I was chatting with a friend the other day about forgiveness. She is married to a man who has been unkind and disrespectful to her for years. He has been verbally abusive towards her and has continually violated their vows throughout their entire marriage. She called me because he had just blindsided her with the deepest of betrayals. He announced that he has a girlfriend. My friend and her husband are still married, and he continues to waffle back and forth between her and the girlfriend. He promises her one thing and the girlfriend another, all in secret behind each other’s backs. The girlfriend is new but the act of infidelity is not. My friend has forgiven her husband and given him second chances countless times in their marriage- each time thinking that her forgiveness and loyalty would compel him to value and respect their relationship. Each time the betrayal happened again, she was left feeling crushed and devastated. Each time she received criticism and pressure from others saying that “she just needed to forgive him”.
The confusing thing for my friend was that she had forgiven over and over and over again. She chose to forgive in private. She never publicly outed him or shamed him each time he gave into the temptation of abuse and infidelity. She privately and wholeheartedly forgave him and extended grace to him through numerous second chances. She felt hurt and confused because she was continually assured that if she “just forgave”, her husband would stop the destructive behaviour in their marriage. She was repeatedly told that the act of forgiveness from her would eliminate her husband’s sin.
Her voice cracked and she started to cry as she asked me in desperation “Do you think I haven’t actually forgiven? Is that why it’s not working? Maybe something is wrong with me”
I was silent for a moment
Imagine a woman so broken by betrayal and abuse, and so beaten down by judgement and criticism from others that she questions her own forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an act of obedience between us and The Father.
Forgiveness clears out the cobwebs and helps to keep a short account in our own hearts.
Forgiveness is a continual reminder of our imperfect nature and need for a Saviour.
Forgiveness is the vehicle we use to repel the wounds experienced in the complex relationships in our lives.
We forgive as an acknowledgement of the forgiveness that has been extended to us first.
Forgiving is not forgetting
Forgiveness is not a covering for habitual sin
Forgiving does not mean abandoning boundaries
Forgiving is not keeping secrets
Forgiveness is not the absence of hurt or fear
Forgiveness is a precious gift given to us by a loving Father- something we do not deserve. It is given to us as a gift that we can in turn give to others.
Forgiveness was never intended to be used as a weapon in marriages to enable neglect, infidelity and abuse.
When a woman is told that the simple act of her forgiveness is what will change her husband, she is set up for failure. When a man chooses to let sin run rampant in his life, it is not a direct result of his wife’s lack of forgiveness.
Sin is an individual choice. It is something you either choose to indulge in or flee from.
Our forgiveness has the power to change us and should not carry the expectation that one person’s forgiveness alone is the catalyst to change another.
When a man sees forgiveness as a weakness, as a “get out of jail free” card, the gift is wasted. When he continues to betray, hurt and abuse because he knows “his wife will forgive him”, he is choosing to turn his back on the redeeming power of forgiveness. He is using “forgiveness” to enable habitual sin and extort carpet sweeping from his wife.
The truth about forgiveness is that it does have power- but only when it is acknowledged and recognized. A man who does not see forgiveness as the gift that it is, will waste it every time.
Forgiveness that is acknowledged and appreciated looks like humility and remorse
It looks like regret and repentance
It does not defend or make excuses
It does not blame and criticize
It does not sugarcoat and minimize
A true acknowledgement of forgiveness opens the door to healing and restoration in a marriage, the act of forgiveness alone does not. Both the act of forgiveness and the acknowledgement of forgiveness that leads to repentance, is required. It’s a partnership- both sides doing their part to work towards restoration.
A woman’s forgiveness does not automatically guarantee a man’s repentance.
I’ve seen the combination of forgiveness and repentance at work, and I’ve seen it’s transformational power. I’ve seen couples endure a devastating breakdown of fidelity and trust who were able to come out stronger on the other side.
I know it is possible.
But in every case when the woman forgave, her husband acknowledged and repented from the deeply hurtful effects of his sin. He in turn, acknowledged that his wife’s forgiveness was as a direct result of God’s forgiveness first, and allowed the gravity of that gift to change him.
Everyday we encounter women in our lives who dread going home.
Home is where they hurt.
Home is where they are neglected, betrayed and abused.
These are our sisters, neighbours, cousins, friends, and co-workers. And when they finally have the courage to step out from the darkness, we shame them right back. We must stop doing this.
If you’ve ever told a woman “she just needs to forgive”, you need to apologize.
If you’ve ever silently judged a woman because of the sins of her husband, please don’t do that again
If you’ve ever minimized a woman’s pain by asking her if “she’s tried to forgive”, you need to check in on her
If you’ve ever said “I’ll pray that God helps you forgive” as a means to manipulate a woman into guilt and shame, you need to seek forgiveness from her.
The gifts that God has given to us need to be used in the way that God intended for them.
We were never meant to leverage grace and forgiveness as a means to enable habitual sin.
Let’s give our sisters permission to hurt and grieve
Let’s support them as they mend and heal
Let’s encourage them to employ both forgiveness and boundaries
Let’s resist our temptation to “fix” and avoid
And let’s let our only motivation in leading her to forgiveness be the deep and powerful healing that Jesus can do in her heart.