One of my great faults, which shows up regularly in our marriage, is my first-born perfectionism turned on my husband as “helping.” Sometimes it happens when he’s telling a story and doesn’t get the details right as I remember them and I correct him. (By the way, I do work hard not to correct publicly.)
Other times I’ve corrected mistakes in pronunciation or how he eats. The mother in me fixes his hair, straightens his jacket or shirt, or points out that his socks are all wrong with those shoes. Things I promised myself I would never do in my marriage.
Graciously my husband absorbs most of my helping but too many times my corrections are not spoken with love and sound to him like criticism or condemnation. When he tells me, I usually feel justified at first. “I’m just trying to help you,” I think.
But then I remember that communication isn’t about what is said but what is heard. Dennis heard a tone in my voice, intended or not, that felt unkind and unloving.
I admit I don’t like being wrong. Apologizing still isn’t easy. Over and over I must choose to recognize my sin, confess it, and ask for forgiveness. Then the choice is his to grant it or to hold on to the hurt.
And so we repeat a practice in our marriage as worn and reliable as the ancient stone steps leading up to the temple ruins in Jerusalem. We practice the same forgiveness Jesus taught His disciples and followers as they walked in and out of the temple and all over the land of Israel.
What makes Christian forgiveness completely different is the transforming heart change that only Christ can make. Forgiveness isn’t ignoring an offense or pretending it didn’t happen. It’s taking the brokenness in my life to the Savior for His healing, life-changing touch. It’s asking Him to make my heart like His.
Recently I sat across the table from a couple in their early 40s, listening as they told their story of infidelity. It was a crushing experience for both spouses as he felt deep regret and she deep betrayal. But living in this mix of emotions I heard a determined choice to forgive and be reconciled.
Jesus knew betrayal. And He died to cleanse all of us betrayers.
I reached across the table and put my hands on theirs, looked them both intently in their eyes and said, “I am so very proud of you for choosing to believe nothing is impossible with God. You are courageously believing God can restore your marriage from these ashes. I am very proud of you.”
All three of us got teary-eyed. They said, “Most everyone is telling us to quit, but we want to believe God for restoration.” They are experiencing a deep understanding that true forgiveness is not possible without the power of the cross. Every marriage faces impossible to overcome crises over the years. Sometimes multiple times.
Real faith was on display that day with this broken-hearted couple.
Their choices were mirroring exactly what Jesus did on the cross after He was betrayed, not just by Judas but by all His disciples, and every one of us.
Jesus chose God’s plan, refusing to quit because it was hard, too hard.
He chose to keep His promises, not break them.
He chose to endure the pain, knowing joy was ahead.
He chose to love me as He suffered, because our reconciliation was near!
He chose to forgive, even though it was completely undeserved.
Easter shows us that if God can resurrect a dead Jesus, then He can resurrect dead marriages. If God can work all things together for good at the cross, He can work together seemingly impossible situations in our marriages for good.
This is Jesus’ forgiveness … irrational and counter-intuitive.
His forgiveness in us, in our marriages, drives a stake, or a cross, in the ground and says, “We will not give up on our marriage promises. We choose God’s plan and His miraculous and wondrous ability to redeem.”
Jesus modeled impossible-to-forgive forgiveness for us when He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Might that be our prayer, too, in our marriages?
May you make this choice for your marriage today, and every day till death do you part for God’s glory and honor and resurrection praise! May you forgive 70 times 7 as Jesus explained to the disciples.
Because He is risen, “nothing is too hard for God” (Jeremiah 32:17).