It’s not a matter of asking, ‘What if forgiveness is tough?” because the answer will always be, “Yes.” Yes, forgiveness is tough because true forgiveness required a human a sacrifice, a self-willing human sacrifice, a death so gruesome and torturous that the man willing to die was almost unrecognizable. Scripture teaches us that it was because of this gruesome sacrifice, by those wounds, that we are healed.
I believe we can learn a lot about forgiveness in our marriages by looking at the Cross. Forgiveness in marriage can be extremely difficult at times when we feel deeply betrayed. Yet, if you are a confessing Christian, you follow someone who was despised and rejected by humanity. Isn’t that what betrayal looks like; being ultimately despised and rejected by your spouse? I’m talking deep, deep hurt that causes your soul to cry out in anger and anguish and heartache all the while asking how someone who confessed to loving you so much could hurt you so deeply. Do the words, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me” come to mind? Christ cried out in anguish while he was hurting, betrayed, and deeply wounded on the Cross.
Yet, Christ Chose to Forgive
Jesus Christ looked at the thief next to him and said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus was telling the repentant thief, “Today, you will be in my ultimate presence in my garden of peace.” Christ teaches us that his choice to forgive leads us into his very presence. Christ chose forgiveness in the midst of his heartache and that means we too must strive to forgive when we’ve been deeply hurt in our marriages. Why?
Because We Have Been Forgiven
That same forgiveness that Jesus gave the thief he gives to us. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Confession and repentance lead to salvation. What if our marriages, even in their darkest times, model a place where confession and repentance lead to the saving of a marriage. Again, we forgive in our marriages because have been forgiven.
We Must Remember that Forgiveness Is Tough
Jesus had to endure great heartache and pain to achieve salvation for mankind. If we are going to forgive our spouse after being deeply betrayed, we too will go through heartache and pain. I believe the Cross teaches us that there is no true redemptive forgiveness without intense pain. So, please know that if your spouse has deeply hurt you, forgiveness will not occur without much wrestling and crying out to God and even your spouse.
The Other Side of Forgiveness
Forgiving our spouse after a betrayal does not mean our marriages are always saved, especially after abuse has occurred. However, choosing to practice forgiveness the way Christ forgave on the Cross will ultimately stop the cycle of hate that would continue if you chose not to forgive. On the other side of forgiveness, there is freedom; freedom from the captivity of hate and hopelessness, freedom from the anger and disgust that might be eating you up from the inside-out, freedom that results in deep, soulful healing.
Forgiveness is tough because the Cross was tough. Yet, forgiveness is powerfully redemptive because the Cross is redemptive. When you are tempted to not forgive, may the Cross be an ever present reminder that we live as forgiven people. So, no matter how difficult choosing to forgive might be, may you find the same power that raised Jesus from the dead being the same power in you empowering you to forgive.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. —Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
It was 12:45 a.m. and I was sending my dad an email after my university’s team got hammered by 32 points on a Saturday night. I was a student manager. Our season was looking bleak, everyone was doubting the process, and no one wanted to practice at 8:00 a.m. The email read like this:
Dad, we got crushed tonight. We were overmatched and our execution was awful. We just got back to the arena and our guys are exhausted. Coach has scheduled practice for 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, Dad! What is he thinking?!
My dad’s reply:
I am sure Coach has a reason for what he is doing. He’s teaching them how to win and sometimes that’s a hard thing to do. Teams who have never won before don’t understand that it takes effort, day in and day out, to build a championship team. Coach knows what he’s doing.
During this toughest part of the season that my dad’s words and the team’s experiences taught me some valuable lessons that I apply to my marriage today, lessons that are taken directly from the pages of Scripture.
STAY COMMITTED TO THE PROCESS BECAUSE HEALTHY MARRIAGES REQUIRE DAY-IN-AND-DAY-OUT EFFORT.
Galatians says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” When marriages fall upon hard times, couples can be tempted to give up. The first big marital fight, the first holiday visit to the in-laws, the miscarriage, and any other number of life challenges can cause any marriage, but especially a young marriage, to crack. Work to know the triggers of marital stress in your relationship. Yet, it’s during these difficult moments that couples must stay committed, or covenanted, to one another. And often, that commitment doesn’t look sexy or feel wonderful. Practicing at 8:00 a.m. after a game the night before never felt sexy, nor did workouts at 5:00 a.m. Commitment often feels the exact opposite of sexy and wonderful; it is often a practical and devoted decision when you feel nothing.
Commitment often feels the exact opposite of sexy and wonderful; it is often a practical and devoted decision when you feel nothing.
