Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"I'm never going to get beyond this pain," Sandy said, clutching the tissues to her face. "How could he do this to me? No one should ever do this to another human being."
Sandy's husband, Mike watched blankly as his wife tried to process the events of the past six weeks. She had just discovered he had been having an affair for the past several months. It didn't matter that that she learned about it because he had ended it and the "other woman" called her.
Jim was struggling too. His wife had left him and their two children over a yea ago, after seventeen years of marriage, "to find herself".
"We were in the middle of building our dream home," he reminisced. "I thought we were heading in one direction, toward a fantastic future, and she was obviously thinking something else. I feel like a fool. I think we're a happy couple, living the American Dream, and her dreams take her in an entirely different direction. I didn't see it coming."
Jim came for counseling to help him move through the brooding resentment he carried with him every hour of every day. He couldn't focus on his work, felt despondent, and struggled to release the anger and resentment he felt toward his wife for leaving him.
"I have to say I hate her," Jim recounted. "It's not like I want to kill her, but that she would just go somewhere and die. Maybe from a disease or something. I probably shouldn't be thinking this way, but I do."
Jake is another man I counsel, stuck in bitterness. Jake fights a battle of forgiving himself. While his wife left him, and his employer fired him, he accepts that. Caught up in meth addiction for years, he lost his wife, his home as well as his children. He now lives in a halfway house where he is trying to piece back together a life.
Propping his arms on his knees, he stared at the ground. Jake shouted, "I can't believe the wreck I made of my life. How could I let myself fall so far? How could I know what I was doing, watch myself self-destruct, and yet keep doing it? How is that even possible?"
Sandy, Jim and Jake all have work to do to move forward with their life. Each have a battle they must win—and can win. Their battle, intensely personal, will be the focus of their life for months to come. They will decide, in their own way, whether this battle makes them stronger, weaker or even more bitter. Each must wrestle with a problem common to all of us—understanding the power of forgiveness.
Let's consider some truths that can help them, and us, move forward from the ledge of bitterness and unforgiveness, and into the peaceful place of forgiveness and acceptance:
First, into each life some rain will fall. Yes, this is a cliché, but we sometimes forget that we are not immune to difficulties. Scripture is filled with stories of adversity, and the importance of preparing for it and in a certain sense, accepting it. The Psalmist cried out for relief from his distress when he said, "Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer." (Psalms 4:1)
Second, we are to embrace adversity, watching for the opportunity in it. The Apostle James tells us to "consider it joy when you encounter various trials." (James 1:2) He goes on to tell us that these struggles make us stronger. So, rather than fight against our struggles, we must actually lean into them, embrace them and learn from them.
Third, rarely is the "offense" one-sided. In most challenging situations, rarely is there strictly a perpetrator and victim; one who is absolutely right and the other absolutely wrong. Thinking in this manner is often a major block to moving forward with the forgiveness process. Consider your part in the offense; reflect on your part in the troubling situation. Try to understand the position of the one whom you believe wronged you.
Fourth, forgiveness begins with a decision to forgive. Don't wait until you want to forgive someone. Begin with a conviction and desire to forgive. Allow God to work on your heart to move you forward in the process of forgiving. Believe the Scripture that assure us "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." (Philippians 1:6)
Fifth, even when wronged, we must forgive. This is never optional. While we may never fully forget what occurred, we must let go of the debt we feel owed to us by others. Scripture tells us, "Be gentle and forebearing with one another and, if one has a difference against another; even as the Lord has freely forgiven you, so must you also forgive." (Colossians 3:13)
Finally, remember forgiveness is a process. It takes times to forgive and let go of hurts. There are definable stages of grief, starting with denial, leading to depression and loss, and ending with acceptance. Allow yourself time and understanding as you move through those stages leading to forgiveness.
I'd love to hear from you. How challenging have you found the process of forgiveness? What helps and what hinders this process?
August 19, 2009
Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.