Real forgiveness in many marriages is in short supply these days . . . which makes sense because who in their right mind wants to set themselves up for having their heart stepped on . . . again?
Have you ever struggled with forgiveness?
Forgiving someone who has hurt you is unnatural. It doesn’t feel very safe or very smart either, does it?
So, instead of risking it, many couples live like two medieval knights who have agreed to a truce but wouldn’t dream of removing their armor. I’ll never be vulnerable again and give you more opportunities to hurt me. It makes sense, in a way . . . but is this what God intends for your marriage? – bumping into each other’s armor as you focus on protecting your heart from the next stab instead of growing closer?
And what about the unrepentant repeat offender? Are you supposed to continue to allow him/her to trample on the sacred places of your heart? Of course not. No spouse should trust a husband or wife who repeatedly sins against him/her – offering a quick “I’m sorry” and then never changes, continuing to live as before. That spouse hasn’t repented and hasn’t truly sought forgiveness. Only a fool would trust such a person. You can be civil, kind, and respectful, you can (and should!) even do that person good, but trust? No.
We aren’t speaking of the spouse who won’t repent and refuses to change – that’s an easy call. We’re talking about husbands and wives forgiving each other when there is a genuine turning from sin and forgiveness sought.
Even then – where true repentance is manifest – it’s very difficult to let go and genuinely forgive, entering back into full, open relationship with each other. There’s nothing more natural to our flesh than to retain an offense and withhold forgiveness.
At first, refusing to forgive feels like the smart, safe thing to do. You’re only protecting your heart from further injury, right? The unforgiving heart, however, doesn’t realize that this “safe place” is really a prison, surrounded by strong bars that block out personal growth and genuine relationships. Yes, you’re safe, in a manner of speaking, but those bars provide the ideal environment for bitterness and self-righteousness to do their worst in your soul, hollowing you out from the inside.
The offenses against you are not invented. They are real. But let’s not forget what Jesus Christ taught about your kind of situation.
In Matthew 18, Jesus warns his followers (which includes wives and husbands!) that if we won’t forgive the small sins of others against us (big to us but small compared to the sins Jesus Christ carried for us on the cross), we will most certainly not be forgiven for our own sins. It’s a price not worth paying.
An unforgiving spirit is serious business for the here-and-now, with all the loneliness, hardness, and bitterness it brings, but also for eternity. . . especially for eternity.
Jesus wants you to forgive. It’s that simple and straightforward. Offering forgiveness is an offering because, like every sincere offering, it’s going to cost you something. But, it’s the only way of wisdom, righteousness, and healing, for every marriage . . . for your marriage.
Forgive your spouse because you’ve been forgiven. Offer your repentant spouse the same mercy and grace Jesus Christ has offered you when you repented of your sins. Then you’ll discover a life-giving secret: emptiness and bitterness can never grow in a forgiving heart.
Where bitterness has been banished, a renewed marriage has a chance to grow. So, lay down your armor and walk in true oneness, once again, with your spouse. Your marriage is waiting to flourish, once again.
Matt is married to Lisa Jacobson; they are raising their eight children in the Pacific Northwest. Matthew is an author, speaker, blogger, and pastor of Tumalo Bible Fellowship. Matthew and Lisa are also the authors of the best-selling “his-and-her” marriage books, 100 Ways to Love Your Husband and 100 Ways to Love Your Wife.