Perhaps one of the hardest challenges we face is forgiving someone who has not apologized. What do you do when you have been hurt by another but they aren’t sorry and haven’t asked for your forgiveness?
I think the story of the prodigal son shows us how to respond. While the son left and squandered his father’s wealth, his father didn’t go out after him to tell him he was wrong. He didn’t seek out his son and expect his son to apologize. He didn’t angrily lash out and hold on to the bitterness he probably felt.
He stayed home.
He stayed home and prepared himself for the possibility that his son would return. During that time his son was away he must have been humbling himself, forgiving his son, and softening his heart so that when his son returned he could honestly hold out his arms, embrace his son, and rejoice in his return. He spent the time in between being wronged by his son and his son’s apology practicing forgiveness and getting his heart ready to be able to forgive his son if or when he returned home.
How often do we spend that time in between being wronged and receiving an apology allowing ourselves to soak in the bitter feelings, replaying the hurt we feel, and holding on to anger? How often do we refuse to forgive someone because they have not yet asked for our forgiveness? How often do we allow ourselves to be held prisoner by our feelings of hurt and anger instead of allowing our hearts to be softened by forgiving? How often do we seek out the person who has wronged us, tell them about how they wronged us, and want them to apologize? How often do we continually remind those who have wronged us of the things they have done to make them feel bad and remind them of their past mistakes?
How precious is it to spend time humbling yourself in forgiving another? What a greater gift can you give to another than being ready to honestly extend your forgiveness when they ask for it because you have already forgiven them in your heart? What spiritual effect might it have on a person to already be forgiven by you even if they don’t know it yet?
It is such a great act of humility to be wronged by someone and, before they have a chance to apologize to you, look at the cross and allow the reality of the cross to sink in. To look to the cross and realize that God knew all the times you would wrong him and yet he continually forgives you. It is in knowing that God forgives us that we can ask him to give us the grace to forgive, even to forgive those who are not sorry.
Our forgiveness changes lives. It changes our lives by making us humble and replacing hurt, anger, and bitterness with love and mercy. It changes others’ lives by extending grace and mercy.
You may never receive an apology, but in preparing yourself for the chance that it may come, you have freed both yourself and that person. Through your forgiveness you can then respond to them in the future out of love.
When that moment comes – when your forgiveness is asked for – will you have already forgiven them and will you be able to look them in the eye and say with all your heart “I forgive you”?