was too young and shocked to understand what happened, so I never spoke of it to anyone. He married shortly after that incident.
    A few years ago I wrote a letter to him. I addressed it to both he and his wife because I thought she should know. Well, this was a total shock and surprise to her. He had apparently never told her. They never spoke to me after that. She thinks I lied and made it all up. He finally apologized to me in secret and asked that I not talk about it anymore or bring it up to her because he still hasn’t admitted wrongdoing to his wife.
    Then about 2 years ago I got a letter from her apologizing to me (I don’t recall her words as to what she was apologizing for) and saying that she didn’t want her feelings towards me to keep her out of heaven. They have always been Christians from birth, even though he did this to me.
    So my question to you is….is there something I need to apologize to HER for? And if so, what should I say?
    I responded immediately to her letter back then by saying I didn’t share her sentiments and that I could never desire being in heaven with them. I was so hurt. I still don’t feel the desire to live with them in heaven, although I don’t hate them. I just feel very uncomfortable around them because she is choosing to believe I made the whole thing up, and him because of what he did. So what is the best approach just to clear the air? I am not seeking a relationship with them under the circumstance. But I don’t hate them.
    Thanks.

    Marcia

  4. Marcia,

    First, let me say that I’m so deeply sorry for what you went through. Though I’m no expert at forgiveness, I’ve certainly had my share of (different) situations in which I’ve had to forgive those who did not deserve it.

    As Christians, we are called to do so. Just as Christ forgives us with no strings attached, we are called to do the same. Of course, being human, this is extremely difficult and many find it to be impossible. In my opinion, it is only through Christ that we can offer this kind of forgiveness, by praying for Him to change our hearts to the point that we can offer this to someone.

    In my own life, I have a situation with my father (different than the one in the article) in which I believe forgiveness is not deserved. In fact, he denies any issues and refuses to apologize in any way. For years, this tormented me. I thought that I had forgiven him, because I no longer held a grudge day-to-day, but at a Bible Study one evening someone mentioned him being in heaven with me and it made me furious. There was no way I wanted to be in heaven with the person who hurt me throughout my life to my very core. It was then that someone pointed out to me: “If you can’t forgive them to the point of believing that they deserve the same forgiveness as you have been given, then you haven’t really forgiven them.”

    I left the church so upset and angry that night. I had forgiven him. I didn’t hold a grudge. But, how could someone like that–who was continuing to treat me the same way–deserve to be in heaven when he clearly hadn’t repented or likely even believed in Jesus. I mean, I was a follower of Christ. Of course, I should be there. But him?

    Do you see where I’m going here? None of us deserves to be in heaven, Marcia. Even the very best Christians still commit sins on a daily (likely hourly) basis. We are all given that opportunity by the grace of God, and nothing else. As difficult as it is for us to think of being in heaven with someone like that, it is not up to us to extend that opportunity.

    Lean into God with this issue, ask Him to change your heart. He did mine. Although my father still has not changed a single thing in his life and continues to treat me exactly the same, I can say with complete honesty now that I hope he finds Christ and that we get to rebuild what was broken in eternity together. It’s a choice only He can make. And a promise only God can offer. Me wanting him there, or not wanting him there really is not important in the big scheme of things. But if, as a follower, you can’t say that you would want this person to be offered that forgiveness in Christ, it’s likely because you haven’t fully forgiven him–or possibly forgiven yourself.

    I’m praying for you, sweet friend. This is a difficult road you have traveled and have handled it beautifully, with grace. I pray that God give you the ability to set this free in your heart so that you can move forward knowing that though you don’t condone anything that occurred, you can give it over to Christ who offers forgiveness to all.

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