At a really rough time in my life, a man, the pastor of a nearby church, hurt me deeply. He stood up in front of an entire group of people and told lies about me, my husband and a ministry I had undertaken. I was so hurt and so completely disillusioned about this that I honestly didn't know what to do. I left that particular ministry as it had fallen into apostasy, but my relationship with that pastor, a colleague, remained strained.
Life went on. People went back to their lives and this was put on the back burner. There were times I would see the man who hurt me and I never really knew what to do or say to him, so I tended to avoid him altogether. One day, at a conference we'd both attended, I accidentally said hello to him. I was leaving a building as he was coming in and neither of us saw each other until we were face to face. I am friendly and say hello even to strangers, so I automatically said, "Hello!" in a cheerful voice, only to realize who he was. I was very frustrated with myself because I thought he would take my greeting to mean that all was well between us. All was not well between us, and couldn't be until the situation was at least talked out. But, I could not demand an apology, nor could I really approach him at that point; he had closed that door. I prayed. That is all I ever did about this. I simply prayed.
Several years later, my husband was at a meeting which this man also attended. He approached my husband and apologized for his part in the hurt that took place. He said he was under so much pressure from others involved that he really had no concept or comprehension of how his actions would affect me. He said those others literally hounded him until he didn't know which way to think and he'd given in to their demands to try to discredit me. He told my husband he felt very bad about how things ended, that he never believed the lies he, himself told and he said he was very sorry. They shook hands and the relationship was restored. Even though I was not there to hear and receive his apology myself, I accepted it and have felt at peace with him since.
No hard feelings remain. This man was wrong, no doubt, but there was clearly more going on behind the scenes than I realized. I had no idea he was being bullied like he was. I had no idea that he really did not agree with his bullies, but felt he had no choice but to stand with them or face their anger. He was fearful of the consequences of not standing with them. He was fearful of standing for what he told us later was right. When the cloud of bullying had lifted, this man saw clearly where he had weakened under their pressure. I honestly felt bad for him and ended up with compassion in my heart toward him instead of the hurt I originally had.
He was bullied into bullying. He saw no way out of being bullied but to go along with the demands of his bullies and turn on me. Later, when he told my husband how sorry he was, I realized that the cloud of bullying was very thick around him. He had never learned the language of bullies. He had never been taught about their tactics and how they work. So, he had no idea he was bullied into bullying. It wasn't until much later that he saw what he had done, and then he was appalled and ashamed.
His intention was never to hurt or bully me as he did. His entire intent was to get relief from those who were bullying and pressuring him. It had nothing whatsoever to do with me, yet it affected me deeply. He did not lean on this as a way to justify or excuse his behavior.
So, this man has my forgiveness. Although I now live across the country and will likely never see him again, I do understand what he went through and I have compassion. Had he not come forward about his situation, however, I would not have had the opportunity to see what he'd been through. While his intent was never to hurt me, he did hurt me, so it was good that he acknowledged and owned that, with no strings attached. His true repentance, even though he had no ill intentions, was important to the relationship moving on. He had to own it first, then forgiveness and restoration was automatic. He never once said, "I'm sorry, but....." He said he was sorry, period; he owned it, and only then did he tell my husband what was going on behind the scenes, what he was reacting to.
Don't allow bullies to bully you into bullying. That's one of their goals. They do not like to work alone; they like to get you on their side and they have satisfaction when you bully as they bully. It's comforting to them because they perceive your behavior as approval for their own. You do not have to react to a bully by bullying others. This man learned this the hard way.
The joy - and yes, there is joy - comes when a hurting heart is suddenly moved from pain to compassion.