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“Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.”— Ephesians Chapter 4, verse 32
Forgiveness is such a counter-intuitive response to someone who does something wrong to us.It really doesn’t make any obvious sense to let people who offend us get away with it. What does seem to make sense is harboring our offense, letting it grow into bitterness and then releasing it as revenge.
Many of us imagine Hollywood-like revenge scenarios. In our imaginings we are calm and cool and deliver a long, moving and convincing speech to someone who is undeniably a villain.We see a look of recognition in their eyes as they fall to our stinging, yet completely justifiable blows. They realize that we are completely right and that they are getting their just desserts . . . with extra syrup. Oh how Satan has us fooled!
The reality is that revenge scenarios never work out that way. In some cases doubt creeps in that suggests we don’t have all the facts and then the guilt comes. More often than not, our ‘victim’ just refuses to lie down and act with the proper amount of shame and horror at offending such an upright person. So instead of resolving the issue, we escalate it or prolong it so that everyone suffers more!
This is why that, in spite of its apparent counter-intuitive nature, God’s solution of forgiveness is actually the only effective way of solving the problem of being offended. There is no better place to get this right than in our marriages where far too often a lack of forgiveness robs us of a fulfilling marriage relationship.
Here’s how things often develop in a marriage. First, your spouse does something that you don’t like. We frequently do things that our spouse doesn’t like and vice versa, so I’m sure you can think of something. Next, you detect a negative attitude in yourself towards your mate. It will probably be a feeling that you have not been consulted, respected, listened to, supported or something else that makes you feel undervalued and let down. You feel like your spouse owes you. You may feel that they deserve to be punished. If your spouse does not share your view-point and fails to apologize with an appropriate level of groveling, you reach a cross-road where you can choose to take the road of attempted revenge. . . or the road of forgiveness.
Here’s how forgiveness in a marriage should work. First, you realize that God knows a thing or two about what’s good for you and your relationships with others. Then you decide to take the path of forgiveness instead of attempted revenge. You need to give up the right to punish your mate – that’s right, no bringing up the offense again, no silent treatment, no withholding favors, no punishment of any sort.
It’s liberating because you don’t have to plan revenge any more, and we all know that in our busy lives it’s good to have one less thing to do! Then you need to get out your ledger – the book in which you write down everything that is owed to you – and you erase what you had decided your spouse owes you.You and your spouse will be freed from the damaging bitterness that is the opposite of forgiveness. You may be surprised to discover how good the feeling is when those shackles fall to the ground! There’s no guarantee that this will come easily or quickly, but like any worthwhile habit, practice will loosen up your forgiveness muscles and you will become better at it.
Being quick to forgive is a skill we especially need in the military. We need it to manage our relationships with our fellow military personnel when we are working together under very stressful conditions. We need it to ensure our professional conduct is always laced with compassion, even for our adversaries. And we need it to protect our marriages when we are subjected to stress, separation and all the other pressures unique to military families.
I also believe that forgiveness is a critical tool in helping to avoid relationship stresses that arise out of deployments. We should not even leave for work in the morning with unresolved bitterness, and we are really asking for trouble if we deploy overseas for long periods while harboring bitterness for our spouse. Ensuring that we have forgiven one another for any outstanding offenses should be a mandatory part of our pre-deployment preparation so that the home we swore to protect is there for us when we return.
If you are reading this and you are already apart from each other (you are serving overseas or your spouse is overseas), ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart for any areas for which you have not forgiven your spouse. You then need to wipe their debt clean and give up the right to punish them. While you’re at it, ask the Holy Spirit to also show you what you need to ask forgiveness for, and then ask Him for the courage to call or email your spouse. Then go through with it! If you are just apart from each other for the day or on a short TDY, I recommend that you do the same – it will be worth it. If you are sitting next to each other as you read this, do the same.
God knows what He is talking about. He knows the power of forgiveness. It’s called GRACE. If fact, He believes in it so much that He sent Jesus to die to pay the price for our sin just so that we can be forgiven. I know there are scales of offenses and some people do some truly horrible things to their spouses or their loved ones. But bear in mind that God does not condone our sin, He forgives it (see #2 below). Likewise, some may deal with small offenses that can be forgiven quickly and others may have mountainous offenses that will take some time and process to forgive.
But the goal is the same and our forgiveness does not mean we think the offense was okay. Jesus sacrificed His life to be able to offer forgiveness for both the small and the truly horrific offenses. We are only called to sacrifice our pride and desire for revenge in order to forgive – it’s a small price to pay for something from which we will benefit so much!
Questions to Share:
1. In a quiet time (not just after a disagreement when you’re still feeling the heat), ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you have any unresolved bitterness towards your spouse. If you have a lot, just start with the top three offenses.
2. When you look at the offenses, are there any over which it is worth sacrificing your marriage? If the answer is “yes”, you should seek some wise counsel because this may be more complicated than one devotion can cover, it may take some time and it will definitely take some support from someone you trust. If the answer is “no”, decide to forgive them right now to begin the process of healing.
3. Have you done anything that has offended, or may have offended your spouse? List the offenses. At an appropriate time (the earliest possible time you can arrange when there are minimal or no distractions) ask their forgiveness specifically for each one.
4. Ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you to practice forgiveness every time you offend your spouse, or they offend you. Build those forgiveness muscles.