An apology by itself, is no more than a formal expression of regret – the motivation behind that regret may or may not be articulated. It may not even, necessarily, entail an acceptance of responsibility. (“I’m sorry if you misunderstood me.”) Such an apology may, or may not, result in different future action.
Repentance, on the other hand, accepts responsibility and represents a genuine regret that a wrong has been committed (not just a mistake made). Integral to repentance is a deep determination to act differently in the future, regardless of whether or not that determination is specifically articulated. The repentant person will make every attempt to act differently in the future.
The question of “forgiveness”, the acceptance of an apology, or a statement of repentance, is entirely out of the hands of the person making such a statement of regret. Further, that person has no right to expect, much less demand, that their expression be accepted. That is a matter to be determined solely by the person receiving the apology.
What should I do when someone apologizes to me? To accept it of course. Accept it for my own benefit as much as for the comfort of the person offering it. Nothing is more damaging to a person’s soul than to allow themselves to be enmeshed in a hurt. It will be unwise not to accept a way out of that entanglement when it is offered. There is no point in nursing an injury.
While genuine forgiveness, the full acceptance of an apology, means I will no longer carry that injury, hurt and anger with me, it emphatically does not mean that I am committing myself to living as though that which has happened has not happened. That’s not necessarily forgiveness, and it may be stupidity. It is important to recognize that restoration of relationship, or the reconciliation of injured parties, are each entirely different and separate issues from the question of forgiveness.
One final point: the enormous power of forgiveness to free oneself from the deadly entanglements of anger and hate is a power reserved to the injured party. We have the power, within out own hands, to forgive even if there has been no repentance, no apology offered. It is terribly important that the injured person always remember that this power is theirs and not, unintentionally, transfer to the offending party the right to determine when the healing power of forgiveness may be offered. That would be to make ourselves a victim a second time.
I feel it is wise to begin with forgiveness.