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Frequent Forgiveness

Even after more than 40 years together, our need to forgive each other is as fresh as it was on our wedding day.
By Barbara Rainey

As a new bride, I knew that many aspects about my marriage to Dennis would be different from what I expected, but I've still been surprised by this truth: Even after more than 40 years together, our need to forgive each other is as fresh as it was on our wedding day. You'd think we would have learned not to say unkind things, not to hurt each other, not to take each other for granted. But we are imperfect human beings who don't love each other as well as we wish.

As Henri Nouwen wrote, "Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly." And because we love poorly, we must forgive frequently.

Sometimes I wish that wasn't the case--that we would outgrow the need to forgive each other frequently. But then I remember that this is what Christianity is all about: a loving and compassionate God pursuing His stubborn, sinful creation. He demonstrated this love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us while we were still sinners (see Romans 5:8). He forgave us and made it possible for us to enjoy fellowship with Him. And He calls us to forgive each other as He has forgiven us (see Ephesians 4:32). That's why marriage is a reflection of the gospel, a picture of Christ's relationship with the church.

Christianity, then, is all about forgiveness. And a great marriage is, in the words of Ruth Bell Graham, "the union of two good forgivers." Two imperfect people living together will need to forgive each other multiple times--maybe even each day. And by the way, If you add children to the family, the need for forgiveness will be compounded because of the increased number of sinful people who are living under one roof!

One of my favorite stories about forgiveness is that of Joseph in the Old Testament. He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who told their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph was taken on to Egypt where he was sold again, this time to an officer in the army. Later he was unfairly sent to prison for something he did not do. But instead of being angry, Joseph believed God was with him. He believed God was to be trusted, feared, and obeyed.

Eventually, through God's providence, Joseph rose to a position of great power and influence. Fast forward another 12 years, and Joseph was busy meeting with people from all over world who had come to request food to survive a severe famine. And who showed up begging for food? His brothers.

Joseph could have used his power to seek revenge on his brothers, and who would have blamed him? Instead he forgave them and told them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:19-20).

Joseph's story illustrates the truth that forgiveness means giving up the right to punish the person who sins against you. Often it may feel as if you are going against everything inside you--your desire for justice, for revenge. But it is grace in action--giving the person something he or she doesn't deserve.

Perhaps that's why forgiveness will feel more reasonable, and perhaps a bit easier, if you remember the grace of God in your own life. The power of forgiveness lies in its ability to replay God's forgiveness over and over. Forgiveness announces the gospel and its unparalleled healing power to a broken world.

In the end, forgiveness means cooperating with God's plan. Joseph recognized that God had directed His life for His own purposes: God had taken an unspeakably cruel act that Joseph's brothers had meant for evil and, ultimately, had used it to save the Jewish people.

In a similar manner, you must cooperate with God's plan for the intimate relationship you share in marriage. Your spouse may hurt you more deeply than any other person ever has. Yet if God forgives you daily, how can you not do the same?

Copyright © 2013 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.

Meet the Author: Barbara Rainey

Barbara Rainey is a wife, mother of six adult children (plus three sons-in-law and two daughters-in-law), and "Mimi" to nineteen grandchildren.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1971. She and her husband, Dennis, whom she married in 1972, are co-founders of FamilyLife, a ministry of Cru that is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Barbara has published articles on family-related topics and is the author of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember and When Christmas Came.  She speaks at FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences and is a frequent guest on FamilyLife Today®, a nationally syndicated, daily radio program.  She and Dennis are the coauthors of several books, including Growing a Spiritually Strong Family, Starting Your Marriage Right, Moments Together for Couples, The New Building Your Mate's Self-Esteem, Parenting Today's Adolescent, Rekindling the Romance, and Moments with You. She co-authored A Mother's Legacy with her daughter, Ashley Rainey Escue and joined Dennis and their children Rebecca and Samuel on the book So You're About To Be A Teenager. Barbara has also co-authored Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest, with close friend Susan Yates, and A Symphony in the Dark, written with her daughter, Rebecca Rainey Mutz. And Barbara has written a series focusing on character traits for families, including the titles Growing Together in Gratitude, Growing Together in Courage, Growing Together in Forgiveness, and Growing Together in Truth.

Having faithfully served alongside Dennis for more than 30 years, both in ministry and at home, Barbara has recently launched a new endeavor called Ever Thine Home™.  This new line of products, including Christ centered ornaments for Christmas, teaching tools for Lent and Easter, and beautiful additions for your home for thanksgiving and year round makes it easy to express faith at home in a way that is both biblical and beautiful.  Her heart for Ever Thine Home is based on the familiar Old Testament instruction:

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:9, ESV)

You can read more about Barbara's work at

Find Barbara online on:
Twitter @BarbaraRainey and Facebook



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