I want you to memorize a single sentence. Because learning to live it well will change your life. I’m going to tell you what it is, why it is the key to living fully and freely, and how your life will explode with beauty when your heart begins to beat to the rhythm of it…
The people who sit on a therapist’s couch are abnormal, right? They’ve made bad choices and lived incorrectly and are broken in some strange way, right?
In my clinical practice, I have discovered two things. First, my therapy clients are ordinary people who have the extraordinary courage to admit life is messy and the determination to redeem it. And second, the majority were not the “bad kids” on the playground. They were honor roll students, and the quiet kids who got things done, and the glue in their splintered families, and the caretakers, and the sacrificers, and the forgivers, and the obedient ones.
And they are simply confused about how doing all the right things can land them in the middle of so much suffering and confusion. They need one sentence that will change their lives. And this is it:
“I’m not going to worry very much about offending people anymore, which means I need you to tell me when I do, so I can think about it and decide if I need to apologize.”
It’s the key to living freely and loving well. We need to soak it in and learn to live it fully. But we can only do so if we understand the radical, transformational love at its core:
I’m not going to worry very much about offending people anymore …
I’m sick of living in fear of what others will think of me—if I make a mistake, or say a wrong word, or accidentally make them feel uncomfortable, or don’t respond to them in the way they wish. It has drained me, and I can’t recall who I truly am. So, I’m done with feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings.
Except I’m not. Not completely.
Because I’m human and all healing takes time and there will be moments when I’m ambushed by my old shameful worry and I’ll wonder if what I did and said is good enough for anyone. And I do love people and care about them—there will be many moments when it’s perfectly appropriate for me to be concerned about their feelings—and I don’t want to lose that part of me. So, I probably will continue to worry. A little.
…which means I need you to tell me when I do…
Because my terror of error is diminished, I will, ironically, make even more mistakes than before. I’m not perfect and I will mess up. I don’t want to hurt you, but realistically, it is probably going to happen. So, when I have hurt you, I will need your authentic, vulnerable, and kind feedback.
And because I’m not confusing my mistakes and indiscretions for who I am, my identity will not be at stake and I will be able to receive that feedback without defensiveness. And because I know my value and worth even in my fallibility, I will not do violence to myself with your feedback, either.
…so I can think about it…
I will no longer respond compulsively. I will no longer feel responsible for taking away all of your hurt and discomfort. So, I may take my time to respond to you. I promise you I’m not brushing it under the rug. I simply want my response to be guided by wisdom, rather than fear of rejection or abandonment or condemnation. And I know wisdom takes time and discernment—maybe even space for mindfulness and prayer and meditation and consultation with a trusted confidante.
…and decide if I need to apologize.
I know I’m broken and make mistakes. But I also know now we’re all broken, which means your hurt may not be my fault. And you may need to face it, rather than be rescued from it by my apology. And I am beginning to believe that I get to decide when I need to apologize. My fears and your demands will no longer dictate apologies and compensation.
But know that I value you—whether you are a friend or family member or a pedestrian on the street or a customer service representative—you matter to me, and I will take you and your hurt seriously. Even when I don’t bear the burden of responsibility, I will feel the weight of compassion.
And because all of this is true, when I do apologize, you will be able to trust the depth and sincerity of my remorse.
One sentence to freedom.
One sentence to radical self-acceptance.
Once sentence to authentic vulnerability and connection and community.
Once sentence to messy, beautiful living.
For those of us accustomed to getting it all right—those of us who mistake our indiscretions for who we are—we must make this sentence the meditation of our days. A sentence to hold gently at the front of our minds until it sinks into the depths of our hearts, shining light into the darkness and dispelling the ghosts of unworthiness that lurk in the cellars of our souls.
A sentence that will redefine how we experience life, what we choose to do with our time, and who we choose to spend that time with. Because we will want to surround ourselves with people whose hearts are also beating to the rhythm of that sentence. People who can give us grace in our errors and compassion in our brokenness. And people who are vulnerable enough to sincerely confess their own mistakes and receive the grace we offer.
When our hearts are populated by this sentence—and when our lives become populated by people who are also living it—we will, finally, be living fully and freely.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.