What is contrition? It’s a state of being. And it’s essential to rooting out one’s character defects and becoming a better person. I’ve written about this topic before. (See, for example: Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition.) But it’s worth talking about again.
- Contrition’s definition explains its importance. The word literally means “crushed spirit.” The contrite person more than regrets their error. Regret has a lot to do with what someone’s misstep might have cost them personally. And the contrite person is more than remorseful, too. Remorse goes beyond regret, in that it involves feeling badly about the injury caused another. It inherently, therefore, involves empathy. But the contrite person hurts in a qualitatively different way, even from the genuinely remorseful person. Their heart aches precisely because of the heartache they know they caused another. Accordingly, to fully mend their own heart they must do their best to help heal the heart they wounded.
What Contrition Looks Like
It’s hard to describe what genuine contrition looks like. Perhaps a better way to illustrate its character is to describe what it doesn’t look or sound like.
It doesn’t sound like:
- “I’ve said I’m sorry a million times! How many times must I say it?!”
- “When will you ever let it go?! It happened weeks ago!”
- “Are you going to act wounded forever?”
- “Can’t we just get back to ‘normal’?!”
- I’ll go to therapy if it will get you off my back!”
And it doesn’t look like:
- Fuming and huffing when called out for again reneging on one’s promise.
- Doing the same thing time and time again and expecting a half-hearted apology to suffice for making things okay.
- Expecting an often betrayed partner to trust again just because you’ve been more honest or faithful for a time.
Contrite folks understand and accept that they have the obligation to do the work of repair. They made the mess, so it’s their mess to clean. And they don’t do the mopping up grudgingly. Nor do they have to be cajoled or coerced. They might not always be gleeful about it, but they certainly do it willingly. And they understand that reforming their ways benefits everyone. In short, contrition is not about the offender feeling better. It’s about them finding the heart to be better. That necessarily means work. But it’s that freely undertaken labor that defines genuine love.
Contrition and Character Growth
We all make mistakes. And we all have our character shortcomings. But to develop integrity of character we have to properly reckon with the errors of our ways. That takes honesty, humility, and most especially, true contrition.
Today’s installment of Character Matters begins a discussion of the aforementioned and related issues. And you can also find these topics discussed in Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, The Judas Syndrome, How Did We End Up Here?, and at length in my latest offering, Essentials for the Journey.