I just received the Blue Book from Graf Stress Management in the mail, and it had a very good point: people don't want to be forgiven. Unless they ask you for forgiveness, people don't want to be forgiven! Because the act of forgiveness implies that they did something wrong!
The important thing is that the forgiveness is in your heart, not that they necessarily know about it.
Verbal forgiveness is important because it gives a physical dimension to our forgiveness. It adds sound and strength to the feelings. It makes it real in a way that forgiving mentally doesn't. The person you're forgiving does NOT have to be there. Often it is better if they are not there.
I had a funny experience with this once, where someone came to me and forgave me of something I did that offended them... only I had actually done nothing wrong! It was all a misunderstanding and there was nothing that I had done that required any repentance on my part. But then I was left questioning everything--even though I knew I'd done nothing wrong, I had to reevaluate everything I'd done. It was emotionally exhausting, and then in the end, I really had done nothing wrong.
Sometimes the things we take offense at are not actually wrongs. Sometimes we, in our human imperfections, make assumptions that are simply not true--assumptions about people's motives, about the definitions of the words they use (sometimes people say things that they don't even know the actual definitions of!), about the meaning of a tone of voice, and so forth.
And sometimes we take offense at things that are actually good. Think of all the people who are offended at public prayers, for example. A person can take offense at anything but that doesn't mean the offender is always actually at fault. Sometimes the things we take offense at tell us more about our own imperfections than those of others.
So, this is why I am a huge proponent of out-loud, conscious forgiving... when no one else is around!
In recent weeks, I have consciously, out-loud forgiven all sorts of people, mostly while I was in the car (there are a LOT of drivers who need your forgiveness while you're on the road!). To me, it doesn't matter if the people I forgave feel like they did something wrong or not--the important thing isn't whether or not they sinned against me; the important thing is that I have forgiveness in my heart. They don't need to know if I forgave them or not; unless a person asks for forgiveness specifically, it's probably safe to assume that they assume they don't need your forgiveness for what they have done. So going to them with offerings of forgiveness will backfire and just make them angry with you for presuming fault on their part.
Living a life of forgiveness is essential to Christianity. If we want Jesus in our hearts, we have to clear out the sludge and grime in our hearts of hatred, grudges, anger, and loathing.
Forgive out loud! Try it today! Release some of the weight from your heart!