It doesn’t take very long for a couple to figure out that marriage isn’t a continuously fun and easy ride, a big bundle of happy days tied up with a sparkly bow of hugs and kisses. It’s often the sandpaper of chafing personalities, unmet expectations, and hurt feelings that rub us the wrong way and leave us feeling rather raw.
Being able to forgive past offenses and let go of past hurts is an essential component for growing a strong marriage and maintaining an intimate relationship that lasts a lifetime.
On the other hand, unforgiveness blocks intimacy on an emotional and physical level. The Gottman Institute, a research-based relationship organization, noted, “The capacity to seek and grant forgiveness is one of the most significant factors contributing to marital satisfaction and a lifetime of love.”1 Without forgiveness, we will never be able to have a healthy thriving marriage. We can live in the same house, eat the same meals, take the same trips, and raise the same children, but without forgiveness we will live just short of true intimacy of the heart, never quite free to be soul naked and unashamed.
Forgiveness, when we look at it from the Greek perspective with the word aphiemi, means “to let go from one’s power, possession, to let go free, let escape.2
Biblical forgiveness means cutting someone loose.
This word picture is one in which the unforgiven is roped to the back of the unforgiving. When we refuse to forgive, we bind ourselves to what we hate. When we forgive, we cut the person loose from our backs and set ourselves free as well.
Forgiveness can also be seen in terms of canceling a debt. In the Old Testament, when someone paid a debt, a notice of the debt paid in full was nailed to the lender’s door. That is what Jesus did when He was nailed to the Cross — our debt was paid in full and nailed to Heaven’s door. When you forgive your husband, you cancel his debt, which he never could’ve paid back anyway. Forgiveness is no longer holding the offense against the offender.
I recently received an email from a woman who was still bitter over a statement her husband made to her cousin ten years ago. She and her husband were preparing to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and she was dreading it because of his careless words a decade before. She wrote, “Please pray that God mends this title [sic] piece of my heart that has fallen to the ground.”
The word title was a typo — she meant to type little. To me, it was telling. Friend, we can allow our husbands’ little shortcomings to become the title of our story, or we can forgive and write a new storyline. Not only does forgiveness change the title of your story, it changes the ending as well. So, how exactly can we consciously pursue forgiveness?
The first step to forgiveness is prayer.
The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). I hope your husband is never your enemy, but there may be days you feel like he is. So let’s follow God’s instruction and start by praying for him. It may not turn your husband’s hardened heart to putty in your hands, but it will melt the hardness of resentment in your own. I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my own heart. It’s difficult to stay mad at someone when you’re praying for him.
How many times are we to forgive? Peter asked Jesus that same question.
‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’ — Matthew 18:21-22
This doesn’t mean on the 491st offense we can choose not to forgive. Jesus was saying that there was no limit. But what about those big offenses? You know the ones I’m talking about. That is a good question. Pornography, alcoholism, drug abuse, and a host of other addictions must be addressed and dealt with for any marriage to survive and thrive. No one is doing their spouses any favors by allowing such destructive behavior to continue. To ignore such issues is enabling sin to continue and poisoning the marriage with the arsenic of apathy or fear.
God’s call for us to forgive does not mean that a woman should stay with a man who is abusive or sexually unfaithful. Separation is sometimes the best course of action. The wife needs to make sure that she is safe. A wife can separate from her husband, pray for her marriage, and continue to trust God to bring healing and restoration.
So, yes, there are bigger issues that we do need to address as they come up, sometimes seeking professional help, but this does not mean forgiveness is on hold.
Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. – Hebrews 12:14 NLT
It had been a particularly complex time in England, marked by civil war. Even believers like Jeremy Taylor faced ongoing challenges. Born in Cambridge, England, on this day in 1613, he had distinguished himself as a student and later a professor at Oxford University before eventually moving to Ireland.
The crises of his times helped drive him deeper in faith. He expressed insights through his devotional writings, particularly in a book he wrote about holy living. Here, he encouraged believers to realize that a key to successful living was how we start and end each day.
He encouraged readers, “When you awake, accustom yourself to think first upon God.” Then at night, “Let Him close thine eyes.” This focus is essential for healthful sleep and preparation to make life fruitful and balanced.
He influenced readers to avoid idleness and to be diligent. They were to be careful about the people they associated with, and always to look for opportunities to fill “spaces of time” in prayer, reading, and doing works of charity. They were to avoid sin and bad habits, develop the gifts God had given them, learn to “know the worth of time, and the manner how well to improve a day.”
