Forgiveness is not a onetime event but a process. Unfortunately, many Christian men don't understand this. We Smalley guys often hear men tell us, "If she forgave me, then she would be over this by now!"

But come on, guys—that is not realistic. If you've done something extremely hurtful to your wife and are seeking her forgiveness, then you can't expect the healing to take place immediately. Your loved one may not get over the hurt right away. It may take time.

In fact, and this can be painful to consider, depending on the severity of the hurt, your loved one may never fully recover from the pain. This doesn't necessarily mean that you will suffer day after day for your wrongdoing of the wrongs done to you, but it does mean that the pain may show up from time to time, even years after the offense, usually when some event sparks the memory. The pain isn't as severe as when it first happened, but it still hurts.

We think this is one way God helps us to keep humble. It's hard to be overconfident about our emotional or spiritual maturity when we remember how things used to be. The great news is in James 1:2-4, where we are encouraged to remember that our pain only makes us better Christians.

At one of our monthly marriage-enrichment seminars, a man approached us about a forgiveness issue. He was holding his wife's hand, and his eyes were reddened by the tears he'd shed. His wife looked ashamed, and we were about to find out why.

"I don't think I've forgiven my wife yet because I'm still hurt and angry over what she did to me," he said, grasping her hand in a tender and loving way to assure her that he loved her.

We were impressed by their obvious commitment to each other. Something in their eyes showed us they were in the marriage for the long haul. We asked the man what he needed to forgive his wife for, and in a matter of minutes he spilled out their story.

The man's wife had recently confessed to having multiple affairs during the first few years of their twenty-year marriage. She assured him that after those first few years, she'd never had another affair.

We were surprised that the wife could keep this secret from her husband for more than fifteen years. But then the hammer dropped, and we knew why she'd finally revealed her secret.

"It's possible that our fifteen-year-old daughter isn't mine," the man said.

We were amazed that he lovingly held his wife's hand, but what we learned next made that display of affection even more astonishing.

We asked the man exactly when he found out about the affairs and the possibility that his daughter may no tactually be his. "Two weeks ago," he said calmly and with a straight face.

Two weeks! No wonder he hadn't fully forgiven his wife. How could he have expected to in so short a time?

The misunderstanding that forgiveness is immediate is a problem in the Christian community. We somehow believe that once we say those magic words, "I forgive you," all pain and hurt just disappear. But it doesn't always work that way. Often we must go through a process before we can completely heal from the hurt and forgive our loved one for the hurt he or she caused.

This article originally posted April 18, 2007

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