Forgiveness May Be the Break You Need

Forgiveness May Be the Break You Need

I wonder how you would describe the climate in your marriage these days. 

Stormy? Maybe your argument a few days ago blows into today, and even if you manage to shutter it out now, it’s only a matter of time until it whips up again, perhaps with more force.

Cold? Even if obvious conflict isn’t your issue, the draft in your relationship is unsettling.  You notice the lack of warmth.  The cause?  You can’t put your finger on it.  You have the transactions of your lifestyle running pretty smoothly, but the emotional void is a bit chilling.   

“Stormy” would have been an apt description for my marriage with Carey for many years. Here’s a tiny glimpse…

I’m not sure I’ve been more enchanted by a wilderness park than I was by Yosemite National Park in California.  Carey and I made a big detour one time to spend a couple of days there.  Three things stand out in my mind:  a breathtaking view of Half Dome, a surreal hike through the massive sequoias and a blowout fight.  

We reached Yosemite first thing in the morning, ready to explore this natural masterpiece. Up sprang a trivial argument that quickly escalated, leaving us both triggered. Even the powerful beauty of our surrounds couldn’t rescue us from the pit. We hiked off our frayed emotions on separate trails.  I was ready to catch a flight home.

Hard climates in any relationship can create hard hearts over time. Hearts that become increasingly shelled-in, bound up, and difficult to set free.  But, even hearts enduring the tempests and frigid air of today can look forward to a break in the weather in days to come.  If, if, if…

…they’re willing to be broken apart and healed by forgiveness.

One of the complicated things about forgiveness and marriage is that there are layers.  Layers of hurts and grievances that may be keeping that hard, protective shell around your hearts intact.  Unless you are deliberately on a path of personal growth that helps you recognize the impacts of the hurts of your past, you may be emotionally reacting to your spouse as if he or she is the only cause for your heart’s anger or grief.  Or your silence.  

Chances are, other people have also caused you hurts that you have never truly forgiven.  

Until you go through that journey of forgiveness for the offenses you endured before your marriage, that stormy or cold climate may be tethered to you, despite your good intentions. 

Where the weather’s coming from is hard to see.  If you’re like most people, you’ll look at your partner and blame them for inclement weather.

Forgiveness is not a nicety – it’s a necessity.

I believe that’s why Jesus, when he taught the crowds on how to live out a human life in the presence of God, repeatedly spoke about forgiveness.  For example, he said,

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”[1], and

“…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”[2]

When asked how many times we must forgive someone who sins against us, Jesus answered “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”[3]  

In other words, if you’re taking Jesus at his word and forgiving your partner for all the hurts and offenses, you’re going to lose count.

Forgiveness is not a nicety – it’s a necessity. Click To Tweet

So, how?  How do you forgive your spouse and others for the hurts of your present and your past?

  1. Decide that pursuing forgiveness is worth it:

When there’s a serious hurt, or a pile of offenses from over the years, forgiveness is not a casual pastime, nor a ‘once and done’ deal.  If you authentically want to be freed of your anger, bitterness or other emotional burden, you need to make the necessary space for this pursuit in your life.  You may ask yourself, Is it worth it? Will the time, the emotional turmoil and financial investment (if you pay for counselling), make a real difference in my life?  

Desmond Tutu writes this,

To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.

However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.[4]

Jesus didn’t tell us to forgive each other because he doesn’t care about justice.  He’s not indifferent to righting the wrongs.  But Jesus knows that for us beautiful but flawed humans to work out his transforming love into relationships that are marked by unity, forgiveness will be critical.  

Forgiveness is a pathway to joy.

  1. Forgiving is not simply a decision. It’s a process:

I love how Lysa TerKeurst breaks forgiveness down into a decision to forgive, followed by a process of gradual healing.[5]  

Once you’ve made the decision to forgive, had the – yes, messy! – conversations and offered heartfelt forgiveness, the healing of your heart is a process that takes time.  You may be haunted by memories.  A scent in the grocery store or that person across the room with the jacket may trigger a memory or feelings that blindside you.  Suddenly, you’re immersed in the grief you were supposed to have released when you forgave.

That doesn’t mean you didn’t forgive.  

Forgiveness often entails a healing process that takes time. You’ve likely already learned that any worthwhile change you make for your personal growth requires you to absorb some emotional pain. You don’t need to be, and you shouldn’t be, alone with the burden of that pain.  Lean into close friends, lean into a counsellor or therapist and lean into your faith.

Jesus offers you his love and power to lift the burden. He may speak to you through his whispers, through his Word, and through others around you who hear his voice.  All of this will help.

Sidenote: Some marriages are actually harmful, and I’m not advocating that anyone swallow that kind of pain. Forgiveness is something you and I need to handle diligently because it has the potential to free your soul. But, don’t stay where you’re not safe. Read more about the difference between an unhappy and a harmful marriage here:

  1. Build steps of forgiveness into your marriage.

Do you and your husband or wife apologize easily, naturally and spontaneously?  Would you say you have a practice of forgiving each other?  If you don’t, I invite you to imagine building some steps.[6] Not flimsy ones, though.  You need solid steps built of stone that endure the test of time. Steps that will take you two out of the pit of unforgiven grievances and on to higher ground.

There are three essential ingredients in building your steps.  Stones come first, because they represent justice.  You two can’t ignore your innate sense of right and wrong, so you need the essential stones.  The stone represents the story of the incident, including the facts and the feelings attached to what went wrong.  It takes practice to communicate openly and vulnerably about your differences, avoiding being defensive or over-reacting or allowing triggers to overtake the crucial conversation.

The second essential ingredient is mortar, representing mercy.  Mercy allows you to see each other’s strengths AND weaknesses, virtues AND brokenness.  It has the potential to transform that enemy who hurt you into a frail human who needs love and empathy.  And last but not least, you need the third ingredient:  the water of humility.  Humility allows you to look at yourself – to own your hurtful actions, habits and words, and to search for better ways.

Mixing mortar with water to bind stones together into solid steps is a messy process, just like dredging out the details of your hurts and offenses will be.  Accept that dealing with unhealed offenses will be messy.  It will take sweat and tears, patience and determination to make it through those conversations, especially at the beginning. To force those sloppy, raw materials into the shape of steps that have purpose takes intentionality.  

Making the effort to build your steps of forgiveness may surprise you.  For my husband Carey and I, we have more peace, fewer disruptions and more fire in our marriage since we built what are now well-worn steps.  Our forgiveness steps form a vital part of the pathway from our broken marriage to our unified one.

Having more unity in our marriage means we no longer have blowouts we can’t recover from. 

We spend far more time together basking in the proverbial sun, out of the storms.  

This kind of beauty is what I want for you.

 

 

[1] Matthew 5: 7, New International Version (NIV)

[2] Matthew 6:12, NIV

[3] Matthew 18: 22, NIV

[4] From Desmond Tutu:  The Forgiveness Project at theforgivenessproject.com

[5] I highly recommend Lysa’s book if you’re facing a forgiveness challenge in your marriage: TerKeurst, L. Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020).

[6] I discuss this in more depth in Chapter 8 of my book, Before You Split:  Find What You Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage. (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2021)

1 thought on “Forgiveness May Be the Break You Need”

  1. David Levandusky

    An excellent message on Forgiveness in marriage relationships. I highly recommend it to all couples. Still pastoring after 52 years, forgivenss seems to be the hardest thing for couples to dezl with in marriage . Thanks for being transparent in this great article. I am sending it to two couples I know right now.

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