We are a perplexing people, in or out of the church. If you ask folks if they’d like to be even happier, most will say yes. But if you tell them the secret to instant peace of mind, most of us won’t do it. Even if we believe what you explain.
This is because the formula requires humility. Aaugh—that elusive virtue we all hope we have but which slips through our fingers much too often. Here’s the secret: We can attain personal contentment and even great power when we apologize.
WHAT! Admit we’re wrong? We’d rather swallow shards of glass. And yet, when we find a way to humble ourselves and honestly apologize to others, we come away with tremendous relief. A weight has been lifted. Most often, people are willing to forgive. But, even in those instances when they refuse, we still know—and feel in our hearts—that apologizing was the right thing to do. It brings us comfort, and cleanses us of a poison we’ve been harboring. We know we’ve done all we can.
We must be humble to apologize properly, and humility is one of the toughest traits to develop. Sure, we can all point to moments when we were “humbled,” but maintaining genuine humility is something else again. It requires the complete absence of pride.
Pride, as you know, is mentioned hundreds of times in the scriptures. It accounts for the complete fall of civilizations, the breakup of families, the destruction of souls. Satan works very hard to keep us proud. And it isn’t just because it chips away at our testimonies or makes us question Christ’s teachings. It’s also because it keeps us from apologizing.
If Lucifer can keep our relationships in disarray he can thwart temple sealings. Nothing would please him more. By keeping us unable to mend fences, lay our hearts bare and say we’re sorry, he can keep families fractured indefinitely.
Think of the last time you felt you’d said or done something wrong. Many of us are quick to wrap a cloak of shame around our shoulders. We’re embarrassed. Drama escalates: If we admit wrongdoing we’ll look stupid. People won’t like or respect us. They won’t trust us again. We might even get fired. Our lives will be ruined.
Satan has a customized list for each of us, enumerating all the disastrous things that will happen if we say we’re sorry. But, if we can summon the courage to fess up, and to really mean it when we express our regret, we will always come out ahead. Always.
This is because the Holy Ghost will confirm in our hearts that we’ve done the right thing. Our honesty will grant us peace. We’ll sleep better. We’ll function better. We will feel a surge of power. And we all know this, don’t we? But we procrastinate because it’s a painful prospect.
We make excuses. We justify what we did wrong. We look at others who’ve done far worse. We put it off. We decide it wasn’t really so bad. Maybe it wasn’t even our fault. Or we review the failings of the person and decide they’re not perfect, either. Above all, we don’t want to look weak.
We’re all social distancing right now. We’re in our homes with nowhere to go, so this is actually a good time to plan, and even carry out, a long-overdo apology. Let’s knock out some of the excuses we make:
Some might wonder if saying you’re sorry can put you in a subservient position where superiors can take advantage. But I’m not suggesting the apologies of the trembling doormat, who apologizes to a bully just to survive. That’s accepting abuse and not freely choosing to say you’re sorry. I’m talking about looking at a situation, being big enough to admit wrongdoing, and coming clean. Doing this actually increases your confidence, gives you personal respect, and makes you strong enough to resist ever becoming the sniveling doormat. Humility is empowering.
How about the idea that apologizing means you’ve lost and the other person has won? Actually, apologizing means you’ve both won. You have conquered pride and they have found someone who truly loves them. Both people win. If someone berates you or treats you condescendingly after an apology, they’re now in the lower position. They’re the ones who need a course adjustment. Don’t accept a position of inferiority. Stay with the truth you have spoken. If, in this process, you find the person unwilling to be your friend, you will mourn that loss. But you will not blame yourself for it because you did all you could to mend it. Apologizing is vital, but so is its twin, forgiveness. Both require humility and maturity.
What about the idea that we shouldn’t apologize if we did no wrong? Apologize anyway. It doesn’t mean you accept blame unfairly; it means you are sorry for whatever the other person feels or thinks about your actions. You’re sorry for the rift. You’re sorry for the hurt. You value that person and want to restore the love between you. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Even when you are not at fault, let love conquer pride.”
And when you really were wrong, admitting it tells the other person that perhaps you have more integrity than they realized. You’re the bigger person. You’ve put the relationship above selfish motives. You’re willing to do whatever it takes to repair the damage, even humble yourself in sorrow. You’re willing to demonstrate complete and utter change. Apologizing is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.
Another reason Satan wants to keep us prideful is because apologizing brings us closer to Christ. When we strip our minds and hearts of pride, we automatically inch closer to our Savior. We position ourselves to receive revelation and even assurance that we’re greatly loved and appreciated. Windows open, inspiration comes, gloom lifts.
Let me suggest a game plan. What if we all made apologizing our first reaction to strife and contention? What if that was where we started? Not before you even know what you’re apologizing for, of course, but as early on as possible. In my experience this sets the stage for a more promising outcome. People are more likely to listen, to compromise, to do their part as they see your willingness to swallow your pride. Try it. Run the experiment. If you sincerely address the other person’s feelings, you’ll get much further than if you’re all about proving yourself right.
As we look at our lives in the wake of a pandemic we’re forced to engage in a bit more introspection than usual. Let us resolve to apologize swiftly and sincerely, and enact more power and joy than we’ve felt in a long time. Maybe something wonderful can come of this, after all.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.