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Building Lasting Relationships: Forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32)
By David L. Goetsch
This is the first in a series of blogs on building lasting relationships. Each successive blog will cover one specific reason relationships fall apart and how to avoid such an unhappy outcome in your relationships.
People, including Christians, have a poor track record when it comes to building lasting relationships. For example, the divorce rate in America for first marriages is around fifty percent. For second marriages the rate increases to sixty percent. For third marriages the divorce rate is a startling seventy-plus percent. These statistics, tragic as they are, apply only to marriages. They do not include the many other kinds of relationships that fall apart such as estrangement between parents and children, siblings, and once close friends.
There are a number of specific reasons why relationships fail, but one overriding reason encompasses them all: our fallen nature. Since the events in the Garden of Eden, we have been a fallen people living in a fallen world. Because of this, we are prone to sin in ways that are hard on relationships. These sins include such things as dishonesty, breaking trust, failing to communicate, unkindness, impatience, faithlessness, selfishness, and being unforgiving to name just a few. This week’s blog deals with one of the most common factors in failed relationships: the lack of forgiveness in human relationships.
Christians know that perfection is of the hereafter not the here and now. Sanctification — the process of becoming more and more like Christ — is a lifelong endeavor that has its starts and stops, ups and downs, victories and failures. Because of this, we will all stumble in some way and at some time in our relationships. We won’t take the time to communicate or we will behave selfishly or, worse yet, we will do something that shatters the trust our loved one or friend had in us.
This sad fact about human nature makes forgiveness an essential ingredient in a lasting relationship. Relationships that last are not those that never experience difficulties. No such relationship has existed since the days before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Rather, lasting relationships are those in which the people involved have been willing to forgive each other, probably many times. In such instances, transgressions have been openly admitted and atoned for in an attitude of sincere repentance, and forgiveness has been requested and given.
Here are some of the most important words ever uttered in a relationship: “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven.” Often, the missing ingredient in a troubled relationship is forgiveness. This is unfortunate because forgiveness can be the most important factor in getting derailed relationships back on track. In fact, a broken relationship cannot be repaired and restored without forgiveness. In my experience, forgiveness is an essential ingredient in maintaining happy, fulfilling relationships. I have certainly needed forgiveness myself more times than it is comfortable to admit.
One of the reasons people in relationships struggle with forgiveness is they don’t understand what it means. Many people view forgiveness as granting a pardon to those who have wronged them. They think forgiving them is the same as saying “You are not guilty.” Viewing forgiveness in this way is not just misguided, it is wrong. If the party in question were not guilty of some transgression, he or she wouldn’t need forgiveness. Consequently, forgiving someone who wronged you does not mean telling them they did nothing wrong.
Your forgiveness does not absolve wrong-doers of guilt or excuse their behavior. Nor does it mean condoning what they did. Rather, it means responding to their repentance and remorse by intentionally and consciously deciding to put aside feelings of resentment; something many people have trouble doing. Nevertheless, you can no more repair a fractured relationship without forgiveness than you can repair a fractured bone without a cast. If you struggle with forgiving others, it is important to remember two things: 1) Christ forgives you in spite of the fact you don’t deserve it, and 2) The time will come when you need forgiveness; those who refuse to forgive aren’t likely to be forgiven.
If you are struggling with forgiveness in fractured relationship, the best way forward is to follow the admonition in Ephesians 4:32 to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ Forgave you.”
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com