Ten years ago, I witnessed my friend "Lila" go through the painful ordeal of ending her twelve-year friendship with "Karen." One afternoon, Karen erupted into a fit of irrational anger without warning and callously used Lila as a verbal punching-bag. Karen showed no restraint in unleashing all her unrelated frustrations upon Lila, and even went as far as to call her a "fat pig". Lila was an innocent bystander in the situation, and was very sensitive about her weight. Needless to say, she was crushed.
Lila tried her best to resolve the situation with Karen. The first thing she did was ask my opinion as to whether or not she had done anything that would render her responsible for what happened. (I assured her she had not.) She then poured her heart out to Karen in a letter, which she gave to me to proofread before sending. It was perhaps the most beautiful, loving, grace-filled letter I had ever read. I suddenly began to weep as I realized what a wonderful friend I had in Lila, knowing if I ever found myself in Karen's shoes, this was the kind of undeserved grace I could expect from her. Lila emailed the letter to Karen and we eagerly awaited a response.
To our chagrin, Karen did not show any remorse for her hurful behavior, nor did she seem touched at all by the grace and forgiveness being offered her. Instead, she justified her anger and placed blame for her actions upon Lila. Again, Lila pleaded with Karen to look inside her heart and consider how hurtful she was being, but Karen would not. Over the next six months, Karen sent Lila a series of cutesy little email "forwards" and internet jokes. But there was no apology. Then one day, Lila received the following email: "Dear Lila. Now that time has passed I truly hope we can move beyond this and be friends again."
As difficult as it was for her to do, Lila ended the friendship.
DOES TIME HEAL ALL WOUNDS?
Most people are familiar with the old adage, "Time heals all wounds." It's a nice thought, but quite untrue, and quite unbiblical as well. Yet it is interesting how much we will buy into the passage of time as the magic ingredient for making the impossible a reality. Consider how the passage of time is used in the theory of evolution: without it, most would agree that the claims of evolution are laughable. Think about it. The thought of an amoeba becoming a human being in ten seconds is ludicrous. But add millions and millions of years, and suddenly people are embracing the very same ridiculous scenario. What is it about the passage of time that leads us to believe that real changes will occur if we only wait long enough?
What is it about the passage of time that leads us to believe that real changes will occur if we only wait long enough?In the case of interpersonal relationships, time is no more effective at changing a heart than it is turning an amoeba into a human being. Only faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin is an effective means of real and lasting change. Once we understand this, we will be able to make tough, but biblical decisions to break fellowship with unrepentant individuals. This is difficult for all Christians, but I believe it is especially hard for women. Our emotional ties to certain people can cause us to blur the line between forgiveness and reconciliation. We are required to forgive, and forgiveness takes just one individual. But reconciliation requires the efforts of both parties. Forgiveness is required on behalf of the offended, and repentance is required on behalf of the offender. If the offender is not willing to repent, reconciliation cannot take place. The Bible commands us to separate from those who are unwilling to repent, and we are not to embrace these relationships again unless the offender repents -- regardless of how much time has passed. In the case of Lila and Karen, it has been ten years, and the only reason these two have not reconciled is because Karen has been unwilling to humble herself and admit that she sinned against Lila.
BUT AREN'T YOU MAKING A BIG DEAL OUT OF NOTHING?
The case of Lila and Karen certainly seems like a petty issue, doesn't it? If Lila was unwilling to forgive Karen, then yes, I would say she was being petty. But there was a lot more at stake. What Lila was actually up against was a weak character on Karen's behalf. Trust me -- I was there, and I watched as Lila wept and grieved over the loss of this friendship. But what were her choices? If Lila had agreed to reconcile without Karen's repentance, she would have re-entered a friendship that was not built on trust or mutual respect. She would have reinforced Karen's false idea that she did not have to take responsibility for her sin. And for the remainder of that friendship, Lila would have been forced to peacefully co-exist with Karen on a superficial level, never seeing the friendship progress beyond the occasional polite exchange between two acquaintances. Should we be satisfied to simply settle for this type of relationship? Is this the type of relationship that Christ died for us to have with one another?
THE GOSPEL IS FOR EVERYONE!
If you've ever been street witnessing, surely you are familiar with the excuses people give to justify their sin. A common justification is, "Yes, I've lied, I've stolen, I've done bad things, but God will forgive me because that was a long time ago." Popular street-witnessing methods such as Way of the Master will illustrate to the unbeliever that time is irrelevant. God is holy and just, and will bring all our deeds into the light - no matter how long ago these acts were committed. Friends, if the gospel is true for unbelievers, then the gospel is true for us too. How is it that we can tell an unbeliever they will be judged by God for every sin no matter how long ago it was committed, but when we are confronted on our own sin, we become irritated? Why is it that when a brother or sister in Christ is able to approach us in love after fully forgiving us our debts, we get cranky and accuse them of "holding a grudge" because what happened was so long ago?
Friends, this should not be. The gospel is for everyone -- saved and unsaved alike. If we are in a relationship with someone who perpetually sins against us, the Bible calls us to confront that person on her sin. If she repents, praise God! But if she doesn't, you have a responsibility to break fellowship with that person until she does. Likewise, if a brother or sister in Christ approaches us with a concern, it is inappropriate and completely irrelevant to argue how long ago the incident took place. Humility dictates that we receive correction without complaining or trying to defend our position. The only way that we can heal from past hurts, whether we were the cause of the pain or the recipient of it, is to exercise true forgiveness and repentance.
Anything else is a waste of time.