Surviving the Tension of Unforgiveness

Wow, I really did something dumb today. On Saturday I did some things in the yard and I wanted to finish them off. So I did something dumb, I went out into the yard.  Well it wasn’t going into the yard, it was disappearing when my wife needed my help. The morning is zoo time trying to get the kids out the door to school, and I just didn’t think about that, I just evaporated like mist. This just sent my wife crazy. “I can’t get into this right now,” she said as she got into our van and rushed off.

What really had me kicking myself in the head was how forgetful I was. “We just had this discussion yesterday,” she said. Yesterday! At a marriage seminar! How stupid could I be? How quickly could I forget? How easy it is to start treating yourself badly. I’ve had a terrible morning. Combine all the elements. My wife is pissed at me. She didn’t want to talk to me. I realize what a dork I was. I start berating myself for being so forgetful, so uncaring. I am reaming myself constantly for being stupid. I feel bad about what I did. I feel like I need to treat myself badly for what I did. I feel like I need to perform some penance for forgiveness. All morning I’m stewing in the pain of feeling unforgiven. It’s a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day…and it’s only 9:30 a.m.

Just two weeks ago I wrote about forgiving yourself when you fail, and here I am not able to apply anything I shared in that post. I can think, “God loves me and forgives me.” And it doesn’t help. I can rationally ponder, “I’m not an idiot, I’m not stupid.” But I still treat myself that way. I know that my wife is a kind and forgiving woman. But she wasn’t displaying that this morning, so I should treat myself based on how I last saw her…angry. I’m angry at myself. I’m a quiet beast all morning, brewing on all these swirling self-condemning thoughts. How do I get out of this quagmire?

What I crave is atonement. I want forgiveness. I yearn to hear the words, “I forgive you. I still love you.” Is it so wrong to want this? No, but it still is putting the cart before the horse. It is like desiring your dessert before your dinner. How can I live in the tension of not knowing someone forgives me? It’s not easy…in fact, it’s a roiling wrestling match where you have to take on faith what is true in the face of screaming, slandering lies that convict without a trial. I didn’t do a good job of that today. I confess, it’s easier to believe the lies than the truth. I’ve been doing that my whole life. OK, where to start?

What is true:
1. I am loved by God even though I make mistakes (Romans 5:8).
2. God doesn’t hold our mistakes against us, He forgets them (Isaiah 43:25).
3. God doesn’t condemn us (Romans 8:1), so why should we condemn ourselves.
4. Owning up to our mistakes is walking in truthfulness with God (1 John 1:7-8).
5. Humbly owning up to our mistakes to people we hurt repairs damaged bridges.
6. Reasonable and loving people respond positively to humble admission of mistakes.
7. We are people in process, trying to learn from our mistakes.
8. The people we hurt need a little time for the emotional intensity to recede.
9. I am loved and worthy of love even when I make mistakes against people.

What are lies:
1. God condemns me when I make mistakes, and will turn His back on me.
2. People will turn their back on me and hate me when I make mistakes.
3. I am an idiot and stupid for making mistakes.
4. I am worthy of love being rescinded because I made a mistake.
5. I am unforgivable because I keep making mistakes.
6. I will never learn and never get better. I am doomed to always make mistakes.
7. I need to treat myself badly as some form of penitence to earn forgiveness.
8. I can’t come and talk to the person I hurt because they will be too angry.

What I needed to do in the middle of my self-condemning slugfest was to stop, take a deep breath, and remember the truth. Even more than remembering the truth, we need to trust the truth. This is called faith, and it is a verb that we must exercise. Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament gives a great definition of faith when it says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Assurance about what we do not see is trusting the reliability of something based of its trustworthiness not its appearance. My wife appeared angry, but faith is trusting she needs some time to calm down and will be receptive to the humble admission of my mistake.

The by-product of faith is peace. When I can trust that my wife is a reasonable and loving person who will respond positively when I admit my fault, I can rest in the other truths too. I am a person in process! I can learn from my mistakes! She won’t run away from me. I am still lovable and can treat myself kindly. But all those positive thoughts stem from stopping the swirling tide of lies and focusing on the truths. I definitely needed to do that better yesterday. I wish that I did. My day would have gone better.

I mentioned before that wanting to hear the words “I forgive you” is like desiring your dessert before your dinner. You see, dinner is the nourishment…it’s the good stuff. The truths mentioned above are the good stuff that we need to let sink deeply into our souls. That stuff is true regardless of whether you hear the words “I forgive you.” And we need to grow in trusting those foundational truths. Because our feelings waver they aren’t a good foundation. Our day can be ruined quickly when we buy into the lies. But if we have faith in the truths, resting in their trustworthiness, then peace can result. And wouldn’t you prefer peace to living in a maelstrom of self-condemnation?

Probably around 2 p.m. my wife called after I texted whether she had a few minutes to talk. I reached out and she responded. I admitted I just wasn’t thinking, felt badly, and I’m sorry. She forgave me and we had a tender moment of intimacy that results from calmly working through the problem. It was peace. It was a great dessert. But on this day, I didn’t eat my dinner very well. Hopefully the next time a mistake hurts a relationship I can remember the truths better. Hopefully you will too.


This post image is from San Luis Obispo, CA. A lone windmill stands starkly against foggy valleys of the Central Coast. A windmill turns its ‘face’ toward the wind, the way we can turn our face toward the person that we may have hurt instead of turning away.

2 thoughts on “Surviving the Tension of Unforgiveness

  1. Awesome!
    I needed to hear this too. I SO OFTEN respond exactly as you did. Thank you for your transparency. And thank you for reminding me of God’s truths!


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