This is a difficult subject to discuss because of the sensitivity of what it involves to get to that place. But it is a necessary one because we all must deal with forgiveness. Throughout this message, we’re going to weave together various quotes and scriptures, praying it will minister to your life.
We also encourage you to read through the “Bitterness and Forgiveness” topic of this web site. It would be great if you “join the discussion” in the comment sections below the articles, if you feel led to do so.
Needing Forgiveness: We Are All Sinners
As author Dan Allendar says, “No matter how blissfully a marriage begins, all husbands and wives eventually fail each other. We are sinners saved by grace and we need grace not only from God but also from one another” —which is true.
“In this life it’s guaranteed you will make mistakes, disappoint one another and make some poor decisions. This is especially true in our marriages. The only way to keep any relationship growing in the midst of our humanity is to forgive. The apostle Paul gave us a staggering challenge in the area of forgiveness. He wrote, ‘Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you’ (Colossians 3:13).
“As beautiful as this sounds in Scripture, the concept of forgiveness gets rather complicated in every day life. When we are wronged, emotions run high. We may want to forgive, but feel incapable. Or we may think we have forgiven, only to catch ourselves stewing weeks or even years later. A few situations like this and we start to feel as though genuine forgiveness in marriage is an impossible feat” (Pam and Bill Farrell, from the Crosswalk.com article Give Your Spouse the Gift of Grace This Season).
In our humanness, we can often feel this way… but don’t give up.
Forgiveness Can Take Time
“Sometimes in trying to forgive we put an intense but unnecessary burden on ourselves. I thought I could completely forgive right away. But I discovered that forgiveness is not a one-time act. It’s a process. While it begins with the decision to forgive, it often takes time before the heart fully accepts what the will has set in motion. How long it takes may depend on the severity of the pain. Forgiveness takes time, and we must give ourselves the grace that our healing requires as we put forgiveness in motion” (Linda W Rooks, from the book, “Broken Heart on Hold“).
If more bitterness wells up within you, then give it to God. And keep repeating the process (even “77 times” as Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:21-35) until you’re able to experience peace.
Sometimes it’s like peeling the layers of an onion slowly (sometimes it takes years). There is more underneath that will bring discomfort and tears, but that is all part of the process. Tears are cleansing (there are various studies which prove this to be true). It’s when we bury that which needs to be released —THAT’S when there is real trouble. Bitterness turned inward is cancerous to our soul.
Also, keep in mind:
“When forgiveness is necessary, don’t wait too long. We must begin to forgive, because without forgiving, we choke off our own joy; we kill our own soul. People carrying hate and resentment can invest themselves so deeply in that resentment that they gradually define themselves in terms of it” (Lewis B Smedes, from book Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve).
Don’t you see this in people around you? I have, and it’s truly tragic!
“I have finally learned that one of the functions of marriage is for spouses to express God’s grace to each other. Our marriages become reflections of our own personal relationships with Christ. Has God forgiven you of much, and set your feet on solid ground? Then men, realize that God expects active sacrifice as head of the home. Wives, appreciate the fact that your humble submission to your husband directly honors God.
“Every one of us needs forgiveness because we all make mistakes. What do we do when your husband is insensitive or unkind? Do you expect him to recognize that he has made a mistake and then wait for him to ask for forgiveness? If you do you’ll find two problems with that approach. First, in speaking for most men, we will only recognize about 25 per cent of our mistakes, at best. So, you’ll spend a long time waiting for an apology, or you’ll be disappointed most of the time.
“Second, and most importantly, your approach is not biblical. Has God only forgiven those sins that you have brought to His attention? Once we are justified, as Romans 4:5-8 tells us, God not only forgives our sins, but He also ‘counts them against us no more.’ He uses the Greek word ‘logizomai’, which means ‘no record.’ In other words, the record of wrongs is shredded.
“That is exactly what we must do. We recognize the sin or injustice, but we choose not to save it to our archives for later use. We must develop a habit of thought that forgives the wrongs then deletes the memory of that wrong before a seed of bitterness can destroy many.
Magnifies the Injury
“Why is it so hard to develop an attitude of forgiveness? Satan preys on our sinful pride that manifests itself in the form of a reluctance and inability to readily forgive. He magnifies the injury and constantly reminds us of the injustice. This is done in an effort to encourage us to either seek vengeance or vindication.
“God, however, is responsible for dealing with both those issues. If we truly trust in God and don’t lean on our own understanding, we will know His perfect justice. We won’t need to keep a record of wrongs. We also won’t need to refer to our lists of rights as a means of preventing future injury.
