I recently asked readers to write to me about their experiences with people who had borrowed money but hadn't paid it back.

The responses were overwhelming and sad.

I've given tips on how to lend money, but what I failed to emphasize was how we all should act when our funds aren't repaid.

I realized my oversight after a sermon by my pastor, John K. Jenkins Sr. "You have to love people even when they make bad choices," he said.

But how many relationships have been ruined because of a bad loan?

"It hurts to get ripped off by a member of your family," one person e-mailed me.

I received similar letters from other wounded and angry lenders:

"I have had several disheartening experiences of lending to friends and family," one wrote. "The lessons learned: Expect some deterioration in the relationship after all is said and done."

One woman is still upset three years after she made a loan to a friend who needed $4,500 to avoid foreclosure on her home.

"She still has $3,000 of my money! It's not like I have that kind of money to lose," she wrote. "Needless to say, I have drastically altered my perception of this person. It's made me very hesitant to help others financially now that I've been burned."

Even people of faith often lose faith in their brethren when it comes to money.

"I have family, friends and church people who all owe me money and have done me wrong," one minister wrote. "Now I would rather lend to a perfect stranger."

Another woman said: "I got bamboozled by lending to a colleague. I lent my friend/colleague $3,400. The agreement (verbal) was that the monies would be paid back in six to seven months. Well, that time went by and my own financial and personal obligations changed and I was in need of my [money]. The response that I got was, 'I forgot.' How do you forget that you owe someone $3,400?"

Just look at the words people used.

They talk about being disheartened, bamboozled, burned and ripped off. Those are not the words of people who have let go.

Even the minister found it hard to forgive his debtors.

When I asked readers who had lent money to write to me, I also encouraged people who hadn't paid someone back to tell their side. I got just one letter.

"A few years ago I reconnected with an old college friend that I had not seen in a long time," one woman e-mailed. "My husband and I had moved near her home in Northern Virginia. We were in the process of buying a home but we were short a couple thousand dollars. My generous friend quickly offered to lend me $1,500 after hearing about our situation."

She went on to say: "Our intentions were good, but we were not able to start paying installments on the loan in the promised time frame. This was my first time at being a deadbeat so I was reluctant to face the issue immediately and talk to her about it. I avoided her for a couple of weeks. Then she sent me an icy e-mail demanding the money. Although we did pay her back in full, the rekindled friendship quickly died. I still think if I had gotten in touch with her the first day I knew there was a problem, things would have worked out OK."

She's right.

When you go to someone for financial assistance, the honorable thing to do is to be upfront if you can't pay as promised. Talk to the person if you are still having financial trouble. Tell the truth.

But people who are in need make promises they can't keep because they're often desperate, not born deadbeats. They make bad choices. They lie. They hide. And when they do, it's understandable if you get mad -- initially.

However, you shouldn't stay mad.

"The reason you have to forgive people is because if you don't, you bring torment into your life," my pastor preached.

As long as you carry around pain, agony or bitterness, you are the one who becomes bankrupt, Jenkins said.

And you don't get a pass on this if the person borrowing the money is just trifling. Pity him rather than hold a grudge.

Don't let the fact that someone doesn't pay you back harden your heart.

The best defense against this is never to lend what you can't afford to lose. Now some readers suggested that you should just give people money when they come with their hand out. But sometimes you want your money back. That's okay. Ask that it be given back. But make sure any money you lend is money you can live without.

That means, as harsh as it may be, don't lend your rent money. Don't lend your emergency money. Don't rob Peter to pay someone else's Paul.

And keep in mind what one reader wrote: "The gift of helping someone in need is always a huge reward in itself."

Don't let that reward be ruined with resentment if you don't get your money back.

Join Michelle Singletary at 6:40 p.m. Thursday on "Insight" with Stephanie Gaines-Bryant on WHUR, 96.3 FM. Singletary also discusses money on Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments and questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.