No Ordinary Forgiveness

How one couple embraced forgiveness and reconciled after an extramarital affair

In our story, the affair gets all the attention, but what I (Trisha) have come to realize is that I had a forgiveness issue long before the affair. I had mastered the art of unforgiveness, and felt clueless about what true forgiveness looked like.

One of the questions we always get is, "How did Trisha ever forgive Justin? How in the world could she forgive him after what he did?" It is one of the most important questions you can ask, and one of the most amazing questions we have the honor of answering. After all, ordinary lives in resentment, but extraordinary lives in forgiveness.

Resentment can have such a grip on our hearts that we need to forgive often for our own healing. That is exactly what we realized as we walked through the cycle of forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard.

JUSTIN:

I attended counseling alone every day. Two weeks after we separated, Trisha called me for the first time. When I saw her name on my cell phone, my stomach flip-flopped. It was the first time I had heard her voice in fifteen days. I had no idea what to expect; I was just thankful for her call.

She was gentle. She was soft-spoken. She was open-minded. If the Prodigal Son's father had had a cell phone, this was the kind of call he would have made. She asked a few questions. She made a few statements. We both cried. She didn't make any promises—just an offer to go to counseling with me.

Two days later, we began counseling together. I hoped to be home by the end of October. Our counselor hoped to have me home by Christmas. It would be a long journey. For the next 30 days, Trisha and I went to counseling together every day but Friday. We followed up our counseling appointments with long conversations on the phone. Long e-mail exchanges. Long talks over coffee or at Red Lobster.

More important than those conversations were the time and conversations I had with God. Sadly, it had been years since I had read the Bible for any purpose other than preparing a message. It had been years since I had spent time praying for anything other than church growth, church people, and church problems. God's presence had never been more tangible. God's voice had never been clearer. God's Word had never carried more power to illuminate the sin and darkness in my heart.

TRISHA:

Forgiveness is only true forgiveness when you forgive regardless of the person's response. Grace is unmerited favor, a gift offered with no strings attached. Forgiveness is a gift that flows from grace. In forgiveness, we give up our right to throw our stones in retaliation for the hurt the other has caused us.

Christ loved us enough that he laid down his life so we could have life forever with him. He owed us nothing yet gave up everything. His call for us to forgive is about more than the person who wounded us. Rather, through brokenness, we say, "God, I lay it all before you. I give you my pain, my bitterness, my heavy stones."

And with that surrender comes the kind of healing that only Jesus can give. With healing comes freedom—freedom to live a life without stones. Freedom to live in the extraordinary with the Father, who is always trustworthy. Freedom in the love of a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Spouses in extraordinary marriages live in the awareness of the grace and forgiveness given them by the Father. They embrace grief, anger, brokenness, and forgiveness rather than ignore them. They live in the knowledge that forgiveness is a process, not a one-time choice, and that it may take seventy times seven to finally feel reconciled.

And they live in the grace to keep that forgiveness flowing.

Maybe you have fought your whole marriage to be right. You don't think your husband respects you. You don't feel like your wife believes in you. So this resentment you hold on to is your way of proving yourself or of having the upper hand. This anger you keep just under the surface of your heart is a part of you. You wouldn't know who you were without it. Your anger allows you to be in control.

Living in the hurt of the past allows you to brace yourself to deal with the disappointments and hurt in the future. You find your identity in your resentment.

If that's the case, the truth is that there is a part of your heart you are not just withholding from the person you can't forgive. You are withholding that part of your heart from God. And God longs to heal you, to free you, to form you and shape you into the person you were created to be.

Maybe this resentment you've learned to accept has nothing to do with your spouse. You take it out on your spouse, but it isn't really about him or her. Your past hurts have made a home in your marriage and in the process have made your marriage ordinary. You were abused. You were overlooked. You were raped. You were taken advantage of. She broke up with you. He lied to you. She never said she was sorry. Your dad never came back. Your mom never told you she loved you. Your friend abandoned you when you needed him the most.

In reality, you are terrified that if you forgive, you will be admitting defeat. If you forgive, they win. But forgiveness doesn't excuse their behavior. Forgiveness prevents their behavior from destroying your heart. Forgiveness prevents forfeiting your future by not living in your past. Forgiveness prepares you to move from ordinary to extraordinary.

When you forgive, the person who hurt you doesn't win—Christ wins. He wins another part of your heart. When you forgive, you allow Christ to have not only more of your heart but more of your marriage. Where forgiveness lives, intimacy can be restored.

Author Anne Lamott says in her book Traveling Mercies, "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die." Who do you need to forgive?

Forgiveness leads to healing, healing leads to intimacy, and intimacy leads to extraordinary.

Adapted from Beyond Ordinary. Copyright © 2012 by Justin & Trisha Davis. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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