From time to time I have the privilege of doing pre-marital counseling with a couple as they prepare for the next big step in their lives. We talk about quite a few things including communication. Definitions are very important. Men and women often have different definitions for the same words. For example, when I was young Joy might ask me if I wanted to go shopping. Without understanding the difference in definitions, relational breakdown was not far off. For me shopping meant getting in the car, driving to the mall, buying her blouse, whatever size and color she had in mind. I would park in front of J.C Penny, second entrance, three spaces back. In an out in 20 minutes! I said, “Sure.”
What Joy meant was, “Do you want to go shhhhhhooooooping? We will go to the mall, walk around, have a Pepsi, might buy something, might not.” The shopping wasn’t the thing; it was just a vehicle for having a relationship. After 25 minutes I was losing my mind. I hadn’t signed on to a 2-3 hour deal; I have other tasks to do.
At some point in our pre-marital counseling I remind the husband that one three word statement will need to be memorized and repeated often. They usually smile and give me a knowing nod until I utter the three little words. They are, “I am sorry.” The young man is caught off guard, he thought they were “I love you.” “I am sorry,’ can be far more powerful and has the power to mend a broken relationship if they are meant. We say things we don’t mean at times of frustration. We do things, often unwittingly, that are hurtful to those we love. I might tell a story that I find humorous but Joy finds embarrassing or hurtful. I might make a commitment and then not follow through. I don’t always understand what makes her feel loved. Years ago we had a corral type fence around our porch. Everyone liked sitting on the top rail and from time to time it would break. Joy wanted me to fix it and I was a busy guy doing “important” stuff. I left while it was dark and arrived back home when it was dark and didn’t think this was a big deal. What I didn’t realize is that a house is a place men live but women have a relationship with their home. It is an extension of who they are. The broken fence made her feel broken. I didn’t get it then, I still don’t completely understand it, but the way I could show her how much I love her was to say, “I am sorry,” and then fix the fence. She was delighted.
One of the main characters on the old sitcom, “Happy Days” was Arthur Fonzerelli, “The Fonz.” He had a terrible time saying those three words. They would come out as, “I am, s… s… s… ooo..ah….” He would choke on those three little words. Although we, the viewer would laugh, it would be a bit of a nervous laugh, for we have difficulty with it ourselves.
Being able to admit when we have erred keeps us accountable and correctable. It cuts deeply into our pride. It also helps us to be gracious to others and extend grace, realizing we too, are human and prone to the failings that accompany the weaknesses we deal with on a regular basis.
Years ago there was a film titled, “Love Story.” It was deeply touching and one of the themes was, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In a later film one of the stars, Ryan O’Neil was in a film that used that line and his character said, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard.” He was right. Love means admitting when we have wronged someone else.
I have thought a lot about this over the past week. I have had several calls from folks who have been in abusive groups and the common theme is that the leaders are not confrontable. When they hurt or abuse folks in their care, they refuse to be called to account. But being accountable and being able to say, “I am sorry” is a very basic biblical concept. We come to God by faith and say, “I am sorry, I have sinned.” Being in a position of leadership it is a good example to be able to say, “I am sorry, I misspoke, I miscommunicated, I badly handled, …” It is refreshing and gives those who follow permission to also be honest. We are a sorry lot after all, sinners saved by grace. But we serve a great God who extends an attitude of kindness to the undeserving or what we call Grace. Being the recipients of grace we too can extend grace to those around us.