Continuing our series on Getting That Stubborn Stain Out, this week we are taking the letter F from COFHE and we are talking about forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we all want to receive, but it is the giving part that gives us a struggle.
Forgiveness, both giving and receiving is an absolute necessity for a marriage to endure. The challenges of two imperfect people living out their life long commitment to each other would be impossible without it. We need to be prepared for the inevitable, our spouse is going to sin against us and we are going to be tempted to react. But instead of reacting against our spouse, we must choose to forgive, just as we have been forgiven.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the cancellation of the debt that is owed. It is the letting go of offence, letting go of the negative thoughts, emotions, and motives. You can choose it right away to avoid future damage, or you can wait until the damage is so severe that forgiveness is just the first step you take to try to reconcile the relationship. When you choose the latter, it usually comes through a series of bad circumstances that break you down and strips away your pride. It is so much easier and it gives the greatest opportunity to move forward in the relationship when you choose forgiveness right away when offence occurs.
Our tendency is to be offended at what our spouse does or says and then hold it against them indefinitely until we feel like forgiving, or until they have earned the right to be forgiven. Sometimes we act as if we have a limited supply of forgiveness and we have to be careful of how much we give out. And we tend to think if we give it too quickly we will be walked on. Often we hold up our banner of offense to be sure we are declaring loud enough that we are not going to be treated this way anymore.
There is a place to draw clear boundary lines of what is acceptable. We do teach others how we are to be treated. But not by being unforgiving. When we hold onto our offence we are stepping through a trap door. That door leads us to bitterness which ends up doing us more harm than it does to one who has offended us.
What’s the harm?
When we refuse to forgive, “it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Withholding forgiveness leads us down a path of death. It causes us to come into agreement with satan, who is an accuser. Our capacity to love gets smaller and smaller, until we push everyone away. We can go into depression and our physical health will suffer. So it is for our own benefit to always give forgiveness to our spouse and others.
Granting forgiveness, first of all, comes with the Lord’s help. We go to Him in prayer and we say “Lord I forgive my spouse for this thing that has hurt me.” Then we go to our spouse and we let them know that we forgive them for ______. Sometimes we have to first explain to them what it was that offended us, but we have to do it in a way that we are not attacking or accusing. This is when it really helps to use “I” statements. Such as “I felt ______ when you said ______.” Be clear about how you feel and what it was that offended you. Remember what you feel is real even if you mis-interpreted the thing that made you feel that way.
When we are seeking forgiveness we have to swallow our pride and admit to ourselves that we were wrong. Then we go to our spouse and we tell them we are sorry, we were wrong and we don’t want to do that again. We should lovingly ASK, “will you forgive me.” We don’t make excuses or try to deflect the blame onto our spouse. And no rapid fire “well I’m sorry, so get over it.” We are asking for forgiveness, knowing it is a gift our spouse gets to choose to give us.
What if the pain is so incredibly deep you don’t think you can forgive? We have been there and we know what that feels like. The purpose for this ministry is to assure you that you can overcome more than you ever thought was possible, because we had to overcome the impossible also. But you still have to make the choice to forgive. As Christians, we can never say we won’t forgive. When forgiveness does not come instantly, you have to choose forgiveness over and over until you get it. Sometimes it’s like facing a major fear of water or heights, you make your choice and you press through it.
When we were coming out of our troubles and we started communicating, Janet describe to me why she always struggled with forgiving me when I had hurt her. She said “It’s not that I didn’t want to forgive, but it was like there was all this clutter in my mind and I had no place to put it.” She didn’t know what to do with the contradiction of how I said I loved her, yet I could hurt her with my words and the bad choices I made. It was during this time of real communication that we were able to unpack nineteen years worth of hurt that had never been healed.
Remembering the Past
When I say I don’t want something I did to be brought back up, what I’m really saying is, I don’t want to be put on trial for it over and over. When we use something that has happened in the past as a point of accusation we are putting our spouse back on trial and demonstrating our desire to be vindicated. That’s when we are using the past as a weapon, which usually happens during conflict.
I know there are those who say that once an apology has been given and forgiveness has been grated there should never be any further discussion. I completely disagree with that. Here’s why. As long as I don’t feel like I’m on trial and I need to defend myself, I have no problem with discussing the past. In fact as long as I know there is something that is still unclear for my wife and the lack of clarity is causing her to still feel hurt, then I believe it is my responsibility to lovingly discuss the problem in order to bring clear understanding.
Remember, every emotion that our spouse feels is a legitimate emotion. It is real, even if it is based on a false assumption. So our job is to respect the emotion and deal with the assumption.
If we really want to have a great marriage we have to be experts at forgiving. And we have to accept the idea that we will be required to continue to be forgiving “as long as we both shall live.”
One final word: if you’re struggling with forgiveness and you need more help, let me suggest some great books on the subject.
- The Bait of Satan, Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense, by John Bevere
- Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, by Dr. Gary & Barbara Rosberg
- Choosing Forgiveness: Turning from Guilt, Bitterness and Resentment Towards a Life of Wholeness and Peace, by John Loren & Paula Sandford