When Justin and I were newly weds, we struggled with apologies. I’d stammer out the words “I’m sorry” and he’d mutter, “It’s no big deal.” Or “It’s okay.” Or “No problem.” But then we’d still be a little upset. I’d still feel guilty and he’d still feel frustrated.
It seems to me that responding to an apology with empty platitudes and phrases we don’t actually mean robs the apology of its power. It’s as if we’re embarrassed to have been upset so we act like our hurt feelings weren’t ever a big deal anyway.
So, maybe a year ago, Justin and I decided that we would be real with apologies: You only say you’re sorry if you absolutely mean it. And the only acceptable response to an apology is “I forgive you.”
It’s crazy what those words have done for us.
I love saying “I’m sorry” now because I know my words will be taken to heart, never dismissed out of hand. And I know, when the exchange ends, I’ll be completely guilt-free.
I also love saying “I forgive you,” because those words empower me. They legitimize my hurt, validating my feelings of disappointment or anger or whatever. To say “I forgive you” means that an infraction did occur but that I’m willing to offer grace.
When we don’t physically say the words, “I forgive you” we end up feeling abused, like the grace we’re offering isn’t appreciated or noticed.
Maybe even more dangerous, when we don’t say the words “I forgive you,” we risk withholding grace. We latch onto the hurt, letting it eat us alive.
If I’ve learned anything from being married it’s this: People need grace.
My spouse is messed up. I’m messed up. He hurts me. I hurt him. And, without grace, my marriage could be a scorecard of offenses, a long list of IOUs, that neither of us could ever right or pay back.
But with grace, marriage is renewing, satisfying, and liberating. It’s a place where no one’s keeping score and no one’s tabulating your debts, where apologies meet with freely offered forgiveness.
I like that God describes himself as a groom and calls men to love their wives like Christ loved the church. Being married calls us to be more like God. But not just us, our spouse, too. And while it’s hard to pursue God-likeness, it’s awesome to be married to someone doing it well.