Beware the Grudge

A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
Ruth Bell Graham


 GrudgeOn the best of football teams fumbles happen, and passes are either poorly thrown or missed. Someone is always messing up.

But the players would be awfully stupid if they held their errors against each other, because they’re working towards a goal. They need each other’s cooperative effort to achieve that goal, and if they waste time and energy holding grudges against a teammate who errors, then they can kiss the game goodbye. The player who fumbled will be demoralized, making his performance all the worse, and the other players who keep rubbing his nose in the fumble will aggravate the problem, guaranteeing that nobody wins. So a smart team pulls together, encouraging each other, and forgiving the occasional mess-up.

Of course, some guys should just be thrown out of the game. If they’re thumbing their noses at the rules, or their performance is so consistently subpar that it’s dragging everyone else down, then the coach will finally say they’re out. But as long as a man’s still in the game, then his team should want him to improve, perform well, and move towards the goal with the rest of them. And they’ll treat him accordingly, because holding his mistakes against him will hold all of them back.

The Genius of Grace
Important point: The players who forgive aren’t doing so just because they’re a bunch of sweet guys. They’re a bunch of smart guys. No doubt some of them have hard feelings about the error their team mate committed, and it may be an effort to swallow the insult they’d like to throw at him. But reaching the long term goal matters more than the short term relief of venting. The goal’s the thing.

Plenty of husbands and wives should take note, because an unwillingness to forgive pretty much guarantees the goal won’t be reached. The spouse who loves well forgives well, and often.

I work with couples whose marriages have been crippled by a husband’s overt sin. The wife is usually crushed, angry, suspicious, depressed or confused, and no reasonable person would expect otherwise. Marital betrayal is one of the worst emotional injuries you can experience, and here my analogy to a football game falls way, way short. A fumble is a mistake; a betrayal is a relational felony.

Even so, at some point she’ll have to make a decision: Is his wrongdoing is so serious, or so frequent, that he’s out of the game, or are they still on the same team? If he’s out of the game, then the marriage is over, case closed. But if he’s still in, and they’re still a team with a goal, then they’re not likely to reach that goal if she keeps rubbing his nose in his error. He’ll be demoralized, making his performance as a husband all the worse, and she, by rubbing his nose in his sin, will virtually guarantee the marriage doesn’t heal. So nobody wins. A smart couple, then, like a smart team, pulls together, encouraging each other; forgiving often.

To Forgive is Divine, Not Denial
ut forgiving doesn’t mean pretending. When a serious error happens, serious correction is called for. Some sins indicate a serious problem needing counsel, accountability, lifestyle adjustment, or the severing of habits or ties that are intolerable. A wise spouse, like a smart teammate, will insist on whatever corrective actions are needed to see that the error doesn’t get re-committed. But having done so, she’ll also relinquish the power that comes from being both morally right and terribly wronged, and instead work cooperatively with her husband as a partner, sharing with him the goal of a healthy family life.

And like an effective team player, she doesn’t forgive just because she’s a sweet lady. She forgives because she’s smart. She could, if she was less intelligent, give herself permission to keep venting, accusing, and reminding her teammate of his error. But the smart spouse has a better goal in mind.

She wants a strong husband, a peaceful home, and a permanent bond that she’s not willing to permanently sacrifice for temporary, unfulfilling vengeance. He repents, she forgives, and God blesses the union of two people playing the game properly.

Sin happens; forgiveness works. And when it works, everyone wins.

Next: Doctrinal Issues
Friday: Part Two in the five part series on The Reparative Therapy Controversy


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