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“Ask a Priest: Should I Demand Repayment of a Loan?”
Q: I lent a friend $300 five months ago with the understanding that she would pay me back. Well, my friend hasn’t mentioned the money since she borrowed it, and I haven’t seen a dime. She either forgot, or she is deliberately not mentioning it, hoping I forgot. Either way it’s hurtful to me. If she’s deliberately not paying me back, then she’s not a good friend. And if she forgot, then she doesn’t really care about me and the fact that I was there when she needed help — which also makes her not a good friend. Now I feel awkward around her. Is it wrong for me to ask for my money back, or should I offer my loss to God for the souls in purgatory? I want to do what God would want me to do. I do not want to offend him. Please help. Thank you. -D.C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is admirable that you were there to help you friend when she needed assistance. Also admirable is that a big concern for you is to not offend God in the way you deal with this situation.
Maybe a first consideration would be to give your friend the benefit of the doubt. That is, don’t assume any bad faith on her part. She might have simply forgotten about the loan even though she really does care about you — in times of stress, we can all be forgetful, even toward people we care about.
In that case you could consider a number of options. Let’s start with a Gospel criterion presented by Jesus. “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you?” (Luke 6:34). And then in the next verse he says: “Lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great.”
These words point to a high standard, no doubt. But imagine the growth in your spiritual life that might come on the heels of following this exhortation of Jesus. It would be an act of humility and a show of mercy.
If it is still hard to accept, then it might help to reflect on the many times in your life that you have probably benefitted from the generosity of others: from parents, relatives, neighbors and, yes, friends. Countless people risk their lives every day for our benefit too: police, firefighters, military personnel. Those examples help put that $300 loan in perspective.
Now, let’s consider another angle in all this. Perhaps your friend had every intention of repaying you, and would do so if she was reminded. Maybe reminding her would help her to develop her spirit of responsibility. There are times when it is a form of charity to demand from others. It helps them to mature and become more sensitive to others. Your intention in this case would make a difference. To demand repayment out of a sense of frustration and ire is one thing; to gently remind your friend, out of a spirit of helping her organize her life, is another.
Another factor is financial need. If you are strapped and have financial obligations to others, and your friend doesn’t have such obligations, then it could be prudent to ask repayment — and in turn fulfill the demands of justice by paying your own bills.
So what should you do? I would suggest that you pray about all this, and see if the Holy Spirit is nudging you in one direction or another. See if this is a moment when the Spirit is inviting you to an act of detachment and mercy, or whether he is nudging you to pursue repayment for the sake of your friend’s long-term good. I pray that you are open to what the Spirit is asking. God bless.