It’s been said that you don’t really know someone until you’ve had a fight with them. It may also be true that you don’t know if you love someone until you’ve had to forgive them.
Much is made in Christian circles about how forgiveness should take place: do we forgive and forget? Forgive but not forget? Forget and not forgive? Eschew these modern distinctions?
The specifics of forgiveness may be up for debate. The requirement for forgiveness is not. We are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven 490 times whenever a brother asks.
So what’s with Christian marriages?
Why do so many marriages between Christians fail? Some spouses abandon their faith along with their marriage, but for those who don’t the disconnect between the clear teaching of Jesus on the issue of forgiveness and the dysfunction of so many Christian relationships is puzzling.
Christians are obligated to love one another - even if they are married. - Hauerwas
While the command is simple and frequent, the application is by no means easy. But the idea that love (even of the marital kind) and discipleship should be easy is at best misleading and at most destructive. What better way to mirror the redemptive love and divine forgiveness than in stories and examples of radical, relationship-changing love that confounds expectations? What better witness to a broken world than the repair of marriages through forgiveness? What better way to encourage the growth and development of your spouse and marriage than creating a culture where forgiveness is assumed — though not taken for granted — and people are free to be who they are and better themselves.
That Christians should love their neighbor is paramount and well known. Unfortunately many find it easier to forgive people they don’t have frequent contact with and a more difficult time showing love through forgiveness to those closest to them.
We are to love our neighbor. Most of us don’t have a more constant neighbor than the person we’re married to. - Dale Hartman
Love means that the desire to forgive needs to overwhelm the desire to feel right or to feel wronged. This may take time – years perhaps – but it’s what we’re called to do.
I close with some parting advice a 90-year-old grandmother shared on the health of her marriage.
My cousin asked, “Grandma, what’s the best thing you ever did for your marriage?”
She thought about it for a minute and then said, “Each night, before we fell asleep, we would turn to each other and say, ‘I’m sorry if I hurt you today. I love you.’”
The initial point about not knowing if you love someone until you need to forgive them is up for debate. It could be that we have to forgive others, and strangers, for not meeting our expectations of who they should be. It could be that some have to forgive God for not being or doing what they’d like. It could be that the whole point is wrong.