Forgiveness is that fuel that keeps your marriage (or any relationship) going. If you don’t forgive, your marriage will tank. It’s as simple as that.
But how do you do it? What does it look like? Why is it so important? If you missed the first half of this post, click here to find out what forgiveness is not.
Correcting our understanding of what forgiveness is not paves the way for what forgiveness is…
Forgiveness is a choice.
Not an emotion. You can’t measure forgiveness based on how you feel. When you’re hurt you feel like holding onto it. Or you may feel fine until an event triggers emotion and you find yourself stewing over the same old wounds. Forgiveness does not rise and fall with the tide of emotion. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s an act of the will. You can be hurt, wounded, and angry and yet in the same moment still choose to forgive.
Forgiveness is divine.
It may be easy to not sweat the “small stuff” but how do we forgive the bigger offenses? How do you forgive a cheating spouse? Or the parent that abused or abandoned you? Or the friend that betrayed you? When you are faced with these moments, you quickly realize you do not have the capacity to forgive at that magnitude. You must draw strength from outside of yourself. And the perfect example comes from Jesus.
A price had to be paid for our sin. God loved us enough that while we were still offending Him, He chose to die for us (Rom 5:8). Jesus experienced the punishment, wrath, and judgment of God so that we could receive mercy. When we confess our sin and accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we receive forgiveness. The sacrifice and forgiveness of Jesus reconciles our relationship with God. We are no longer estranged or living in fear of God’s anger and punishment. We can live freely in intimacy and relationship with Him.
“Forgiveness is not natural, it is divine.”
When Jesus asks us to do something, He first leads by example. Forgiveness is not natural, it is divine. Because God has forgiven our offenses, we can in turn forgive others for their offenses against us. When we compare the weight of how much we’ve been forgiven, the offenses of others pale in comparison. The power of God is what gives us the strength and ability to forgive others.
Forgiveness is for your protection.
Did you know that the person who benefits most from forgiving is you?
When we nurse our wounds, a destructive and deadly root begins to grow in the soil of our heart. Don’t be mistaken. There are consequences for unforgiveness. When you choose to hold onto your hurt instead of forgive, you are putting yourself, your spouse, and your relationship with God in jeopardy.
If you allow your hurt to linger, anger will become a familiar companion. The anger of man does not achieve the life God desires (James 1:20). God warns us that allowing our anger to linger will give the enemy a foot in the door, enough room to weasel his influence into our heart (Eph 4:27). Keep anger around long enough and it will soon develop into resentment. Resentment grows into a root of bitterness, bitterness turns into hatred, and full blown hatred results in murder. Unchecked hurt and anger gives the enemy a way into your life. Make no mistake, he will use your sin and unforgiveness to destroy you and the ones you love. Hurt that is stuffed and suppressed with eventually explode. This is why the Bible says, “See to it that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
“Bitterness is the poison you drink while waiting for someone else to die.”
Unforgiveness results in bitterness, and bitterness defiles your heart and destroys you (and those around you). I heard it said once that “bitterness is the poison you drink while waiting for someone else to die.” When you’re bitter, you’re so focused on the other person and what they did that you don’t notice the toxic rising in your own heart. Bitterness will make you blind. “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).
Often we fall prey to the lie that only anger and bitterness will protect us against the hurt of others. The truth? Forgiving others actually protects you from greater harm. Forgiveness is the tool that roots out the bitter weeds in your life. It may seem counter-intuitive. But repaying evil with evil will only result in more evil. Instead, God calls us to do good to those who hurt us. “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’, says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). This ancient practice of “heaping burning coals on his head” was a sign of repentance for wrongdoing. Simply put, unforgiveness and payback will only result in more loss and sin. But if we choose to forgive and do good to those who hurt us, our kindness and mercy will actually be what convicts them and leads them to repentance and remorse over what they have done. Laying down your rights, releasing your spouse from getting what they deserve, and seeking reconciliation will actually heal your wounds and your relationship.
Forgiveness is possible without an apology.
Contrary to popular opinion, your spouse does not need to apologize before you forgive them. Would an apology be nice? Yes. Would it make forgiveness a little “easier”? You bet. But your choice to forgive does not depend on their decision to apologize. Forgiveness is not conditional, it’s unconditional. God offered forgiveness while we were still offending Him. He didn’t wait for us to apologize and get our act together before going to the cross. He loved first.
God offered forgiveness while we were still offending Him. He didn’t wait for us to apologize and get our act together before going to the cross. He loved first.
It is possible to develop a disposition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a heart matter between you and God. We imitate the character of God when we freely forgive without requiring anything in return. Forgiveness forges our character and protects our heart from revenge, hostility, and bitterness.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
God’s ultimate goal is a restored relationship. But reconciliation takes two. You can still choose to forgive regardless of whether the person acknowledges or apologizes. But just because you forgive someone does not mean the relationship is automatically restored. Complete reconciliation requires repentance. God offers us forgiveness for our sins but only when we repent of our sin are we then restored in our relationship with Him. While forgiveness rests on you, reconciliation rests on them. Only when the offender understands and acknowledges what they did and shows true remorse can the relationship begin to heal.
For example, you may decide to forgive an abusive parent for all the horrible trauma and harm they caused you. You choose to release them from the debt they owe you – the loss of your innocence, the loss of your childhood, and the damage they did to your dignity. You grieve your losses and release your hurt to God. You choose to believe God’s Truth about who He says you are and not play the tapes of those lies in your head. You choose to protect your own heart from being poisoned by bitterness. But doing the hard work to forgive your parent does not mean the relationship is automatically safe. Forgiveness does not necessarily take away the natural consequences of sin. If your parent never acknowledges the past or apologizes with remorse over the pain they caused, reconciliation may not be possible. Though a restored relationship is always the hope, success may look different for you. Success may be doing the right thing regardless. It may be choosing to forgive, rising above your hurt, and no longer living as a victim of your pain.
Forgiveness sets you up for the best possible future.
Love takes risk. If you’re in a relationship, you will get hurt. And when you get hurt, you can either hold onto it or let it go. Seeking payback focuses on the past and will only result in more loss and pain. Forgiveness protects the future. It paves the way for restoration. It focuses on releasing the hurt and mending the brokenness. It promotes unity and is always looking ahead. And whenever possible, it brings reconciliation to even the most estranged relationships.
So how do I forgive? What does it look like? Here are a few takeaways:
Don’t hold onto your hurt. Holding onto your hurt will only poison your heart and destroy your future. Instead, choose to let it go and give it over to God.
Release your spouse from having to pay the debt. Don’t seek payback or ways to punish the one who hurt you. Instead, entrust your hurt to God knowing He has your back and will vindicate you in due time.
Choose to forgive. God has forgiven you a debt greater than any debt owed to you. And He continues to forgive you even when you mess up over and over again. Forgive others the same way you have been forgiven.
Seek to restore the relationship. Focus on the future. Choose to forgive because it is the best possible outcome for you, your spouse, and your marriage.
Guard your heart closely and weed out any bitterness before it’s too late. Don’t let anger become a pattern in your life. Heal your wounds before they become infected and damage you and those you love.