Thinking back over your week, were there any instances that made you angry or upset? Perhaps someone cut you off in traffic. Or maybe you were promised something and the person promising it didn’t deliver. Or possibly your boss was demeaning to you. Was a clerk or cashier rude to you? Did you have an encounter that left you stewing over it for the rest of the day—or perhaps even the rest of the week?
In a typical week, we encounter any number of offenses. Sometimes the offenses are minor. Aside from being briefly inconvenienced, they carry little or no consequences. Other times the offenses are major. They hurt us deeply, leave us reeling, and have ongoing repercussions. Sometimes offenses come from those we barely know. More often than not, the things that really hurt come from those who love us the most deeply. So how can we build strong marriages in the face of pain?
When we do something that hurts our spouse, there is a breaking of trust. I trust my mate to make our marriage a safe place. I trust my mate to encourage me, protect me, and draw me closer to her/him, as we both draw closer to Christ. So, when offenses happen, those expectations are challenged and trust is eroded. But does that mean there is no hope since we all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), since we all hurt our spouses from time to time? That’s where forgiveness becomes so critical to our lives in Christ and how we live out those lives within our marriages.
Failure to forgive is poison to a marriage. If that poison is allowed to take root, it will grow and fester until its toxic roots wrap around your heart. If not eradicated, it will destroy the marriage relationship. For a marriage to work, forgiveness must be freely given and received. Forgiveness is essential to any healthy relationship. But here’s the problem—forgiveness is an easy concept, but a difficult practice.
For many, the reason forgiveness is such a difficult practice is because we have been trained to think of forgiveness as a series of one-time acts. If you offend me, I can forgive you. If you offend me again, I can forgive you again. And on-and-on it goes. As this process happens over and over, we come to think of ourselves are “a good person” because I am willing to forgive my mate “seventy-times-seven” (Matt. 18:21-35). The problem with this mentality though, is when we think of each act of forgiveness as a separate incident, we are still counting offenses (maybe not literally, but it feels that way to the person forgiving and the one being forgiven) and make forgiveness a legalistic process rather than a Spirit-led change in who we are.
For forgiveness to exist in a relationship as close and intimate as marriage, a relationship where you live daily with each other’s faults and failures, we must cultivate an ongoing environment of forgiveness. Forgiveness must be a part of the very fabric of your marriage relationship. It must be woven throughout, so that forgiveness is not a series of one-time acts, but a fully-integrated way of life. Forgiveness in your marriage should not be something you anxiously hope for, but rather something you thankfully and humbly praise God for.
There is a powerful spiritual principle that says what we do with a little we will also do with a lot. (We see this principle applied to financial matters in Luke 16:10-12.) This same spiritual principle also applies to forgiveness. You can spiritually train and discipline yourself to be a forgiving person. It begins by being forgiving in small matters. If you are not forgiving with the little things, you will not be able to be a forgiving person, because what you do with small things you will do with great things. Don’t approach forgiveness just as a series of individual choices and actions, but cultivate a powerful, ongoing climate of forgiveness within your marriage.
Forgiveness is not ignoring the effects or consequences of bad behavior. Certainly confession and accountability go a long way in opening the door for forgiveness. Pride and a stubborn refusal to admit your own fault in conflict will have tragic consequences for a marriage relationship. Our actions have consequences and genuine honest forgiveness doesn’t automatically erase the ramifications of our actions. Forgiveness is also not an immediate restoration of trust in a relationship. As much as we’d all like to think otherwise, “forgive and forget” is a fallacy. There is always a balance between being able to be honest about your spouse hurting you and acknowledging that it will take time to heal, versus refusing to forgive. When you forgive, that won’t always erase the hurt or restore the trust, but at least it puts you on a path toward healing and reconciliation.
When you live in forgiveness, it removes the fear of punishment and retaliation, and extends mercy and grace and love. It is granting freedom, not because it is deserved, but because the very nature of love demands it. As I said, the concept is easy to understand, but putting it into practice is much more difficult. But do you best to let your home be a place of forgiveness, not just somewhere that forgiveness sometimes happens.
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What does God want from my marriage?
A Weekend Marriage Enrichment Retreat
Friday-Sunday, March 7-9, 2014
Edgewater at the Aquarium Hotel and Conference Center
Limited to 30 couples
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info