“We’ve had this conversation before.”
I pressed my lips in frustration and stared balefully at my husband, who looked helplessly back in silence as always. It didn’t take long before the unhappiness bubbling within spilled over into the usual barrage and tirade against my passive spouse.
I felt justified in my anger. After all, we had talked about this on numerous occasions, agreed upon courses of action to improve things, and yet the same aggravations kept happening. Clearly, the issue lay with him.
Or did it? Was my anger really justified? Because if I took a moment to think about it, those same accusations and indictments could well be leveled against me too, albeit not necessarily for the same areas.
We will skip the discussion about unmet expectations and ways to value and keep the peace, because those tend to be more useful in maintaining the relationship before a falling-out occurs.
But the fact is, falling-outs occur. It’s part and parcel of any normal marriage. And how we deal with them is often just as crucial as how we prevent them.
Well – that’s easy enough, isn’t it? Just apologise, kiss and make up, and move on?
Except that most of the time we’re not given to saying “sorry” as well as it needs to be, to be sincere and unconditional enough to really matter to who we offended and to begin mending the hurt.
The bottom line is: We don’t like saying “sorry”. We don’t like exposing our flaws and failings. We don’t like appearing weak.
Sure, we’ll say “sorry” easily enough in clear-cut situations like if we trod on somebody’s foot or we spilled hot soup all over them by accident. But that’s about it.
In all other cases we justify, we explain, we defend our choices, our deeds and our words. We agree to take partial blame for what we own as our fault, on condition that the other person own up to what we consider is “their part” and be sufficiently apologetic for it.
No doubt we may truly feel remorseful for the hurt we’ve caused and mean the sweet and contrite words we say. But usually it’s all done with the aim of getting back to happy times, and we won’t want to dwell on exploring our issues more than we’re comfortable to.
We keep covering up and looking out for our own interests because we’re so afraid to be hurt ourselves. We’re so resistant to opening up to our shortcomings without any defence, for fear that our vulnerable and tender points will be roughly prodded.
Even when we skilfully school ourselves to be the one to first offer a “sorry”, so often it’s tainted with self-focused thoughts like secretly patting ourselves for being the “magnanimous and bigger person”, or hoping that the apology will automatically green-light our way back into peace and the other’s good books.
But unless we can truly be real and open with each other in saying sorry without a single expectation of return or affirmation, we’ll likely end up going through the same rigmaroles and charades, battling the same issues, and having a gilded but effectively second-rate relationship.
Thankfully, there is a cure for this condition. And what’s even better, it’s already been provided and made freely available to us.
It is the knowledge – and belief – that ALL our sins, shortcomings, and failings of our ENTIRE life have been put on Jesus and FULLY penalised at the cross, and today, we are perfectly RIGHTEOUS and BLAMELESS in Christ.
Many well-meaning ministers and Christians are wary of getting too close to or totally immersed in this truth, thinking it will result in irresponsible behaviour. Like people thinking they can indulge in whatever they like. Or making complacent Christians who never feel any compunction to love people or say “sorry” for their mistakes.
When actually, it is guilt and condemnation – stemming from a sense of self-judgement and having done wrong – that keeps us so guarded and defensive.
As Jesus Himself said to Simon the Pharisee,
This woman has been forgiven much, and she is showing much love. But the person who has shown little love shows how little forgiveness he has received. (Luke 7:47, VOICE)
It is when we realise just how much we have been forgiven, even to the extent that ALL our sins and errors that we have ever done or will ever do have already been judged and forgiven on account of Jesus’s payment on our behalf at the cross, that we become open and free to be real and own up to our faults without holding back.
It is when we know our debt ledger has been fully paid with a big surplus, with none of our effort involved, that we become open to really talk about our stuff that was there on the ledger.
Because God already knows it. And He’s dealt with it, and made us fully accepted and righteous in Christ.
His total forgiveness frees us to really say “sorry” without needing anything from the other person. His unconditional love gives us the courage and assurance to start.
Because in the light of such perfect love, all our fears of being hurt or attacked simply melt away (1 John 4:18).
Receiving this revelation afresh, I found the strength and freedom to truly say sorry to my spouse that day. In the abundance of His grace, it becomes miraculously doable.
A sincere apology doesn’t make issues go away or inspire miraculous changes overnight. But it plays a great part in growing healthier relationships and building stronger marriages.
And the key to saying “sorry” with grace has been given to us.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.
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