On Sunday, 9/11/22, Pastor Chris encouraged us to forgive in marriage using the Old Testament prophet Hosea’s marriage to Gomer as a model. You can check out the message here.
In this post, I’d like to answer the question: How do you forgive? But first, let’s look at the big picture: God loves you. God loves your spouse. (I'm assuming you're married.) You are, in your marriage, an agent of God’s love for your spouse. One of the ways in which your spouse experiences God’s love is through you. Love does not delight in evil (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love does not enable evil, minimize evil, condone evil. Love is not a doormat to be trampled underfoot. (See, for example, Matthew 7:6.) Not knowing your situation, I feel I need to say a couple things: (1) If you and/or your children are in danger, get to safety and get help as soon as possible. Today. Now. Don’t delay. (2) If there is violence, abuse, infidelity, addiction, or a problem you can’t solve in your marriage, get help. Both spouses should be in counseling, but if your spouse refuses, you should still get help. Getting help does not mean posting your problems on social media; it means seeking out godly wisdom and professional intervention. Back to Hosea and Gomer. I have seen marriages restored after infidelity, and I have seen marriages destroyed by unfaithfulness. I know of one couple where the wife was looking for love in all the wrong places, and her husband more than once showed up at the home of her latest lover (with their little children waiting in the car outside) to drag her out and bring her home. But even he had his limits. He finally said, “If you don’t want me, I guess I’ll need to accept that. Goodbye.” Then and only then did she come to her senses and realize what she was throwing away. Today they are a godly couple with a beautiful family. But that’s only after God did a great deal of repair in their lives and in their marriage. Marriage is the union of two imperfect people. That means mistakes and sins are going to happen. You are going to hurt your spouse; your spouse is going to hurt you. When your spouse hurts you, what do you do? You forgive—always. You restore the relationship—when possible. Let’s talk about restoring the relationship—reconciliation—first. Healthy relationships are based on trust. When trust is broken, trust needs to be restored. Most of the time, this is not a problem. I say something stupid to my wife. She talks to me about it. I realize I was being an idiot. I apologize. She forgives. All is well. But sometimes trust is broken—as is the case with an adulterous affair—and trust needs to be restored for the relationship to continue. This requires work on the part of both parties, and if one party or the other is not willing to put in the work, then professional help is needed if there’s going to be any hope of restoring the relationship. With all that in mind, what does it mean to forgive, and how do you do it? Forgiving a spouse does not mean we condone or minimize or rationalize their sins. Rather, when we forgive, we hand our anger over to God. We also hand the person who hurt us over to God, and give up our “right” to revenge. Anger says, “You must change in order for me to be okay.” Forgiveness says, “I no longer need anything from you in order to be okay.” We need God’s grace to forgive. Here’s how that works: 1. Identify the offense. What are you forgiving? 2. Be honest with yourself and with God about your feelings. What are you feeling? Anger? Hurt? Frustration? Rage? Bitterness? Something else? 3. Examine your heart and find the answer(s) to this question: If I gave my anger to God, what would I lose—what would be the downside? You are trying to find any inner hesitations you might have to forgiving. 4. Share those hesitations with God, and invite Him to share His perspective with you. It might look something like this: “Lord Jesus, I know it isn’t true, but it feels true that if I forgive my spouse for this, then it’s like I don’t matter any more. What do you want me to know about that?” 5. Pause and give God a chance to respond. Sometimes He responds in some dramatic way, but most often it’s quiet—sometimes so quiet and unobtrusive that you barely know He’s there. 6. Examine your heart again to see if any hesitations remain. If they do, repeat Steps 3, 4, and 5. If they don’t, go on to Step 7. 7. Hand your anger (etc.) over to God. Something like this: “Lord Jesus, I no longer need this anger. I give it to You, and I receive from You whatever You have for me in place of this anger.” It’s amazing how God can use these simple steps to make it possible to forgive all kinds of offenses, large and small. A couple final thoughts: This process usually works very well on the first try. But sometimes you need to persist and/or you need outside help. Don’t give up. Get help if you need it. Forgiving frees you of a load of bitterness that God does NOT want you to carry. Do you need to tell the person you’re forgiving that you’ve forgiven them? It depends. In a marriage, where there’s an ongoing relationship, usually the answer is yes. Sometimes, however, it’s not wise, especially in a broken relationship where, for the health and safety of yourself or others, it’s best for there to be no contact. Hope these thoughts are helpful. Dwight