Love Means Having to Say You’re Sorry

November 8, 2010 | My Jottings

I think the time of day when my brain is most productive is between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. I wander through my days with nary an original thought, doing the same things I always do, but for some reason when I wake up early and lie there in the dark, a hundred new ideas bob to the surface; I think of ways to solve difficult problems, strategies for getting things done less stressfully, and brilliant blog post ideas.

Then I get out of bed as quietly as I can so as not to disturb Michael. I put on my Sorel slippers and white terrycloth robe and go downstairs to get breakfasts going, lunches packed, meds ready, dogs fed, heat turned up, and cappuccino cooler concocted. After everything is humming along nicely I realize that all my clever ideas for blog posts and solutions to weighty problems have vanished. Pouf. Gone from my mind, like a profound and vivid dream you think you’ll remember forever and then realize it has faded from your memory by 10:00 a.m. I hate that.

Except for this morning. I woke up and these were the words in my mind, waiting for me to notice them:

Love means having to say you’re sorry.

When those words flashed on and off on the screen of my mind, immediately my thoughts went to the hugely popular book by Erich Segal called Love Story. When I was growing up, it seemed there wasn’t a person alive who hadn’t read that book. Then the movie came out in 1970, and the buzz phrase from that film was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That bit of cultural wisdom found itself on millions of posters, bumper stickers and greeting cards for years to come. Everyone was supposed to rapturously sigh and think, “Isn’t that sweet? Isn’t that romantic? If you love someone, your love should be so deep, so transcendent, that when you hurt them you don’t ever have to apologize.” Not true.

Sincerely saying the words, “I’m sorry” could be the pivot on which our entire future turns, changing things for the better.

Many years ago I had a dear friend who was the finest wife any man could want. She loved her husband, was a great mom, and worked hard at making their home a place of peace and comfort. Her husband was a good man and loved his wife and family, but he had a bit of a pride problem. Not that he thought he was all that special, but for some reason he had a hard time apologizing when he behaved  impatiently or spoke unkind words. Like many of us, he would occasionally behave toward his family in a way he would never have treated colleagues or friends. He let his frustration out on his wife and children. He was occasionally demanding. He would come home from work and see that even though his wife had worked all day, there were still things left undone, and he would comment on those. He was never physically abusive, he never uttered despicable words, and he showed his family he loved them more than he let his impatience surface, but still….his careless words hurt.

My friend confided in me that even though her husband was 90 per cent wonderful, he never once apologized for the times he had been unkind. His conscience must have bothered him after he would snap at his wife, because for several days afterward she could tell he was trying to make up for what he had said. He would be extra attentive and kind. He would help around the house. He would tell her he loved her. She knew he was sorry, and she forgave him.

But he never said the words, “I’m sorry.” His children never saw him apologize. They knew they were loved, they had marvelous memories with their daddy, but none of their memories included a humble apology.

I think love means having to say you’re sorry. Humbly, with no excuses, with no referral to what the other person did (not that there aren’t times when that is very necessary), and with no expectations from the other person. This is really hard for some people. Sometimes it’s really hard for me. I can usually apologize when I know I’ve blown it, and I really am contrite and want the other person to know I’m sorry.

But there have been occasions when I’ve uttered veiled, unkind words, or have neglected doing something I knew I should have done, and for some reason the words, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?” were really slow in coming. I think it’s a pride issue.

It can also be difficult to say you’re sorry when the person we need to apologize to needs to say it more. Then our minds justify the hurtful things we do or say because that person has caused us more pain than we have ever caused them. I understand this and have used this rationale many times. “I may have been abrupt with her, but what she did was much more wounding than what I did.” We always tend to wrap ourselves in soft down comforters and want others who’ve hurt us to lay forever on beds of nails. It’s human nature.

And it’s not conducive to peace, joy and happy living.

