Four Steps to Forgiveness
"Mommmm! Tommy cut all my doll's hair off!"
"Tommy! That's not nice! Say you're sorry."
(Giggling and mischievous) "Sorry."
"Mom, he's NOT sorry."
"Tommy, say you're sorry again — and mean it."
(With eyes rolled and arms crossed) "Sorry, Alice."
"Alice, now you accept his apology."
(With gritted teeth and evil eye) "I accept, I guess."
"Now you two play nice. I don't want to hear any more fighting."
Does this scenario sound familiar?
Recently, I read a blog article, and the author (an elementary school teacher) asserts that most people don't actually teach their kids how to ask for forgiveness properly. Instead, they make kids go through the motions of insincere "I'm sorrys" and grudging "I accepts." It piqued my interest because I personally have never been "taught" how to apologize.
The teacher who wrote the blog article introduced a four-step system in her classroom, and the results were highly successful. It worked on fifth graders, but I think it works equally well on adults, too.
1. I'm sorry for __________________.
2. What I did was wrong because _____________________.
3. In the future, I will ______________________.
4. Will you forgive me?
Tell the other person specifically what you're sorry for. This shows that you understand exactly what you did to offend them.
No: I'm sorry for what I did.
Yes: I'm sorry for cutting all your doll's hair off.
No: I'm sorry you felt bad about what I said.
Yes: I'm sorry that I said you are disorganized and scatterbrained.
Briefly explain why your actions were wrong. The other person needs to hear you say it. Don't give the obvious explanation. Instead, show that you understand why your actions went against the principles that govern Christian conduct.
No: It was wrong because now your doll is bald.
Yes: It was wrong because I took something that does not belong to me and ruined it.
No: It was wrong because it hurt your feelings.
Yes: It was wrong because I used hurtful words and an aggressive tone of voice. It wasn't a loving or constructive thing to say. I wasn't helping you or appreciating your efforts. I was just tearing you down.
Tell the person how you plan to change your behavior in the future. This shows that you are committed to improving the relationship and that you want to move forward on good terms.
No: Next time, I won't do that.
Yes: Next time, I won't touch your things without asking first.
No: In the future, I won't say anything.
Yes: In the future, I'll speak more kindly and keep hurtful words to myself.
Don't skip this step! You may feel silly saying this, or it may make you feel uncomfortably vulnerable. (What if the person says no?!) Make it crystal clear: you need that person's forgiveness because it's important to you. Plus, if the person grants forgiveness, it's like a seal or a stamp that restores you into one another's good graces.
Notice what's not part of the four-step plan? Self-justification. Don't clutter your apology by trying to explain why you're right or why you did what you did. Doing so may escalate into another fight.
I don't know about you, but the next time I have to say "I'm sorry," I'm going to think more about what I say and I just might use the four steps.