Forgiveness and Broken Friendships

Forgiveness is straightforward, but the issues related to forgiveness certainly have layers. We are to forgive 70 x 7 times, but that does not mean the relationship will look the same at forgiveness #1 as it does at forgiveness # 499. Sin is the destroyer of relationships. And forgiveness can be extended, yes, but there will still be consequences. Sometimes the consequences include divorce, broken friendships, or just a distance where there was once closeness. The Bible says that we are to be at peace with all men, as far as is possible with us. Sometimes, no matter what we may try to do, or what we actually do in forgiveness, it is simply impossible.

For example, if you keep getting shellacked, then you should move out of range. This is just common sense. It is our God-given sense of self-preservation. If someone is repeatedly unkind and cruel, then you have to consider your options, and different relationships have different thresholds for moving on. If your roommate at college is a continual pain, then fulfill your obligations for the year and move on. If it’s a neighbor or a boss who is continually sinning against you, you can always move across town or look for another job. Why not?

But if it’s a family member, there is a different threshold for what is intolerable. Your family is your family. If  your parents are the offenders, and you are still living at home, you need to hunker down and pray for grace to make it to adulthood. Then you can move out and on. Meanwhile, you should do all you can to make it better. The same goes with a sibling. Extend forgiveness, do your best to improve the relationship, but if you continue to be persecuted or ignored, you can get out of range once you are grown. This is not being fatalistic, but simply acknowledging that relationships can get so tangled that the sometimes the only way out is to cut the rope.

If it is your husband who is perpetually sinning against you, then you need to get help. This can be the most difficult to endure and has the most severe consequences.  But the thing that I find (over and over) is that women with unkind husbands rarely have the courage to get help. They want sympathy, but not a real solution.

But back to friends. If a friend has betrayed you, Jesus knows how you feel. He fed Peter breakfast on the beach before Peter even asked for forgiveness. But He also addressed the sin; He didn’t ignore it. He gave Peter three opportunities to state his love, paralleling his three failures. Peter put it right. Judas also betrayed the Lord, but he did not put things right.

Sometimes your friends will wrong you (or your kids’ friends will wrong them), and this will result in a chilly distance. If you are the wronged party, you are obligated to extend forgiveness, but you are not obligated to continue to be best friends. If someone steals from you while fixing your sink, you may forgive him, but you may decide to call someone else next time the drain is plugged.

Forgiveness is one thing; friendship and trust are other things. If your friend has broken your trust, forgive him, and don’t entrust that friend in the future. This is wisdom. But beware of bitterness. Don’t mistake one for the other.

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20 thoughts on “Forgiveness and Broken Friendships

  1. that all sounds good in theory and I understand it. But what if the situation is more like you have to work together in ministry, live close by, be in each other’s lives because of our husbands jobs in ministry? There is definitely personality differences, and so we don’t “understand” each other and so keep hurting each other’s feelings and so the trust continues to not grow. And the desire to really work together is leaving. I understand my role to forgive, but how do you deal with not growing into bitterness?

  2. “But the thing that I find (over and over) is that women with unkind husbands rarely have the courage to get help. They want sympathy, but not a real solution.”

    That really interests me as a woman who desperately wants a real solution to abuse, through some action from the church, first, if possible.

    I find that the church wants to offer sympathy, but not a real solution.

    What is the ‘real solution’ that calls for courage? Quit bothering the church, and just call a lawyer?

  3. In this day and age of psycho babel and “put your self first” disease, How can I tell the difference between a root of bitterness and resentment and proper, common sense boundaries?

  4. Thank you. This resonated with me….and I have very much enjoyed your father-in-laws words on bitterness.

  5. This is the clearest, most helpful article on forgiveness I have EVER read. And it couldn’t be more timely. Thank you, Mrs. Wilson.

  6. This topic is complex and has many many layers. I have learned that the first step in these types of situations is always to search my own heart first. Take care of my heart issues first and foremost, and then take stock of the situation and look for all the ways that I can make things right in a relationship (whatever that relationship happens to be). I’ve also learned that you can’t force someone to see that they hurt you or wronged you somehow, especially a family member. Only God can do that. We can, however, be examples of godly humility and allow people to see us broken and asking for forgiveness ourselves. Sometimes the Lord uses that to help others see their part in the broken relationship, “a soft answer turns away wrath.”

    And you’re right about consequences. There will always be relationships that don’t go back to the same level of closeness. That’s not always because of previous hurt. Sometimes there is complete forgiveness and healing, but it’s God’s way of ending a closeness with someone for his own reasons.

  7. I was once part of a ladies’ bible study in which the topic of forgiveness turned, much to my amazement, into a very heated debate over whether a person could forgive anyone who had not asked for forgiveness. And, by extension, could we forgive a person who had not, in fact, sinned at all (such as the toddler who accidentally spills his milk) or who had not sinned directly against us but against others (a war criminal in Sudan, for instance)? Nuttmegger, under your “70×7” posted a link that summed up most of the points of contention.

