Is there a difference between forgiving and wishing someone well? I wish my ex-husband well, but I am still very angry with him because he broke the marriage covenant.
The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, made the point that people are starting to forgive when they wish the other person well. Thus, you likely are at the beginning of forgiveness and this is a positive step. Now you need to press onward toward deeper forgiveness. Try to see your ex-husband’s worth; try to see his emotional wounds which might have contributed to the break-up; try to be aware of any compassion that may be growing in you as you do this work. The result, based on our research, likely will be reduced anger.
About a year ago, my wife did something that hurt me very deeply. She has not apologized and does not feel responsible because her actions lacked the intention to cause pain. I don’t wish her any ill will, nor do I want to hurt her back. While I believe I can forgive her, even without an apology, is it inconsistent with the notion of forgiveness that I feel she cannot remain my wife if she will not take responsibility for her part in my suffering?
Yes, it is inconsistent to both forgive your wife and to consider leaving her for the hurt she caused you, especially when her action appears to be a one-time act that was not repeated. To put in perspective what I am saying, I think you may have a good case against your marriage if: a) she showed a pattern before marriage that made it impossible for her to be a wife to you; b) she continued this pattern that is so extreme that she was not a wife to you during the marriage, and c) it appears, from the counsel you receive from competently wise people, that she does not have the capacity for the future to truly be a wife to you.
Perhaps you both need to sit down and revisit the hurtful event from a year ago. She says that she never intended to hurt you. Sometimes, intentions that are not directed toward the unjust and cruel nonetheless are morally wrong. Here is an example: A person at a party knows that she will be driving. Yet, she drinks and then drinks to excess. She gets behind the wheel of the car, drives, crashes into another car, and breaks the leg of the other driver. She did not intend wrong. She tried to be careful even though she had too much alcohol in her. The act itself was negligent even though there was no intent to break another person’s leg. It was negligent precisely because the consequences of driving under the influence can be dire even with the best of intentions.
Does your wife see this: one can act unjustly even with intentions that are not leaning toward doing something unjust? Do you see this: Her actions, though hurtful to you, may not have been unjust? Try to have a civil dialogue about these issues. And continue to deepen your forgiveness and to see that your avowed commitment to your wife is far deeper than one even enormous hurt that she inflicted on you.
Recently, one of my high school students approached me and said this, “I am kind of ambivalent about forgiveness. If I forgive, some of the other students seem to think that I am a weakling.” I was not sure how to answer this. Do you have some insights for me?
The student is confusing forgiveness with giving in to others’ demands. This is not forgiveness. To forgive is to know that what the other person did is wrong and yet mercy is offered nonetheless. When one forgives, one also asks for justice and so this idea of weakness or giving in is not correct. There are two basic ways of distorting forgiveness: to let the other have power over you or to seek power over the other because of that person’s transgressions. True forgiveness avoids these extremes.
If you could recommend one book on forgiveness for me to read as I try now to heal from a very contentious divorce, what book would that be?
In the context of your “very contentious divorce,” I would recommend my book, The Forgiving Life, because it involves a Socratic dialogue between Sophia and Inez regarding a marital conflict that Inez is experiencing. The issues in the dialogue might give you insights into your own emotional-healing process. I wish you the very best in your courageous journey of healing.
I have a 17-year-old son who is challenging me a lot. I forgive. He talks back. I forgive again. He is disrespectful again. I forgive again and again. It is hard. Help!
I say this to those who are in relationships in which one needs to maintain the relationship: Forgiveness under this circumstance becomes more difficult, but all the more necessary. As you forgive, and your anger lessens, at that point try approaching your son and talk gently (as well as firmly) about his disrespectful behavior to you. Also, and this is very important, try to uncover any anger your child may be carrying inside his heart that he needs to examine. He may need to forgive people who have hurt him. He may be displacing that anger onto you. If you focus only on changing his behavior from disrespectful to respectful, you might miss his damaged heart in need of forgiving those who broke his heart.