“When Things Go Wrong”: a BBC Pause for Thought

Here’s the text for the 8 February 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen in here.

One of the hardest experiences of my life was realizing I needed to ask forgiveness from a friend.

The wrong I’d done was no minor fault. I’d lied to him – consistently, over a long period of time, about something significant and personal. And in the process I’d also seriously lied to myself, so there was a hiddenness to my guilt. It was overwhelming – it had a gravitational pull that drew everything else in my consciousness right back to it.

I knew an email apology wasn’t adequate so I asked my friend if I could fly to visit him the next week – to tell him something. He said, “Of course, it’ll be great to see you”. And he met me off the plane, and we sat in the carpark of the airport, and I shared in detail what I’d done, how I’d gone wrong.

I said I wanted to make it right. And I asked his forgiveness.

It was weird and scary to admit my wrongdoing. It was also weird and scary to hear my friend forgive me and express his understanding, which I hadn’t let myself expect.

Receiving his compassion and grace felt like: jump leads hooked up to my heart, a sudden stream of life that shocked me and revived me at the same time.

This saving energy, which I believe was straight from God, came to me through my friend’s open-heartedness.

If I played any part at all, it wasn’t bravery but an honest acceptance of my own humanness. I don’t mean to excuse it or make light of it. I’m not saying “everyone messes up, so it really doesn’t matter”. By acceptance I mean seeing it, acknowledging it, maybe even letting it be a wound where God can enter. It was painful for me but it was also the greatest relief.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th-century Christian, believed that falling down, getting it wrong, is not only inevitable in human life, it’s essential if we want to grow up.

She wrote: “First the fall, then the recovery from the fall – both are the mercy of God.” I love that. First the getting it wrong, then the healing after getting it wrong – both are God’s great compassion.

I owe my friend so much – not just for his forgiveness, but for helping me fall – back into God and into life itself.

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