Love requires risk. If you’re in a relationship, you will get hurt. And when you get hurt, you must learn to forgive. But how do you do it? What does it look like? Why is it so important?
Well, I’m glad you asked. I had way too much to say on this topic so I divided it into two posts for your reading sanity. There are a lot of wrong ideas floating around on what it means to forgive. My hope is to help you understand what it is and what it is not so that forgiveness will become a powerful discipline in your life. In fact, your health and the health of your relationships depend on it.
So first, let’s take a look at what forgiveness is not…
Forgiveness is not natural.
Spend some time with a toddler and it becomes clear that forgiveness is not in our DNA. One kid hits, the other hits back. You push me, I bite you. Take my toy and it’s world war three. The “eye for an eye” principle runs deep. When we are wounded, something deep within us cries for justice.
Justice is a principle of fairness. It demands that people get what they deserve and suffer the consequences of their own actions. Justice requires the offender to be punished. And more times than not, we take it upon ourselves to see that justice prevails.
Though we may not resort to primal behaviors like hitting, biting, and hair pulling as adults, we have found more “acceptable” ways of masking the same behavior. Our “adult” retaliation looks more like this: name-calling, flipping someone off, harshness, criticism, slander, bullying, anger, resentment, bitterness, grudge-holding, intentional humiliation, domination, giving the cold shoulder, emotional withdrawal, and intentionally withholding good in order to punish.
Bottom line, when we get hurt we want someone to pay. We want someone to suffer as much pain as they caused us. “Retaliation is the idea of fair payback”. We feel an intense urge to defend and protect ourselves and make our offender pay the price.
Sadly, most of our strategies fail because they attempt to change the past. The offense has already happened. Our hurt can’t be reversed. Getting fair payback is a fool’s errand because the past cannot be undone. Unfortunately once the damage is done and the injury, insult, humiliation, or other loss occurs, the clock cannot be turned back and the loss is permanent. Worse yet, our desire and attempt to soothe our own pain only results in more loss in the relationship as a result. Instead of getting even, commit your hurt to God believing that He will vindicate you in due time. Payback belongs to God and Him alone. And His dealings are always just. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…never take your own revenge but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord (Rom 12:17, 19).
“Most of our strategies fail because they attempt to change the past.”
Forgiveness is not weakness.
A strong sense of justice can be a stumbling block to forgiveness. If justice demands punishment, forgiveness cries for mercy. In order to forgive, you may feel forced to sacrifice justice on the altar of mercy. We view justice and mercy as opposite ends of the spectrum, as opposing forces. Either we uphold justice and punish the offender, or deny ourselves justice in order to be merciful. Because of this, forgiveness can be seen as a position of weakness.
If this is you, let me put your mind at ease. You do not have to choose. You do not have to sacrifice yourself and become collateral damage in the wake of excused behavior. I would like to suggest that both justice and mercy exist as equal working partners.
Micah 6:8 says, “And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” “Christianity is unique in that God’s mercy is shown through His justice.” The cross of Christ is the perfect example of justice and mercy working together. When Jesus took our punishment for sin, God’s justice was satisfied. When Jesus took our place on the cross, God’s mercy flowed. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” because of what Jesus did for us (1 John 1:9).
Forgiveness is not free.
It comes with a price. But ultimately, it is a price worth paying for. The forgiveness of our sins against God cost Jesus His life. When there has been an offense, someone must pay. When you forgive, you are choosing to pay the debt. Instead of retaliating or demanding penance, you choose to take the hit. This means when you get hurt, you choose to deny yourself the temporary comfort of anger or revenge. You resist building walls of resentment in order to feel safe. Instead, you choose to release your spouse from any penance or punishment in order to resolve your hurt. Forgiveness means moving toward your spouse instead of away from him or her. It means forfeiting your rights and absolving your spouse from any offenses rendered in order to preserve and restore the relationship.
Forgiveness is not condoning.
Taking the hit, however, does not mean that you are “ok” with the behavior. It does not minimize the hurt you are experiencing. Forgiving someone does not require you to be a doormat. It is not suggesting that you remain the silent partner, submitting yourself to constant abuse. Your pain is real.
“Healthy boundaries, not walls of resentment, provide the safety needed to address hurt without compromising or destroying the relationship.”
Healthy boundaries, not walls of resentment, provide the safety needed to address hurt without compromising or destroying the relationship. It is important for you to acknowledge your hurt and discuss it with your spouse. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt 18:15). Your spouse needs to understand the effects of their behavior and the hurt they have caused. By vocalizing how you feel, you are not only bringing it to their attention but also providing them the opportunity to change. When approaching your spouse, don’t do it in anger. Give yourself time to calm down before explaining your hurt. Don’t lord their behavior over them or rub it in for good measure. The goal is to provide accountability and restoration in a loving way. “If anyone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1).
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
Sometimes we are reluctant to forgive our spouse out of fear that our pain will go unrecognized. That holding onto our pain is the only way it remains legitimate. If we let go of our pain we fear that it will erase what happened. That the behavior will be forgotten; out of sight and out of mind. We believe the lie that the only way to protect ourselves from hurt over and over again is if we keep it in the forefront of our minds (and theirs).
“Sometimes we are reluctant to forgive out of fear that our pain will go unrecognized.”
The common mantra, “forgive and forget” is not a Bible verse. The idea has been misinterpreted from verses like Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” At first glance, it sounds like God forgets our sin when He forgives us. But if you take a closer look, this verses does not say “their sin I will forget” but “their sin I will remember no more”. The wording makes a huge difference. Simply put, when we forgive we are choosing not to remember (or dwell) on the behavior, the hurt, the pain, or the past.
Think of it like a scar. There’s a huge difference between a scar and an open wound. One has healed, the other is still seeping and causing us pain. When we continue to dwell on the past or our pain, it’s like having an open wound that has never healed. Eventually it will get infected and cause damage to the entire body! But a scar is the memory of a wound that has healed. The scar still remains but is a reminder of our growth and healing.
Choosing to remember it no more means to put it out of our mind. To purposely not allow the offense to consume our thoughts or guide our emotions. We choose to not bring it back up in a moment of weakness. And when we are reminded of the pain, we make the choice to put it again to rest and not allow the same painful tapes to play over and over in our head. This is what is meant by “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5) and “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
So What is It?
Hopefully this post helped clear away some misconceptions about forgiveness! Forgiveness must be learned, it is not innate. Forgiving others is done from a position of strength, not weakness. And it will cost you something. But forgiving your spouse does not mean that you are “ok” with their behavior and it doesn’t mean you have to forget what’s been done to you. Instead, use your hurt as an opportunity to talk to your spouse and keep him or her accountable. Talking things out will help restore and preserve the unity of your relationship.
As important as it is to understand what forgiveness does not mean, it’s even more vital to understand what it does mean! Click here for part two on what forgiveness is and why it’s important!
Miss my other posts on how to stay fit in your marriage? Check them out here: