finally determined Bob’s path was his realization that forgiveness
was at the core of what it meant to live as a Christian. If
willing to forgive in this situation, what
did forgiveness really mean?
several months of marital alienation and the help of an expert
counselor, Bob and his wife were able to reconcile. The counselor
convinced Bob that the marriage would survive only if he were
willing to forgive her, and so he did. As far as I know, he never
mentioned the infidelity again, never disclosed it to family
members, never held it over his wife.
time Bob and his wife were blessed with children. He considered
their marriage successful, their happiness accentuated by the
storms they had weathered together. Then, just when Bob least
expected it, the past came back to haunt him. After fourteen
years, his wife announced abruptly that she no longer wanted
to be married, no longer believed in marriage for that matter.
She filed for divorce and moved out. Eventually, he learned the
truth about her sudden change of heart: She had fallen in love
and begun a relationship with someone else.
three years of single-fatherhood, Bob remarried and is now happier
than he ever dreamed of being. But in more reflective moments
he questions his decision to forgive his ex-wife and try to repair
a marriage that had been ruptured by infidelity. “What
do you think?” Bob asked me recently. “Did I do the
right thing back in ’87? If I’d divorced her, I would
have saved myself a great deal of pain and embarrassment. More
importantly, I would not have brought children into the world
who must live with the legacy of betrayal and divorce.”
wasn’t prepared for this. I had never heard Bob question
the wisdom of that decision to forgive and move on, a decision
that I admired more than he knew. I too had been through a painful
divorce, had watched my children suffer through the chaos of
a broken home. And, like Bob, I had since remarried, to a woman
who has healed many of our family’s wounds.
won’t pretend to know the answer to your question,” I
said. “But let me tell you what I’ve learned about
forgiveness from watching you. And you tell me if I’ve
got it right.
you didn’t forgive the infidelity because you thought it
would fix your marriage; you forgave because you felt called
by God to do so. Second, forgiving once does not
mean you won’t
have to forgive again. You hoped that your decision to forgive
would keep her from repeating that mistake, but there were no
guarantees, and you knew that. Third, the fact that you remarried
in a church tells me that you’re willing to forgive again
if necessary. Is that right?”
thought for a moment. “I just can’t imagine having
to go through that again,” he said. “But that’s
not the question,” I responded. “The question is
would you be willing to demonstrate your belief in forgiveness?
Would the call to forgiveness be any weaker next time than it
was before?” He had to admit that it wouldn’t.
still not sure Bob is convinced that he did the right thing.
But either way his experience has taught me a lot about forgiveness-—mainly
begets more forgiveness; that it
becomes a habit, a practice
that enables us to live with the uncertainties of life without
becoming jaded or resentful. In some ways, I envy Bob. He knows
things about forgiveness that he doesn’t even know he knows.