But I Said I’m Sorry: Words Without Works is Dead

I’m Sorry.

Some would argue that even with the heightened contention of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the beauty of forgiveness shined bright.  Okay.

Remember Donald Trump’s apology for lewd comments and actions, and more importantly, his surrogates’ forgiving response to the said apology? It prompts this question for us married folks – What if it were that easy?

“I apologize.”

That thing you did and hid from your husband or wife because you knew they wouldn’t understand, is out of the bag!  But, instead of an impending firestorm, slammed doors, tears, embarrassment, or perhaps years of counseling – all you have to do is shut it down with 2 words, “I’m sorry.”

The way Mrs. Trump, Mr. Pence, and many supporters have so graciously accepted Trump’s apology, and defend his right to swift forgiveness seemed made for reality TV.

Have you ever had an apology alone get you out of trouble with your spouse?

We have no way of knowing what goes on behind the closed doors of Trump’s marriage, or anyone else’s.  But, I’m willing to guess that there have been some offenses, hurt feelings, arguments, and discord in your own marriage that didn’t miraculously work itself out with a simple apology.

Mine either, Cleavers.

And, here’s why that’s so important…

Who Wants Sweet, Swift Forgiveness?

Would you really want an apology to be a magic eraser in your marriage?

Now, before you raise your hand with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”, check yourself:

What will I miss if “I’m sorry”
was a magic wand?

There’s a reason why the Word of God tells us that being “buffeted” for our own faults rightly requires patience. Who likes to be grieved? Not me. Human nature does not readily sign up for the hard, painful consequences for bad behavior.

So yes, the “gift of sweet and fast forgiveness” without consequences may sound appealing to our self-serving egos. However, without the remorse, contrition, and the trust-rebuilding exercise that comes with a genuine apology, a “get out of jail free” card could land your marriage back in the same dangerous predicament again.

How so?

Words Without Works are Dead

Sowing a pattern of apologies in our marriage, without work or consequences, will give us the following negative harvest:

Stunted marital growth.

Psychologists tell us that genuine apologies have characteristics like a statement of empathy (“I understand why you are hurt by my actions”), truth, remorse, and respect. When you can bring your spouse a heartfelt apology and commit to rebuilding trust, it shows strength of character and a greater understanding of how they feel. The goal of a Godly marriage is to grow from glory to glory – not to stay stuck, repeating the same lessons, pains, and frustrations over and over.

Do you want to grow gracefully with your spouse? Then you must set boundaries that cultivate knowledge (what to do, what not to do) and wisdom (how to do, how not to do) to keep you and your spouse growing, not stagnate.

Repeat offenses.

If our children are allowed to disobey, say “I’m sorry”, and life goes on, how soon do you think the same offense would happen again?  Well, the same applies to married adults. Where there are no consequences, there is no aversion to the behavior. Where there is no accountability, there will be no responsibility. What does responsibility look like?

For example, would your spouse continue to run up the credit card balances if he or she had to pay it back? If your spouse said something that caused discord in a another relationship, and instead of you cleaning up the misunderstanding, you stepped back and let them own their responsibility.  Would he or she think twice before saying it again?

Responsible work repels repeat offenses.

Unhealed wounds.

Yes, God is able to bind our wounds and heal broken hearts. But when we expect our apologies (words) to do our work for us, we’re asking our spouses to sign up as the walking wounded. It is so much harder for our spouses to heal, when he or she has to walk the healing journey alone – with God, but without you.

Join your spouse! Cleave to them! Be so close that you can feel their pain or frustration. Catch their tears on your shoulders. Don’t allow the avoidance of consequences or lazy accountability to keep your spouse wounded longer than necessary.

Ok. But How Long Does Forgiveness Take?

There are no speed limit signs in your marriage telling you how fast or how slow to forgive your spouse. God desires that husbands and wives embrace forgiving each other, just as He has forgiven us. But the “how” of your marriage’s forgiveness journey is personal and tailored to your relationship.

So, even though forgiveness is a process, it is one that we begin without hesitation or condition. Put one foot towards forgiveness, together, and watch God give you grace for the journey ahead.

So, What’s the Play Call?

The question is not how many apologies will yield forgiveness, but will your one heart decide to commit to empathy, remorse, and the work needed to effect change.

Don’t focus on the work as a chore. Prayerfully focus on the goal to emerge from the experience as a better you, and thus a better spouse. Remember, in marriage, everyone gets a chance to be the Forgiver and the Forgiven.  Everyone.

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