The girls stood before me, a picture of misery. The older one sobbing, her cheeks red under the sprinkling of freckles, long lashes spiky with salt-water tears. The younger, indignant, arms crossed over her little chest, body heaving with indignation.
“What happened?” I asked, kneeling on the floor at eye level.
Something about a game. Something about rules not being followed, tempers getting lost, angry words spoken. Game pieces scattered in anger, their places lost. Little sister flying at big. Harsh words hang in the air, the tension and frustration radiate around these two like the hum of high-voltage power lines.
I turn to the younger. “What do you need to say to your sister?”
A shrug. Eyebrows scrunch over narrowed eyes. She shifts her weight, uncomfortable under my direct gaze.
“SoRREEE” she growls from under storm-cloud eyes.
Not good enough. “What do you need to say?”
A pregnant pause.
“Do I need to help you say it?”
Silence, then a slight nod.
“I was wrong…” I begin, and pause for her to follow.
“Iwaswrong” she says, in a voice like a rusty robot, words slurred and inaudible.
“I was wrong.” This time, the shoulders have dropped slightly and the weight of the truth of this statement seems to have broken the defiant stiffness of her posture.
“Please forgive me…” I prompt.
“Please forgive me.” Repeated words sink in a little more, breaking the dam of anger and allowing a few honest tears to cloud her eyes.
“Again please, now that you can do it on your own.”
She turns this time, looks up at her sister and says the words with heart. “I was wrong. Please forgive me?”
“I forgive you.”
Hugs, drying tears, and the matter is over. They go back upstairs, planning how to get the game back underway. The storm has passed, forgotten as they go forward with a smile.
Why is it so hard to say these words? I was wrong. Please forgive me. They can be the hardest words to say when they are the most needed, and yet their power is so much greater than any inflection of the word “Sorry.” They take responsibility, admit fault, expose the need for absolution.
I’m finding that there are other words like this, words that cause a shift within your heart. One phrase that I have noticed making a difference in my prayer life has been “I repent.”
I find myself, during the frequent times when I fall short and miss the mark, praying for forgiveness. I don’t think that’s bad…but it’s occurred to me lately that I am forgiven, that Christ forgives me before I even sin, that he knows my heart and he understands. I can sin, and sin again, and ask forgiveness again and again for the same sin. And nothing changes…I am forgiven, but I so easily return to the same place again and again.
I try another tack…Instead of asking forgiveness, which puts the responsibility on God and asks him for something on my behalf, I remind myself to say the more difficult words. I repent. I repent of this behavior, this thought process, this lack of action, this wrong action. I repent. These words have a different feel to them, they take responsibility, they promise action on my part to draw me closer to God, closer to the person he wants me to be. He’s done his part, he’s forgiven. For lasting change to take place, I must with His help do mine….repent, admit my faults, make a commitment to change.
Like the difference between “Sorry” and “I was wrong, please forgive me,” these words cause a change in my countenance. The defiance melts away, the responsibility settles on my shoulders and brings humility.
They are even more powerful together: I repent. Please forgive me. How great the difference a simple choice of words can make!