By Beth Maddrey
I have a super power.
Now, before you get excited, you need to understand that in the overall superhero lexicon of powers, mine ranks pretty much dead last. See, my super power is angering people I thought were my friends. The worst part of my super power? I generally have no idea I’ve used it.
Matthew 5:23 tells us how to deal with offense between believers. Step one? Go to the person who has offended you and tell them about it. This seems easy, straightforward even, but in my life the practice has been sadly absent. Instead of having my friend (My friend, mind you, not a random person on the street. This is someone with whom I thought I had a relationship.) come to me and say, “Hey, when you said such and such the other day, it really bothered me,” what ends up happening more often is that several weeks later, a friend of that friend will casually remark, “Oh, yeah, she hates you because of such and such.”
What? Really? Why would you decide to hate someone (or even just decide not to be their friend any longer) without giving the other person a chance to make things right? If you ever find yourself the recipient of a diatribe by one friend about another, I encourage you to ask your friend why she isn’t talking to the person who hurt her. That’s what she should be doing.
Okay, so let’s say someone comes to me and tells me I hurt her. After I take a deep breath (because usually I’m blindsided and hurt, because it’s likely there is some deeper misunderstanding at play here), I apologize.
Last year, in my ongoing effort to be the kind of friend I want to have, I read a book about friendships between women. It was a book I saw a number of people on social media talking about with great joy and acclaim, so I thought it would be insightful. It gave what I consider the worst advice ever. This author advised that in a conflict, instead of apologizing, you should say, “I’m sorry you were hurt.” This is not an apology. It’s a cop-out.
If you unintentionally back into a car in the parking garage, you don’t leave a note saying, “I’m sorry your car got hit.” You own your mistake, and you provide the means to make it right. Why would we do less with people we call friends? Even if I didn’t mean to hurt my friend, I did, and I owe her the courtesy of a real apology. I need to say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” Notice that nowhere in there is a justification. That has no place here. My friend was hurt, and I need to apologize. Period.
After that, my friend should have the courtesy to say, “Thank you, I forgive you.”
Sadly, this is about as rare as the person coming to me in the first place. I will occasionally get a “Thank you,” but as a culture, we seem to have lost our willingness to offer words of forgiveness. You may think to yourself, “Well, I forgave her; I don’t need to say it.” But you do. I guarantee that if a friend asks you to forgive her, she needs to hear it, and she needs to hear it immediately. Even if it’s going to take you a while to truly get over the hurt, speak words of forgiveness right away. It will help you every bit as much as it helps your friend.
After all that, if there’s more discussion to be had, then by all means discuss. Maybe my friend wants to understand why I said what I did the way I did. Maybe she wants to talk about why it hurt her in more detail. That’s fine. Provided you both understand that the issue in question has been forgiven and you’re not looking to drag it back up. (I do recommend, though, if you were the one who did the hurting, you let your friend lead the conversation. Otherwise you risk making your apology sound insincere as you try to justify yourself.)
Unfortunately, what I described above is, at least in my own life, a very rare best case scenario. I can’t tell you how many sincere apologies I’ve given only to receive silence in return. Nor can I count the times when I’ve been the recipient of a prolonged explanation why my apology doesn’t matter because I didn’t say I was completely wrong and the other person was completely right. Then there are the numerous occasions when my friend doesn’t tell me in person that she’s hurt, and I have only thirdhand information, which leaves me questioning if we were ever truly friends at all.
If you’ve been hurt and behaved the way I described, I urge you to reconsider and show your friend grace.
If you’ve been treated the way I have, here is my best advice: apologize (if you haven’t already), forgive your friend, and pray for her.
Do it as often as you need to in order for your heart to be right with God.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24 NIV)
Elizabeth Maddrey is an author of several contemporary Christian romance novels. She is also a wife, mother of two amazing boys, Awana Commander, and beloved daughter of the King. Though her PhD in Computer Science does little to help her succeed in any of those tasks, she owns her nerddom just the same. She blogs at elizabethmaddrey.com.