Picture yourself on your deathbed, if you are blessed enough to someday have one. Hopefully you will be old, loved, ready to meet Jesus, and will not have suffered too long. As you’re lying there on your bed, strength and life slowing ebbing out of the body that has carried you through this world, your mind will probably be reliving the most meaningful parts of your life. Will you smile smugly when you think of the person you never forgave, or the one you never gave a heartfelt apology to? Will you think with gladness about the bitterness you toted around for years toward that person at work who slighted you? As you’re gasping for your last breaths, will you inwardly pump your fist and hiss a satisfied “Yessss!” when thoughts of your past cruel words, cold shoulders, exasperated sighs, and self-righteous martyrdom come to mind?

No. I don’t believe we will entertain thoughts like this. I believe the closer we come to death, the more clarity we’ll have. We will mourn the opportunities we missed to love, to forgive, to serve, to bless. I mourn my missed opportunities already. But I’m still alive, so all is not lost. 🙂

My human tendency is to withdraw when I’m slighted, lash back when I’m treated badly, and to excuse my small errors in the light of others’ colossal sins. But I’m not called to live according to my human tendencies. I’m called to live in joy and peace and generosity and in love.

To my handful of readers, I offer no lecture here. I have only an ounce of wisdom to give, and there’s so much I have to learn. But at 53 I have a little more wisdom than I did at 23, or even at 43, and this much I know: deep inside we want to love. We were created to love. And when we don’t love, discontent is our constant companion. Why live like that? Why add to the list of what we’ll weep over on our deathbeds?

Sometimes love means I need to make Michael’s breakfast as well as everyone else’s. Sometimes love means I should not audibly sigh when I have to ask my husband to repeat himself yet again. Sometimes love means being cheerful in the mornings even if I’d like nothing better than to go back to bed. Sometimes love means being grateful for someone’s very presence, not for whatever they can say and do. Sometimes love means trying to see beyond a person’s actions or neglect, and treating them like the person they could be, instead of the one we think they are. Sometimes love doesn’t involve feelings at all, but just a willingness to do and say the right thing, no matter how many times we’ve failed in the past. Sometimes love means not administering justice, but mercy.

Let’s not let anything stand in the way of saying we’re sorry when we need to. We can act sorry, we can feel sorry, but most of the time we just need to say the words, and then follow them up with corresponding behavior.

These are my thoughts this morning. Without a doubt, I believe love means having to say you’re sorry…


  1. Pam says:

    Thank you, Julie, for your insightful words…. It seems that He has taught me forgiveness over the years of pain and suffering that I have experienced, and that, given the opportunity, I have apologized. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not ‘chosen’ that path to walk down. But as you so beautifully worded, each day we have opportunities to make ‘choices’ to do what’s right, say what’s right and respond as He would. I tend to withdraw when confronted with emotionally hard situations, and my behavior is ‘bland and colorless’. Even now I feel my heart ache, literally, for the situation I am currently in (this is not my marriage, for that I am blessed beyond measure and thankful/grateful forever), and I want to withdraw, but I know that’s not the right thing to do… too many relationships are at stake. So… today, I choose to walk forward, and do what I know is right, maybe occasionally go into my ‘private chambers’ with Him and cry, and then emerge again ready to face the day and the thousands of blessings He has given me… I have known you for years, I have admired your deep love and commitment to those you love, I have missed you like crazy and wished, somehow, our lives would have crossed more often, But, seeing your beautiful face, tells me a thousand more stories of how much you love and give of yourself to others. Blessings and love to you, Pam (Mattevi) Hunter Esselstrom

  2. Just Julie says:

    What you have written here is so beautiful, Pam. I miss you too, and wish our paths crossed more. Thank you for visiting the blog….I know what you have shared will touch all who read it. Praying for you today…..

  3. Ganeida says:

    1 Corinthians 13 ~ Love is a verb not a noun. It is an act of the will. We can choose to love even when we don’t feel loving ~ & that is what Christ asks us to do. Some days it is sooo hard…?

  4. Just Julie says:

    Yes, you are so right on every level. I like it when loving is easy, though. 🙂 God bless your day….

  5. Ember says:

    Amen, Julie. x

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