Should I Forgive Someone Who Has Not Asked for Forgiveness?
DEAR DANNI: I have a friend who used to say all kinds of mean things to me and about me. She never apologized for any of it. But recently she seems to have changed and I want her to know that I notice the changes. Should I forgive someone who has not asked for forgiveness but who has at least demonstrated that she is sorry by her actions?
-To Forgive or Not to Forgive in Mississippi
DEAR TO FORGIVE OR NOT TO FORGIVE IN MISSISSIPPI: Forgiving someone who has offended or hurt you, whether that person has asked for forgiveness or not, is more about you being at peace with yourself than about them. Forgiveness is more about our attitude toward the situation, not necessarily about the person’s action.
So, there are two questions:
- Should you forgive your friend even if she does not ask for it?
- If you choose to forgive her, should you remain friends?
In the Bible when Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone, Jesus replied “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). This means, we should forgive as many times as is necessary. As many times as you are offended is the number of times you should forgive. There are no strings attached to “not seven times, but seventy-seven times”. Jesus does not say, ‘if the person asks for it, then forgive’ or ‘if you feel they deserve it, then forgive.’ As many times as you are offended is as many times you should forgive.
Oftentimes, people withhold forgiveness because of a false sense of power. They feel powerful and in control when the person needing forgiveness can only get that forgiveness from them. Really, this is frustration, resentment, anger, and bitterness boiling over. A heart that is controlled by frustration, resentment, anger, and bitterness cannot truly forgive. It is not even open to the possibility. However, when you refuse to hold a grudge towards the one who has hurt you, you open your mind to the freedom that comes from forgiveness.
In short, the answer is, YES. You should forgive your friend even if she does not ask for it. Here are three steps to do that:
1. Have the desire to forgive. We understand that words hurt and what your friend said about you and to you can be very painful. But at this point, it does not matter how you feel toward her. This is about you, your heart, and your wholeness.
2. Make the decision to forgive. Forgiveness is not a feeling or an emotion. It is a decision that we all have to choose to make. It is not easy and it will take time to get through the process, but ultimately the decision is worth it. When you make a decision, a firm quality decision, it will not change no matter how your feelings change toward your friend.
3. Choose to depend on God. After you have the desire and make the decision to forgive, you must depend on God to help you carry through. God is the ultimate vindicator and forgiver. Depending on yourself alone will not work. Ask God for His help and strength to stick to your decision, to pray for your friend, and to overcome the hurt and pain you have experienced.
Now, for the second question: If you choose to forgive her, should you remain friends?
Forgiveness does not always equal reconciliation. In fact, the two things are not the same. It is a false notion to think that if you forgive someone, you are obligated to stay in relationship or communication with them.
You should forgive your friend, but you are not obligated to remain in friendship with her. Again, this is a decision you have to make. Depending on the severity of the offense, and if you know she is likely to hurt you with her words again, then ending the friendship might be best for her own good and for your own peace of mind.
The power of forgiveness is in the fact that you can release your friend from your life and at the same time pray for her and love her. Some friendships are not made to last forever. Ending unhealthy, unhelpful relationships is important for your growth and for your future relationships. When you leave toxic relationships behind, you show consideration for your own value as a person and concern for what the other person is doing to themselves. Often, closing the door on one thing allows another door to open that leads to something better.