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Christian Life
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An Apology Becomes Suspicious When Overshadowed by Excessive Explanation

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John made a thoughtless comment to Kelly when arguing about her father and mother visiting them for Christmas. He said, “Your parents stay too long and continually complain while here.” Hurt and offended by his criticisms, Kelly began to cry. 

John, recognizing he should not have said those things, tried to apologize. As he did, instead of acknowledging he was wrong, he tried to justify himself. “I have been stressed at work and feeling frustrated by the kids. I would not have criticized your parents if things weren’t so hectic. I would have kept those thoughts to myself. I would be more patient and accepting of your parents’ lengthy stay and more tolerant of their negativity. You have told me they can be a handful, so I don’t know why my comments upset you, but I am sorry.” 

This excessive explanation overshadowed his apology as he justified himself and suggested Kelly was too sensitive. This led to even more tension in their relationship since his commentary sounded insincere and anything but sorrowful. He and Kelly did not pray together for a couple of weeks since John, for reasons he did not understand, did not feel comfortable talking to God. 

Candice disagreed with her work colleague, Alex, during a team meeting. She commented, “Your designs don’t fulfill the requirements we communicated earlier. Your work lacks excellence. But I am not surprised since you come in late, leave early, and flirt all day with office staff.” 

Candice’s comments shocked and offended Alex since he only recalled one time coming in late due to a doctor’s appointment, and though social, he was happily married and did not flirt. When Candice realized she had exaggerated things in her critique, she apologized. “I am sorry for overstating things. I was having a bad day because my daughter was sick at home without me, and my husband couldn’t get off work, so I had to call my mom to come over. Your work is not that bad. I am sorry for what I said. I was too honest. And I know you don’t intend to flirt, but I think the girls feel you are, though no one has told me directly. Regardless, this was my bad. I am sorry.” 

Her excessive explanation only worsened things since she did not validate Alex’s hurt but rationalized why she said what she said, and he should accept her reasoning. This did not smooth things over but strained their relationship and contributed to Alex’s distrust of her. Additionally, Candice declined an invitation from her worship leader at church to participate in the worship team. She felt de-energized by the thought but didn’t really know why. 

In general, speaking too many words, as John and Candice would learn, leads to more problems. On this, the Bible warns us:

  • “Many words mark the speech of a fool.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3 NIV)
  • “Sin is not ended by multiplying words.” (Proverbs 10:19 NIV)
  • “Fools multiply words.” (Ecclesiastes 10:14 NIV)

An important application of these warnings pertains to when someone is making an apology. Some apologize and add too many unnecessary words—usually beginning with the word “but.” “But I am justified in my reaction, and you are to blame. I would not have done this had it not been for you.”

May I suggest three unfavorable outcomes from excessive commentary when apologizing? 

  1. An unfavorable inward outcome: You discredit yourself. 
  2. An unfavorable outward outcome: You invalidate the other person. 
  3. An unfavorable upward outcome: You hinder your prayer life. 

Let me insert here that I am not advocating saying, “I’m sorry,” and nothing more, as though the offended party is okay with that. Instead, I encourage you to consider why going on and on about why you reacted the way you did is not an apology but just excuse-making for the hurt you’ve caused.

Inward Outcome

An unfavorable inward outcome: You discredit yourself. An excessive explanation can cast doubt on my authenticity, as I tend to shift blame and offer justifications instead of humbly owning up to my actions. Such insincerity makes me less than credible and reveals my insecurity, not that I am all-knowing and wise. 

In marriage or at work, what is our reply to another who voices, “What you just said to me went beyond the issue, and I felt you attacked me as a bad person with bad motives, and that hurts”? Do we counter with, “Well, I had no such intentions but admit I have had a hard day, and you don’t make my life any easier, so I naturally react and say things when I am frustrated and upset that others should roll with”? This is self-justifying and shifting the blame. 

A wiser reply is, “I apologize for the pain caused by my response. While I didn’t intend to come across that way, I was out of line to let my immature frustrations take over. That was wrong and unfair to you. Will you forgive me?” The second reply removes the excessive explanations that shift the blame and justify ourselves. We remove doubt about our authenticity. 

Outward Outcome

An unfavorable outward outcome: You invalidate the other person. An excessive explanation can invalidate the feelings of the wronged party, as they might conclude this is an attempt to tell them they should not have been hurt and offended in the first place. Such disavowal makes the other person the problem since they hear they are being told that they are unknowing of the facts and are too easily offended. 

