I once read a story about a man who in a drunken moment decided to drive his car at top speed on the highway. As you have already imagined, it didn’t go well. He crashed his car, and although he walked out unscathed, his best friend suffered a serious spinal cord injury and was permanently confined to a wheelchair.
After a year long stint in prison and a couple of months in rehab, he re entered society a changed man—sober and reformed but still haunted by his past and actions. He felt an immense guilt over his friend’s condition and was willing to do anything to express his heartfelt apologies. But his best friend wouldn’t talk to him; in fact, he was no longer welcomed into the house he had spent countless sleepovers since he was three years old.
He began to have sleepless nights the moment his guilt turned into depression.
He thought that the only way he could find any semblance of peace would be when he hears the words, “I forgive you.”
Soon the depression turned into a persistent desire to start drinking again. His sponsor, upon hearing his story gave him an advice which I believe is the reason this story has stuck with me all these years. He said, “It doesn’t matter if he forgives you or not. That’s his journey. Your job is to let him know how sorry you truly are.”
As human beings, it’s in our nature to expect forgiveness from the people we hurt because we think it’s the only way we’re allowed to move on with our lives and embrace our own forgiveness.
This is a false message. You’re allowed to learn from your mistakes and grow as a person. The past is gone and the only thing that truly matters are your actions moving forward.
When you’re able to accept this, you’ll realise three things:
- You can’t force someone to forgive you.
- You can’t make someone get over the past.
- You can’t tell someone when to heal.
I know this is a hard thing to read because that feeling of helplessness gets bigger by the second but these are facts you have to accept. So the real question is, what should you do when someone won’t forgive you? The answer is quite simple: let them know how sorry you are anyway, and let the sincerity in your apologies be visible in your actions. Learn from your past mistakes, let it shape your future but don’t let it define you.
Everyone deals with pain and hurt in their own way. For some forgiveness takes longer, and for others, it comes never. How someone responds to your apologies doesn’t make them terrible—it makes them human—a very hurt human. Your job is not to demand their forgiveness but to let them know that no matter what their decision may be, you are still truly sorry about everything that happened.