Many words in the English language are difficult. In fact, there’s even a Dictionary of Difficult Words. But none are more difficult than these: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”
Many otherwise articulate people seem to have great difficulty in spitting these words out. They hem and haw. They stutter. They may get something close out, but they have a hard time slowly and deliberately saying these ten simple words.
But each one of these ten words are important.
- “I’m sorry.” Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel what they feel. This is something we desperately need to develop. But it takes humility.
Too often, we are preoccupied with our own feelings. However, empathy is the recognition that it’s not all about us. Other people matter. They have feelings, too, and those feelings are important
By saying we are sorry—sincerely and with authentic humility—we validate them as human beings. We are essentially saying, “I know you are hurt, and I understand. Your feelings are valid, and I am sorry that I am the cause of them. I’m not sorry because I got caught or because you called me out. I’m sorry because of the hurt that I caused you.”
- “I was wrong.” This the most difficult sentence of all. Perhaps we live with the mistaken notion that we never do anything wrong. Or perhaps we just think the other person should “give us a pass” because somehow we deserve it. But the truth is, we all make mistakes. If we are not guilty of sins of commission (i.e., deliberately doing something that offends others), we are guilty of sins of omission (i.e., failing to live up to others expectations).
One of the great things about being a Christian is that I have been released from the need to pretend I am perfect. No, I am a sinner, and I need forgiveness—from God and from the people I offend.
- “Will you please forgive me?” This is one of the most powerful sentences we can ever utter. By asking this as a question, we acknowledge that forgiveness is not an entitlement. We don’t deserve forgiveness; we are asking for it as an act of mercy.
This also acknowledges that it is a choice on the part of the other person. They may withhold their forgiveness. Perhaps they are not ready to make up. They may need some space. But, in my experience, almost always the other person says, “I forgive you.” With this simple sentence, both of us are healed.
We may be tempted to take shortcuts. We could simply say, “I apologize” or “Sorry.” But nothing is quite as effective as saying all ten words. It may seem awkward or artificial at first, but with practice it gets easier. And if you are like me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.