Apology or self-righteousness


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Some people may blame the fact that I’m Canadian, but I apologize easily. If I’ve messed up, and I realize that I’ve messed up (not always immediately apparent), I will say that I’m sorry. I will take ownership for having hurt or wronged or flaked out, whatever it is.

One of my most freeing moments on Facebook was accepting a friend request from someone I went to school with in grade 6, and then apologizing to her publicly for something mean I’d done to her. We were playing hide and seek, and she was “it.” She’d found one of my friends, and they were both racing to the tree, and I ran out and pushed the girl who was “it,” thereby preventing her from beating my friend to the tree; my friend was, therefore, safe. That bothered me for years. Saying sorry to her, and hearing that we were good, was marvelous.

I’ve written here about another time I apologized — profusely, even — in a church setting to people I’d wronged.

I feel an apology coming on, and a big one, but it’s tough.

How to apologize without also defending myself?

Three years ago at this exact time we were struggling over whether to leave the church we were deeply involved in. The church we loved. It was going through a difficult time (which I will not detail), just barely holding things together. Deciding to leave was heartbreaking; I was sad for months.

Several months ago, we saw our old pastor at an event. Things were friendly; we hugged and we talked, and it was nice. He gave a tribute to a mutual friend, and in his speech, mentioned that this friend had stood by him at a difficult time when everyone else had abandoned him.

We were part of that “everyone else.”

His voice and his demeanor revealed both how hurtful it was to be abandoned and how much it meant to him that his friend had stuck by him. He revealed how vulnerable that left him.

I’ve been there while it felt like others kicked a member of my family when he was down, and it was terrible. And I wound up doing the same thing to someone who was very important to me. I had my reasons, but I can’t deny that that was the result.

So I want to say that I’m sorry. I feel bad for hurting him when he was down. But how do I do that without trying to re-explain why we left? Without trying to re-justify our decision? It’s sooooo tempting. Because I still think we made the right decision.

But an apology in which I defend my position is not a true apology.

I remember how meaningful it was to me when a friend who’d left the same church, and had left me in the lurch at the time, apologized to me — without reservation, although she wouldn’t have changed her decision, and I wouldn’t have asked her to. Her simple apology, her acknowledgment that her decision made things harder for me, set free a little nub of resentment I’d been nurturing.

Now that I’ve thought it through, it’s not all that tough.

I care more that he knows that I’m sorry than that I defend my rightness — self-righteousness is always gross. I wish we could’ve figured out how to remain his friend while leaving that church, but we didn’t. I wish I’d negotiated it better. But I didn’t. I’m just plain sorry.

How are you with apologies?

Have you given some that set you free?

Received an apology you weren’t expecting?


  1. Indeed. How does one apologize and not defend personal position. It’s a bold and brave thing to accomplish. In my case, I’m trying to come to terms with how I need to apologize to a person who hurt me several years ago. I have been unkind to that person in mind and mouth ever since.

    Shoot Natalie, now you having me thinking there is a big apology coming on.
    Confession: My self-righteousness wants it to be that person giving it to me.
    Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  2. (Sorry, I just noticed this comment now.) Apologizing is a tough thing, because you can’t do it without admitting that you are not a perfect person with properly justified actions all the time, which should be obvious, but, no. It’s even messier when the other person wronged you first. I did apologize to the person. I don’t know how he feels about it; our interaction (via email) was very brief, but he accepted the apology, and I’m glad about that.

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