In marriage or at work, when another deflates and tells us they are offended, how do we react to their comments? “What you said in front of others about me possibly having a hidden agenda shocked and humiliated me. One, if that is true, talk to me in private. You have no right to air your speculation in front of others. That’s out of line. You were out of place.” Do we immediately react with, “I am sorry if you feel that way. I said you possibly had a hidden agenda, and if that’s not true, then why get so defensive? You need to be more thick-skinned and less offended”? This reply invalidates their feelings and shows one is not sorry that they feel this way. This is no apology but a rebuke of them for feeling as they do about the accusation of having a hidden agenda. This is condescending. 

A wiser reply is, “I’m truly sorry for what I said in front of others. You are right; I should have come to you in private. Your feelings are valid. I am wrong, and you should be offended. Will you forgive me? And moving forward, I need to honor you by talking privately with you about these matters. When is it best to do that?” Any other reply makes the other person the problem, not me, even if they have a hidden agenda that gives no license to call them out as I did. 

Upward Outcome

An unfavorable upward outcome: You hinder your prayer life. Many do not readily discern the connection between their apology to another and their relationship with the Lord. But upon reflection, it is my thought that they could detect that perhaps the reason their power in prayer and their enjoyment of the Lord, isn’t as it has been in the past, is due to what our Lord told us. 

When I miss the mark of apologizing rightly to another, my connection with God can be hindered, as seen in Jesus’ instruction for reconciliation with an offended party before worshiping God (Matthew 5:23-24). We must make things right with the other person, and appropriately so before our worship and prayers will fully touch the heart of God. 

My communion with God can be compromised when my horizontal relationships falter. Someone who justifies self and places blame rarely prays and worships meaningfully with God. If I’m not authentic before another person, the Lord recognizes I will probably not be authentic in prayer and worship before Him. Apologies that are nothing more than self-justifications and shifting blame by accusing the other person of being the problem would displease God. 

When another has something against me, will I be authentic in my apology and validate their feelings of being wronged for this ultimate reason: I want to keep things up to date between the Lord and me?

Given one prizes fellowship and favor with God, why succumb to overshadowing one’s apology with excessive explanations that include half-truths or flat-out lies? Yes, God forgives, but if we have not sought another’s forgiveness appropriately, have we truly sought God’s forgiveness? I do not know where He draws the line on overlooking our sin when not confessing our sin to another, but I would not make it a habit of assuming God is indifferent to me when I apologize with, “But it wasn’t my fault and is more your fault.”

In conclusion, my apology becomes suspicious when overshadowed by excessive explanation because too many words erode the genuineness of me and my apology, disparage the feelings of the offended person as though they should not be upset with me, and reveal that I am not conscious of how my lack of authenticity and validation of the other person’s feelings impacts my fellowship with and prayers to God. 

Oh, by the way, John and Candice did it differently the next time. 

John made a thoughtless comment that hurt Kelly deeply. Recognizing his mistake, he chose a wiser approach. He acknowledged his wrong without excessive explanation, saying, “I’m truly sorry for what I said. I was out of line to let my frustrations take over. That was wrong and unfair to you. Will you forgive me?” His sincere and concise apology enabled Kelly to forgive him and feel connected to him, and she responded to John’s invitation to pray together. Both sensed the Lord responding to their requests. 

Candice made another overblown and critical comment to a co-worker, but learning from her exchange with Alex, she said to Pauline, “I am sorry for overstating things and for the hurt I caused by my words. My comments were inappropriate and not reflective of your work. I am wrong. Will you forgive me?” Tears filled Pauline’s eyes, and she hugged Candice, thanking her. That afternoon, the worship leader called Candice to see if she was available to participate on the worship team for Sunday morning. Candice felt overjoyed at the thought and said, “Yes.”

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Has anyone ever “apologized” to you, but did so by making a million excuses and placing blame elsewhere, leaving you not feeling better about all of it? Why did this “apology” not bring the matter to a fitting conclusion?
  2. How does an excessive explanation, including an attempt to shift blame, reveal an insecurity in that person? What are they avoiding admitting to the other person? Why might that be?
  3. Why would someone not want to be told that they are too easily offended? Even if there was no ill intent, is it still necessary to acknowledge that someone was offended and that you are sorry for that? Why?
  4. In the two examples above, why did the lack of a sincere apology, which led to further disruption in the relationship, affect the offender’s relationship with God?