What to do when forgiveness is hard?
Are there some things that I cannot forgive people for? If I consider it, that's a decision I have to make, not an emotion I have to feel.
First, let's just get something out of the way. As a husband, if I witness another guy belittle, verbally accost, or shout down at my wife, they may not walk away with as many teeth as they had before. If it's not okay with me that someone else would do it, then it shouldn't be okay for me to do it either. This should really just be a human universal thing, so ladies aren't off the hook for this either.
If I try to justify my negative reaction towards someone with the excuse that, "I just can't help it!" Or, "this is just who I am..." If someone put a gun to my head and said, "don't say another loud or angry word or I'll blow your brains out." I think I could help it, and I could change my tune awfully fast. Of course, I have a choice not to hurt those around me. Understanding the consequences is a big part of self control.
The Cost of Unforgiveness
Forgiveness is hard, especially if I've been hurt badly. My wife and I have laid ourselves bare to one another, the worst secrets we'd never want another soul to know, the greatest weaknesses we have, and what hurts us the most. I know we're both people who aren't perfect and we'll probably hurt each other terribly in the future. Nevertheless, though forgiveness is hard, unforgiveness is harder.
As a Christian, I have the picture of Jesus who brought this radical idea of the Kingdom, a reign and rule of supernatural love in the lives of His followers. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, we see a limitless depth of love and capacity for forgiveness, which being as screwed up as we are, is exactly what we need. That being said, let me be frank. If you don’t trust another person to not abuse you, then I recommend not marrying them. Not that people can’t change, but I tend to think that they’re ready to marry after that change has occurred.
Unforgiveness takes a wrong that's done to me and resurrects it instead. It is a desire for justice that makes itself blind to any form of redemption or reconciliation. Are there things people can do to me that permanently destroy trust and cause such deep pain that I shouldn't even permit the hope or recognize the divine imperative to forgive? What about redemption when they're repentant? What about reconciling relationships?
When harms are small, we tend to brush it off, or we can hold on to the pain, become enslaved to it, and let our emotions smolder. Whether large or small, wounds that I allow to fester can become so gangrenous that the idea of forgiveness feels like some conspiracy to brush off other's terrible wrongs towards me. My whole world can revolve around that pain.
Do I want to let it fester? If i don't, then there's a way out. If I really want to be free of it, there's a way I can release myself from the torment. After all, how long after I've been wronged does the torment become self-inflicted? How long is long enough until I decide that I don’t want it to define who I am, or what I will become? If I hold on to unforgiveness forever, then those who are closest to me continue to pay even if they weren't guilty of the wound. If it’s the ones who are closest to me that hurt me, then I have to decide whether or not I want to let that hurt define the future of that relationship.
What would it accomplish if I fight fire with fire? Do I want to let someone else’s toxicity make me toxic? Do I really become the dreaded doormat if I refuse to descend into it the same childishness? What, then? Think about it.
What about when harms are big? When it’s so serious that betrayal dongs in my heart like a monastery sounding the turning of an endless hour. When trust in them becomes like sand that falls between my fingers, and I don't care that it's falling away? When a way out of the torment isn’t preferable to the bell that now reminds me forever to protect myself from ever being in that situation again?
Am I really protecting myself with such a vow? If I quit and move on to other relationships, is it fair to impose such a burden on the next person’s shoulders, when it wasn’t them who hurt me?
If I consider it, it’s all up to my decision.
Light at the end of the tunnel
In the Bible there's also the idea of the fruit of the Spirit. When God is causing us to grow more like Himself, there's twelve areas that show this growth. The very first one is love, and the very last one is self-control. Every other one that is sandwiched in between depends on these two.
What do I believe love can do? What do I believe forgiveness can heal? Do I want to wear the everlasting shackles of what someone else did to me?
First comes the foundation. My wife is the most important person in my life. Under God, my spouse comes next. Children, family, nation, church, they all come after her in priority. When we married, whether or not it was God’s will for me to marry her, it’s His will now. There is no escape. There is no exit. There is no plan B. Whatever happens, we work through it. Let me just say it one more time. There is no D word.
That’s why my wife and I endeavor daily to keep the unity by reinforcing the love and respect we have towards each other. Nevertheless, let’s say that in a moment of weakness that ideal environment breaks down. It rarely does, but it can, especially when life presses hard on both of us. Typically, we know when we’re both too emotionally depleted to bring up stressful topics, but what if one of us really needs the other when we’re both too drained? Can I trust my emotions to come to the rescue? No. Emotions react or respond. They don’t care about what we’re called and created to do. They’re not dependable to do the right thing, especially when they’re scrambled by stress, and passionately pulling you multiple directions at once.
I’m just going to make a wild guess that love and forgiveness is the last way your emotions are responding. Love and forgiveness needs to be a decision in stressful moments. Marriage is a vow, a commitment, a relentless decision. So before the next word comes out of my mouth, I need to know whether or not I will allow my mouth to speak negative emotions and escalate the situation. My mind has to make this decision, not my emotions. I have to count the cost and consider what I can do to restore the unity and the bond of peace.
Urge to resist humility
Since I won’t uncover my wife, and to be honest, we haven’t really had many arguments, and when we do, I forget about them straightaway, I’ll give an example from work instead.
Working as a production supervisor, I had a guy in my department who is very passionate about the work he does. A situation came up and he started making a mountain out of an anthill. Our heads butted, so to speak, and words got heated. Afterwards, I started brooding over the conversation about how I was right and could have argued better. I was really close to just telling him to go home for the day, but then I felt a tug in my heart. It was a momentary glimpse of the gift of self-control, and I was faced with two options. I could refuse it and continue to fume, or I could humble myself and listen to wisdom. So I listened to wisdom instead of going back and carrying on in the heat of emotion.
The momentary glimpse didn’t reveal that one of us was right and the other was wrong in the argument, but that the argument itself was silly. I was stressed out because I had so much on my plate, and this guy was eager to grow. So the next time I talked to him, I apologized for getting on his case, and then I offered that responsibility to him. That act of delegation not only gave him responsibility over this area he was obviously passionate about, but it also gave him a fuller perspective about how things worked. Instead of going forward in an awkward work relationship, we worked together as a team every day.
Unity in marriage is exponentially more important than unity at the workplace. It’s a decision to put the purpose of marriage above our emotions. Forgiveness is that escape from the festering pain. Forgiveness is that release from the long term scars. Forgiveness is the newness of life, heart, and mind that lets you let go and be more than what others have done to you. Don’t consult your feelings. Don’t believe the lie that the cost is too great. It will cost you more to keep unforgiveness around.
Do some people need distance until they show the repentance to be more than just lip service? No doubt. Trust may need to be regrown, but forgiveness at least breaks the ground to make room for the seed to be planted again. Wisdom may need to leverage protection against enabling abusive behavior. Just remember that if someone is abusive, it’s probably some unresolved issues from their past that's caused it. Don’t let the chain of abuse keep continuing because unforgiveness can transform you into the same kind of person that you despise. Whereas forgiveness can transform you into the kind of person ruled by love, self-control and everything in between.