When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to be really good at a lot of things. There were two causes for this. First, I’m sure I wanted to be able to impress people. Second, I enjoy learning. So, I set out to learn how to do stuff—random stuff. I learned to play guitar. I learned Spanish. I learned how to juggle. I socked away a bunch of trivia. I took apart and reassembled small appliances. I learned how to cook. Random, fun stuff.
As an adult, my passion for learning hasn’t diminished. In fact, it has grown. As I’ve matured, I’ve also learned there are some things I’m simply not good at.
Recently, I was reminded of this by my wife.
Now, I love marriage! I’m blessed with a wonderful wife. But marriage, unlike almost anything else, has the uncanny ability to display weaknesses. For some, like me, this happens on a regular basis. If you want to know what you really look like, stare at yourself in the reflection of your spouse. Sure, while I believe marriage is a mirror for weaknesses, it’s not all bad news. Not at all! A good marriage is also a much more powerful magnifying glass for your strengths. (I’ll probably write about this soon.)
So, what’s this thing that I’m not good at, this weakness I too often display? It’s my inability to say eight simple words. What are they? Here are the first two:
I stink at saying, “I’m sorry.” I’m a master at letting hours pass before I muster the gumption to say those two words. In our early years of marriage, I simply wouldn’t apologize until I had gone over the situation dozens of times in my head and fully and completely owned what I did. Then, and only then, would I apologize, but only specifically for what I was sure I had done. It was infuriating to my sweet wife. At times, I’ve caused her way more frustration and pain than what was necessary because I was unwilling to own and apologize for my infractions.
Of course, “I’m sorry,” are only the first two words. Words three, four and five are:
“I was wrong.”
In happier moments, I have joked with Kelly that I’m bad at saying these three words because I am usually right. (I’ve never said this in the middle of a disagreement. I’m no fool!) The sad thing is that I’ve actually thought and behaved as if I’m incapable of error. It is so difficult to fess up, even when I know I’m wrong, because I am wired to defend myself, to prove that I’m right, or at least that I’m not wrong in the way I’m accused of being wrong. I hate to be wrong. But sometimes I am. There’s no hiding it. I’m always at least partially to blame, possessing plenty of material to own up to.
But, it’s not just enough to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” There are three more words:
“Please forgive me.”
Even when I’ll acquiesce and take responsibility, I still tend to harbor a sliver of pride and self-righteousness. So, there’s one more step to take. And, I’m not very good at taking it. There’s something in me that resists taking this final step because, in essence, asking for forgiveness makes me vulnerable. To ask for forgiveness is to humbly approach someone you’ve offended, to ask to be returned to a place of favor, and to request to be released from the debt that has been accumulated. It’s an extremely humbling step to take. But, it’s imperative. It simply can’t be left out.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” Pride is the sin that lies at the heart of my struggle to apologize, admit my errors and ask for forgiveness. Plain and simple. I can be way too proud. When I’m wrong, I have become better at apologizing more quickly and more sincerely. And, when my actions truly do hurt, I have learned to pause, let my initial urge defend myself pass, soften my heart, and confess that I was wrong. And, because I don’t want either of us to harbor any resentment, I’m working on asking for forgiveness rather than expecting it.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” These eight words can save your marriage. They’re saving mine!