The Other Side of Forgiveness
You've really blown it this time, how will you apologize?
Forgive your enemies. Bless those who despitefully use you. Turn the other cheek. Yeah, yeah, right. All that Biblical instruction sounds wonderful until a friend actually offends you. Then, most of us are ready to turn our hand into a fist and aim for a cheek. However, this article isn't about our need to forgive our offensive, thoughtless friend. Let's talk about the other side of forgiveness. What do you do when you are the offensive, thoughtless friend?
Yes, I mean you. I'm no math whiz. But simple logic and statistics would bear 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 need-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 was back in 1985. My friend Linda had her own dress made and flew 3,000 miles at her own expense to be in my wedding. Two years later when she was getting married, I couldn't attend because I was nearing the end my first pregnancy. Once Matthew was born, I was completely engulfed with his care and totally neglected the embroidery project I had planned to craft for Linda as a wedding present. Several months after her wedding, she called and balled me out about how insensitive I had been by not at least 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 didn't get permission because I changed the name in the story. Still, she recognized the incident and felt embarrassed, angry, and hurt. Worst of all, she believed others who knew bits and pieces would take my words as factual and never seek to know the real truth.
In both of my cases, there was nothing more I could do except say, "I'm sorry." I couldn't rewind the clock, make the pillow, and have it show up within a reasonable time after the wedding. I couldn't un-publish the piece. A retraction would make matters worse by revealing identifiable facts I had left out of the first story. I couldn't fix it. For my Type "A", quick-tempered personality, making a mistake is bad enough. But dealing with an unfixable one was simply unthinkable. There had to be a solution.
So, what can you do when you've really blown it royally?
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. I was devastated over having messed up so badly and having been the source of pain for friends I truly cared about. All I could say to both was, "I'm so sorry."
Matthew 5:23-24 says, "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." The ball is in your court to apologize.
Second, take your friend's hurt seriously. Even if you don't understand how she came to the conclusion she reached, validate the reality of her pain. Immediately put yourself in her shoes. See the situation through her eyes and feel what she feels. You will have to be very vulnerable here. If you're talking on the phone, allow her to hear the sorrow in your voice. If you're face-to-face, let her see your tears. Now is not the time to try to vindicate yourself.
As Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." My friends told me the truth about myself. They were right to be angry with me, so I humbly took to heart what they had to say. The "spankings" hurt but were well-deserved.
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. Do not pursue this step in the first conversation. Let one day pass, then call. Admit your mistake again, this time adding how it was not intentional. If she will listen, now is the time to tell her your side, to explain what was going on with you, or what you were thinking.
We learn in Proverbs 15:1 that, "A gentle answer turns away wrath." It was during the follow-up call that I tried to explain to Linda how my reaction to the enormous responsibility of being somebody's mother had taken me totally by surprise. Embroidering her pillow, although a wonderful idea, had admittedly taken a distant second place. I agreed with her that I was thoughtless and that I understood how much I had hurt her feelings. I had hoped she would accept my explanation. She didn't.
In the second situation, I tried calling back that very same day. My friend refused to answer my calls. (Thanks a lot, call waiting.) So, I e-mailed my groveling to her. Thankfully, she 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.
God intends for us to straighten things out between ourselves and our friends, and it is our responsibility to make the move. I should have sent the pillow to Linda anyway, but I just gave up. Thankfully I learned my lesson. With my second friend, I immediately bought her a gift I knew she'd like and delivered it to her home personally with a sincere, written apology. She forgave me, but I'm not finished fixing it. If that last piece is ever re-published, I have promised to change it to make it even more unrecognizable. And, I even asked her to read and okay this article before it went to press.
Even when you are doing your best, you will make mistakes in a relationship with your friend. A close friend will usually forgive even very hurtful comments or actions as long as you remain upfront and honest. 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.