What attitude can sabotage an effort to forgive? How can your lack of knowledge actually make a situation worse?
Recently a friend and I went to lunch together. On the drive there, I shared with Linda* about my blog to support people in resolving conflict and especially to help people to forgive.
Linda said “That’s good except I think you have to be careful though how you go about expressing that you forgive someone. One time after our pastor preached a message on forgiveness, he encouraged us to go and talk to a person we may need to forgive.
Carol,* a woman I had worked with years before approached me and said, ‘I just want you to know I forgive you.’
Her statement startled me because I couldn’t think of anything I had done to her. I asked her, ‘What did I do?’
Carol said, ‘You know what you did.’
Linda said, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t remember. Tell me so I will know not to do it again.’
‘You know,” Carol insisted.
‘No, I don’t know what I did that upset you. Please tell me what it is.’
Carol repeated, ‘Yes you do’ and with that she stalked off.
Linda said, ‘After that things felt very unsettled. I could not recall anything I had done that would offend her. When I worked with her, I liked her and thought she was a good worker so I didn’t have anything against her.
Every time I saw her after that, I felt uneasy. It bothered me for a because I knew she carried this burden of offense toward me but since I didn’t know what it was, I couldn’t correct it. The situation troubled me for a couple of months. Finally my husband encouraged me to let it go because there was not anything further I could do.”
This approach is an ineffective way to resolve an issue with someone. To give Carol the benefit of the doubt, we will assume that Carol simply did not know how or have the courage to share what bothered her. Maybe this was a first step for her and it is all she had the courage to do. Hopefully she was able to let of the offense eventually after this. However, Carol’s approach put more distance between them. It did not resolve the issue.
When you approach someone to tell them you forgive them or to clear up an offense, you and the other person can resolve things better if you are clear about what it is that offended you. Review these previous posts, 10 tips on sharing thoughts and feelings and how to get over being offended for tips on to effectively deal with offenses.
Also, if you are in Linda’s position, you could possibly say something like, “You know I am so sorry I offended you and to make it worse, I don’t remember it. I am truly sorry and please know that I have high regard for you. I hope that even though I offended you, you can find it in your heart to forgive me and to let it go because it was not my intent or desire to hurt you.”
Perhaps if Linda wanted to continue the relationship, she could even go out of her way to do something kind to Carol to let her know that she really did respect and value her.
However, the responsibility lies with Carol to either make clear what offended her or to let it go.
How can the other person grow if you don’t tell them what they did that offended you? Also, you don’t give the other person the opportunity to clarify things from their standpoint. You could be offended at something that you took wrong or that was a misunderstanding.
Carol’s approach did not resolve anything and there was no opportunity for reconciliation. When you tell someone, “I forgive you but I’m not going to tell you what,” you leave the person in a bad emotional state. You may feel better but the other person is left puzzled and confused and racking their brain to try to remember what they may have done.
Even though they may not show it, this will more than likely result in them feeling more alienated from you than before as it did in Linda’s case. The whole purpose of talking to someone is to clear the air and to be reconciled with each other.
If you’re offended at someone and you want to tell them you forgive them , muster up the courage to tell them what bothered you and talk it through with them. Either that or work it through the offense in your own heart; let it go and don’t mention it.
“He who covers over an offense promotes love.” Proverbs 17:9 (NIV 1984)
How about you? Has this ever happened to you? How did handle it? Or have you ever done this to someone? If so, what can you do now to make it right?
*names have been changed to protect the parties involved
What was helpful for you in this post? Do you have further questions? What has been your experience? Let me know how I can support you in resolving your relationship challenges.