Today, I heard the following quote by Ruth Graham Bell, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” What a wise saying! Every married couple should have this cross stitched and hung in their bedrooms or embroidered on their pillows! So many marital problems come down to forgiveness issues. Let’s face it: we are prideful creatures. We don’t like to admit we are wrong and we certainly don’t like continuously admitting we’re wrong when we don’t see our spouse doing the same. After all, why should we keep being the one to apologize? Why should we have to humble ourselves and feel weak when our spouse does not return the humility? Doesn’t apologizing all the time make me a doormat? It is crucial to understand the importance of forgiveness in a happy marriage.
It is natural to feel that way, but it simply isn’t true. It does not take strength to hold onto anger. It takes strength to let go of it. There are different ways of apologizing: one way is the doormat way. This is when you apologize constantly, for everything, whether you did anything wrong or not. This is the kind of apologizing that happens when someone accidently hits you in the face with a door and you apologize for being in the way. Then, there is the other kind of apologizing, which is admitting that you were wrong, specifying what you did wrong, and asking for forgiveness. This is the kind of apology that takes strength.
Looking back over my marriage, I can trace so many of our arguments and reoccurring issues to a lack of forgiveness. Things that Eric said to me before we were even dating found their way back into our discussions repeatedly. Could he do anything about it now? Of course not, but, for some reason I felt the need to bring them up periodically. The first few times I got historical on Eric, he would apologize for hurting me. Often he had no idea that he had caused me pain. However, after hearing the same complaint repeatedly, he asked me when I was going to let go of the past.
The only thing my unforgiveness did was poison me, aggravate him, and drive a wedge between us. Even if he had not apologized for hurting me, which he certainly did, forgiveness would have still been the correct approach. Holding onto anger poisons us, not the ones who hurt us. I’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Our unforgiveness does not give us power (even though our rage can make us temporarily feel powerful); rather, it just renders us useless and our relationship stagnant. Forgiveness is not easy, or instant; but, it is impossible to lead a happy life without it.
Over the years, I have observed many older people – usually in church. There are those people that never forget their smile, people who occasionally smile, and those that refuse to smile. I know that life throws curve balls that break our hearts and I am not making light of that; however, without fail, the faces that wear genuine smiles belong to those who have refused to hang on to bitterness.
My grandma is one of these chronic smilers. About ten years ago, she had a young lady come into her apartment and steal her wallet. The girl was found, arrested, and the local news came and interviewed Granny. While most of us in the family were outraged that someone could steal from an elderly woman, Granny took a different approach: she prayed for her – and if I’m not mistaken, she wrote the girl in jail and told her that she was praying for her. She said, “I don’t want her to be [spiritually] lost.” Many people would think Granny had every right to be angry, but she chose to forgive and pray. What a tremendous example.
When we are in the midst of a disagreement, argument, or all out verbal war, it seems that nothing is more important than winning and having the last word. I am all too familiar with that feeling; but, then I go to a park and I see an elderly couple smiling, holding hands, and walking… and I think, “Wow, this is what is important. This is the prize to fight for in my marriage.” Eric and I have had our share of disagreements – and I’m sure we will have more to come; but, at the end of the day, being happily married to him for years to come and sharing many more amazing memories is far more important than winning any fight or putting him in his place. If there is someone with whom you are holding unforgiveness in your heart, take some time to let them know and expunge that bitterness from your life. A happy marriage is truly made by two good forgivers.
Are you a good forgiver? Is your future spouse a good forgiver? What examples do you have of time when you humbled yourself and asked for forgiveness?