Ruth Bell Graham once said, “A happy marriage is a union of two good forgivers.” You all know how I feel about marriage. I am so FOR healthy marriages. The problem is, marriages are often messy. So, what happens when the things that need to be forgiven are more serious than just hurtful words said during an argument or forgetting to do something they promised to do?
I have talked with several women in the last month alone that were hurting deeply for offenses that would make most people recoil at the thought. What happens when there is infidelity, abandonment, abuse, or other serious grievances? Forgiveness is a complicated thing, and so many people misunderstand it.
Here are 5 things I’d share with a hurting wife (or husband or anyone else).
1. Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
Reconciling and forgiving are two different things. Granted, they usually happen together. You forgive, and then you reconcile. Sometimes reconciliation isn’t possible. What about the person whose spouse abandons them and isn’t willing to reconcile? Or the spouse who can’t safely reconcile with an abusive or addicted spouse and must be separated for at least a season? Reconciliation might not be possible, but forgiveness is. Not only is it possible, but it is the right thing to do and the only way to really thrive after you’ve been hurt.
2. Forgiveness isn’t for them. It is for you.
It might feel good now to hold on to that anger. It *feels* like a protective covering when you desperately want to protect yourself. Don’t be deceived. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness that will spread like weeds to every part of your thought-life, emotions, and well-being. Anger might feel like protection now, but that is like mistaking metal chains for armor. They are two totally different things with two very different effects.
3. Forgiveness is a decision.
We make the choice to forgive long before the emotions catch up. Sometimes, you may think you have forgiven only to get blindsided by something that brings up a memory of the offense. The memory will no doubt bring back all of the emotions- including anger- sometimes as fresh as the day it happened. Don’t be discouraged! This is a normal part of the process of forgiving and doesn’t mean it “didn’t work”. Nothing is as discouraging as feeling like you tried to forgive but can’t get past it. A new wave of emotion doesn’t diminish your decision to forgive. Just stay committed to the process, go to God and admit you are struggling, and know that emotions can’t be trusted as a guide.
4. Forgiveness doesn’t justify what they did.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did is ok. I have had to forgive things that I assure you are NOT ok. I haven’t condoned them; I have just chosen not to live in turmoil over them. I have chosen joy over distress and freedom over being forever oppressed by the weight of it. Forgiveness means you are giving up your right to punish the offender and choosing to be defined by something more positive. I know, it is easier said that done. I know, it hurts. And I am so sorry. Your act of forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that they will give an account for what they did. It does protect you from doing anything you won’t want to give an account for later.
5. Forgiveness = freedom. But you can’t get there alone.
The last thing you want is to be chained to those awful emotions for the rest of your life. Forgiveness is always hard but always possible. I don’t know how people do it without God, but I know He lends His strength to those that are willing. He can replace sorrow with joy and give beauty for ashes. If anyone knows what it is like to be betrayed, it is Christ. No one can measure the depth of His understanding – or understand the amazing way He can put a shattered heart back together and make it stronger than before.
There is so much more I could say on the subject! I’ll save it for another day. What about you? What would you add?
Shine on, friends.