“I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
Sarah cast a doubting glance at her husband. She’d heard that line before. She was pretty sure she’d heard it every day for the last month. Every time they crossed the bridge over the rushing creek in their backyard, she was sure it was going to give way. And every time they successfully made it to the other side, she’d start to say something to David, only for him to cut her off with, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” If she wasn’t so worried about actually getting hurt during one of their daily walks, she’d think their interactions were almost funny. But she knew that if the bridge didn’t get fixed soon, both of them might get injured, a real danger that her husband was either ignorant of or just didn’t care about.
I relate that simple story to say this: Marriage relationships are like bridges. They carry a lot of weight, are weakened by stress, and break down by neglect. Too often, we treat our marriages like David treated that bridge, putting off the hard work of restoration because everything seems to be working well enough for the moment. But such neglect exponentially multiplies future problems.
The good news is that there is a way to repair the breach, rebuild the bridge, and restore relationships that are broken.
The Dumbest Time of My Life
“I want a divorce.”
Yes, those words once escaped my lips. Five years and innumerable stupid decisions into my marriage, I uttered what should have never been said. I was twenty-three, angry and bitter at God for the many hurtful situations and disappointments that I felt he had caused in my life. I gave up on God and moved far away from him, resulting in serious spiritual, emotional, and relational trouble. Such colossal failures in my life couldn’t help but to negatively affect my young marriage.
Thank God for his patience and my wife’s endurance. We’re still together because God rescued me from my idiocy and healed my relationship both with him and my wife. What He’s done for me I know he can do for you. He can heal broken hearts, broken lives, and broken marriages. I know this to be true from my own life, from those I’ve counseled, and from what I read in the Bible.
God heals, and it’s a miraculous thing to witness when a marriage shattered like broken pottery is slowly remade into something stronger and more beautiful than it ever was before.
The Starting Point for Forgiveness and Healing
Forgiveness is not always a one-time event. It is a process that people often have to work through multiple times for the same issue. Forgiveness involves both the mind and the heart. Many people fool themselves into thinking they’ve forgiven someone else since they’ve verbally said, “I forgive you.” Sometimes this is done to quickly move past a troubling problem without addressing its root cause. At other times, the words are spoken in order to elicit a desired response from the one who’s inflicted pain. While it is important to vocalize forgiveness, this should happen after particular changes within the heart have occurred. “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45b, NLT).
I relate that warning to say this: the starting point for forgiveness begins with you and what you choose to hold on to in your heart.
If there’s one central word we should focus on when it comes to forgiveness, I believe it’s surrender. In our culture, we consider surrendering as an act of giving up or giving in. In other words, we don’t value surrendering, but I think that’s because we have a low view of what it really means, especially in relation to our Christian walk. To surrender to God is to embrace his path and yield to his way. Surrendering means letting go of our way as we accept and follow his plans. To surrender is to trust. Nowhere does Jesus make this more clear than in Mark 8:34b-36: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
In my New Revised Bubna Translation, I’d rephrase Jesus’s last question to fit this book: “What good is it for a spouse to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his or her marriage?” But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Surrendering is central to the Christian faith. It’s what we do when we accept Christ into our lives. We surrender our lives to him, trusting him to guide us much better than we can guide ourselves.
So what does this broad concept of surrendering have to do with forgiveness in marriage? Everything. When we surrender to God’s way, we’ll discover and experience his power to heal, and every marriage can benefit from that.
What must you surrender?
1. Surrender your past mistakes and learn to forgive.
First, learn to see yourself the way God sees you. Often, seeking forgiveness from someone else means first forgiving yourself. Remind yourself of the Bible’s most well-known sentence in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world.” That “world” includes you. Meditate on the truth of God’s great forgiveness of every single one of your shortcomings, past, present, and future.
2. Surrender your present realities and learn to hope.
When I talk about surrendering your present realities, I’m not talking about ignoring reality. Pretending that no problems exist just makes your problems that much worse. Rather, you should learn how not to fixate on your present realities and focus on God. It’s so easy for us to become consumed by how we’ve been hurt, or how we think the other person ought to respond to us, but these are cul-de-sac streets on the road to forgiveness that just make us go in circles. When we choose to focus on God and see our circumstances in light of his ways, we’re surrendering our vain efforts to be our spouse’s Holy Spirit. (Read that again!)
3. Surrender your future fears and learn to trust.
When we’re hurt, whether physically or emotionally, we fear being hurt the same way again. This is especially true in marriages, where the kinds of hurt spouses can inflict on each other open gaping wounds. When trust has been broken—or shattered as in most affairs—the victimized spouse faces a near insurmountable obstacle in learning to trust their spouse ever again. When married couples do the hard work of reconciliation, they must learn to deal with fear. Surrendering our fears is an integral part of forgiveness. Seldom do we actually want to face our fears, but it’s a necessary step toward whole forgiveness.
The consequences of unforgiveness are catastrophic. When we refuse to untie the relational knot of bitterness, we end up bound and broken. But trust and surrender lead to freedom, and God wants us to live free, forgiving others as he has forgiven us.
Forgiveness is not just important—it’s everything.
[This is an excerpt from my recently published book: Mr. & Mrs. ~ How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage! Click HERE to order it on Amazon. BTW, when you order the print version, you get the digital version for free!]
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