During my graduate school studies in mental health counseling, marriage was not my specialty. However, after starting my practice as a psychotherapist, I have met with many clients who have struggles in their marriage. What I have noticed is the root problem is usually unforgiveness, either with the spouse, or unforgiveness from past offenses that have not been resolved.
Not only in marriages, unforgiveness is a huge issue among all of us. In today’s society, it can be easily seen through expressions of anger and violence which cover the news. Even in our personal lives, we experience or witness the division of friends, family members, and close relationships that should have endured a lifetime. Such divisions often result in various mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorder which can also lead to physical health problems.
Even if you are currently angry with someone and having a difficult time forgiving, I’m sure you realize the destructive nature of unforgiveness, not only upon the other person, people, or thing, but how it negatively affects you as a person. There is much that can be said about the destructiveness of unforgiveness, but my goal is to help those who are stuck in a state of unforgiveness to become free of it.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that each of us needs forgiveness. None of us have been exempt from making a mistake, from imperfection, or sin. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV). The only exception is the one who gave this word to us, Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who gave a great parable about the importance of forgiveness, and He gave a profound illustration of what unforgiveness looked like. The story can be found in your bible in the book of Matthew 18:21-35 (Easy-to-Read Version). To paraphrase, a king went to settle an account with a servant who owed him ten thousand pounds of silver. The servant had no way of paying this debt, so he begged for mercy, and it was granted by the king. But later, the servant went to another servant who owed him and demanded the repayment of a hundred silver coins, a fraction of what the original servant owed to the king. When his servant could not pay him, he became violent, demanding repayment of the debt which was much smaller than the debt he owed to the king who extended forgiveness to him. The rest of the story did not favor the one who chose not to forgive. He experienced emotional and physical pain that could have been avoided had he extended the mercy that he had received.
Forgiveness is not easy for most of us. Sometimes, after choosing to forgive, the emotions of unforgiveness may resurface, but it is worth continuing with the choice to forgive. By working through the pain, anger, and tears of being offended, the result is peace. There are modern day examples of those who have demonstrated the virtue of forgiveness and have reaped this benefit. Some that come to mind is Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and Andrew Rice who was an acting journalist when his older brother was killed in the World Trade Center during 911. He later joined a group called Peaceful Tomorrows as he worked through forgiving the terrorists responsible for his brother’s death.
Therefore, when faced with an offense, whether in a marriage, friendship, or an encounter with an unknown, expecting the pain and anger is not to be resisted. Denial will only prolong the process of forgiveness. Choosing to forgive means we realize that we acknowledge that we ourselves need forgiveness, whether we are conscious of it or not. Once the choice is made, persisting in that choice is essential to finally getting to a place of peace. This does not mean remaining in a relationship with the offender if there is no effort and persistence to change or work towards improving the relationship; nor does it mean entering into a relationship with the offender is necessary, especially if there is no genuine apology. The act of forgiveness is more for the one doing the forgiving, than the one who is receiving it. It is an act of gratitude for the mercy and grace the forgiver has received, and it eliminates the baggage of unforgiveness, and mutual conflict.