Elizabeth* thought she had the perfect marriage. She and her husband Rick were one of those couples who started dating in high school and managed to stay together. On her 24th birthday, Rick took her out to dinner and surprised her with an engagement ring. She was ecstatic.
After an overseas honeymoon, Rick and Elizabeth moved into a beautiful house in an affluent suburb. They had kids. They even had a dog. It really was the perfect marriage . . . at least on paper.
“We’d been married for nine years when Rick started acting differently,” Elizabeth recalls. “He was hardly ever at home. And when he was at home, he was distant and didn’t want to spend time with the family.”
“He’s having an affair,” her sister warned.
Elizabeth dismissed the accusation. Not her Rick. Not the man she’d been with for almost 20 years.
But her sister was right.
“He moved out a week later,” says Elizabeth. “My youngest child refused to go to bed. She wanted to stay up every night in case Daddy came home.”
Elizabeth decided to move interstate and leave the memory of her failed marriage behind. She found a new job, a new home to rent and even bought a new (second-hand) car.
“I didn’t want any reminders of Rick or what he had done,” she explains.
“I didn’t want to ever see him again.”
But then Elizabeth became a Christian. One morning, she was sitting in church when the pastor read this verse: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father.”
The words hit her like a slap in the face.
“It was like he was speaking directly to me,” recalls Elizabeth. “But how could I ever forgive Rick?”
“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea—until he has something to forgive,” says Christian writer CS Lewis.
It’s easy to preach about, but it’s difficult to do. When people hurt us, our instinct is to hurt them back. But the first step to forgiving someone is relinquishing the right to revenge.
This doesn’t mean we should accept abuse. But it does mean we can let go of burdens that keep us from moving on.
After all, “vengeance is mine”, God reminds us in Romans. It isn’t ours to exert. If we believe God’s promises, we must believe that there will come a time when He will triumph over our trials. There are many biblical examples of people who were able to rise above their painful situations and forgive. Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt, yet he chose to forgive them for what they had done. Paul and Silas were thrown into prison, yet they chose to praise God through song. [pullquote]
And history’s most unjust act also led to history’s greatest example of forgiveness—who can forget a sinless Saviour forgiving us for putting the weight of the world’s sins on His shoulders?
Elizabeth and Rick didn’t get back together. But she has made significant steps towards healing. She now sees a Christian counsellor twice a week and allows Rick to visit their kids when he’s in town.
“Forgiving Rick doesn’t mean I don’t still hurt,” she confesses. “I still have days when all I want to do is lie in bed and scream and cry. But for the most part, I’m choosing to give that pain to Jesus.”
In the end, forgiveness is our choice—but it’s only possible through the strength and grace of God.
* Names have been changed for privacy. To learn more about the life-saving power of forgiveness, visit www.forgivetolive.org.au.