When I was young child growing up in the 70’s, I remember seeing greeting cards and cheesy home décor with the quote, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” an oft quoted line from the melodramatic film, Love Story. It never made sense to me. If that is indeed true, I would tell myself, then there is something terribly wrong with me. I stumble frequently, saying and doing things that hurt the ones I love the most. In the film, the quote is actually used to hurt someone they love. Think about it. When would you say that to someone? Probably right after they attempted to apologize, right? That is exactly when it is used in the film. Twice. So, really this cheesy quote that is supposed to define love is actually anger in disguise.
As a mother of five, I want to teach my children the proper relationship between love and having to say you are sorry. It is an uphill battle. It’s not that I am raising hellions, although it feels like that some days. While my darlings can be loving and cooperative most of the time, they can also become hostile and hateful towards each other. When they are, I take them aside and tell them that they need to apologize. And, when they do, they make their “sorry” sound like an attack. The word rolls out with no ownership accompanied by an eye roll. Sometimes they drag the singular word out melodically with annoying facial expressions. That is not loving.
My mother noticed one of my children using the half-hearted “sorry” after being scolded and told to apologize. She saw my frustration and she gave me a simple suggestion. She shared with me something she remembered Mother Theresa had said. Tell the children to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” These are nine words Mother Theresa said we must say each day. My mother and Mother Theresa are so right. I immediately put this into practice and I have noticed a real change in the way my children interact and in the way they take responsibility for their actions.
I have discovered that the reason saying all nine words makes a difference is because it makes them practice the virtue of humility. By taking ownership of their wrongdoing instead of murmuring a weak “sorry,” they lose their prideful stance and assume a humble position. Being the fallen children that they are, they have ample opportunity to put humility into practice. This will serve them well in adulthood where true humility is rarely found. My husband and I have also made an effort to make a frequent apology. We notice how this helps us to develop a contrite heart and prepares us for a sincere confession.
Why do we need to say these nine words every day? We are human. We fail. We hurt others. We are weak. This is just who we are and how we are made. If you get to the end of the day and you have not said these nine words, you must not have had any interactions with another human being. To quote Mother Angelica, “If it wasn’t for people, we could all be holy.” We are people and we are going to mess up. We are called to be holy. We are also children of God and by the gift of His Grace, we are able to express love. And, very often, love means having to say, I was wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me.
How do you think your life will change if you add these nine words to your daily conversations?