Everything you know about forgiveness will be tested by marriage. There are no lasting relationships without forgiveness. Contrast this truth with a memorable movie line from the twentieth century, which expresses a worldly misunderstanding of this lifelong relationship: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
The main reason that concept is a lie that it overlooks the truth we confronted earlier this week about our own sin. In human relationships, each day presents a new reason to admit guilt and take responsibility. A biblical rewrite of that movie line would be “Love means being willing to say you’re sorry and actually meaning it.”
In marriage a lack of forgiveness builds up over time to rob the relationship of traction. Big offenses seldom cause material loss of traction; it’s the accumulation of little wrongs that haven’t been addressed.
If you’re not sure how offenses are handled in your marriage, here are four alternative responses we often substitute for forgiveness that have devastating effects in a relationship. If you recognize that one or more of these are your pattern, it’s time to make forgiveness the default response. When an offense occurs, do you-
- go on the attack, escalating the offense with more hurt?
- retreat, escaping into silence and nursing the hurt?
- hide, escaping into activities and work to avoid the conflict?
- give up, adding another offense to your list of hopelessness?
Each of these responses not only avoids forgiveness but also destroys the priority of marriage, denies the reality of your mutual flawed tendencies, diminishes your capacity to overcome difficulties, and detracts from the possibility of delight in your spouse. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is key to gaining traction when the road of life turns slippery.
Review the four typical reactions to offenses that can become patterns in marriage. Which one(s) can you most relate to?
Are you ready for the forgiving alternative?
Read Colossians 3:12-13. What standard and measurement does Paul specify for the kind of forgiveness a follower of Christ should offer?
Forgiveness is releasing someone from the obligation that occurred when that person hurt you. For Christians, first, forgiveness is obedience to God. Second, forgiveness bears witness to the gospel that’s at work in our hearts. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven. As Jesus forgives us, we forgive others—and forgiveness should begin inside our family.
Read Proverbs 10:12. In the words of this Proverb, why is covering all offenses with forgiveness better than trying to cover up those offenses?
In your experience, what happens when you try to ignore or cover up offenses rather than forgive them?
Let’s briefly look at the other side of the equation. If we love someone and we know we’ve hurt them, we make it easier for them to forgive us by asking for it. This involves a confession of our wrongdoing and a request for pardon. Here are a few wrong ways to apologize.
- “I’m sorry.” This is the most frequent and incomplete attempt at an apology. “I’m sorry” by itself basically says, “I care about how I feel, not necessarily about how you feel.”
- “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” This isn’t an apology. It’s a rationalization followed by information. It means “I’m not taking responsibility for the pain I caused, and even if it could be proved that it was my fault, the best you’re getting from me is a vague bad feeling.”
- “I’m sorry I hurt you, but that wasn’t my intent.” Apology? No! It compounds the pain by minimizing our responsibility for the hurt we’ve caused.
- Here’s the worst one: “Hey, I’m sorry you got hurt,” which, translated, means “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive and weak that my minor offense hurt you. It’s really your own fault that it bothered you!”
Only one apology reflects a repentant heart that God will use to revitalize a relationship that needs healing: “I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I was wrong when I hurt you. I have no excuse. Will you please forgive me?”
Why is this final form of apology hard for us to deliver?
An important part of the process is actually asking the person we hurt to forgive us and waiting for their response. Because we fear they may say no, we’re often reluctant to be vulnerable and confess. But if we’re unwilling to be vulnerable, how badly do we really want to be forgiven?
Ask God to show you any areas of unforgiveness you’re holding against your spouse or others. Sit quietly long enough for Him to answer your prayer. If He brings any matters to mind, deliberately release them.
Spend a moment meditating on this week’s memory verse. Consider ways a willingness to forgive your spouse is both a way to hold fast to each other and to maintain unity.
A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.