My wife is 100% German. And sometimes when I do something stupid that hurts her feelings, by accident or on purpose, she sometimes says (with a very thick German accent – try it!), “I vill make you pay for vut you haff done to me!” But after a while…she always forgives me. Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should we forgive…seven times?” If we read between the lines, we see that Peter thinks seven times is pretty generous. Do you think it’s generous? Would you forgive your spouse seven times for the same offense? Jesus more or less blows it out of the water when He tells Peter, “Not seven…but 77 times.”
Forgiveness is always tough, and God is not surprised you won’t, or can’t, or don’t want to forgive. He knows that out of pain, you’d like to point at the offender and say, “Hey God…what about them, and what they did!” When at that very moment God is concerned with what condition your own heart is in and if you will do what He asks and forgive.
If you are a very visual person, you might want to have a look at an excellent video by Father Mike Schmitz.
In marriage, we really do enter into the Paschal Mystery by virtue of the many small, significant dying and risings that have taken place, and will take place in a relationship. Not only will people have to say they are sorry, but those who suffer from an offense will have to do something that honors God…forgive. Of course, this also applies to forgiving parents, or grandparents, or co-workers, or the person who cuts you off in traffic. But it is especially hard for husband and wife because let’s face it, the guy who cuts you off in traffic can’t hurt you anywhere near as much as your spouse can.
You have lots of options when you feel a spouse has hurt or failed you: verbally stomp them, ridicule them, save it all for ammunition later, or talk with them, love them, forgive them. It’s a fair question to ask: Which of these would you like your spouse to respond with when you make a mistake?
Just like with communication, and fair fighting, and anger control – our forgiveness patterns come from our own families. Abundant forgiveness between your mother and father, and between your parents and yourself, establishes a forgiveness pattern. A chronic lack of forgiveness, unfortunately, also establishes a pattern. And if both parties in a relationship lack the forgiveness pattern, it’s probably a sure bet that nobody is saying, “I’m sorry” and the path to assured mutual destruction soon becomes clear.
If you are not sure what you think about forgiveness, and you need a baseline, you might want to try Dr. Linda Mintle’s Forgiveness Quiz and in her book Breaking Free from Anger and Unforgiveness.
Let’s start with the basics. Forgiveness is not a “feeling”–it’s a decision. You don’t have to feel forgiving in order to forgive. And though reconciliation is always a good thing in a marriage, you don’t have to reconcile with someone in order to forgive him or her. Reconciliation requires remorse on the part of someone who hurt you–and you may never get that. But you can still forgive, even in the absence of an apology.
The truth is, forgiveness is just as much about you and God as it is about you and someone who offends you. How do we know? The Lord’s Prayer says so. It is Jesus who makes it about you and God. About you and HIM! We’re really in a vulnerable position when every day we say, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and we know (deep down) the opposite is also true – don’t forgive us our trespasses if we don’t forgive those who trespass against us.
And if you double-down, and refuse to forgive, in spite of what Jesus says – it becomes even more about you and God when you suddenly realize there is a dark part of your heart that is full of anger or hate or revenge that you refuse to turn over to Him. You choose not to let Him touch it. You choose to cling to it and identify with it. “Unforgiving” then becomes one of the ways you use to describe yourself…in your relationship with God. Your lack of forgiveness becomes a stake in the ground, and you are tied to it. It keeps you from moving forward in things spiritual. It fogs your Christianity…because forgiveness and compassion are Christian – anger, hate, and revenge are not.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are no longer hurt. Forgiving someone does not mean letting go of your “right to be right.” It means letting go of your right to revenge and leaving the justice part to God. And there is a justice part. You’ve been hurt, or abused, or insulted – any number of things. Part of forgiveness is taking inventory of that hurt, of the price you’ve paid, and the damage you’ve suffered. It is making an accurate determination of what another person might owe you, (whether they’re alive or dead), and saying, “I no longer want to make you pay what you owe me.” You choose to say; “I’m not going to make you pay me back for what you’ve done to me.” It means releasing that person from the debt they should rightly pay. It’s a decision, not a feeling.
And finally, you may have to do it over and over, even 77 times as Jesus says. This is because His standard of measurement is the cross. If we embrace this cross then we MUST embrace forgiveness or we’re just blowin’ smoke.
I think you can understand forgiveness, and unforgiveness are always about you and Jesus –His heart, and your heart. He released us from a debt we should rightly pay. He’s asking us to do the same thing.