The Power of Forgiveness

It’s crucial that you understand the power of forgiveness. When you forgive, you release yourself and the other person from the pain and wrongs of your joint past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. According to Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes, it happens slowly, with a little understanding, and sometimes with some confusion, because it has to sort out the anger and the injustice. When forgiveness has finished its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and set free from the pain of the past.

Sometimes, you have to forgive the person you’re still in relationship with because there’s been unfaithfulness, a betrayal, neglect, or abuse. This is hard, but with God’s help, and sometimes the help of a good pastor, counselor, or friend, you can be successful at putting the past behind you and moving forward in a fresh start.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. You carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and the forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace has a song that talks about the impact of the ugliness, pain, and shame of the past, which are often followed by scars that remain for a lifetime. Heal the Wound, written by Clint Lagerberg and Nicole Nordeman, focuses on the metaphor that even after an injury has healed, there’s often a scar that lasts a lifetime. But instead of seeing the scar as a negative, they reframe it as a reminder of how gracious the Lord was in bringing you through the struggle.

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Who’s More Important?

Before getting married, it’s healthy and right to be loyal to one’s parents, siblings, and friends. But once you get married, the primary loyalty has to shift to the new spouse.

It’s not that you have to cut off relationship with your family and friends No, you still want them and need them in your life. But the spouse must become the new priority, and has to feel more important than the in-laws and others. To the extent you’re willing and able to let go of prior loyalties, you can form new ones. Likewise, to the extent that you can’t or won’t change priorities, your marriage will suffer.

While Genesis 2:24 states that it is the parents you must leave in order to form a new unity, there are others, as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover. In fact, there may be a number of people and situations included in what you let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, high school sports, or any number of things in one’s past.

Your Past Can Ruin Today

One couple lost a son in a terrible accident. Unable to let go of that pain and loss, not knowing how to heal, and unwilling to forgive, the woman drove her husband to divorce. She allowed the past to ruin their marriage by allowing it to remain in the present. She kept the pain alive.

But it’s not just the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes you have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, that perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth or fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days are over is often headed for emotional and relational disaster. A Soldier whose career comes to an end, sometimes can’t adjust to being a civilian and finding a new identity.

Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work might have a tough time accepting the new reality and letting go of the previous physical ability. Retirees sometimes struggle with letting go of their previous life, identity, and sense of importance. Empty-nesters also face a difficult struggle when the kids are gone. These transitions are tough.

Sue Augustine writes, “All of us can think of something we’d like to be set free from. For some, it’s hurtful memories, past regrets, or bitter resentment. For others it’s sorrowful remorse, frightful insecurities, or deep-rooted grudges. Imagine what it would be like to be free . . . . There is hope for you or someone you know who struggles with an imperfect or painful past.”

Her book When Your Past Is Hurting Your Present is arranged in three sections: Relinquish Your Past, Renew Your Present, and Rebuild Your Future. This is good guidance for couples who are still fighting or struggling with letting go of the past.

Bottom Line: make sure you live each day knowing that your spouse is the most important person in the world.

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Will We Ever Be Happy?

Falling in love is a wonderful experience. You’re on top of the world, and you feel like you’re the luckiest person in the world, hoping it’ll last forever.

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Then it starts to change.

At first it just doesn’t feel the same. Then comes the pain, followed by the realization that it’s over. Soon, you’re singing the oldie from the Carpenters, Goodbye to Love.

Too many marriages in the United States end in divorce, and many of those who stay together aren’t happy. The burning question is this. What are you and your spouse going to do to make sure you stay together and are happy?

After we’d been married five years, my wife and I came to a point where life was hard. We didn’t have enough money to pay the bills. She was stuck at home with a toddler and an infant. She noticed that I invested a lot more time, energy, and thought in my work than I gave to our marriage. We were both dissatisfied and unhappy. We weren’t getting enough sleep. Stress was high. We got angry easily, and didn’t laugh much. We also discovered that men and women speak different languages. She was too emotional, and I was too insensitive.

One day, I came home from work and my wife met me in the kitchen. Without hesitation, she blurted out, “Are we ever going to be happy again? Will our marriage ever be good again?”

I told her, “I think so, sweetheart. I’m not sure, but I think so.”

It would have been easy to throw in the towel and call it quits. Just as easy to start blaming, accusing, and getting angry with each other. Or maybe even look elsewhere for love and affection, and have an affair.

But we didn’t do that. Instead, we decided to do our best to be kind to each other, treat each other right, and see what happened.

Eventually, the joy did return. We got through that dark time, and we’re glad we did. But we needed to help each other through the process.

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Let Go of the Past

suitcase 1When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

Future Past

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days have come to an end is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with the scars that might remain for a lifetime.

Heal the wound but leave the scar

A reminder of how merciful You are

I am broken, torn apart

Take the pieces of this heart

And heal the wound but leave the scar

RiverOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.

Broken & Hurting

loneliness-1879453_1920Many people experience the worst life has to offer. Sometimes, the pain is the result of illness or accident, but at times it is intentionally inflicted by other people.

Debbie grew up in a Christian home, and shortly after high school, met Kyle, a young man who attended the same church. After dating for a year, Kyle asked her to marry him, and she said “yes,” expecting to live happily ever after.

A few months after the wedding, however, Debbie was still on cloud nine when something went terribly wrong. When she got home from work one day, she found out he’d been drinking, and in a rage, he hit her. Horrified, she called their pastor, who provided counseling for several weeks. Things seemed to be getting better, until one night Kyle put a loaded gun to her head. In a panic, Debbie managed to escape. Even though her grandmother lived several miles away, Debbie somehow found the strength to run all the way. She survived, but something inside had broken, making it hard to trust anyone. She left Kyle and abandoned her faith in Christ.

Every one of us is broken in some way. We might look fine on the outside, but inside we’re hurting. If we’re to find healing or any positive result from the pain, it might be helpful to take a look at Job, James, and Jesus to see how we can respond in painful circumstances.

Even though he did everything right, Job suffered terrible business losses, extreme physical pain, and undeserved accusations from his friends. His wife also lost everything, and chose to let go of hope and faith, suggesting that he do the same. Instead, Job turned to the Lord, and began to understand more fully his own weakness and need for God. These are important lessons that sometimes have to be learned the hard way. We have a tendency to be self-sufficient, unaware of our desperate need for God. In his darkest moments, Job chose to turn toward the Lord, and so can we.

The second possibility for meaning in our pain is character growth. James 1:2-4 tells us to remain joyful when we endure tests and trials, because they will help us mature. It is true that pain can break us, but it also has a way of strengthening us and deepening us. The difference is how we respond to the crisis and to the work of the Holy Spirit.

A third potential benefit of tribulation is that it can help us develop compassion for others. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw their need and was moved to compassion. He cared about people and saw their hurts. He felt their need, and acted. He fed them, healed them, taught them, loved them. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 1:4 when he says the Lord comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others.

Some people respond to pain by becoming hardened, bitter, or angry. Others are jealous of those who seem to have everything going right. If we want to grow in Christ and enjoy life to its fullest, however, we can’t afford to let either of those happen. Instead, we can turn to the Lord, mature as human beings, and develop a sense of compassion for others.

Silver

There’s a song in the musical version of Les Misérables that a Christian pastor sings to a hungry, homeless criminal, “Come in, sir, for you are weary, and the night is cold out there. There’s a bed to rest til morning, rest from pain and rest from wrong.”

That’s what the Lord is saying to us in Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, you who are tired, carrying a heavy load, and I will give you rest.” Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.