The Act of Forgiveness

As you are aware, to forgive is to pardon an offence or an offender and forgiveness is disposition or willingness to forgive. Forgiveness is an act and a state of being forgiven. Act of forgiveness is therefore the process of forgiveness or the deed of forgiveness. I strongly believe that we cannot strive towards a healthy relationship or marriage without mastery of the act of forgiveness. I am sure if you’ve been married for longer than a day or in a relationship longer than a day, you already know that conflict or offence is inevitable. The need for forgiveness indicates the presence of error, sin or wrongdoing.

We will all have to practice the perpetual state of forgiving others or our spouses if we are to be able to move on together and enjoy the blessings that God has for us. Can I just say that some people would say they have been hurt too many times to want to forgive and some might say that the people who have hurt them are undeserving of their forgiveness. Unfortunately, no one can undo all that has already happened in the past but we need to forgive those who have trespassed against us so that our father in heaven can forgive us also. Remember the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he taught them to say “forgive us all our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. This shows that there is a direct correlation between our ability to forgive others and ability to receive forgiveness from God.

Does that mean forgiving is always easy, natural or deserved, no, but we are commanded to forgive as in Mathew 18 vs 21. Jesus says to forgive others seventy times seventy times. That’s giving people too many chances I hear you say. Forgiving is not tolerating evil or bad behavior, being passive in a relationship where there are issues or totally forgetting issues. In fact, it means dealing with issues and problems without holding on to grudges. It means choosing to forgive your spouse before they offend you (that is having a predisposition to forgive). It means letting go of the pain, hurt and retaliation. As someone who’s had to forgive so many times even when I didn’t feel like it or felt like I needed to, I can tell you that it is hard but every time I have made a decision to let go, I have felt a release and peace indescribable and I have been able to embrace each new day without regretting my past actions.

Sometimes, God places us in a situation where we would need to forgive our spouses because he (God) is trying to teach us something about ourselves. Remember that few weeks ago, I referred to how marriage can be a litmus test for our own inconsistencies. Everything that irritates or offends us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Therefore we need not be too critical of others’ failures. Holding onto grudges or harboring ill-feeling albeit legitimate at times, can only achieve one thing, drive you and the person you are married to or with whom you are in a relationship apart. Have you ever seen some marriages where one spouse never forgives the other one even after so many years. A wife cheated on her husband and he still carries on living with her but in a corner of his heart, he still hates her for it.

A wife blames her husband for the bad situation he’s put their family in because of the decisions he made or didn’t make in the past. Although they are still married, however she never truly forgave him. Recently, God taught me about forgiving with my heart and not just with my head. There were times that I didn’t even realise that I still blamed someone for something they had done to me and other times when I thought I had forgiven but not really until I had to confront the people or a situation that reminded of what had been done to me. I then began to realise that you can forgive with your cognitive understanding (head) and not your emotional intuiting (heart). What happens when you do this is that the pain gets buried and masked as though one is sedated and when the anesthesia wears off, the pain returns.

The ability to love, trust and forgive carry with it a degree of susceptibility to abuse, hurt and pain. But if we do not do what we are meant to do just because we are afraid of what may happen to us, then we would have missed on life’s best gifts. I am not saying we should be reckless or throw all caution in the wind but we need to strive for a balance. Finally, as mentioned above that the act of forgiveness could be seen as a process of forgiveness, indulge me to share with you some of the things, not all that you can practice in cultivating a forgiving spirit.

1. Have a reservoir for forgiveness. Never exhaust your “bank” account of forgiveness. Keep making deposits in it even when you are not making any withdrawals. How do you do this? 1) look for things to be grateful for in your spouse, this annihilates contempt, 2) practice the act of goodwill (see last journal for more on this) and 3). Deal with issues as and when they arise or seek help, bottled up feelings can quickly deplete every deposit of forgiveness that you have stored up.

2. Learn how to empathise with your spouse and trade places with them. The point of empathy is to understand your spouse’s feelings, desires, ideas and actions at a meaningful level. Do not try to analyse your spouse’s action or problems within your marriage with your head only but also learn to empathise with your head and heart. This helps to engender grace and the act of forgiving others. The fact that you can view things from another’s perspective helps to let go of any grudge you are holding. Great understanding is also gained into why they do some of the things they do.

3. Active Forgiveness helps you to take an active part in finding resolution to issues or problems as opposed to blaming. Blaming others and living in unforgiveness has a way of making us think that we have no control over the situation and therefore perpetuates the problem and fosters bitterness. When you proactively forgive, you are saying to yourself indirectly that you have the power to change what you do not like.

4. Choose to believe that forgiveness is a command and not a choice and that it is directly given by God because you cannot receive anything new or good with a clenched fist. You have to let go of offence to receive forgiveness from God and to receive anything good from others as well.

5. Forgive yourself. The degree to which you are willing to forgive yourself is the degree to which you will be willing to forgive others. Remember another commandment, which says, “love thy neighbor as thyself”. Please pardon me to change this to forgive others as thyself. I find that some people have not been able to forgive themselves of their past and because they cannot let go or see the past as the past, they tend to hold on to unforgiveness and allow the sun to go down on their anger. If you can forgive and accept yourself even when you have failed woefully or misbehaved then it becomes easier to see others as humans too and forgiving them becomes an easier process.

I pray that your mind is illuminated with the light of God to decipher areas of your life/marriage where forgiveness is needed.