by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern
Lifelong marriage is not easy and certainly not always pleasant. Inevitably, every couple gets stuck. Sometimes they can work through it on their own. Other times they seek out help in Christian marriage counseling. When they meet with the Christian therapist, the partners often focus on a particular issue or set of issues they see as the source of the conflict. And though issues are important, they often overlook what’s going on in their bodies, specifically the anxiety they are experiencing.
At a most basic level, this anxiety has two contributing factors. First, they get anxious about their unchangeable pasts. They feel the burden of painful chapters in their history together and yearn to rewrite them. Second, they get anxious about their unpredictable futures. They want to control what happens next and how it all turns out in the end, yet they are powerless to manage the outcomes.
God Helps Us Through Our Anxieties By Forgiving
The God of the Bible offers help with each of these anxieties. First, he is a forgiving God who invites us to rewrite our pasts through his forgiveness. Second, he is a God of promises who invites us to secure our future through his promises. In addition, by his grace, we can participate in his work of rewriting our pasts and securing our futures. We, too, can forgive. We, too, can make promises and keep them. It is through our participation in these God-like activities that we will find the joy and freedom we crave in marriage.
In this post, I want to address forgiveness. In a second post, I will address marking promises.
When you think about it, the only remedy we have for the past is forgiveness. We can try and forget our past, but we cannot undo it. We can learn from our past, but we cannot escape it. Our past is part of us. We are the accumulation of our history whether we like it or not. The question is: how do we disarm the power of our past? Then answer: only through forgiveness.
The Three Parts of Forgiving
As soon as I write that, I see the need to rescue forgiveness from all kinds of assumptions and clichés! At its core, forgiveness involves three things: remembering, releasing, and renewing.
Remembering means honestly facing the reality of what happened. Though this sounds easy, it can be tremendously difficult. Trauma – whether “little ‘t’ traumas” or “big ‘T’ traumas – actually alters the way the brain stores memories, making them difficult to access. The work of remembering can be thought of as “re-membering”. Which is putting pieces together to make sense of what happened so we can tell an honest, truthful, authentic story. When that story involves hurt, remembering means facing that reality and acknowledging the pain. In short, it means embracing suffering. Suffering, though not pleasant, is a necessary part of growth to maturity (Romans 5:3-5).
Releasing means giving up the right to punish the person who wronged us. A natural human response to being wounded is to return hurt for hurt. In other words, to seek vengeance. As the old saying goes: “an eye for an eye.” Yet, vengeance only satisfies for a moment and, over time, it increases relational isolation. We will not experience perfect love on this planet. We will be hurt, especially by those close to us. Living in a relationship necessarily involves letting go of the role of punisher for wrongs inflicted against us. Those who look to the Bible for hope and help are reminded of this truth in Romans 12:19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Renewing involves connecting with our core values and starting over again. It means reaching out a hand of grace toward the one who hurt us and saying, “I want to be your [wife/husband] again. Let us be reconciled. Let us belong together again.” Renewing means opening the door to reconciliation and beginning a new journey together. The new journey doesn’t diminish or deny the past but learns how to incorporate it into a better future.
Forgiving is Not Forgetting
Just to be clear, forgiving is not forgetting. It is not excusing or pretending. It is not merely “smoothing things over.” Forgiveness involves a willful decision to reach into your unchangeable past and separate the wrong committed from the person who committed it. We find the power and grace to do this seemingly unnatural act in the understanding that we, too, are in need of such forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). If you need help finding your path to forgiving in your relationship Life Discovery Counseling offers online and in-person Christian marriage counseling. You do not have to do this alone.
Consider Starting Christian Marriage Counseling in Hillsboro, OR
Our Clackamas and Beaverton-based Christian therapists are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again. Life Discovery Counseling can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start Christian marriage counseling in Hillsboro or anywhere else in Oregon, follow these simple steps:
- Learn about our Christian therapy team in Hillsboro and our caring Christian counselors in Clackamas
- Schedule an appointment for Christian marriage counseling, or contact us with questions
- Feel more connected to the important people in your life
Other Therapy Services at Life Discovery Counseling in Hillsboro, OR
If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, Hillsboro, or Beaverton, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinics. Christian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatment, anxiety therapy, trauma therapy and PTSD treatment, relationship issues, marriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!
About the Author
Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Licensed Professional Counseling Intern. He was previously a pastor and is still involved in churches. As a Christian therapist, he writes about Christian marriage counseling, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and spiritual development.