|Fireworks at Comerica Park in Detroit|
If I am asked the question about what makes for a strong marriage my first response is: confession and forgiveness. When we wrong one another, we confess and forgive.
Linda was the first person I ever did this with. Previous to my relationship with her I rarely admitted to anyone that I was wrong. The idea of confessing anything to another person was foreign to me.
I confess my sins to God. When I hurt someone else I confess to them, and ask for their forgiveness. I use these words:
"I was wrong when I said/did ____________ to you. Would you forgive me?"
In your confession be specific. Don't say something vague, like "I was bad," but name the hurtful thing you said or did. Such as: "I was wrong when I raised my voice to you. Would you forgive me?"
To confess + forgive is not the same as saying "I'm sorry." I do think emotional sorrow, in varying degrees, always accompanies authentic confession. But confession + forgiveness is deeper than saying "I'm sorry," because it is a two-way act.
Confession + forgiveness is more powerful than one person saying "Sorry" to another. Confession is the personal owning-up to a perceived misdeed; forgiveness releases the confessor from owing-up. Confession + forgiveness is: owning-up and release from owing-up.
When you forgive someone this does not mean that you trust them. But trust will be impossible to achieve if confession and forgiveness has not preceded it.
I meet lots of Jesus-followers who do neither of these, in spite of the fact that their entire life in Christ is founded on Christ's atoning, sacrificial act of forgiveness, and our acknowledgement that we need forgiving. Jesus has paid the price (we owe nothing); we own up to our sins.
The big barriers to owning-up confessional activity are pride and shame. These self-obsessive attitudes block many from confessing to those they have hurt and wronged. Even though we are told, in many ways, to confess our sins one to another, the actual practice seems rare. If you have not confessed something to a significant other in a long time, what's your problem? Probably: pride or shame. Shame is the obverse of pride, the other side of the same coin which is pride.
We are imperfect people, not-yet-arrived people. Our not-yet-arrivedness at times impinges on others in harmful ways. The act of confession is God's gift for the not-yet-arrived. You and I are included in that group.
I meet many Jesus-followers who choose to not forgive others. To forgive means: to cancel the indebtedness of the other person. The only other alternative is to withhold forgiveness, and make the other pay. And keep paying. Refusal to forgive is a punishing, anti-Christ choice. For a Jesus-follower to not forgive is hypocrisy. To rejoice over how much God has forgiven me while I put the screws to those who ask for my forgiveness is wrong.
To realize the heinous, from-hell nature of withholding forgiveness, see the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35). That any professing follower of Jesus could read this parable and not forgive others is, logically, unbelievable, and raises genuine questions, like: "Who is your shepherd, really?" One Shepherd forgives and sets free; the other shepherd (satan) withholds forgiveness and imprisons.
To sin against another breaks relationship. Confession + forgiveness is the brilliant, genius-idea of God that restores relationship. I cannot do the past over. But I can break free from my past, and set others free from theirs. I am so thankful for this!
My new book is - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.