    So although, as you say in your first sentence here, “forgiveness is straightforward,” there are clearly at least a couple of drastically different definitions of the word kicking around out there in Christendom. So for the sake of clarity, would you mind posting how you define the word “forgiveness”?

    In other words, is forgiveness the opposite of bearing a grudge (personal bitterness) regardless of the sinner’s repentance? Or is forgiveness the means of restoration of and reconciliation with the sinner, thus requiring repentance on his part?
    Thanks!

  8. Laura,
    In a bumpy relationship, I would focus on courtesy. We should treat one another lawfully and with courtesy. That does not mean we need to be best friends with everyone, or even good friends. But we can be friendly. We sometimes put too high of expectations of our friendships and assume it’s got to be all or nothing.
    Mrs. Mom,
    Not knowing what your circumstances are, I am limited in what I can suggest. The word “abuse” is a very loaded term, and it can mean many things. If you use it to mean the kind of stuff that you should call the cops over, then I would encourage to do so immediately. If it is less than that, and if your church won’t help, I would look for some biblical counsel from another church.

  9. “If your parents are the offenders, and you are still living at home, you need to hunker down and pray for grace to make it to adulthood. Then you can move out and on.”

    Thank you so very much for this post. That sentence described my high school/college years perfectly, but after spending so many years trying to be a good kid I still feel guilty sometimes for leaving. My parents have never asked forgiveness for anything (to my recollection) and have since that time mostly ignored my existence. After trying to be part of their lives (albeit from a distance) I’m about ready to just get out of firing range. I can forgive them all day, but until people realize they need forgiveness you’re still going to get shelled.

  10. Thank you for your post! I have a question about, “If you are the wronged party, you are obligated to extend forgiveness, but you are not obligated to continue to be best friends.”

    What if both parties in a friendship are wronged by each other? I had a rocky situation with one of my four roommates in uni. After we parted ways a few months later, I continued struggling with the situation. I heard a convicting sermon on forgiveness and wrote a letter telling her that I was sorry for hurting her, but also telling her that she hurt me (knowingly and unknowingly). It has been 1.5 years and all I received, via facebook, is an acknowledgement that the letter has been received and that this roommate is considering a response.

    I have continued to pray for strength to forgive and let this person “off the hook”. The problem is, with no repsonse from her, I know that seeing her again will be awkward, and not something I can avoid. I can’t pretend that things between us are worked out when I see her because it is one-sided. However, knowing her avoidance of conflict, she will most likely proceed as though there is no problem.

  11. I’m sure are plenty of women who merely want to complain about their husbands, but also there is the handful who are testing the waters to see if you really will stand with them against violence. It takes a ridiculous amount of courage to call the police. It feels like ruining any hope of a healthy marriage, decimating your children’s relationship with their father, and giving up groceries. It is, however, the right thing to do.

    I’m sure you don’t mean to minimize a difficult situation, and I certainly don’t know details, either. God blesses obedience. We are to forgive, even as we protect ourselves from violence.

  12. Amber,
    If you have done all you can on your end, then you can press on whether your ex-roommate does anything or not. You are only responsible for your side of the equation; you can’t do anything about hers. You may feel weird at first, but that’s okay. Just be courteous and friendly and ask God to bless it.
    Kristina,
    I think a good test to see if we’ve really forgiven someone is whether we still run over the offense in our mind. If we haven’t really forgiven them, we have a pretty meticulous memory, and we like to hit the replay button often. If forgiveness has really happened, it’s not as though we’ve lost our memory over the offense, but we have no need or desire to keep thinking about it.
    Elizabeth,
    Yes, I agree that it takes courage to call call the cops. It is a big deal. Abigail must have been trembling inside when she approached David and his men. That’s why it takes faith as well as courage. A woman has to be confident that she is doing the right thing, which means she may need to get some outside input from a pastor or friend.
    Hannah,
    A good book to plug on this topic is “From Forgiven to Forgiving” by Jay Adams.

  13. I heard an interview with a person who had just written a book about forgiveness–the psychological aspects of forgiveness. And the author had an insightful way of describing successful forgiveness: we forgive not necessarily an act (hurtful words, or a lie), we are forgiving, or acknowledging that person’s human-ness. We forgive that they are not perfect. We acknowledge that they could not have known the ramifications of their actions when they acted.
    And while she was saying that, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” echoed in my head.

  14. I really appreciate your latest post. One of the things I am struggling to understand is the friendly distance. I find that alot of people struggle with feeling forgiven unless things go back to just exactly the way they were before the offense. What are your thoughts?

  15. Yes! I second SsAnnabelle’s question! I have been accused (many times) of being “unforgiving” when I couldn’t snap things back into the way they were. What do you think?

  16. Mrs. Wilson,
    I love your recent article “Staunch Loyalty” in the hard copy of Credenda Agenda. Where, o where, can it be found online? My searches are in vain.

    Many thanks,
    Amy

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