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Developing a language of humility
Lefavi Bob
Rev. Bob LeFavi

I’ve seen a dynamic in couples struggling in their relationships that I do not often see in stable, loving relationships. That factor is this: Stable, loving couples have developed a language of humility and use it.

In my pastoral counseling experience, I’ve found that couples that never seem to move much beyond one blow-up before another one occurs tend to lack this language. Hurts never seem to heal. In these relationships, rarely does one person ever say to the other, “I am sorry,” or even, “I was wrong about that. I blew it.”

It seems to me that mentally and spiritually healthy people have a good sense of self — one that understands the potential of the human being to make mistakes and do, well, “bad” things. And they see themselves as completely capable of good and bad, right and wrong. Their self-concept is stable enough to take a hit when it needs to, when the time comes to say, “I am sorry.”

Never underestimate the power of looking someone in the eye and saying, “I’m sorry.”

In unhealthy couples, ego often gets in the way of, “I’m sorry.” They can’t see the usefulness of this language of humility because admitting they are wrong may be too damaging to their already fragile sense of self. They feel it weakens them. And there are power issues involved when a person has such control in a relationship that they never feel the need to say they are sorry. But, can love truly exist in a context of power and control?

It seems to me that Christians especially ought to develop a language of humility, regularly working to see themselves and their actions clearly, and making amends when need be. We are challenged to be graceful in these situations as both “givers” and “receivers,” so to speak. (Although, of course, we need to be careful about the same people doing the same things, apologizing, promising to change and never doing so. That is a different case altogether.)

I am often asked, “But, if I really don’t feel sorry, should I say it?” Now, those asking this question fully expect me to say, “Well, no, not if you don’t feel it.” But that is not my response.

Instead, I ask, “Are you willing to be sorry?” Sometimes, the answer is, “I don’t know” or even, “No.” In that case, I ask, “Then are you willing to be willing to be sorry?” Usually, that gets the point across that they need to look at the power they have to heal with words, as opposed to continuing to prop up their ego by refusing to give anything to this person with whom they are in a relationship.

But sometimes the answer to my question, “Are you willing to be sorry?” is “Yes.” “Then, of course, you should apologize,” I say. I typically get a funny look.

To me, it goes beyond their subjective, fleeting feelings on their remorsefulness. I would argue that while it is always preferable for a person to feel sorry when declaring they are, knowing for certain that one feels that way is not entirely necessary to bring about healing and reconciliation. In other words, I suppose I am disagreeing with those who say you ought never to say you are sorry if you don’t “feel it.”

You see, the effect of, “I’m sorry” starts out on the receiver — person who is being apologized to. But, then it begins to cascade. In a flash, that statement opens closed doors. Before you know it, the humility therein allows the receiver to feel respected and affirmed; barriers are broken and hearts soften. You can see it in the receiver’s eyes.

Soon, the one who professed remorse actually sees the effect of the damage and becomes, to some degree and in some respects, sorry. I’ve witnessed it happening.

“I made a mistake.” “I should not have said that.” “I regret I hurt you.” “I can’t believe I did something so thoughtless.” “Please forgive me.” “I was wrong.”

These statements are not a reflection of weakness, but rather of strength. They point to not only a mentally and spiritually healthy person, but also to Christian living.

Never underestimate the sheer power of, “I am sorry.”