rebelling against low expectations

4 Tips For Apologizing Well


Time is a tricky beast of a thing.

It’s always in motion, moving me forward through life, even as I drag my spiritual feet. And it’s always holding me back when my heart would rather leap forward with hope and enthusiasm.

To me, it is amazing how far I’ve come, and how fast and slow it’s taken me to be where I am.

There have been many hard times in my life — whether it was getting through school, or just waiting for school to begin. Waiting is hard for me. Growing is hard for me.

Learning is easy for me.

In theory, anyway. It’s part of the reason I thought I would be a good teacher; I was always a good learner.

But there is a significant difference between knowing something and doing something. That’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom, the difference between the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand.

Did the foolish man in question know he should build his house upon the rock? We aren’t told, but I can well imagine he did. I’ve found the difference between knowing and doing the right thing doesn’t usually come down to whether I know it or not; it comes down to whether or not I did it.

I know, for example, how to eat well. But it didn’t stop me from buying the two candy bars on the way out of the store today.

Over the years, I’ve found that learning to apologize is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In my work, in my marriage, in my friendships, and in my family, my pride has cost me quite a bit over and over. I’m constantly relearning how to humble myself.

The last year or so has no doubt been a testament to how well people can differentiate between arguing ideas and arguing against people. Despite our best intentions, I know how easily what we see as the best of our core values can be called into question, and how it can hurt us. It can hurt our relationship with our friends and others.

It can also hurt our relationship with God.

As a teacher, I’ve taught people how to argue. I don’t spend as much time on teaching people how to lose graciously.

So here are my tips for learning how to apologize:

1. Recognize the importance of your relationship.

I have friends who disagree with me on fundamental values, as well as friends who have the same values as me but advocate for different ways of expressing them. My family is similar; we have tight relationships, but we also have distinct personalities.

I’ve found that asking myself, “Is this person agreeing with me foundational to the survival of our relationship?” helps. More often than not, this helps me realize, “Okay. I need to change how I’m handling this situation, even if I’mm not going to change my mind.”

I also see this as a bridge toward confession of my sins.

2. Analyze the situation for specific wrongdoing on your part.

It does us no good to place the blame on all sides or just the other side. Was it my tone or manner which seemed inappropriate? I can name any number of arguments where I’ve said the right things in the wrong way.

Was it possible there was a misunderstanding? If so, can I articulate it in a way that clarifies intent and meaning?

3. Actually say the words.

“I’m sorry,” still makes me choke at times. Even if there is no legitimate wrongdoing on your part, it helps to say, “I’m sorry this got out of hand,” or “I’m sorry that this has been a tough subject to talk about.”

I also recommend following up with, “Can you forgive me?” or “Can we still be friends and move through this?”

It’s important to let the other person know you still want a future relationship, even if, in some cases, you might place more limits on that relationship. I’ve found that actually saying it, actually doing it, makes it easier to do it again. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.

4. Recognize that some apologies are ongoing.

I have had several students, friends, and acquaintances I’ve disagreed with on topics, sometimes fiercely, and we end up doing this over and over again.

But many of us — including myself! — are still growing. A classic example is politics. It’s easy to see politics as a left-right, right-wrong choice. But that won’t stay that way, especially as you grow older.

Things that look easy aren’t always truly easy. They don’t always come down to simple things. As you grow, you might change your mind. I’ve had people come around to my thinking, but I’ve also come around to others’ way of thinking.

Being the winner in an argument is not what an argument should be about.

Apologizing is hard. It means opening up the very vulnerable center of ourselves and often placing others’ dignity before our pride.

But it is a mark of maturity to prioritize your relationship and to understand the underlying values and perspectives of different people. We all live in this world, and we all see it from a certain point of view. That’s part of the reason seeing things through God’s eyes helps bind Christians together, even through difficult situations where there are no easy answers.

People talk a lot about tolerance, but tolerance is too easy. Respect is better because it forces us to understand each other and recognize the limitations on our own pride and influence.

We all want people to take the time to get to know us, and we want to be able to enjoy the time we spend with others.

So take the time to learn about people, and learn how to apologize. God gives us people of all sorts in our lives, and it’s often to change us and make us grow into better people.

Don’t let a bad argument rob you of all the good a person can do for you.

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Photo courtesy of Dillon Delvo and Flickr Creative Commons.


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About the author

C.S. Johnson

is the author of several novels, including the Starlight Chronicles series and the Once Upon a Princess saga for young adults. With a gift of sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.


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  • Thank you for writing this, C.S.! It encouraged me to learn how to say I’m sorry, because sometimes, the words get stuck in my throat. Thank you. 🙂

  • This was very well timed. I have been planning an apology for tonight and it was really making my almost sick thinking about it. It’s a situation that has been getting really out of hand, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m not the full problem, but I’m willing to own up to my sins. However, I wasn’t planning on trying to keep any sort of relationship with this person. After reading your article I have decided that I will try my utmost best to at the very least not be enemies and if possible return to being friends. 🙂 Thank you so much.

  • This is SSSOOOOO good. I agree with all of it, especially with apologizing being hard. That’s why it’s one of the 100 Hard Things in the book Do Hard Things. This is also well timed for me, since I have been apologizing for over a year to my parents about the same thing. It is hard. I actually don’t agree with apologizing gets easier the more you do it. Of course it is just my opinion. I find that if you have to apologize over and over, especially with your parents about the same thing, it gets harder and harder.

  • Great article! Learning to apoloigise well is so so important for avoiding division in our relationship with other believers. It is definitely something I have to watch myself on constantly. Proverbs 18:19 says “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.” I feel you’ve summed up the importance and main steps to reconciliation very well, though.

  • This is what people need! I honestly don’t know how prideful I can be at times, but from what I know, (If it’s prideful to say this oops)I don’t think I get prideful that much. It depends on what type of pride.

  • That is a really encouraging article. I can’t tell you how many times I have said things that I didn’t mean to, and then it is just out there…… you can’t take back your words, the damage is all ready done. Most of all, I struggle keeping the tone of my voice right. I often say the right things, but with the absolutely wrong tone. It is encouraging to know that I am not the only person that struggles with this. Thank you

  • Great article! Apologizing is a great example of letting your outward person die continually. Every time we apologize-either to someone else or to God-we are denying ourselves the easy way out of a situation. This would be to ignore the problem or harden our hearts. I was very encouraged, thank you!

  • Haha, I had to do a double take at your name because I thought it read “C.S.Lewis”!!
    This article really helped me…between when I read it five minutes ago and my posting this comment, actually. Thank you for the important reminder!

By C.S. Johnson
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →