We get asked many many questions about how apologies, forgiveness, grace, love, and expectations should all work together. For example: Does every apology need forgiveness to bring closure? And, if so, how do you get your spouse to forgive after you apologize? And what about this one: Isn't grace and forgiveness really the same thing?
To answer these questions well, let's go back to the beginning – the beginning of people. In Genesis 2:18, we see that God gave a woman to Adam to be a partner or companion. The thought behind the Hebrew phrase "ezer kenegdo" means that God was giving Adam something that no animal or even God would provide, human companionship. This helper or companion was another person of the same kind as Adam (human) that could partner with Adam to produce more of the same and raise them. Partnering to raise other humans is no small task as most parents know. I have often said, "Parenting is not for sissies" for good reason! Of course all of this does not mean that couples who can't have children or choose not to are less loved by God, but remember that we are talking about God's purpose for marriage here.
In the Bible unity (or themes of unity) are used over 100 times. Why do you think this is the case? For God to accomplish His purpose on this earth using people requires unity among us. And unity requires us to settle our differences and get along even when we don't feel like it. Unity requires us to forgive when others don't deserve forgiveness. And unity calls us to see the best in others (God's image) and love them, even when we don't like them at times.
God ordained marriage for a purpose. That purpose is to bear and raise children (make more beings in God's likeness), to maintain unity (husband and wife are the church, after all), and to glorify (or reflect) God. So, does a sincere and thoughtful apology maintain unity, help with raising children, and glorify God? You bet it does! What about forgiveness? Does forgiveness support God's purpose for marriage? Yes it does. The same goes for grace and love.
When you and I offer apologies, forgiveness, grace, and love in our marriages, it honors God and helps to fulfill His purpose for marriage. But what if your spouse does not reciprocate? What if they don't offer forgiveness following an apology? What if they don't offer grace or love when you need them the most? Truly, that is between them and God and they will have to answer for what they did and didn't do. But you and I, we are responsible to do what is right by God whether it is reciprocated by our spouse or not. This is where expectations will mess us up every time. When I apologize to Tami, I want her to forgive me and, unfortunately, I have an expectation that she will. I say this for two reasons. First, her forgiveness brings closure to whatever is happening with us thereby making me feel better. But more important than that, when Tami reciprocates with forgiveness, she is reflecting God's glory in a profound way since it serves as a small reminder of what God through Christ offers to each of us. These are both great reasons for wanting Tami's to forgive me. Nonetheless, expecting her to forgive in my timing and on my terms will cause problems and should not be my main concern. Owning my own poor behavior and making things right (as much as I am able) is my concern here.
Apologies, forgiveness, love, and grace all support the purpose God intended for marriage. Let's be honest, sincere apologies can be hard to give. Forgiveness is difficult, but needed to help us understand God better and reflect His nature. Grace is offering our spouse what they do not deserve and remembering that we need grace desperately as well. True and authentic love is the glue that holds apologies, forgiveness, and grace all together and elevates them on a foundation of sincerity. Lastly, expectations are the anti-glue here because expectations will cause things to fall apart. Expectations serve to diminish a loving apology, derail forgiveness, and will cause us to question whether any grace and love given had ulterior motives or not.
"The end of expectations in marriage is the beginning of peace and freedom."
In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how many time he should forgive someone who offends him. Depending on your Bible translation, Jesus answers with 77 times or 7 times 70. You see it was largely accepted in first-century rabbinical circles that we should forgive up to 3 times, but 4 times was too far. When Peter said to Jesus, "Should we forgive 7 times?!" he was facetiously exaggerating since Peter knew that 7 times was way too much. And 77 times or more would have been understood in the first century as hyperbole. It's like saying to your spouse, Do you love me 10 times?" They answer by saying, "I love you a bazillion times!" which may be more than humanly possible. This point here is that God's forgiveness to us is immeasurable. Therefore, we should press ourselves out of our comfort zone when it comes to forgiving others. God set the example for us to work towards. Even if we can never reach the bar God set on forgiveness, what He asks of us should be our standard and our goal nonetheless. After all, when we forgive in profound ways, others might say something like, "Who does that?!" "Who can forgive that way?" God does, that's who. Because God is who we are trying to learn forgiveness from.
In a perfect world, apologies, forgiveness, grace, and love will all be given readily and freely without the slightest hint of expectation or strings attached. Until then, we should all work towards that goal.
There is more insight on this topic in our book, Ready to Surrender - Poor Communication in Marriage is a Battle You Can Win. You can find out more here:
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By Brad & Tami Miller. Contact us at brad@TandemMarriage.com. Copyright © 2017