Of all the classes I took in high school and four years of college, I don’t recall any of the curriculums focusing on forgiveness. Now, had I been a theology or religion major, it is a sure bet that the concept of forgiveness would have been a prominent teaching throughout my education.
Some may say that an understanding of forgiveness would come - or should come from attending Church, reading the Bible, or other areas of faith formation. For me, my faith and understanding of Christian principles did not begin to take root until I was twenty-three years old and had already said, “I do” to my spouse.
I was spiritually tender at this time and just getting my feet wet, so the deep and wide concept of forgiveness was truly foreign to me. If I were to label what my perception of forgiveness was at this time of my life, a good description would be “forgiveness is letting someone off the hook” - a choice that didn’t even register on my values spectrum as a “control” person.
My family background established a pattern of behavior in me that was quite destructive. Certain childhood experiences distorted my view of the world as I peered through a fragile and sometimes shattered lens within a frame of anger and resentment. The resulting images reflected back to me often left me seeing every opposition or conflict as a personal injustice from which I needed to defend myself in full force out of self-preservation. Letting anyone “off the hook” for hurting me or hurting someone I loved was out of the question.
The most destructive results of these blurred views came within the midst of conflict with my husband. Early in our marriage, when disagreements and challenges began to rear their ugly heads, my engrained tendencies to self-protect caused me to dig in my heels and resist – or deny – any wrong doing on my part. I had not learned to come out of my protective armor and “listen to” or “empathize with” my spouse because the instant I felt pain, a rush of negative emotion tethered to my past came pouring out and blocked any chance for negotiation.
The thought of forgiving my husband when he hurt me somehow became unacceptably tied to forgiving others who had wronged me in my past. I was unable to distinguish between the man I married and who loved me dearly versus the people who had wronged me long ago. It is remarkable how complex and complicated is the human mind. Our experiences and circumstances hot wire our behavioral tendencies to such a degree, that sometimes it can take a life-time to undo the mess of mismatched connections between what is true and what is false.
And this empty disconnect between true and false is where God’s mightywork came into play in my life. It is overwhelming as I reflect back on the transformation that took place in my life. Christ used my husband as the foremost instrument to my healing. It was the unending supply of forgiveness my husband covered me with time and again for my hurtful behaviors towards him that taught me the most about forgiveness.
Yes, the Holy Spirit strengthened my vision - enabling me to see clearly the love of Christ and His ultimate sacrifice and model of forgiveness in the world. And, yes it is also evident that God began tearing down the fortress surrounding my timid heart, enabling me to see true love when it was in front of me. But it was John, led by the Grace of God, who loved me for who I was during the mess of my life and after as the false truths finally began to peel away. John was able to see through the walls of pain, beyond the lashing out directed at him, and beneath the layers of hurt deep into my heart…the heart of who I really was in God’s eyes. He could embrace the essence of what God had created in me long before I ever could look in the mirror and embrace my reflection.
John first forgave me, so that I could learn to forgive him - and ultimately others. He made the sacrifice – took the High road - for the good of our sacrament. He more than let me "off the hook." Was it easy for him? Is it even possible by our own human effort? I would argue the answer is no. Our humanness is bound in pride; our egos are earthbound. But, because John was an empty vessel and allowed God to use him in our marriage precisely the way God planned, God's Grace was sufficient to overcome any earthly limitations.
God brought John and I together for a purpose. There are countless rewards of our sacrament that come to mind on the list of reasons, but none so paramount as John's role in my healing. God knows what each of us need in this life and He is diligent in providing for our journeys in the way He sees fit. Thankfully, I was open to receiving Christ's instruction through the Grace of our sacramental walk. I've been blessed to learn forgiveness from the two individuals in my life that I hold in highest esteem - my Father in Heaven, and the son of the King that returned the “I do” to me almost eighteen years ago. When I look at the cross, the magnitude of what Christ sacrificed for all of our forgiveness seeps deep into my spirit. When I look at the wedding ring on my finger, the selflessness and sacrifice of my husband becomes a beacon of light that will forever guide me as I gaze into the world through a brand new lens of Hope, framed in Faith and Love.
Read more articles by Shelby Spear or search for articles on the same topic or others.