While in Nashville, TN a few years ago, I heard Rebecca Lynn Howard sing her original song Forgive. Her incredible talent, the haunting melody, and penetrating lyrics made me feel the pain so many feel when they have been hurt by someone they love. The lyrics describe a husband who “drops a bomb right where we live” and then flippantly “expects me to just forgive.” Rebecca belts out the chorus ….
Forgive …well, that’s a mighty big word for such a small man
And I’m not sure I can
Cause I don’t even know now who I am
It’s too soon for me to say forgive.
Forgive, that’s a Mighty Big Word: There are few words packed with as much baggage, as much power, as much misunderstanding, and as much hope as the word forgive. Forgiveness is the one thing we all desperately need, and it can be one of the hardest things to give when we have been hurt. If you are feeling stuck when it comes to forgiving your spouse, the Hopeful Marriage Retreat can help. This practical, faith-driven weekend is designed to create the breakthrough your marriage needs.
Read below for 3 things that forgiveness is and 3 things that forgiveness is not.
3 Things That Forgiveness is Not:
1. Forgiveness Is Not the Same Thing as Trust: One of the biggest misconceptions about forgiveness is the false notion that granting forgiveness is the same thing as extending trust. It is not. Forgiveness is about the past and building trust is about the future. Separating these two concepts is essential for couples to be able to move forward in granting forgiveness and coming to understand what it means to rebuild trust.
Trust is built through consistent actions over time. This is true with any relationship. We come to trust people when they have a history of consistently following through on their commitments. Conversely, we have less trust if a person has a history of not following through on their commitments.
When our trust is betrayed by someone we love, it is devastating because it causes us to second guess ourselves. We ask ourselves questions like, “How could I have missed it?” Was it all a lie? It can be very disorienting. We start to question all the things we thought we knew. Therefore, it takes time to rebuild trust. The betrayed spouse will need to ask a lot of questions and verify what they are being told.
2. Forgiveness Is Not Saying What They Did Was Ok: Sometimes we are hesitant to forgive because it feels like extending forgiveness might give our partner a free pass to hurt us again. It can feel like we are minimizing their actions and saying what they did was ok.
As a result, sometimes people withhold forgiveness in order to protect themselves. Afterall, if the person that hurt me is in the doghouse, they are less likely to hurt me again. So, we keep them “on the hook” with our anger or by putting up a wall. The wall feels like it is protecting us, but over time it will be the thing that keeps us from connection.
It is true that if you are going to rebuild trust and heal the relationship you will need your partner to truly understand the pain they have caused. The Hopeful Tomorrow’s weekend walks couples through a faith-driven process that helps partners to really hear their partner’s pain and take ownership of their part.
3. Forgiveness Is Not Pretending That It Doesn’t Still Hurt: Unfortunately, there is no way to truly heal without first going through the pain. Choosing to forgive does not mean the pain automatically goes away.
It is common for the betrayed spouse to experience what are known as triggers. A trigger is an automatic response that takes you back to the intense emotions first experienced with a painful trauma. Triggers can be very frustrating because they can seemingly come out of nowhere.
You may be having a good day and then something triggers you and the emotions that follow are very intense. You may be making great progress in healing your relationship and then a trigger will make you feel the same pain you felt when the hurt first occurred. If you are actively working on the relationship, the triggers will become fewer and further between over time, but they are still a painful part of the healing process. (For more insights on healing from a broken trust, see the blog post “If You Are Experiencing the Pain of Betrayal”.)
If your spouse is experiencing these emotional triggers, the best thing you can do is to be willing to listen and connect with what they are feeling and to reassure them of your commitment. Resist the urge to withdraw, defend, to get lost in your own shame or to use logic to show why it shouldn’t make them feel this way. Healing from a breach of trust is a process and your partner will heal more thoroughly and effectively if you are willing to be with them in it. (For more insights on repairing a relationship after breaking trust, see the blog post “If You Have Broken Trust in the Relationship”.)
3 Things That Forgiveness Is:
1. Forgiveness Is a Gift You Give Yourself: It has been said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” We think that we are punishing the other person by withholding our forgiveness, but we are really hurting ourselves.
Furthermore, holding on to unforgiveness can physically make you sick. It can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. I can cause you to isolate and not trust others. It can disrupt your sleep and consume your thoughts with resentments as you ruminate on what was done to you.
Choose to forgive for your own sake. Time will tell if the relationship can be rebuilt, but you have the power to forgive regardless of what the other person does.
2. Forgiveness Is Letting Go of My Right to Hurt You Because You Hurt Me: There is an old saying that “hurt people, hurt people.” When someone hurts us, our fleshly reaction is to want to hurt them back. Take a look at how The Message version paraphrases Romans 12:19. It says, “Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Think of it this way. When somebody deeply hurts you, their offense is like a debt that is owed. We even use the word “forgive” to refer to a debt that has been canceled. When we forgive another person’s offense, we are taking that debt and handing it over to God. It is not saying the offense was “ok”, rather it is taking that very painful offense and telling God that this is His debt to collect. We are moving out of the debt collecting business.
3. Forgiveness Is an Act of Obedience to God: If you are a Christian, then you have experienced the ultimate expression of forgiveness. The forgiveness of your sins was motivated by God’s great love for you, and it cost Him greatly. Throughout scripture there is a strong correlation between God’s forgiveness of our sins and our responsibility to forgive those who hurt us.
For example, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5 that if you are worshiping at the alter and remember that your brother has an offense against you, then stop what you are doing and go and be reconciled to your brother. Jesus goes even further by saying in verse 15 “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3:13, “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” The main point is that forgiving others is non-negotiable for the Christian. We are a forgiven people who are called to forgive.