An offense is an act, but to be offended is a choice.
A few years ago, one of the headlights went out in my car. I was going to drive to speak at a conference in a month, so I asked Dave if he would replace the headlight before my trip.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ll get that done this week.”
One week passed. Then two. Each week, I asked Dave again, “Did you fix the headlight yet?”
“No, but I will,” he replied each time. This carried on all the way up to the day before I was slated to leave for the conference. A little flustered, I asked him about it again, and he said, “I have a meeting in the morning, but on the way home, I’ll fix the headlight, and then you’ll be good to go. I’m not going to forget.”
On the day of my trip, I threw my suitcase into the car and jumped in to take off for my long drive. Just before leaving, something inside cued me to simply double-check, so I asked, “You fixed the headlight, right?”
In slow motion, an expression of absolute panic broke out across his face. You can imagine how angry I was.
“You’ve had a month to fix that headlight!”
He was scrambling now, trying to figure out a way to repair more than the headlight. “Okay, I’m going to do it right now! I’ll follow you to an auto store,” he huffed in frustration.
“No!” I yelled. “It’s too late!”
I slammed the door shut, but as I sped off in our car, I could hear Dave yelling at the boys to get into the van.
“He’s a negligent husband and dad!” I angrily fumed as I white-knuckled the steering wheel in sheer rage. In my mind, I began to list all the reasons that I was such a good wife and that Dave obviously didn’t love me in return.
I left him and the boys a refrigerator full of meals they could eat while I was gone. I wadded up that negative thought and stuffed it deep inside my soul.
I even put encouraging notes around the house.
Another ugly thought I tucked deep down in my heart.
What did he do for me?
I’m such a good wife, but does he ever even think of me?
I took all of these thoughts – and more – and buried them in my heart to germinate and grow . . . and to possibly use as ammunition later.
It felt good to be right, and I wanted to sit awhile in my self-righteousness and let my anger fester.
As I drove I felt that God was trying to get a word in amid all the ranting my brain was doing, but I really didn’t want to listen. So I turned on the radio – really loud!
I could sense God saying, “Take those out and give them to me.”
I told God, “I feel like Dave doesn’t see me. He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t love me. I’m not a priority to him!”
But as I was trying to resist God’s invitation to give it to him, I ended up venting all my feelings before him.
We pulled into the auto store, and Dave sprinted in to buy a new headlight lamp.
As I sat there waiting for him, I realized I had a choice.
I could hold on to this offense – this hurt – and use it as ammunition later when Dave and I would painfully hash out this whole ridiculous scenario.
Or I could give it to God and ask him for the strength and empowerment to forgive him, even though he didn’t deserve it.
It was a hard decision, but I knew that if I chose anger, the end result would be painful, even if I was right – which I was.
At some point in every marriage we hurt one another. These hurts lead to conflicts and those conflicts have to be resolved. Dave and I have discovered that how we handle these conflicts actually determines the health and future happiness of our relationship.
The hardest and yet most important choice that we must make is the decision to forgive or not forgive our spouse. We can choose to hold on to our hurt and bitterness (and we have every right to) or we can choose to give up our right to punish our spouse.
Your spouse probably doesn’t deserve to be forgiven (Dave certainly didn’t), but Jesus forgave me when I didn’t deserve it either. The truth is…FORGIVEN PEOPLE FORGIVE PEOPLE.
Sitting in that parking lot I had a choice to make. I prayed a short, exasperated prayer: “Lord, I’m giving it to you. You know my heart, and I know that you love me, so I surrender it to you. I surrender Dave to you again. Help me to be the wife I need to be and please give me the power to respond with grace…the grace that you have extended to me.”
By this point, Dave had come back outside and had finished replacing the headlight. He walked over to my car window and said, “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I could tell he was waiting to get blasted, and rightfully so.
But God gave me exactly what I asked for…His power to put away the offense and forgive in the moment.
Obviously a headlight is pretty minor on the scale of hurts in a marriage, but the choice to forgive can save your marriage even when the betrayal is huge. Sometimes it takes months or even years.
Author Lewis Smedes writes, “When you forgive someone you set a prisoner free, only to discover that you are the prisoner.”
You want real freedom?
Then ask God for His power to make the hard choice that just might save your marriage.