This week we are learning how to water our relationships with forgiveness. Admittedly this topic is much broader than a single post can give justice. I’ll discuss forgiveness as it relates to keeping our marriage alive and healthy. In a future post, I’ll delve into a larger series about forgiveness.
There seems to be a great deal of talk about forgiveness. I think on one level we all know this is a good idea. We also tell people they should forgive one another. However, when we are the one who was wronged, forgiveness can be a bitter pill to swallow. Especially in marriage where the relationship rolls on minute by minute and the offenses of our partner continue to build with each interaction.
Because our husband (or wife) may say or do things that hurt our feelings and build up over time, it’s important to stay current with our forgiveness. Before we get to the process, let’s look at some general forgiveness facts.
First, forgiveness is mentioned in the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke). In each of these Gospels we are told that if we don't forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14, Mark 11:26, & Luke 6:37). This reason to forgive is the most compelling to me. Seriously. If I want God to forgive me, then I need to forgive others. Period.
Second, forgiveness isn’t really about the other person. It’s about me. When I harbor unforgiveness I am being held hostage by it. It consumes me. Think about someone who hurt you recently. When you haven't forgiven them you tend to review the incident in your mind over and over. You may talk to others about it, staking your claim of being “right” in the situation. Maya Angelou says, “it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Likewise, Max Lucado says that “forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free...and realizing you were the prisoner.” We are hurt by our unforgiveness.
Third, forgiveness doesn’t mean what the person did was right. By forgiving someone we release them from continuing to “owe” us for the hurt. But we aren’t condoning the behavior or saying we were wrong to be hurt. As I said above, when we forgive we are releasing the burden to lighten ourselves . We aren’t denying the hurt. We can continue to be hurt and still offer forgiveness.
Fourth, continuing to be hurt also means sometimes we need to release someone in forgiveness repeatedly. There have been times someone hurt me so bad that I had to pray daily that I would forgive that person until the time came that forgiveness was a reality. In fact, in one of my relationships it was strained for years until I came to a full forgiveness of her. Then suddenly the relationship was restored. It was only looking back that I realized the restoration happened after I chose to really feel the forgiveness deep down.
So if we know that forgiving is what God wants us to do and is good for both us and our relationships, how do we do it?
For a detailed exploration of forgiveness, check out Forgiving Forward. This group does an amazing job walking us through the forgiveness journey. For me, true forgiveness always begins with prayer. I generally begin with telling God what happened. He already knows, but this primes my heart for forgiveness. In detailing what went wrong I am focusing on the behavior I am choosing to forgive. I specify why I was hurt. I then tell God that I am releasing that person to Him. If there is repentance to be had from that person, I leave that between the person and God. I specifically say that the person owes me nothing and I choose to forgive that behavior. I then ask God’s specific blessings on the person. As I said, sometimes this has to happen every day or several times a day as I am tempted to pick up the anger or animosity again. If I find myself rehashing what happened, I immediately (or as soon as I realize it) shift my thoughts to, “God I again release my husband to you and forgive him. Please shower him with your blessings.” I don't go to my spouse to say that I forgave because it’s not for him. In fact, sometimes he doesn’t even know he did something wrong! And once I’ve dealt with my hurt and forgiveness, I don't always need to go to him and tell him all about it. Handling it with God is enough.
Is this easy? No. Do I feel God’s peace when I do this? Definitely. Especially in marriage. When I practice forgiving the little things, it becomes easier to forgive the bigger things. And that’s important for marriage. When we hold onto our hurts they compound over time. And that compounding hardens our heart for our husband. So choose to forgive today. Even if it’s just one small thing. In this way you are beginning to water your marriage with forgiveness.