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How We Respond to Apologies

Jimmy’s Mom: “Jimmy, what do you say to Suzie?”

Jimmy: “I’m sorry.”

Suzie’s Mom: “Suzie, what do you say to Jimmy?”

Suzie: “It’s O.K..”

This seems to be the standard “apology conversation” we’re taught growing up. And, honestly, I hate it. Yes, I hate it.

I believe it can actually be harmful to respond with, “It’s O.K..”

Why? Because, it’s not O.K.. There would be no need to apologize if it was O.K.. And we all know that simply saying the words, “I’m sorry,” can’t immediately heal the wounds that were inflicted. Saying, “I’m sorry, ” doesn’t make it O.K. So why respond that way? It’s as though we somehow think that by acting like the offense didn’t hurt that bad, we are making it better. We simply brush it off with, “It’s O.K..” and a shrug.

But think about this: If I punched you in the face it would hurt. Quite badly if I am good at it. So, then I say, “I’m sorry,” and you respond with, “It’s O.K.” But does your face immediately stop hurting? Do you now no longer need to go see a doctor about your broken nose? Of course not. Because it’s not actually O.K.. You still hurt. You still need to heal.

However, if you respond with, “I forgive you,” and mean it, something amazing happens. Yes, your face still hurts, but you’re now free to allow healing. You’re not bound to act as though everything is “O.K.” when it’s not yet. You can go to the doctor.

And we can begin to restore our relationship.

Because we aren’t always immediately fine just because someone has apologized, responding with, “It’s O.K.” isn’t honest. Again, it’s not O.K.. And after apologizing, it’s still not O.K.. An apology is helpful in the healing process, but a willingness to forgive is even more important in the healing process. Acting like what was done, or said, wasn’t a big deal isn’t helpful at all. But choosing to forgive in spite of how bad it hurt is very helpful.

This is why I respond to an apology with, “I forgive you.” This response isn’t a blanket quip to every apology. This response is a willful decision on my part to forgive. Just as apologizing takes humility, forgiving does too. We humble ourselves and free our offender from the bonds of the offense, and miraculously, we are freed too. And now we are both in a place to receive healing.

How do you respond to an apology? Have you ever even thought about what saying, “It’s O.K.” really means?

Here are some more thoughts on forgiveness.

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