When They Won’t Say Sorry

When we wait for someone to apologize, it puts both of our lives on hold. It’s not worth it. Chances are that the person who did the most harm is probably the least likely to say “I’m sorry” because they are either too ashamed or didn’t mind what they did in the first place.

There are some people who will never take responsibility for what they’ve done. It would be best for us to forgive them and move on with our lives. How can we forgive people who have stolen from us, lied about us or violated us in some way that seems unforgivable? Many people feel the only way they can forgive another is to watch their abuser suffer. Of course that’s not forgiveness, it’s revenge.

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Revenge might seem like a good idea at the time of our greatest pain, but in the long run it will only turn bitter. Imagine the worst crime that could be committed. Will revenge take away our pain or restore what we’ve lost? Revenge is simply the continuation of an abusive game called survival of the fittest. The way to heal our pain is to fix our own hearts. Because the wound was inflicted through unhealthy relationships, it can only be healed through healthy love.

Some people are afraid that loving our enemies will make us become door mats to our abusers. They question how love and grace could bring healing.  Because the offense happened in the realm of relationship, the solution to restore our hearts begins with other healthy relationships. Our abusers may never acknowledge what they have done, but Jesus can still give us our healing through other people and His love. We can start by learning the healthy patterns of relationship Jesus taught and demonstrated.

There are four specific things Jesus taught us about conflicting relationships:

1. We have the right to confront those who have harmed us.

If another believer sins against you, 
go privately and point out the offense.
If the other person listens and confesses it, 
you have won that person back.
-Matthew 18:15

2. We are to forgive them over and over and over.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive 
my brother or sister who sins against me? 
Up to seven times?”

  Jesus answered, 
“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
-Matthew 18:21-22 

3. Despite forgiveness, our family loyalty belongs to those who do God’s will.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, 
his mother and brothers stood outside, 
wanting to speak to him. 
Someone told him, 
“Your mother and brothers are standing outside, 
wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, 
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 
Pointing to his disciples, he said, 
“Here are my mother and my brothers. 
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven 
is my brother and sister and mother.”
-Matthew 12:46-50

4. We are to kick the dust off of our feet when others are not interested in what we have to say.

If anyone will not welcome you 
or listen to your words, 
shake the dust off your feet 
when you leave that home or town.
-Matthew 10:14 

This last act of shaking off our feet is never done with malice or contempt. It’s a humble acknowledgement we can’t force someone to change. By shaking off this dust, we are letting go of the burden of trying to set other people straight. Forgiving is like opening a window to bring fresh air into our soul. It empowers us to focus on new, more enjoyable projects. Jesus wants to go beyond being a victim, but He can only do this if we follow His advice and let go.

Jesus gave us healthy boundaries so we could confront with love and forgive each other. We shake off the dust when we are dealing with people who are not willing to reconcile. With the help of Jesus we can walk away from arguing and revenge. We can forgive whether others tell us they are sorry or not. We can build healthier relationships with people who choose to live with love and respect.

4 thoughts on “When They Won’t Say Sorry”

  1. What if I have forgiven someone without receiving an apology and notice there for notice the relationship failing that which they would like to succeed yet refuse to apologize. I have tried going to church with this person and it seems to have brought us closer, but then missing a day in church seems to allow him to act in this way again… I have already forgiven him yet act on fear of similar things happening and tend to use it as justification for other selfish acts. I believe that as I have already forgiven him in my own mind that I need not ask him for an apology and though I know the answer is simple here I am mostly wondering why you ask, since I do not seem to understand the point.

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  2. Perhaps the confusion is due to the different ways we can define the word apology. Most of us grew up thinking an apology means letting someone off the hook for bad behavior.

    Now when I think of an apology, I think of releasing any desire to punish them. Letting go of revenge and bitter feelings allows us to move on into new and healthy relationships.

    In the case where someone is still in a relationship with the person, we are talking about not only forgiveness, but reconciliation. In order to move forward the person who hurt the other will need to show remorse for what they have done. They will also need to establish new patterns of behavior so they can be trusted. This is not to punish them, but to enable them both to move forward in authentic relationship.

    Forgiveness takes one and possibly the loss of the relationship if the first party does not acknowledge what they have done. (other wise there will be an abuser and a martyr and that would not be a healthy relationship. Reconciliation takes two–both parties owning their junk, coming clean and living clean.

    Thanks for the question. I can tell you have a loving heart–you deserve someone who is equally as loving. I hope your relationship will be blessed.

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  3. Wanting an apology from the offending party is not the same as wanting revenge. I have finally moved on after years of wishing for apologies from multiple offending parties. It is about wanting that person to acknowledge what was wrong, as a form of assurance that the same behavior will not be repeated.

    My most recent sociopath aploogized often, but it would usually be just “I’m __sooorry__”, “I _said_ I was _sorry_” or some statement having nothing to do with the occurrence, such as “I wish I had made better connection to my father when he was alive.”

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  4. Hi Helen,

    True sociopathic people cannot empathize, so they see no need to say sorry–although they might if they think it will further their schemes. Others simply have pride that stands in their way–they would rather be right than say sorry. The sad thing about this latter group is they end up losing relationships with wonderful people like you and me because they are too proud to own their crap.

    Peace and freedom to you!

    Cherilyn

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