Friday, November 5

Lasting Marriage: Forgiveness

Hi friends! I'm continuing on the theme from my last post - staying together happily in marriage. This post focuses on the next point - which is forgiveness.

The Bible says: "Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you." (Colossians 3:13). This is not a suggestion, but a command, the same way the Bible commands us: "Love each other as I have loved you."(John 13:34). Love and forgiveness go hand-in-hand - because without forgiveness, minor offences become grudges; grudges breed resentment, and resentment breeds hate.

How many of us have ended friendships and relationships because we could not forgive an offence committed by the other party? How many of us know how it feels when we offend someone and in spite of our remorse, they choose not to forgive us but instead end our friendship? I'm sure we have all had similar experiences. But for a married couple to stay together, unforgiveness is not an option. In fact forgiveness should be so much a part of your marriage, that it becomes a habit.

(Before I continue, I must stress here that I'm referring to a marriage where both partners are working towards the good of the relationship, and not engaging in destructive habits like infidelity, pornography or alcohol and substance abuse. In those situations, the course of action to take may be slightly different, as constantly forgiving the other party might not lead them to take positive action to change their behaviour. For a marriage to survive deep-rooted issues such as these, a lot of work has to be done by both parties to repair, rebuild and restore the relationship).

It's been said that no normal, reasonable person goes into marriage with the intention to destroy it and divorce shortly afterwards. The vast majority of us get into marriage with joy and hope and expectations of happiness. Similarly, no reasonable husband or wife wakes up in the morning and decides: I'm going to hurt my spouse today. I don't think anyone deliberately sets out to hurt their friends or spouses. I wrote and earlier post on Mr and Mrs Imperfect, in which I discussed that no matter how kind, loving, caring and generous your partner is, they are still not perfect - none of us are. Each of us still has faults, weaknesses and potentially annoying habits. Sometimes we act selfishly, sometimes we don't pay enough attention to their needs, and we unintentionally hurt our spouse. So when the Bible says "make allowance for each other's faults" it means you should be willing to forgive and overlook offences because you know you are just as fallible, and just as likely to hurt the other person.

"To err is human; to forgive is divine."

So what are the things that stop us from giving forgiveness a chance in our relationships?

Anger - When we've been offended, it's natural to feel negative emotions like anger. But it's how we deal wit the angry feelings that determine if we are right or wrong. The Bible says "“In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Ephesians 4:26). This is because anger gives a foothold to the devil. Anger can cause us to do or say things we would regret later on, things that can completely destroy the love and intimacy in our relationships.

Revenge - The desire to retaliate can also stop us from forgiving. It's easy to go down the slippery slope of "He hurt me, so I must hurt him back" when we've been offended. But seeking revenge is never a way to resolve a hurt, it only makes things worse. It creates a destructive pattern and a vicious cycle of two people constantly scheming to get back at each other, which would ultimately mean the relationship is doomed.

Fear - Sometimes, fear holds us back from forgiving the other person because it feels like we are giving them so much power to hurt us again. Or fear makes us harden our hearts as a defense mechanism so that we will not be vulnerable. But the Bible says that "There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:18). If we are going to take a chance on love, we must be willing to remove the fear of getting hurt, and trust that the other person will not take advantage of the fact that we are willing to forgive them.

Guilt - On the other hand, unforgiveness yields guilt because it is essentially a disobedient act. We know that holding a grudge is not something we should be doing, and in the event that we hurt the other person, we expect them to forgive us too. So when we don't forgive, we carry around not only the hurt and pain, but also a burden of guilt.

So how can we learn to forgive and let go of these negative emotions? Especially in a situation where you feel the other person has offended you, but they might not even know it! How do you forgive when the other person is not repentant? Forgiveness is not easy, and we definitely need God's grace. We need to think of how much God in His infinite mercy has forgiven us our sins, so we too can extend grace and forgiveness to other people. Forgiveness is a choice that we make even when we don't feel like doing it - we should go ahead and do it anyway. We often find that the positive feelings catch up with our actions later.

I think God made forgiveness a command for many reasons. If it was optional,many of us would not do it, and we would hold grudges and keep getting on each other's nerves - leading to a breakdown of trust, intimacy and openness in our relationships. But if we learn and practice forgiveness, it will relieve us of burdens and open the door for healing to begin. Forgiveness helps us to resolves issues and gives us a fresh page to start over - and that is an essential ingredient for a long lasting happy marriage!

I'll discuss Quality Time in my next post. Stay blessed and favoured!


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