Forgiving the Wounds of a Friend

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I thought we were friends. The pain behind those words can overshadow years of life, love, and memories. All the good times fade to black when a friendship is betrayed. Investment, down the drain. Vulnerability, restrained. Trust shattered. Love questioned.

Friends hurt friends. It’s inevitable because every friend is a sinner, and sinners gon’ sin against one another and hurt one another — intentionally or unintentionally. Either way, it’s always harder to recover from the pain inflicted by a friend.

The pain of conviction that comes through the godly rebuke of a friend who speaks truth in love is a real gift (Proverbs 27:6). But what if you’re the one sinned against, and you’re hurt because of unkind words, betrayal, or manipulation by a person you consider a friend? How do you address it with your friend, and how do you move past the pain and toward reconciliation?

Overlook an Offense

In the midst of your hurt, trust that God is working in your relationship to grow you both in the grace and knowledge of Christ: “Trust in him at all times, O people” (Psalm 62:8).

It is one’s glory (or beauty) to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11). This requires prudence, patience, maturity, and wisdom. Overlooking an offense adorns the gospel and is a loving response that demonstrates we are indeed Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).

In the Disney film Frozen, Elsa abandoned caution and prudence, giving up her good-girl persona to unleash her cold fury on the town of Arendelle. Her actions negatively affected everyone and everything around her. In our flesh, we’re tempted to unleash our pent-up, frozen fury on our friend rather than trust our Lord. Wisdom does not “let it go” like an ice queen. Instead, it dies to self, showing constraint and turning the hurt over to Jesus, who most identifies with us in our pain and who meets us in our times of need.

One caveat: overlooking an offense is not a license to use silence as a weapon, or to harbor ill feelings that will come back to haunt the relationship later. Instead, it is having a clear conscience before God that this hurt is not at a level that it needs to be addressed (at least not right now), but a resolve to “forgive and forget.” It is much better to win your friend than to win an argument.

When Offense Can’t Be Overlooked

Sometimes you can’t just overlook an offense. If your first thought is “they need to be told,” this may be your self-righteousness talking and not the Spirit. Our goal must be reconciliation born from love.

However, we will find legitimate times and occasions when we need to address a hurt. We can attempt to right the wrong, but remember that vengeance is the Lord’s and he will repay (Romans 12:19). So this is not a call to lash out and fight back. This is a loving call to biblical rebuke.

In Jesus’s teaching on sin, he says to his disciples,

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3–4)

To rebuke is to reason frankly with your neighbor (Leviticus 19:17), to tell him his fault (Matthew 18:15), with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1) in hopes that your friend would repent.

But Jesus’s teaching goes much further by saying that we may be hurt again, and we must be ready to forgive every time. Forgiveness may seem almost impossible if we forget Christ. He has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us” (Colossians 2:13–14). When we were in open rebellion against him, he died for us (Romans 5:8). Even now, as ones whose sins have been nailed to the cross with Christ, and whose lives have been raised with Christ, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Five Ways to Pray

If you have been hurt by a friend, pour out your heart to him in prayer for wisdom, for forgiveness, for reconciliation (Psalm 62:8). Here are some prayer points that may help you deal with hurt with wisdom and grace:

  • Pray for God to search your wounded heart (Psalm 139:23). Were you hurt because your sin was exposed? Were you overly sensitive to something that was said? Were you tired? Is what you were hurt by a pattern from your friend or a first-time offense?

  • Pray for the grace to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy in yourself and in your friend (Philippians 4:8).

  • Pray for discernment: does God want you to overlook or address the offense?

  • If you must address the offense, pray that you would be honest and gracious with your friend about the way you were hurt, and that your friend would respond with humility.

  • Pray that you would love your friend at all times, even the difficult ones, and that you would be able to “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

God’s Grace Shines in Ours

It’s worth it to overlook an offense if you can, and to trust God is working in you and your friend’s heart, to pray for wisdom, love, and reconciliation, to rebuke gently, and to be ready to forgive. Christ teaches “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He then calls his disciples his friends (John 15:14–15), and shortly thereafter he literally died for his friends.

If Jesus could make such a radical, loving sacrifice for his friends — friends who would doubt and deny him — surely we can work to restore our broken friendships. Godly friendships are a witness to the world. In them, we put our love for Christ and for one another on display.

(@kanyabwile) is a mother of three, reader, baker, cook, discipler, speaker, writer, and wife of Thabiti. They live in Washington, D.C.