The Other Side of Forgiveness
Four Steps to Apologizing After You’ve Really Blown It
by Sharon Norris Elliott
Forgive your enemies? Yeah, right. That Biblical talk is great until a girlfriend actually offends us. But simple logic bears out the fact that for every person who needs to forgive, there’s a person who needs to be forgiven. What are we supposed to do when we are on the needing-to-be-forgiven side of the ledger?
Twice that I remember vividly, I really hurt good friends. Both times were unintentional, but that fact didn’t erase what I did nor make my friends’ pain any less acute. The first time my friend flew 3,000 miles at her own expense to be in my wedding, but I couldn’t attend hers two years later because I was completely engulfed with the care of my new baby. She called and balled me out about my insensitivity and not even sending a gift after she had invested so much for me.
The second indiscretion involved a description of a friend’s personal situation in one of my published works. I had changed the name in the story, but she recognized the incident and felt embarrassed, angry, and hurt.
First, admit your mistake or indiscretion without a back-hand apology. Don’t say, “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re hurt.” Tears had sprung to my eyes when I heard them express their anger and hurt. All I could say to both friends was, “I’m so sorry.” Matthew 5:23-24 says that if “your brother has something against you… go and be reconciled to your brother; then come (to the altar) and offer your gift” (NIV). The ball is in your court to apologize.
Second, take your friend’s hurt seriously. See the situation through her eyes. Be vulnerable and allow her to hear the sorrow in your voice or see your tears. Now is not the time to try to vindicate yourself. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted…” Proverbs 27:6 (NIV). My friends were right to be angry with me, so I humbly took to heart what they had to say.
Third, refuse to just drop the issue. Let your friend know your relationship with her is extremely important to you and you don’t want to lose it. Let one day pass and then call. Proverbs 15:1a says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath…” (NIV).
During a follow-up call, I tried to explain but she still wouldn’t forgive me. In the second situation, I e-mailed my groveling. Thankfully, this friend e-mailed back to tell me she too was interested in continuing our friendship.
Finally, try to come up with some way to make it up to her. Do something to prove you really want to overshadow the hurt you caused. Read Leviticus 6:2-5. You’ll see how God intends for us to straighten things out between ourselves and our friends, and it is our responsibility to make that move.
Even when you are doing your best, you will make mistakes in relationships with your friends. A close friend will usually forgive even very hurtful comments or actions as long as you remain honest and forthright. The incident can actually draw you closer. As you determine to work through the problem together, you’ll understand your friend more deeply and you’ll be more sensitive to protecting her feelings from then on.