Some of the emotional baggage that we carry with us into our relationships is found in a sack labelled un-forgiveness.
The idea that someone has wronged us and that they should pay has been likened to a debt – the person owes us for what they have done.
But when we carry this kind of baggage around with us we also end up carrying what author David Seamands calls the “Fearsome Four of guilt, resentment, striving and anxiety.”
That is a lot of baggage to lug around!
More importantly, if our practice in life has been to not forgive, then we can be sure that this will also be our habit in marriage.
Forgiveness is a complicated subject because there are so many intricate avenues and nuances associated with it.
“I was the victim of verbal and emotional abuse for twenty years in my marriage – how can I be expected to forgive that?”
“My father suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of a brutal regime. Surely you don’t mean he needs to forgive them?”
I want to assure you that I understand these statements. While I have not experienced treatment like that or other horrors inflicted on people, I can appreciate how difficult a thing like forgiveness can be in these situations.
But I am also challenged by this statement:
“The world is made for forgiveness; it is made for grace; it is made for love in all of life. The need for these has been built into the structure of our bodies, in every interpersonal relationship. We are made for grace and love and acceptance.”
Every one of us hungers for grace. Every one of us longs to be accepted. We all want to be loved.
And if this is true, then there lies within all of us the capacity to demonstrate that same grace, acceptance and love to others.
The problem is that some of us feel we have a right to hang on to our hurts and to withhold forgiveness to those who have mistreated us.
This kind of thinking leads to destruction. We slowly torture the other person by our refusal to forgive, forever keeping them imprisoned by their misdeed and our lack of grace toward them.
But we also keep ourselves imprisoned. While ever we refuse to forgive the other person, we give them power over us to keep us locked up in our bitterness, pain and rejection.
Yet at the heart of the word forgiveness are two incredible concepts.
The first is that to forgive is “to let go”. When we forgive someone we make a deliberate choice to let go of the offence as well as letting go of our perceived right to make them pay or to exact revenge.
The second is that “to release”. When we release a person through the act of forgiveness we make a choice to not keep them enslaved to our bitterness or held prisoner forever for their act of wrongdoing.
And we also release ourselves!
While ever we hold on to our grudge or some so called “right” to feel the way we do, we inadvertently give the other person power over us because we are forever held captive by them and what they did to us.
Little wonder then, that people who do not forgive fall prey to the “Fearsome Foursome!”
At the height of the US Civil War, a commander told President Lincoln that he “had an enemy and (you) must slay him!”
To which Lincoln wisely replied, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not slain my enemy?”
You were made for forgiveness, grace, love and acceptance.
And so are the people in your life that need your forgiveness…?