Why won’t she listen to me? I’ve told her over and over again how I feel, and yet she never changes.
Doesn’t he see how much he’s hurting me? Doesn’t he care?
We can be so easily offended, and misunderstood. What do we do when that happens?
This is the third in a six-part series (posting every Wednesday) about the “worse” times Don and I have experienced and how God led us through. Click here for series introduction.
This week’s topic: Offense
When Don and I got married, we carried loads of baggage into our marriage (mostly me). Filled with insecurities from past hurts, I over-reacted and tried to manipulate the situation when I didn’t get my way, because I perceived rejection when Don disagreed. Shocked at my over-reaction, he angrily called me names, much like how the kids in his old neighborhood acted toward each other.
Before I go further, let me assure you we had many great times during our early years, thanks to our gracious Father. We didn’t argue every day, or even every week. But when we did, it was awful.
It didn’t matter who started the fight, we’d be at each other, shouting words we could never take back. And it was always the other person’s fault.
“If only he/she would change, I’d stop __________.”
We were both masters at the blame game.
Most of the time, Don apologized first. I followed with my apology, then we put the incident behind us. But the very next time, past events jumped into the heat of our current battle. Words like, “You always,” and “You never,” flew out of angry lips.
Because we didn’t truly forgive.
We spoke apologies to make everything OK, not because we were really sorry. We both still thought we were right, and unknowingly put a brick on the ever-growing wall of offense with each incident where forgiveness never truly happened.
Over time, as we sought Godly counsel and prayer, and learned to truly apologize and forgive from the heart, the wall stopped growing and began to come down. As we grew in the Lord and He healed us, our words and actions toward each other reflected more of His heart and His love.
As with most things, getting rid of the wall is not a once-and-done-forever event. Every now and then, a new wall starts to form. For me, I know I have a wall starting when I take offense at every little thing Don does, or I don’t want to be around him. I go to God as soon as I notice my attitude change (or when Don brings it up). Usually it’s some little hurt I perceived but didn’t deal with. I talk to God about it, talk to Don if needed, forgive, and move on.
It (love) does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)
Don and I are a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way. It’s truly miraculous that I can sit here today and not remember the pain of those early arguments.
Our God is amazing!
1. Seek Godly counsel – people who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. One time, I went to one of my spiritual moms for prayer. I lamented how hurtful Don’s behavior felt, and asked her for counsel. Her advice? “I know it hurts, and I’m sorry you’re going through this. But, how did you respond? That’s all you can control. Did you respond like Christ, love, and forgive?” I wanted to slap her…yet I knew she was 100% right. It took a long time for me to consistently follow her advice, but when I did, God worked in amazing ways.
2. Be specific in your apologies and forgiveness. State out loud, to each other, “I apologize for ______,” and “I forgive you for __________.” We didn’t do this at first, and that’s why the wall grew so quickly.
3. Don’t go to bed angry at each other. I know, this is old advice, but it’s so valuable. Going to bed angry adds several bricks to the wall as you stew on your “right-ness” overnight.
4. Give God time to work in your lives, and in your marriage. Healing and heart changes do not happen overnight. Have grace for each other on the journey.
5. Focus on what you love about your spouse, and be thankful for those things. Even in the darkest of times, God can help you remember the good. Just ask Him.
6. Be aware of walls forming as indicated by changes in your relationship. When you notice a wall, go to God right away to begin taking it down.
7. Never hesitate to be the first to apologize, and to offer forgiveness. Someone has to do it, it might as well be you.
When we got married, our pastor, Joe, told us, “People will tell you that communication is the most important thing in marriage. Well, it’s not. Forgiveness is the most important thing.”
Over the years, we learned that’s true…often the hard way. True forgiveness is a courageous act of will, and takes lots of practice. Don’t give up. Allow the Holy Spirit to work through you as you choose to forgive, incident by incident, hurt by hurt.
It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
Next up: Rebellion
TODAY’S CHALLENGE: What did God bring to mind as you read this? Who and for what do you need to forgive?
Also, if you know someone else who may be blessed by this series, please share the link with them.