By Randall A. Bach
Communication will never cease to be a challenge, particularly during times of tension, disagreement, or grief. Who has not struggled to find just the right words or feared saying something inappropriate at those times?
A number of years ago, I began learning about the power of the words “I am sorry.” I use those words when I become aware that I have caused hurt, offense, or disappointment by something I said or did. Even if hurt is unintended or just plain oafishness on my part, the responsibility for causing pain, frustration, or anger for someone else is my responsibility. I must be Christian enough, adult enough, and responsible enough to own up to and express remorse for what I said and follow up with a request for forgiveness. How amazingly powerful those words “I am sorry” can be, but only if not qualified with an attempt to explain our intention. When “I am sorry” is followed by “but. . . ,” one might as well not bother with the first words at all. What appeared as regret and remorse is revealed to be but an empty expression. The power of “I am sorry” is validated when it is not qualified, minimized, or undermined by more words.
The person who is grieving doesn’t need to listen to coaching or trite words. They need to know the compassion our heart feels.”
In a similar way, expressing the words “I am sorry” to a person who is experiencing the grief of loss can be powerful and contribute to healing. I have discovered, however, that many times the person being consoled doesn’t grasp the intention of those words. The grieving person sometimes responds, “Oh, that’s okay; you didn’t do anything.” That is because “I am sorry” is often limited to the expression of remorse for having done or said something that has hurt the other person. I have considered whether I ought to slightly change my word choice to something like “I am in sorrow for you,” if that would not sound too odd, or “I am sorry about your loss.” Whether “I am sorry,” or “I am in sorrow for you,” it is often best to limit an expression to those words. The person who is grieving doesn’t need to listen to coaching or trite words. They need to know the compassion our heart feels. Maybe it’s the preacher in me that feels compelled to offer insight and additional words that are hopefully encouraging. At times those words have proved to be Spirit-led comments; however, I know there have been other times when it would have been far better for me to skip everything after “I am sorry.”
We have all experienced or will experience grief. Some people need to be around others for their pain to be assuaged. Others yearn for privacy and the freedom to console themselves alone with God, at least for a season. Whichever type of mourner you are, know that there are other people different than you, who desire the opposite. We exercise a premium level of sensitivity when we give that other person space to grieve in his or her own way. That is why brief expressions of sorrow are initially best, at least until we know or become aware of the other person’s needs.
Romans 12:15 (NLT) instructs us to “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” The New International Version uses these words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Perhaps, to better understand how we ought to put that verse into practice, we could amplify it this way: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn [briefly communicating in a way that they can know and feel your heart’s support].” There is power in the appropriate use of words, and often the fewer the words the better!
About the Author
Randall A. Bach delights in opportunities to serve the Lord, including his current assignment as president of Open Bible Churches. He earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Regent University. Randall and Barbara, his wife, have been in ministry almost as long as they have been married. They are grateful to have celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2021. Randall loves the church, pastors, and church leaders and is convinced that God loves to work through them to make disciples, develop leaders, and plant churches. A voice for Evangelicals, his work has been featured in several publications, including Ethics: The Old Testament, The New Testament, and Contemporary Application. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals. Randall has produced and edited several publications and other resources, including the Message of the Open Bible, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and a doctrinal course for youth called We Believe for Kids! He also led the creation of Acquire, Open Bible’s online leadership development site.