Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
I have been blessed with many great friends across this earthly journey. I consider them a huge part of the reason I am where I am on Life’s road. Even though our respective paths in life led us to different places, there are a number of friends that I can call at any moment and we can pick up right where we left off as if no time had passed and there was no distance between us. As I look back, however, I can also recount friendships that were important and special during a particular stretch of the journey, and then they ended.
In most of these cases, not all, there were things that I said, things I did, or things that I didn’t say or do, which offended or hurt my friend. In at least one instance, my friend repeatedly declined to tell me what it was that I had done to cause such pain. In every instance, my attempts at reconciliation in these friendships were rebuffed. Even ten, twenty, thirty years later, I still feel sad when I think about each one.
Jesus was adamant that His followers practice forgiveness. It was non-negotiable. When asked by Peter if forgiving a person who wronged you seven times was a righteous thing to do, Jesus doubled down and instructed Pete to forgive seventy-times-seven. The hyperbole was the point. Forgiveness is to be on-going and never-ending. Jesus then provided the example as He hung on a cross and said of His executioners: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
In today’s chapter, one proverb states that love “covers over” an offense. I couldn’t help but think of an old piece of furniture that is dinged and scratched up with constant use over time. A little sandpaper and a fresh coat of paint make it new again. The scratches and dings are covered over and forgotten.
The proverb goes on to state that “repeating a matter” separates friends. In this contrasting situation, there is no sanding over the scratches and no fresh coat of paint. One friend wants the other friend to view every scratch and see every ding, every time, and be continually reminded that they are there and not going away. There is no forgiveness, just power and leverage, and shame, and the continuation of relational pain.
I’ve come to realize that a relationship can not long survive in such circumstances, at least not with any degree of health. It is not a reciprocal, life-giving relationship.
In the quiet this morning, I begin my week thankful for friends both past and present. I’m thankful even for those who were friends for a season. The end of those relationships, with all their sadness, don’t take away the tremendous, positive impact those friends made in my life during that season. And, who knows? Perhaps reconciliation will yet occur down the road. I hope so.
Have a good week, my friend.