Can I Forgive? Part I

When I have been wronged, what response should I give? This is a universal question for all people. In our own time we have seen this question answered with revenge in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. We have read of people being shot dead after an argument. This desire to “get even” seems to be a part of the human psyche.

Christians talk a lot about forgiveness, but I am not sure they really understand what it means. Many psychiatrists and counselors have recognized the importance of forgiveness in healing mental illnesses but Christians may be very selective in who they forgive. There is an interesting story in Matthew 18:21-35,

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven, because the

Kingdom of heaven is like this.

Can I forgive and not seek revenge? I think so, but under three conditions. In Part I I want to think about what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. The problem is, we don’t forget. The question: how do we remember? We can remember the pain and feel all the emotions that went with the hurt and live it all over again.   Or, we can remember the hurt has been forgiven and it’s over with.

Forgiveness is not the same as excusing. You don’t excuse what was done when you forgive someone. It is almost the opposite. We need to forgive them because we have not excused them. If we can excuse something it does not need forgiveness. There is no blame, no one was responsible, it was an accident. Much of what passes as forgiveness is actually excusing the behavior or attitude of another person.

We should never excuse intentional hurts. To excuse intentional hurt from another person is not helping them or helping your relationship with them. Never excuse them; cancel the debt and forgive them.

Forgiveness is not the same as accepting people. We accept people for what they are. They are people made in the image of God. They are people God values highly. So we accept people for who they are, but we forgive them for what they do.

I need to accept someone even though they are different than I. They may dress differently, look different or have a different background. I need to accept all this for it is part of who they are.

But I cannot and should not accept intentional wrongs that are done to me. Hurt doesn’t require acceptance; hurt requires forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not the same as tolerance. You can forgive another person for anything, but there are a lot of things you cannot You can forgive another person for anything, but there are a lot of things you cannot and should not tolerate. You do not have to tolerate what people do when you forgive them for doing it. Truth is, we can tolerate a whole lot more than we can forgive.

Some of you middle school or high school students may be bullied at school. You go home and forgive the bully. The next day he or she bullies you again and wants your lunch money as well. What you do is to forgive the bully but you tell the assistant principle to stop what is going on.

If you are in an abusive relationship you can forgive your abuser, but you don’t tolerate the abuse. You call the police. You move out. You go to counseling. But you do not tolerate the abuse.

Forgiveness is not restoration. You can forgive a person who is not the least bit sorry for what they’ve done. You can forgive them even though you do not trust them. You forgive them even if you think they might hurt you again. Forgiveness does not mean the relationship is restored to what it was before the hurt. Forgiveness does not mean that you let them right back into your life where they can hurt you again.

True restoration comes only when the level of trust is high. Forgiveness has no strings attached, but restoration requires strings attached because it could be harmful if that person does not repent or make restitution.

Part II will deal with what forgiveness is.



When My Wife Said: “I feel like I’m a . . . .!”

We had been married about 10 years when one day my wife, Doris, blurted out: “I feel like I’m a whore!” She said nothing more, giving time for it to sink in.

 Wow! How do you respond to that? I thought this was an outburst from her upbringing. Doris was the product of an alcoholic family. She often had to defend her younger sister from a drunken father. Her maternal grandfather had sexually abused her. Her sexual education consisted of one sentence from her mother: “Don’t let a man touch you.”

It was evident after two or three dates that she did not trust men. A favorite expression was, “some damn man.” The idea of sex was something dirty for she felt dirty. She learned to trust me as much as she could at that time and we got married. Because of her hang-ups from abuse, our sex life in the early years of marriage was not satisfactory to either one of us. Doris was “doing her duty” as the Victorians would say. At one point Doris was so angry about my sexual overtures she attacked me physically, scratching my face.

