So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. (Luke 17:3)
Put yourself back in time to when you were in grade school.... One of your best friends is about to have a birthday party. Her mom tells her she can invite one person to spend the night. You're so excited! You're going to stay up all night watching movies and eating junk food. And then you find out...
You aren't the one who's going to have that fun. Your "friend" invited someone else instead. She invited the girl she'd been friends with since she was 2... the girl who was her best friend. Not you.
Your feelings are hurt. You'd really thought she'd invite you instead. Of course, it makes sense why she didn't... but it still hurt. She never apologizes. Of course, she didn't really do anything wrong to apologize for. And yet, her lack of acknowledgment that she hurt your feelings starts to gnaw on you more and more with each passing day. Your hurt feelings turn to feelings of anger. You want to forgive her... but she hasn't repented. You want to forgive her... but she didn't do anything wrong.... at least, in her mind.
Soon, those feelings of anger turn to feelings of hatred and resentment. The mere mention of her name makes that hurt come rushing back. There is a part of you that wants to continue being friends with her, but your heart is so tarnished with hate because of this one incident that you find yourself unable to be a true friend. You find yourself wanting to hurt her back. You find yourself unable to forgive.
Jesus says we are to forgive those who repent to us. He goes on in Luke 17 to say that if that same brother or sister sins against you seven times in one day... and seven times comes back to you and repents... forgive him every time. There is no question about this. Forgive!
But what about those times when your brother or sister does not repent, simply because he or she didn't truly do anything wrong. Yes, your feelings were hurt by their actions, but their actions were not wrong, and were not against you. There truly is no reason for them to repent - there is nothing to repent for. What then?
I think, for the most part, most of us as Christians are capable of forgiving. If I talk about you behind your back, then come and apologize, you forgive me. If you start a fight with me, then apologize, I forgive you. It's all quite easy. Now of course, this isn't to say forgiveness is always easy...there are some actions much more difficult to forgive... but the simple things, we can usually let go of.
But, what about that friend who moves to another state, abandoning you? He didn't honestly abandon you. He had to follow his own path. And yet, like the child who didn't invite you to the sleep over, this person's actions hurt your feelings. There was nothing truly for him to apologize for, and yet his lack of apology makes it difficult for you to forgive. And because you have not forgiven, those hurt feelings escalate, slowly eating away at you and at your ability to love this friend.
This is a type of situation which I have a difficult time with. If I were to say "I forgive you", I'm telling you that you did something wrong. But you didn't. Yet, if I don't forgive you, my feelings of betrayal and abandonment grow into anger, resentment, and eventually hate. But if I do tell you I forgive you - thus saying you committed some evil act against me - you may get angry with me for thinking this way of you. But, honestly, how can I forgive you for something you are not sorry for doing? And so the entire situation remains unresolved.
But, setting aside the chasing of my own tail... forgiveness should not be conditional. It should not be dependent upon someone saying "I'm sorry." It's something each of us must make the conscious decision to do whenever someone does something wrong against us - whether this wrong is intentional or not; whether it's real or perceived. Forgiveness should come from the heart, and will help save the heart.
Don't wait for that friend to apologize for not inviting you to the sleepover... don't wait for her to apologize for something she did that hurt your feelings but in itself was not a wrong action.
When you don't forgive, hurt can quickly turn to hate. And hate can quickly destroy any potential beauty and love a friendship can produce. So, forgive. No matter what, no matter how often, forgive. And, while you're at it - forgive yourself for allowing that hurt to turn to hate...
"Hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it." (unknown)