A dear friend—let’s call her Penelope--reminded me of this situation recently. She was in the midst of a protracted cold war with her lifelong best friend, whom we’ll call Iris. The war had begun with a minor disagreement and a few unkind words on both sides, and had degenerated into months of near-silence, punctuated by a few icy e-versations that only served to renew the hostilities.
Penelope is a solid believer in Christ Jesus, and generally tries hard to follow His commands as detailed in the Bible. Iris is not, which is allegedly a big part of the problem.
“She doesn’t know anything about forgiveness,” Penelope told me. “I’ve forgiven her, of course. But you wouldn’t believe what she said to me the other day!” Whereupon she proceeded to describe Iris’s latest insults.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Penelope was livid.
Been there, done that, more times than I care to admit. Like Penelope, I've spent my share of sleepless nights revisiting such conversations, thinking of things that I should have said, wondering how I might best get this or that point across now, without sounding too petty.
But some years ago, I stumbled upon the solution while studying the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18—the parable that Jesus concluded with these words: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
This study underscored for me how critically important forgiveness is for the Christian. And it also made me realize, no doubt with the Holy Spirit’s help, that my episodes of righteous indignation had too often been fueled by some mighty nasty words on my part, a lack of repentance over my role and my response, and a refusal to genuinely forgive. And in every case I could recall, the heart of the problem was my stubborn pride.
I began praying earnestly for the Lord to change me.
It wasn’t long before someone important to me put me to the test with a few snarky words. Wish I could say I instantly turned the other cheek. But I did not; I snapped back at her. But here’s the thing: Instead of retreating in a huff to nurse my hurt, I quickly returned to this person and apologized for being so sensitive and for snapping at her.
Bingo! That was the end of it. I’d completely disarmed her by taking responsibility for my role in this skirmish. Peace was restored, at the cost of a simple apology.
Amazingly, I was also able to leave her unkind words behind. Never mind that she didn’t apologize for what she’d said. That wasn’t my problem; that was between her and her Creator.
I’ve had occasion to test this technique several times since then. The result has always been the same: Averted hostilities. A clear conscience. And no more injured pride.
Imagine that: obeying God actually works.
I told Penelope about this, figuring she’d immediately apologize to Iris for her part in their squabble. So far, she has not done so. But maybe she’ll give it some thought, humble herself, and extend a heartfelt and thorough apology. As long as she expects nothing in return from Iris, she'll be set free from her unhappiness over the situation.
And maybe, just maybe, Iris will ultimately be inspired to find out why Penelope has turned into such a humble and forgiving friend. And maybe as a result, Iris will one day become a believer herself. What a happy ending that would be!