After this quick mental review of her background I felt confident that I could deal with why she thought she was a whore. About 90 seconds had passed and I was inhaling, ready to give my wise analysis of “her problem,” when she gave an explanation that completely blew my mind. She said, “I feel like a whore because you want sex on demand and I am not prepared for sex on demand. You do your 30 second thing, roll over, and go to sleep before I even get started!”

I was totally unprepared for that comment and had nothing to say; I didn’t know what to say.   I think I mumbled a “Sorry,” but I knew at that point that something needed to be done, and that was to go into marriage counseling. Doris agreed, and we found a helpful counselor who gave us direction in the way we lived our lives.

Many years later I enrolled in a counselor-training program and part of the training was to undergo psychoanalysis with a person unconnected with the training program. My therapist was a younger Jewish woman and, among many issues we discussed, I explored with her why my wife would have this concept of herself. Out of this training and therapy I came to some conclusions that enabled me to see sex in a totally different light.

So, men, you may have a wife who feels like a whore and won’t tell you. You struggle and wish someone would “fix” her so she wouldn’t be so “frigid.” Here are three things that might help you and your wife to have a satisfactory sexual relationship that would last even in your older years.

First, if you are having conflict with your spouse over sex it might be a sign that your overall marriage relationship is the problem. Usually the sexual part of your relationship will be the last to go; it is not the cause of all your problems, but a sign that other problems are present and need attention. These need your attention more than why your wife is not as responsive as you would like.

Second, get in touch with the feminine side of your personality. Yes, you do have one just as a woman has a masculine side. Men find it more difficult to explore this side of their personality because society says, “Men don’t cry.” Men can cry and should. Men can be soft and loving, tender and caring. I just recently read about a study of men who had become stay at home dads, filling the role usually assumed by women. Researchers found that the brains of these men became rewired and their feminine personality side was strengthened without them losing their masculinity. So it is possible for you to become softer and more caring with wife and family without losing your manhood.

Third, learn to put the needs of your wife before yours, whether they are sexual needs or other kinds of needs. Learn what pleases her sexually. She may be aroused more slowly than you [which would be typical] so don’t be so quick to “do your thing.” Explore different ways of having sex that might not always lead to intercourse but can be satisfying to both of you.

I have discovered that men who watch pornography have different expectations of what sex is all about than their wives do. Husbands are frustrated because the wife does not respond to some of the sexual activity seen on porno.   Men, you need to understand that sex portrayed in porno makes the woman a victim. In photos and ads promoting porno videos, women are referred to in derogatory terms such as “dirty slut” and “whore” and women are demeaned, abused and subject to the wants of men. Sex is rough and never soft and tender. [Yes, I have watched pornography for I needed to know what it is if I am going to help people who are troubled by it]

My wife and I learned to have a very satisfying sex life that lasted until she contracted Alzheimer’s. Even then there were some things that she could still relate to in terms of tenderness and gentleness. As we grew older there were still some bumps along the way, especially in trying different ways to express our love. We would just laugh and say, “that doesn’t work does it?” Sex should not be as serious as some people make it!

You and your wife can do anything in your lovemaking that is acceptable to both of you. There are not some things right and other things wrong. I read some study material published by a very conservative Christian group designed for marriage enrichment seminars. Wives were told that if their husband wanted them to perform a sex act that was distasteful to them to ask God for forgiveness. Ask forgiveness for what? For doing something they thought wrong or for not doing what the husband demanded? Who was to say it was wrong? It is not wrong for a partner to express what is pleasing and not pleasing and there should be no guilt when he or she refuses to do it.

I shuddered when I thought about the emotional damage this kind of study material could cause. There is nothing about sex within marriage that needs forgiveness unless one of the partners is faking it and not really expressing his or her true feelings.

 Husbands, talk to your wife about your sexual and social needs as well as her sexual and social needs and what is pleasing and not pleasing. A healthy relationship requires you to talk about it and evaluate how well the relationship is doing. Men, you can learn to treat your wife like the woman she is and not as a whore. She is another human being with needs you can help satisfy. As a result you will discover your needs are being met as well.