COMMITMENT TO EACH OTHER WILL PRODUCE MARITAL GROWTH.
Galatians also says, “for, at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Commitment during a hopeless moment is often the seed that will produce marital growth. The formula for successful teams is the same for a successful marriage: commitment through difficult times produces resiliency which results in a stronger marriage. I have seen too many couples squander the pain of a difficult season instead of using that pain to grow closer to each other and to God. If you find yourself in a difficult season of marriage, lean into the pain, and allow God to use that pain to grow your marriage. A simple question you can ask God during a difficult marital season is, “God, what are you trying to teach me or teach us during this season?”
The formula for successful teams is the same for a successful marriage, commitment through difficult times produces resiliency which results in a stronger marriage.
SOMETIMES MARRIAGE REQUIRES A 12:45 A.M. CONVERSATION.
Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” It does not say to resolve every problem before going to sleep. However, there are times during a difficult season in marriage when you will find yourself up late into the night trying to resolve a conflict or work through a challenge. Couples can choose to see these times as burdens or they can embrace the eccentric nature of such conversations, lean into the conversation, and find themselves connecting on a different level. Please note: if you find yourself growing too exhausted to engage in respectful conversation, pause the conversation and commit to re-engaging in the morning with fresher minds and hearts.
The same team I was concerned about ended up winning three straight NCAA conference championships because they stayed committed to the process of improving and grew as a result of that commitment. I pray the same is true for your marriage. Your marriage will most likely never be given a literal championship trophy for being healthy or for staying committed during the sometimes mundane day-in-and-day-out work of marriage. But holding hands at the age of 80 while celebrating a lifetime of commitment and devotion to one another is greater than any championship any sport can offer. (Article was originally published at startmarriageright.com.)
I always try to emphasize one thing to a bride as her wedding day approaches. “It’s your wedding. It’s your celebration. It’s your day. You and your groom deserve the fairy tale; your fairy tale. So, when it comes to your wedding, don’t be shy about being honest with your dreams and hopes. It’s your day, so make it happen.”
I tell brides this because of a dynamic I’ve witnessed at too many rehearsals: a bride’s mom hijacks her daughter’s wedding and makes the wedding about her desires, her expectations, and her dreams. As this dynamic has played out time and again, I’ve seen many brides torn. They desire to speak up and express their own wishes, but out of respect, due to fear, or from a place of sheer defeat, the bride stays quiet. A little part of her dies inside because she realizes that it’s not her fairy tale day after all. It’s her moms.
There’s a deeper, much more meaningful process taking place in those moments when the bride is wrestling with whether or not she should express her desires to her mother. The process is one of spiritual formation where the bride has to decide, “Do I be honest with how I feel or do I simply bury my feelings?”
Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” If a bride’s mother is being selfish, then the bride must do the difficult work of confronting her mother about her selfish behavior; selfish behavior that is hijacking her fairy tale.
Such confrontation is extremely tough to do. But, it is important to point out that Jesus didn’t promote the burying of our feelings nor did he promote the sugar coating of our feelings. In that moment of decision, the bride is making a choice to live a life of honesty and congruence. She is deciding that she is worth speaking up for and that she cares about herself enough to do so. Yes, a bride must respect her mother, but if that bride is going to practice loving others as she loves herself, she must decide that she will advocate for herself or else she will always struggle to advocate for others like her husband and children. If the bride is going to model honesty and speaking the truth, the bride will hopefully decide to speak up. Otherwise, her relationship with her mom will always be one of false honesty where she pretends she is happy with her relationship. In essence, the bride will be living a relational lie with her mom.
In my sixteen years of ministry, I have learned that the earlier a couple can develop the characteristic of honesty with their respective parents, the greater the likelihood each set of parents will respect the marital boundaries of the newlywed couple
What if you’re the groom in moments like these? First, I encourage a groom to also be honest about their desires around the wedding, but to ultimately submit to their wife’s wishes. Allow Cinderella or Tiana to have their fairy tale! Secondly, I encourage the groom to be a voice of encouragement for their conflicted bride, but to not rescue her. The groom needs to empower his bride to be honest about her dreams and desires around the wedding. Son-in-laws-to-be benefit from encouraging daughter-mother dialogue instead of triangulating themselves into such conflict. Finally, pray that your bride will find the strength to be honest and advocate for herself.
Brides, it’s your fairy tale day. Moms, it is not your fairy tale day. Brides, be honest about what you want and may the celebration go well!!! (Article originally published at startmarriageright.com)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.