Small Groups Learning from Each Other to Apologize, Part 1

Wednesday 11th June, 2008

I remember serving as a volunteer leader/chaperone on a youth retreat. The male youth in my dorm decided to make and toss water balloons at the girls. I did not stop them. Unknown to me, they also filled the balloons with shaving cream making a mess that stains unless quickly treated. After the water balloon attack, one of the older female chaperone (Sara) was offended that I had not stopped the guys. Having confronted the guys and led them to clean up, I realized I also needed to apologize to Sara. She and I moved through this episode and had a strong relationship that would not have been possible without an apology.

Over the years I have found that many of my best relationships are with individuals with whom I have had conflict. Frequently I made a mistake, mispoke, or offended the person. Because I was willing to own my problem and apologize for the hurt I caused, we were able to move through the conflict to a strong relationship.

Life is full of interactions with people. There are going to be times when we offend or hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally. A safe place to learn to apologize is in your small group or small Sunday School class. I recently read an article by Rochell Melander that is entitled Learning to Apologize. In the article, Melander said, "Repentance is tough. Apologizing, the step in the process that requires us to admit our fault to the person we have hurt, can be even harder."

In the article, Melander offers a four-step process that can be helpful for us individually and as a small group as we learning from each other to apologize. In Part 1, we will examine the first two steps of Melander's four-step process is in all capitals followed by my commentary applying it to small group life:

  • HEARING OUR SIN. Here Melander is not talking about us talking about how we have offended the person. No, she said, "One of the most important and difficult parts of the apology process is hearing how we have hurt another person. It’s not comfortable to hear about our mistakes. We want to defend ourselves." It is important that we listen and try to understand "how our words, action, or inaction might have been hurtful." A small group should be a safe place to confront one another honestly because we really care about each other. We may need to ask the individual and/or group questions (without being defensive) just to make sure we fully understand how we caused hurt. Sharing experiences with the group that happened outside the group can also lead to learning from each other to apologize.
  • SAYING WE ARE SORRY. Did you do it on purpose? It doesn't matter. Your intentions matter to you, but right now the other person is offended. The relationship and the need to seek forgiveness are important. Your response is key. As Melander put it, "Apologies do not need a lot of words. The best apology is a simple, 'I’m sorry.'" We must avoid qualifying our apologies with excuses or blame. Frequently even our attempts to explain what happened come across as defensive and insincere. A small group should lovingly help each other practice the simple apology. When accompanied by the other three steps, "I'm sorry" is enough. It will be obvious that you mean it, that you care, and that you desire a continued relationship.

In Part 2, we will look at the third and fourth steps of Melander's four-step process:  (3) making it right and (4) asking for forgiveness. The first two steps are critical: hearing our sin and saying we are sorry. Don't allow the sun to set when you have offended a "brother" or a member of your group. Learn from each other to apologize. Be revolutionary!

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