Some Practical Problems in Forgiveness - Part 4

Forgiveness & the Rejected Apology

by Amy Alexander

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
— Rhett Butler to Scarlet O'Hara for the last time

It happens all too often, at least for me.  I've done something my quick-tempered self now regrets.  I craft what I think is a sincere apology.  The person–ok, it's usually my husband–rejects said apology because he says I will do it again, and because he is still mad at me.  I sulk and feel hurt that I am not allowed to apologize until the wronged person feels ready to forgive.

If forgiveness is contingent upon the other person, how does it occur when the other party does not wish to participate?  I have been fortunate in my life that, for the most part, my errors have been forgiven.  However, what if an error is egregious and not forgiven?  The book A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World opens with the tragic story of a young man killed on a motorcycle because the driver at the intersection was blinded by the sun's glare and did not stop long enough to look for oncoming traffic.  While the young man's parents forgave the driver, many would say the parents would be justified in withholding forgiveness.

A quick online search gives the following reasons for refusing an apology: insincere or nonspecific apologies, apologies focused on the response and not the grievance, intentional pain, lack of readiness for forgiveness, having to explain the offense, repeat offenders or manipulators, apologies with no corrective action, and trauma.  Reddit even offers "classy ways" to reject apologies.  The apology critics claim that that these half-hearted statements only make the offender feel better, that apologizers in many cases cannot even articulate why they are apologizing, and that no one can tell if the bad behavior will happen again.

Do "severe" sins allow a refusal of apologies?  The book Forgiven and Forgiving emphasizes that as the party who has injured another, we can only do so much.  "First, we must accept the assurance of God's love.  Second, we must seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged.  And, then, if that forgiveness is withheld, we must forgive the withholding of it..."

A situation similar to a rejected apology occurs when a relationship cannot be mended in the ideal way, no matter how much we may want it to be.  I know friends going through a divorce process.  My own husband no longer attends church with our family or pretends to be a Christian.  My dad and his brother were raised by their grandparents and struggled for years about how to relate to their parents.  Perhaps we believe we have mended the relationship but later find we have not forgiven the other person at all.

This is a tough position to remain in, constantly hoping for reconciliation or wondering why it did not happen. What if the other person is ignoring us completely?We feel unforgiven, and that is an unsettling feeling.It does not make us feel any better, but forgiveness is ultimately not about feelings.It is a choice to take every step in our power towards mending a burned bridge, no matter which side of the bridge we are on