"Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness."
Asking for forgiveness is one of the most difficult and humbling things a person can do. It forces you to acknowledge that you have made a mistake, that you have caused pain to another, and that you are responsible for your own actions. As difficult as it can be, however, many encouraging quotes from well-known spiritual teachers tell us that forgiveness is the path to freedom. As Billy Graham once said, "Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness."
When seeking forgiveness, you are responsible to go directly to the person you have offended. As Jesus instructed, "...if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God" (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT). Jesus placed an undeniable priority on reconciling relationships.
Christianity, though it may be about personal salvation at its core, never divorces itself from the network of relationships that we are all a part of. Its key message of loving your neighbor as yourself necessitates that you try to find solutions when you have wronged someone. So what do you do when you mess up and cause damage to your relationship with someone else?
Ideally, you will take the initiative to seek forgiveness shortly after you have committed the wrong. The longer you put it off, the more difficult it will become. Plus, the deeper the pain and resentment may grow. Before long, resentment can turn to bitterness and destroy any chance at a reconciliation.
Even if some time has passed, however, it is still worth the effort to seek forgiveness. It may provide some closure for the person you have hurt, and it will certainly ease your own conscience.
When seeking reconciliation, do not rely on the telephone or email to say you are sorry. Unless distance is a restricting factor, visit the victim in person to admit you were wrong. As you do, ask for forgiveness without trying to rationalize or explain away your actions.
If restitution is possible, do whatever you can to atone for your wrongdoing. Remember, Zacchaeus repaid those he had cheated by returning the amount fourfold--much more than would have been required by law (see Luke 19). You may not be able to completely erase the hurt, but you can atone for it to the best of your ability.
So what do you do if forgiveness is not granted? While that would be unfortunate, remember that the decision the victim makes is out of your hands. As long as you have sincerely sought forgiveness and genuinely attempted to make amends, you can rest easy knowing that you have done everything you could to make up for your wrong.
Keep in mind, too, that forgiveness can be a process. Particularly if the pain is deep or has existed for a while, it can take time to work things out and truly experience reconciliation. In severe cases, it would be wise to seek the aid of a professional counselor, minister, or mediator.
Seeking forgiveness is not easy and it will cost you something. The resulting peace of mind, guilt-free conscience, and - hopefully - restored relationship, however, greatly outweigh the potential cost. The benefits for now and into eternity make any cost for seeking forgiveness well worth it.