The most difficult words to say in any language are these, “I’m sorry; forgive me.” Yet what other combination of so few words brings so much healing to mankind? “I’m sorry; forgive me”–these words make the difference between broken relationships and the healing that restores fragmented lives.
Edward Herbert once said, “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.” It seems that our pride, our refusal to admit that we may have been wrong—at least partially wrong—is what makes it so difficult to say, “I’m sorry; forgive me.” When you say this you are doing a great deal more than tendering an apology. You are really saying, “I covet my friendship or my relationship with you, and I want to build a bridge over the troubled waters that separate us.”
Our tendency to place the blame on the other person goes back as far as the genesis of man himself. Remember the simple story of creation where Eve took of the forbidden fruit and then Adam followed her example? Yet when God asked, “Adam, why have you done this?” Adam put the blame on his wife, saying, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12).
Saying “I’m sorry; forgive me” puts the blame squarely on your shoulders and tells the other person you are willing to stand the consequences of causing your separation. Of course there are many other ways you can try to build bridges. You can say, “Let’s forget it,” or “Let’s just not talk about it anymore.” You can also say, “I suppose we are both to blame…” But nothing has the healing power of those four simple words, “I’m sorry; forgive me.”
Be kind and…forgiving…just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Trying to continue a relationship without removing the bitter feelings between two people is like trying to put a shirt on with a knife still sticking in your back, or like trying to drive a car with a flat tire while pretending that all are inflated. When an apology is due, it should be made as soon as possible and with dignity. Do not think for a moment that there is not the nobility of a king when you bring yourself to say, “I’m sorry; forgive me.” A man never reaches so high as when he stoops humbly to offer an apology.
I know what you are thinking; down in your heart you are saying, “I’m not altogether to blame, you know. The other person is just as guilty as I am.” Again, you may be saying, “Why should I apologize? It is not my fault. Why should I say ‘I’m sorry; forgive me’”? Perhaps you are right. Yet, are you not genuinely sorry that your relationship is hurt‑‑that someone whose friendship or love meant a great deal to you now avoids you, or has been separated from you? Why not tell your friend just how you feel‑‑that you are genuinely sorry that your friendship has been hurt, and that you would like to see it restored. That confession‑‑made in all honesty‑‑is the equivalent of holding out the olive branch. It may be just what is necessary for the other to admit his part in the problem.
Years ago, the Apostle Paul penned these beautiful guidelines for fractured human relations when he wrote, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). To remember is so very human‑‑to forgive is so very divine. When Jesus arbitrated the question of forgiveness, He told fisherman Peter that we are to forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). When you think that you cannot say these words, “I’m sorry; forgive me,” remember the forlorn figure who was crucified at the hands of the Romans as He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Find God’s strength to say, “I’m sorry; forgive me.”
Resource reading: Matthew 18:21-35