Christmas is the perfect season to live out the precious gift Jesus gave us: Forgiveness. In this life, it's guaranteed you will make mistakes, disappoint one another and make some poor decisions. This is especially true in our marriages. The only way to keep any relationship growing in the midst of our humanity is to forgive. The apostle Paul gave us a staggering challenge in the area of forgiveness: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13)

As beautiful as this sounds in Scripture, the concept of forgiveness gets rather complicated in every day life. When we are wronged, emotions run high. We may want to forgive, but feel incapable. Or we may think we have forgiven, only to catch ourselves stewing weeks or even years later. A few situations like this, and we start to feel as though genuine forgiveness in marriage is an impossible feat.

To make forgiveness practical for the average person, Pam and I designed the following six statements as a practical way to work through the forgiveness God calls us to. If you can sincerely say all six statements for a specific infraction, you have accomplished forgiveness. The six statements are:

1. I forgive (name of person) for (offense that was committed).

2. I admit that what was done was wrong.

3. I do not expect (name of person) to make up for what he/she has done.

4. I will not define (name of person) by what he/she has done. (Instead I will define him/her as someone who needs just as much grace in life as I do)

5. I will not manipulate (name of person) with what he/she has done.

6. I will not allow what has happened to stop my personal growth.

In a recent message, Andy Stanley said that forgiveness is like listing all the things the offending party has done to you, then stamping it with "Debt Paid in Full." It is writing on the list of grievances, "You don’t owe me."i It’s very hard, but very freeing to say to God, "They don’t owe me an explanation. They don’t owe me an apology. They don’t owe me any restoration." 

Now you may be thinking, "I just don't know if I can do this. The hurt in our marriage is too great." Before you get discouraged, remember -- forgiveness is frequently a process -- not just a one-time event. It may take time. If you find yourself slipping backwards, keeping score, or playing the blame game, prayerfully walk through this process again and renew your commitment to forgiving completely. When we are capable of forgiveness, we are free to move forward in life and forward in all our relationships.

The Process of Reconciliation

While forgiveness is primarily a vertical, private act between you and God, reconciliation is a horizontal act between two people who have been separated by a hurt or grievance. Reconciliation works best when both people have already walked through the Six Statements of Forgiveness. In reconciliation, the relationship has greater opportunity to be restored if the offending party (and remember, it usually takes two to tango) comes to the offended and says, "I am sorry. Please forgive me. What can I do to make things right again?"

Often, "making it right again" includes an explanation, an apology, and a restitution of some kind that is freely offered by the offender. The key to success in this tangled and emotionally charged process of restoration is that each of us forgives the other completely, not because anyone asks, but because Christ forgave us. Forgiveness protects your integrity and your heart, and allows for genuine, lasting reconciliation.