In full transparency, after almost 20 years of marriage and 25 years together we had LOTS of need for forgiveness and reconciliation. Just in the last 10 days…just YESTERDAY…we had to work through forgiveness for something. The process of forgiveness has been one of the toughest and most important lessons in our marriage. Probably like many of you, we have way more examples of failure than success!
Now reconcile is a very “churchy” term. It basically means to restore a relationship. You put things back together when there has been a separation. Maybe it was a hurtful comment, though unintentional it created a wound, or maybe it was a huge betrayal. Depending on what separated you in the first place, it can be a pretty big task to restore things.
Gods heart for marriage is that you always work toward forgiveness and being restored. The Bible does give some allowances for ending the marriage, but God always invites us to try and work it out. (See Matthew 19:7-9)
So what does forgiveness currently look like in your own marriage?
Do you address issues quickly or delay working on them?
Does your husband or wife always find a way to blame you and never actually say “I’m sorry”?
Have there been so many hurts, lies, small things and big things that have piled up you don’t even know where to start?
We can tell you from experience, that if things are going to turn around, at least one of you has to start down the path of humility and forgiveness. If you both dig in and keep blaming the other for all the problems, your marriage is very likely to fail.
Now the verse below applies to every follower of Jesus, but it’s a great framework for what forgiveness in marriage needs to look like.
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
Here are a few things we’ve learned.
1.) Remember Who You Are - You are “God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved”. Your identity empowers your forgiveness. Your worth and value are based on Jesus’ gift of salvation. You’re a part of God’s family. You don’t have to “win” or “prove you’re right”. You can offer forgiveness and ask for forgiveness in humility. Jesus can defend you, Jesus can heal your heart, and Jesus can comfort your pain.
2.) Remember You Have a Choice - “...put on compassion, kindness, humility…” Just like choosing your outfit for the day, you can choose to clothe yourself with these traits and show them to your spouse. Choosing to love and forgive by faith, and not based on your spouses performance, is both difficult and absolutely critical for your marriage. This is not a one-time choice, but each interaction, each moment of the day you have to choose what you will do and how you will respond.
3.) Remember to Ask - “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.” The Lord offered you grace and forgiveness when you did not deserve it. Take the first step and humbly ask your spouse to forgive you for whatever you may have done. You may not even agree that you did something wrong, but if they were hurt you need to seek forgiveness. If things have piled up for years this could take a while, but keep asking for forgiveness. Ask the Lord to show you things in the past you need to be forgiven for and then go to your spouse. This part takes a lot of humility.
4.) Remember to be Patient – “...patience, bearing with one another...” Be patient with your spouse as you start to build a culture of forgiveness in your marriage. Even though I’m sure they have plenty to own, you have to start with you. Trust that the Lord is at work in their heart and your example of humility and seeking forgiveness will get through. This is why steps 1 and 2 are so important. Resist the temptation to accuse them or justify your own actions.
The passage in Colossians ends with “Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” There’s a reason the two greatest commandments center around love in Matthew 22:36-40. There’s a reason that 1 Corinthians 13 is read during so many wedding ceremonies. If we choose to love our spouse, and in so doing humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness, then things can turn around. Love is the ultimate unifier. May God grow a love for your spouse that empowers you to humble yourself and seek forgiveness and start the path of reconciliation in your marriage.