A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Words That Heal: “I’m Sorry”

Bill Farrelly

by Bill Farrelly

I AM embarrassed to admit this but when someone says sorry to me I am often putty in their hands, sometimes going to great lengths to lessen their discomfort.

I wonder, therefore, why it is so difficult for some others to admit they are wrong. The most obviously guilty perhaps are politicians. Their constituents would actually respect them if only they could say I am sorry; we were wrong; we made a mistake.

It seems to be a badge of honour among many people to never admit to error.

I am musing on this because of the struggle I am having lately in forgiving someone who seems unaware of, and does not acknowledge, the pain they have caused. What’s worse is that I want to let go of these hurts but I am wrestling with both resentment and anger.

I long to forgive and move on, irrespective of whether there is either an admission of guilt or regret but something – pride? – seems to be unyielding. As I write this I realise how apt are Alexander Pope’s words: To err is human, to forgive is divine.

When someone is genuinely sorry there are two winners, the one who was wronged and the one who owns the error. Of course, expressing regret is frequently insufficient to right the wrong and we kid ourselves if we think that it is enough to say the words. But there is no better start.

But what do you do when an apology is not forthcoming and perhaps may never be? In my own case, I pray for the courage and strength to let go and move on. Some of the time it works but the fact that I am writing this tells you about the rest of the time.

I mentioned pride earlier. I am not sure that pride is blocking my way for surely pride in this instance means self-respect and I do not wish to surrender my self-respect. What, then, prevents me from gracefully accepting the reality? Am I so wounded that I cannot heal without at least an expression of sorrow? Am I angry that I have frequently “paid my dues” by expressing sorrow (and putting those words into action) for the hurt I have caused? Would I feel better if I could retract some of those apologies?

At least I can answer the last one. No, I would not. On the contrary, I wish I could take back some of the pain I have inflicted.

Perhaps that is what is most troubling for me: the angst I feel when I reflect on the damage I have done. But there may be danger here: sometimes I have carried guilt far too long; sometimes I have scourged myself for too long.

I know, of course, what Jesus did. He forgave us all. But that was the God in Jesus. Did Jesus the man ever feel hurt when he was wronged? He must have, otherwise how could he have been human? And if there were times when he too did not receive an apology, was he likewise wounded? Did Mary or Joseph ever wrong him and fail to see their mistake?

Perhaps my inability to move on stems from low self-esteem. Perhaps if I had more faith in myself, and especially in my own worth, I could rise above what I suppose are essentially feelings of self-pity. There’s food for thought here.

It could be that I will never entirely lose the desire to hear those words and the longed-for sincerity behind them. Maybe that should be my goal: the ability to accept that I will continue to hope and the desire for the necessary grace to live with what comes, or does not come.

An aside: sometimes I say sorry unnecessarily and it really irks me. Or should I say, I really irk me? And to make matters worse, occasionally someone will say to me, there’s no need to keep apologising, Bill.

You can guess what I reply, can’t you!


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