Learning to forgive is critical to building a healthy marriage. We’ve only had “little” offences to forgive each other during our first year of marriage, but I’m not going to kid myself that “little” hurts are all that’ll ever touch us. Even so, in this first year I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness (and so has my husband). It’s easy to think that forgiveness is just a feeling, but it’s not. So what is forgiveness?
According to Gary Chapman, forgiveness is a decision to offer grace instead of demanding justice when we’ve been hurt.
- Forgiveness removes the barrier and lifts the penalty. This means that we choose to never hold that failure against the other person again.
- Forgiveness opens possibility for the relationship to be restored and grow again.
Forgiveness is powerful stuff. It’s also important to know what forgiveness is not.
- Forgiveness does not destroy memory. Especially when it comes to emotional hurts, certain triggers can bring on a flood of memories relating to the hurt. Remembering that pain doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven the hurt, it just means you’re human and have feelings. I’ve made a conscious decision that when I forgive someone I will choose to not let the memory of the past offense impact how I respond to them today.
- Forgiveness does not remove all consequences of wrongdoing. Forgiveness does not automatically restore your relationship to exactly where it was before the hurt happened. Instead, forgiveness means that you are willing to work toward restoring the relationship.
- Forgiveness does not rebuild trust automatically. Loss of trust is a natural consequence of wrongdoing. Trust has to be rebuilt starting with a genuine apology followed by a continuous demonstration of a change in behaviour. With an attitude of openness and a consistent pattern of honesty, trust can be rebuilt again.
- Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation. It brings the possibility of reconciliation if both parties are willing. If you come wanting to restore the relationship but the other person does not, release them to God and release your hurt and anger to Him. Don’t let their unwillingness to reconcile destroy your life. Sometimes you should not be reconciled because the other person will continue to harm you; they need to address and be healed from their problems first.
Genuine forgiveness is the only thing that will keep roots of bitterness from choking your marriage. It’s the only thing that will tear down walls of hurt that will otherwise isolate individuals in a marriage. Forgiveness must be continuous. I’ve fought negative thoughts like, “I won’t forgive unless he apologizes first” because I know that if I want to be forgiven by God for my shortcomings, I must forgive.
Whether or not the other person apologizes is between them and God. Extending forgiveness is ultimately something between God and myself. When I’m finally able to apologize to Him for my hard heart, pride, and self-righteousness and receive His forgiveness, then forgiving my spouse (or anyone else) is a natural by-product. If I think that the other person is undeserving of forgiveness, I’m already in a position of needing forgiveness myself. It’s interesting how that works.
Are you ready to forgive?