Sunday, January 13, 2013

Marriage, Relationships, and the Importance of Forgiveness

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate 
hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another 
and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything
in perfect harmony.
~Colossians 3:12-14

A series of articles last year caught my attention.  It was by a married couple and they were sharing their struggle of the husbands' addiction to porn and the wife’s difficult task of forgiving and aiding her husband.  It reminded how important and powerful the role of forgiveness plays in any healthy and successful marriage.  Here are the articles…

They’re well worth the read. I was especially moved by Rachel’s heart to forgive her husband.  Here’s a portion of the article…
At the same time as John was presented with the decision to turn from addiction, I was faced with a similar choice: forgive him for what he had done, or not? Before all of this happened, I used to think I would forgive anyone unconditionally, especially those close to me. But when he confessed, I was hurt more deeply than I had ever imagined possible. He had promised to love and cherish only me on our wedding day, and yet, after only four months of marriage, he had broken that very promise.
I didn’t know how to respond.
I knew I should forgive him, but there was a part of me that didn’t want to do so. I didn’t want to trust him, or even let him look at me, much less be vulnerable and open with him. I feared he would just betray me again.
ARTICLE_Porn1So I prayed.
I wanted to forgive him, but I didn’t know how. What would true forgiveness look like? How would I act? Would I ever be able to fully trust him? I asked God many, many questions that night, and He responded. He told me I had two choices: I could be hurt, angry, bitter, closed off and never trust my husband again, or I could truly, wholeheartedly forgive him and trust that God had brought us together for a reason. God made it clear the first choice would result in further damage to our marriage, alienating us from each other and preventing reconciliation and healing from even beginning. The second, however, would allow God to begin healing the damage immediately. It would still be a process, but it wouldn’t be delayed or drag on.
But what did that choice mean?
It meant forgiving him. Trusting him again as if he had never betrayed me. It meant handing over my heart once again and letting go of all of the anger, hurt, and bitterness. It meant moving on and having honest conversations. It meant being vulnerable and open with him. It meant exposing myself to possible rejection. It meant being selfless and putting his needs above my desire for control or my pain, putting the good of our marriage above what I felt was good for me. It meant letting go of my right to get even. It would be extremely hard and would require sacrifice, but it would be worth it.
After a few days of deliberation and struggle, I chose to forgive him, and it was quite possibly the most difficult decision I have ever made. It required me to believe in him again, to trust him with my heart and give myself to him again. On that day, I chose to let him in and asked him to be open with me about his struggle so we could fight it alongside each other by working through the issues and deep wounds caused by his addiction.
I have never looked back.
Wow, what a powerful story of forgiveness and marital reconciliation. 

Forgiveness only happens when one takes the time to think through your actions, emotions, and feelings and honestly say, “I was wrong” and “I am sorry;” and it means you take responsibility to confess your anger, self-centeredness, preoccupation, dissatisfaction, etc….  Forgiveness only happens when one accepts these sincere apologies and does not bring up past hurts as a club of resentment.  Moreover, it is the ability to release an offense and not hold a grudge. 

Pondering the Apostle's words, “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13), how can we forgive as God has forgiven us?  I know no other way but by embracing the message of the cross.

The cross means, at the least, that God so hates evil and injustice that he was/is willing to come suffer himself in order to end it.  And in doing so, through the cross, God also reveals his relentless love for people corrupt with evil and injustice, by Jesus bearing the guilt and shame of their sin. God hates evil - he will not and cannot tolerate it and one day he will bring everyone before him to give an account; but, at the same time, he overcomes evil in the human heart through love and forgiveness – this is the promise to those who receive the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both of these truths, God’s justice and forgiveness, are absolutely essential in our understanding and application  forgiveness.

Author and professor, Miroslav Volf puts it perfectly:
Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of [the Cross] for long without overcoming this double exclusion....When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is freed to rediscover the torturer's humanity and imitate God's love for that person. And when one knows that the love of God is greater than [my] sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of the justice of God and so rediscover one's own sinfulness. (Volf, The Spacious Heart)
May God, through the Gospel, soften our hearts so we never exclude one from receiving forgiveness.  And may this pattern of forgiveness begin in our marriages.

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