The Good Work of Forgiveness
You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. 23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the practice of forgiveness is a significant part of the foundation of a healthy marriage. After all the purpose of marriage is to be a tangible expression of Jesus’ love for the church which is most clearly expressed in forgiveness.
Furthermore, Peter makes the case that our spiritual health is connected to the health of our marriages, particularly for husbands. Jesus before him made it clear that we are not okay with God if we are not okay with one another. Jesus instructs us to go and be reconciled first, if we remember we have offended a brother or sister.
The real question though is not, should we pursue forgiveness and reconciliation, but how do we do it? How do we make things right with our spouses when we know we have hurt them or they have hurt us? Let me offer five practical steps that have been very helpful for Anna and me.
Place and Time
It is important that you are intentional about choosing a place and time to talk with one another. I often want to resolve things right away, but the truth is sometimes NOW is not the best time, especially with kids around, not to mention often in the NOW I do not have the right frame of mind. Discuss with your spouse when would be a good time to sit down and talk.
Often Anna and I will go to a different place other than the dining room table, or the bedroom to have important conversations like these. A different place has a way of making the moment both feel important and hopeful. In the same way that we change location when we go on a date to connect, so choosing a different location other than house can have the same affect. It says, “I don’t take you or our marriage for granted.”
You may not be able to do this, especially if you have little kids, but don’t sweat it. More important than location is your intention to pursue forgiveness in a meaningful way.
It’s all about you
In this case, your contribution to the reconciliation process needs to be all about you. Jesus addressed this when he said, “Before you attempt to get a speck out of someone’s eye, get the log out of yours (paraphrase)”. This is not the time to identify your spouse’s weaknesses and character flaws, but rather your own. Ideally, you have had time to evaluate your contribution to the conflict/disconnectedness, confess those to your spouse. Husbands you need to take the lead on this. Confession is not assuming full responsibility (although it can be in some situations) for the conflict, but it is owning up to your part. After confessing to your spouse, ask their forgiveness:
“I was wrong. I should not have said those things in that way, will you forgive me.”
Also, you are not responsible for your spouse’s confession; don’t be disappointed if your spouse does not reciprocate. You cannot manipulate your spouse into asking for forgiveness by feigning repentance.
Sometimes we can follow our confession with a “but.” When we do this we rob our asking of forgiveness of any meaning and power. It is the equivalent to, “I’m really sorry for what I did, but it really wasn’t my fault.” When we add a “but” to our confession it immediately becomes about them rather then you, which is not the point.
There is a time to listen to one another. This is the opportunity to talk about what led up to the offense. You are asking the question, “how did this happen?” or “How did it get to that point?” The aim is not to cast blame on either spouse but to really discuss root causes. When you are allowed to have the conversations, and you listen well, you tend to discover that the entire incident likely could have been avoided if you had only saw the signs. Learning each other’s soft spots and sensitive moments (doesn’t mean change isn’t required) is how we love one another.
So when you listen, you are exploring together the best ways to prevent it from happening again. You are also discovering ways to pray for one another.
New Preventative Measures
Hopefully by this point you have a short list of things you can do differently, or think differently. Agree upon them together. Now, work to put them into action.
I always have the tendency to interpret a request from Anna as a criticism. It could be as simple as, “Could you please put this away,” and immediately I can assume she is being critical of me. We have discussed this in our marriage, and I have listened. Now that I know have that tendency, I can head it off when I see it coming, and do something about it, robbing it of its power to control my emotions and reactions.
Lastly, conclude this time together with praying over each other; thanking Jesus for His forgiveness, and the grace that sustains our marriage. Pray for mutual understanding and selfless love. Amen!