What We Get Wrong About Forgiveness

When Times Are Tough

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  • What We Get Wrong About Forgiveness

The glowworm is not the only insect to produce its own light. If you take a glowworm and give it wings, it’s called a firefly. If you take grace and give it wings, it’s called forgiveness–and it is forgiveness that takes God’s grace to the sky. In the same way that wings offer the firefly freedom from gravity, forgiveness equals freedom to us. Imagine the feel of soaring over a grassy knoll after being limited to crawling on a few blades.

Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood of religious concepts. Too many Christians try to offer a weak substitute that lacks the power of the real thing. The freedom that comes with forgiveness is a powerful gift, but it must be entered into with caution–it comes with responsibility. Forgiveness is not easy. When I extend forgiveness, I’m agreeing to live with the consequences of another’s poor choice–and I must also give up my right to punish. The other extreme is enabling, protecting a person from the natural consequences of his or her choices, stalling that person’s growth.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what the other person did was okay, nor is it letting that person off the hook. It must be understood that a person’s value doesn’t change because of a poor choice.

Forgiveness, too, is a choice, not a feeling

If, for example, I wait until my feelings soften toward an offender, it would take me forever to forgive him or her, Once I decide to forgive, however, the feelings follow. If the offender continues in unhealthy behavior, my forgiving that person doesn’t have to mean that I must maintain a friendship with him or her, or stay in contact with that person, It does mean that if I walk away, I know I did all I could to help the offender learn, grow, and change. I’ve left behind a shimmer of hope, but that person’s changing is all up to him or her.

Forget about the old saying, “Forgive and forget.” If we could forget, we wouldn’t need to forgive. Rather, when our injuries are great, we need to process through layers of forgiveness. I agreed, in the beginning, to enter into the forgiveness process with my husband [over his infidelity]. I made progress through the first layer, so when a new layer appeared, I could process through it separately without feeling like I hadn’t really forgiven him at all.

It would have been too simplistic to say, “I forgive my husband for all his poor choices.” I needed time to process through all the consequences I was agreeing to live with. The first layer was forgiving him for the pain of the overall betrayal, but additional layers were uncovered that had to be sifted through. Emotional, spiritual, financial, and family issues are just a few of those layers. It took time for me to realize how many layers there were and how each area had been affected.

Sifting Through Layers of Forgiveness

Many months after the full discovery of Dave’s full activities, I felt as if we’d sifted through most of the layers of forgiveness. Then the topic of money came up on an unrelated issue. Resentment crashed down on me like a giant redwood. It hit me hard that, for all those years, we’d been pinching pennies while my husband was spending money on his addiction. I had to step back and process where the strong emotion was coming from. I realized this was a layer I hadn’t yet dealt with. I had to work through forgiveness again before we could move forward.

My husband knows I’m committed to forgiveness when he sees me process through every stage without condemnation.Click To Tweet

I’m honest about the pain a particular layer causes me because it’s a consequence of his poor choices. I don’t throw it in his face or use it as a weapon since I want to rebuild the relationship, not tear it down. At first, I went too far the other way, trying to hide the pain because I didn’t want to push him back into his addiction. Then I realized this was unhealthy for both of us. He needed to know how I was feeling, and when he handled it without being defensive, we both moved forward in rebuilding trust.

Forgiveness Is Not the Same as Trust

It’s important to recognize that forgiveness is not the same as trust, though they’re closely tied and are simultaneous processes. Trust takes longer to rebuild. So many husbands want their wives to “get over it” and are frustrated by their wives’ lack of trust. These husbands feel that they have to account for everything they do or say. Accountability is essential to rebuilding trust and is a consequence of poor choices. Never feel pressure to trust before you’re ready–but always believe his behaviors. An innocent man should have no qualms about submitting to accountability or scrutiny, especially if he desires to regain trust.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you become his warden, either. His primary accountability should be to another man, or group of men, whom your husband is in contact with on a regular basis. A husband’s submitting to a counselor, pastor, or men’s’ group who will ask the hard questions is evidence of growth. A man committed to healing should grow spiritually from Bible study, reading, and prayer. Where appropriate, computer monitoring, filtering, and financial controls should be in place. The amount of resistance a husband puts up to accountability says a lot about how serious he is in his desire to heal.  Remember–believe his behaviors.

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It takes time to grow wings

The larva of the firefly grows its wings inside its cocoon. The space between your anger and your willingness to let God’s grace work in you might be compared to a cocoon, and spinning that cocoon is hard work. So you need to do the work, and then be patient. Like the larva prior to its transformation, you cannot know how free those wings will make you feel until you try them out. You might have to take my word for it at first, but once you take flight and experience that wind beneath your wings, you’ll understand that forgiving has given you freedom. The first step is being willing; let God do the rest.

Excerpt adapted from Hope After Betrayal by Meg Wilson, ©2018 by Kregel Publications. Used with permission.

Meg Wilson is the author of Hope After Betrayal and a regular speaker to women’s groups, Bible studies, and conferences. Eighteen years ago she began leading Healing Heart groups, then in 2013 she founded the Hope After Betrayal Ministries to bring help and hope to women whose husbands are caught in the web of sexual addiction.

 

Learn more about Meg Wilson at hopeafterbetrayal.com. You can also find her on Facebook (@habministries) and Twitter (@HopeAfterBetray).

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