Remember the importance of spending time with God, particularly in the morning and at night each day. He can give you peace for any challenge. Trust Him to help you make wise decisions.
The Power of Forgiveness
At some point in our lives, we’ve all had to forgive someone. A negligent barb hit its mark and now replays in our minds, scraping open the scabs. Perhaps it’s a deeper wound caused by someone’s abuse, abandonment, or assault. The ache of these injuries can linger for years, decades, even a lifetime. Forgiving someone can be one of the most difficult things to do in your life. Yet, it’s through forgiveness that God heals our deepest wounds, and frees us from our prisons of anger, hate, self-pity, and self-contempt. But, what does forgiveness really look like?
God has guided me through a long journey of forgiveness. Not usually one to hold a grudge, it still surprises me how frequently I find myself nursing one anyway. Once, more than 25 years ago, I was on watch in the Navy, and another young sailor—a friend, I thought—looked me in the eye and said, “Hunt, you’re such a loser.” Even though I immediately rejected his unprovoked pronouncement, the episode replays in my mind to this day. His sincerity drew blood. I still think of retorts that I might have employed to bite back. To be free of this incident, I really need to forgive that guy. But how?
Forgive as the Lord forgave you
Forgiveness is at the crux of our Christian faith. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-47, Matthew 26:28). In turn, God commands that we forgive those who sin against us: “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13c ESV). When his disciple, Peter, asked him how many times he should forgive, Jesus essentially answered, forgive and keep on forgiving—“seventy-seven times,” a figurative number suggesting continuing renewal.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns up the heat on forgiveness with these red-letter words: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:15 NIV).” This sounds harsh, and some people stumble over it, fearing they might lose their salvation if they do not forgive. Yet, it’s wholly consistent with Jesus’ teaching. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). If I’m forgiven by God, then who am I to refuse to forgive someone else? (Matthew 18:21-35) The book of James puts teeth on this. My faith in God’s forgiving grace must bear fruit in deeds: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
But, in our day-to-day lives, what does it mean to forgive? Do I pretend it didn’t hurt when that sailor called me a loser? What about when something really bad happens?
How do I forgive as I have been forgiven?
The most painful period of my life occurred after my wife of seven years suddenly announced that she didn’t want to be married or be a mother anymore. Not long after, she was gone and I was raising two very small children on my own. Angry about her abandonment of the children, I did little to process the pain caused by her disavowal of her promise to stay with me for life. To this day, more than 15 years later, I can get very upset when I think about what happened and how it has affected my kids. In those dark days, I could not imagine forgiving her for what she had done, not for a minute.
But God used that terrible time to kick the legs out from under my pride. For years I had been doing my own thing, almost completely ignoring God. As my world crumbled, like that prodigal son wandering in a far-off country, I knew I had to return to my Father. Hurt and angry, I didn’t want to talk much about forgiveness, and I had no idea what it looked like in this situation.
Thankfully, the Lord is a patient teacher.
God taught me a key lesson about forgiveness through a very long, sleepless night. I wrestled with him about what I believed—dreaded, rather—that he was telling me to do: to offer my ex-wife a second chance. The divorce had been final for months, and there had never been so much as a flicker of hope for reconciliation. And he wanted me to give her another chance? I didn’t fall asleep until I said, “Okay, God, I’ll do it!”
The next day, I called my ex-wife. With trepidation, I confessed my sins and offered her a fresh start—not without condition, but with genuine willingness to rebuild what had been broken. As it happened, she did not respond positively.
Why did God have me lay it all on the line with her again? I wouldn’t understand for a long time after, but he was laying a foundation for forgiveness. In making that call, I acknowledged that terrible damage had been done to me and my children; I accepted my own responsibility for the divorce and my need for forgiveness; and I gave up my claim to victimhood and retribution. Through that incredibly uncomfortable encounter, God showed me my ex-wife’s brokenness in light of my own; that she too was made in his image and in need of grace.
I did not forgive all in a day; and even now, years later, I have to forgive my ex-wife again each time my family experiences some lingering consequence from her actions. But, I forgive in light of my own forgiveness; as I have been forgiven, so also must I forgive. As a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, I have been forgiven so much. How then can I bear good fruit in Christ if I am unwilling to forgive? Thank God for his grace through Jesus.
So, what about that sailor who told me to my face that I was a “loser” all those years ago? I recognize now that he might have been looking in the mirror when he said those words to me. Not caring much for himself, he lashed out at someone else. The wound I suffered was real, but the one who inflicted it on me was every bit as broken and in need of grace as me. I forgive him and pray that he too receives the grace of Jesus.