Unbridled by forgiveness

Eight months into our marriage, while reviewing some paperwork, I stumbled onto a secret my husband had been hiding from me for almost 6 months. It was nothing morally wrong. It didn’t bankrupt us. It wasn’t creepy. But I felt deceived and dishonored. How could he keep something like this from me for so long? He knew it wasn’t fair to me. He knew he was doing something wrong, but once he got going, he couldn’t stop.

Haven’t we all found ourselves on a bleak carousel like that? We want to jump off, but the forthcoming crash appears too painful to attempt. So we hold on tighter, and hope for a better outcome. But the ride rarely improves.

“We’re sorry we ate your pants. Can we come back in?”

‬When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. ‭Psalm‬ ‭32‬:‭3-4‬ NIV

In Psalm 32, David writes that when he kept silent about their sin, his bones wasted away, they groaned day and night, and he felt the heavy burden of the Lord’s hand. It’s not healthy to keep your mistakes hidden, is it? Your mind is constantly worrying about what happens if you are discovered. You change your daily habits, and carefully measure your words so you won’t give yourself away. You can’t be fully present for your life because you are too busy covering up your tracks.

Nor is it healthy to let it all out. After discovering Jason’s secret, I held myself together for about 14 hours before anger broke through, and I shouted him out of our apartment. I advanced on him, yelling and spewing whatever bile I could think of at him, until he found the front door and realized it would be best if he left.

Please understand: I’m not bragging that I kicked my husband out of our home for the day. I handled our initial “discussion” about as well as a bull would fare in a fine crystal store. I don’t recommend replicating my technique.

A friend loves at all times

Thankfully, my husband has more resilience than me. He left — but he came back a couple hours later and joined me below the dark cloud hanging over my head. As we rocked in our chairs on the porch, me staring straight ahead, stone-faced and not in a mood to forgive, he opened up about everything he had been struggling with as he adjusted to married life and to apartment life. (We sold his house in hopes of moving to a bigger house, but our contracted home fell through one day before closing. It’s a story for another day.) He confessed that he hadn’t been handling it the best, but starting that day, he was changing his habits and committing to be a better husband.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5, NIV

For my part, I confessed that I had created some unspoken expectations in my head that I hadn’t communicated to him. When Jason didn’t follow them, I unfairly berated him. I committed to handling my emotions better and working with him so we could arrive at a place where we would both be satisfied, or at least tolerant, of the home we had for the moment.

It took some work to follow through on our words. But forgiving each other — really, wholeheartedly putting those awful 18 hours that had just happened behind us — gifted us the necessary freedom to even begin that work. It was so freeing to lift the weight of our actions through forgiveness.

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. ‭Psalm‬ ‭32‬:‭1‬ NIV

Once David confessed his sin, Christ forgave. David ends his thoughts with rejoicing and singing: two actions that only people who feel free and light take.

Never in my life have I had such a crash course in giving and accepting forgiveness as the past year of marriage. We have both done stupid, selfish things to hurt the other, intentionally or not. Thankfully, we are both becoming very skilled at forgiving each other and washing away the memory of the hurt, or the righteousness the other felt. I think of the hurts we have caused each other, and I am amazed that we have moved past those incidents. I am amazed that others have forgiven me for some awful things I’ve done. God is faithful to bring life out of the little spiritual deaths we commit.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from righteousness. 1 John 1:8-9, NKJV

But why shouldn’t we forgive each other, as difficult as it sometimes is to do? We have a Savior watching over us and serving as a model of forgiving. I look to Christ and His forgiveness of our sin as the best and most solid reason to extend grace to others, because He led a blameless life but still found it worthy to give us a path to a blameless eternity, too.

Forgiving others can be so difficult, though, especially if they don’t seem to care that they are causing harm.  There are a few people in my life who I am not yet ready to forgive for their actions. Maybe you know some people who fall into the “not yet” end of your forgiveness spectrum, too. But I am hopeful that someday Christ will move my heart into a space with them where I can sympathize with them, see their hurt, and decide that it’s time to forgive and move on. He’s going to have to move my heart, because I don’t think my brain will let me do it on my own. Do you ever feel like that?

And if I still can’t sympathize with them, then maybe I will let them go out of a need to be free from their emotional control. Sometimes we must be giver and receiver of forgiveness to become free and whole again.

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Psalm‬ ‭32‬:‭9-10‬ NIV

A few years ago, a childhood friend blew up at me while we were on a vacation. Apparently she’d been holding in her anger toward me for a long time. I still have no idea why, and in part because she wouldn’t tell me what I had done to upset her, I carried around a lot of guilt and shame that I wasn’t a good enough friend for more than a year. When I finally made up my mind that I was going to forgive her (in my head; no use actually talking to someone who has blocked your number and all online points of contact) and forgive myself, I felt so free. In throwing off her emotional bridle, and letting her influence over my life fade, I found so many others worthy to know, to love, and to serve.

My husband and I still have to ask for each other’s forgiveness regularly. But it’s getting easier each time. Jumping off the carousel isn’t as painful knowing there’s a set of arms waiting to catch you, and whisper (not yell!):

“I forgive you. I love you. You are free.”

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