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They Won't Forgive Me


Q:

Dear Pastor,

I made a terrible mistake with someone; I’ve repented and asked them to forgive me. They refuse. What do I do now?

A:

Your question’s scenario is exactly what happened to me recently. I still wrestle with it so often that God must say, “Stop thinking about it. You’ve done all you can do.” It’s a sad truth that not everyone chooses to forgive. They can’t or won’t see our white flag flying, lower their rifle, acknowledge the battle is over and stand down. Sometimes wounded people are seeking an outlet for their churning anger, someone to blame or a vulnerable target to shoot at—so they keep firing even when we’ve surrendered. Trust me, my national exposure holds up an unforgiving mirror of who I am, what I say and what I do at all times. I must forgive others because I desperately need it as well.


None of us is perfect. I don’t say that to excuse awful behavior or justify reasons for sin. I say it because it’s a fact. Saints of old mourned their shortcomings no less than we do...and they were nearer to Christ’s likeness than most of us will ever achieve. The Apostle Paul, for example, famously said this: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Romans 7:19, NASB.) Even King David, who loved God so much the Lord titled him “the man after my heart” had grave misdeeds on his report card. He cried out, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:2, 3.) We’re all terribly flawed. Yet in Christ’s mercy we’re forgiven as we acknowledge, confess and turn away from sin with a clean slate. But what do we do when someone refuses our apology? We pray for them, that’s what. We pray our victims are released from our errors; that they receive the peace of Christ so fully, they forget all about us and heal.


The phone rang at 8:30 A.M., the day after my preparations for a women’s retreat had gone way beyond three o’clock that morning. Cranky, groggy, and awakened out of what little sleep I had, I was sure I was being summoned to pastoral duties from one of my beloved flock. The call went to voicemail, so I quickly returned the message from “Lisa” at an Indianapolis number. Her opening line had something to do with Disabled Veterans. Now—I support absolutely everything regarding our Veterans since I’ve got a decorated military family on both sides and know full well that freedom ain’t free. But I am, like many people, mercilessly harassed by sales and robo-calls from any number of Veterans groups, namely that one. So I didn’t listen to the gal’s spiel, I cut her off; harshly explaining how unkind it was to call me at 8:30 in the morning and hung up, shuffling back to bed with a few choice words under my breath.


The Lord smacked me awake instantly, admonished my prideful nastiness and instructed me to call her back to apologize, which I immediately did. The woman answered. “Lisa” I said (she was crying), “I need to apologize to you...” She didn’t let me finish, but screamed a long, horrible description of what she thought of me. I agreed with every one of her insults and kept saying I was sorry, but she wouldn’t let me speak and wouldn’t hear me. She hung up and left me weeping. She then Googled me, called my superior and let my boss know that I was a hideous example of a human being and pastor.


Apparently the woman had called to ask me to conduct a military funeral. I blew it, wretch that I am. I rejected, condescended and disrespected her on the assumption that she was a nervy salesperson. My mistake ruined an important opportunity to serve a family I would have wanted to help. It hurt someone, tarnished my Christian witness and caused great pain. That’s the kind of mess I make, if left unchecked and off my leash.


By his grace, I hobble along that dusty, dirt road on foot toward my Jesus who still loves me somehow. He calls me on, in spite of me. All I can do is keep walking and hoping for better choices and a second chance.

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