“What is truly exciting is that God has not only given us motivation to forgive others, but He has also promised to provide a blessing which is in direct proportion to the severity of the hurt we have forgiven. Jesus told us that if we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven, and He has promised that those who show mercy will receive mercy. I know I certainly want mercy, not His justice” (Stu Lindner from Crosswalk.com article Forgiveness)
How about you?
“When others (including our spouse) hurts us in ways we don’t deserve, at some point we will come to the crossroads of decision. We will have to look our pain square in the face and ask, ‘Am I going to hang on to my anger and do violence to myself, or am I going to forgive those who have wounded me? Am I going to allow bitterness to poison and putrefy my soul, or am I going to invite God to empower me to let the anger go?'” (Pam Vredevelt, from the book The Wounded Woman: Hope and Healing for Those Who Hurt)
But what if your spouse is not sorry for what he/she has done? Do you still need to work on forgiving him or her? Keep in mind, that God put forth the effort and reached out to forgive us for our sin (by the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for us), “while we were yet sinners.” It’s up to us to accept it, for forgiveness to have its full effect.
But that doesn’t minimize the fact that it was offered just the same —whether we accept it or not. Even while the soldiers, who were crucifying Jesus, were full of pride and were jeering and condemning Him, Jesus prayed for them and offered forgiveness, praying that God would “forgive them because they knew not what they were doing.” I’m not sure if they ever made the effort to receive what He offered, but the gift was available just the same.
And God wants us to do the same.
We are to release ourselves from the bitterness and do our part in the forgiveness equation. By doing that, we are reaching for freedom. It’s about agape love that we have received from God and agape love that we are to give out, which helps us to live a more abundant life. What your spouse does with the gift you are giving, is between him/her and God, once you take your hands off of the situation.
And if he/she spits forth words of scorn, then you are in good company. That is what happened to Jesus (and still happens over and over again to Him in this world).
We’ve also been asked another question many times. How do you trust your spouse again after being betrayed by him or her? As far as we can see, there is a difference between the action of forgiving a spouse because God tells us this is necessary (especially to release us from the prison of bitterness) and the action of trusting that spouse. Both are entirely different steps. Extending forgiveness is not to be dependent upon the actions of your spouse for you to release him or her in your heart and give him or her to God so HE alone is their judge. In doing that, you become free in your heart and emotions for God to help you to heal.
If your spouse doesn’t accept it or do anything to deserve it, that is something between him or her and God. But on your part, you are released from the additional future pain that comes with nursing, rehearsing, and allowing that pain to keep inflicting you as you hold onto it.
A possible second step is building trust once again. Trust is something that your spouse must participate in to help you to be able to embrace again, if it is to happen. It’s something you would benefit from if you participate with your spouse to allow it to rebuild IF your spouse is repentant and sincere and honest in working toward that goal. But please recognize that the Bible doesn’t tell you that you must trust your spouse again… just that you must not allow bitterness to take root. (See Hebrews 12:15.)
Unforgiveness robs you of peace and continues to steal from you in various ways. Don’t give the enemy of your faith that empowerment. Go with God on this. Release bitterness and forgive in your heart and actions. I’m not saying condone or enable… but free yourself from holding onto unforgiveness. It may be a long painful journey to get to that place… but it is worth every step. I hope you will (if you haven’t already). The freedom you can experience in your heart is empowering and truly a gift from God that keeps on giving.
Make it a Habit
“Make forgiveness a habit that you’re always willing to practice with God’s help. Forgive your mate not just for big issues, but also for small irritating behaviors that can drive a wedge between you. Take every thought captive by praying for the Holy Spirit to renew your mind and bring your thoughts into conformity with biblical truths. Remember how lavishly God has forgiven you. That is the way you should forgive your spouse —even for major issues —pale in comparison to what Christ has done for you. (Ed Young, from the article Follow the 10 Commandments of Marriage)
Ask God to help you with this mission. It’s a gift you give to God, which will benefit you in the long-run. Consider this:
“One man gave his wife a new watch with a note, ‘It’s ‘time’ that I tell you how sorry I am.’ A mother gave her prodigal child a broom with the verse, ‘I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist…‘ (Isaiah 44:22). I forgive you, and love you; I am so glad God gave you to be my child.’ Now it’s your turn. What gift of Grace can you bestow?” (Pam and Bill Farrel from Crosswalk.com article Give Your Spouse the Gift of Grace This Season)
Our love is with you as together we give each other the grace and forgiveness God has given us,
Cindy and Steve Wright
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