I once heard that the key to a happy marriage is being a great forgiver. I share often here about the love, joy, intimacy, laughter, lightness and fun the McStudly and I have in our marriage. There are many aspects to this, but I think that forgiveness is the key.
You see, McStudly and I are a normal married couple. Over the years, we have wounded each other deeply, and we have had many fights. I’d like to tell you that we fought honorably, that we fought fair, but that would be a lie. We fought hard and we fought dirty. Some of our fights painfully resemble those you see in “The Story of Us” between Ben and Katie – we’ve said and done some very hurtful things to each other over the years. I wish I could say that we are done with that, but we are human beings, and we will hurt each other again. This is a normal part of marriage - it’s just what happens when two very different people, who see the world through completely different eyes, and express their brokenness in very different ways, join together with open hearts to share life’s journey.
We are not adequate receptacles to hold onto pain, anger, hurt and bitterness. Keeping these negative emotions inside of us is toxic, it’s like drinking poison. It is toxic not only to our relationships, but to our own emotional and spiritual health. And, scientific studies are now showing that these toxic emotions cause a whole host of physical sicknesses and disease. Yet, forgiveness, letting go of the pain and anger, opening your heart to love again at the risk of being hurt again – well, these things are incredibly hard to do. So hard, that it sometimes seems impossible.
In his book “Forgive and Forget”, Lewis Smedes shares a wonderful fable/story about a man's journey to forgiveness that I’ll paraphrase for you here:
There once a baker who was tall and slender. He was known in his town as a very righteous, religious man. But, the baker was rigid and hard. Even the lines of his face, and his chin had a stern look about them. The baker married a woman who was very warm-hearted. She was round, and soft, kind and sweet. The baker was cold and distant with his wife. One day, he came home and found his wife in the arms of another man. Everyone in the town thought that the baker would divorce his wife. Yet, the baker, because it was his duty, decided that he would forgive his wife. But, he didn’t really forgive her. Deep inside, he hated her in his heart. Every time he saw her or even thought about her, pain and anger and thoughts of revenge welled up in his heart. Now, this did not sit well with God. So, every time the baker had one of these negative thoughts an angel came and dropped a small pebble in the baker’s heart. Eventually, his heart was so weighed down with pebbles, with bitterness that he walked all hunched over, he had to strain to even look up. The baker was miserable, and he was suffering terribly. His life became dark and heavy burdened.
One night, the angel came to the baker and told him how he could be freed from his suffering through “Magic Eyes”. The baker said, oh, there is no way I can be free – you cannot change the past. The angel said, this is true, I cannot change the past. But, you can change your heart through the way you see things, through “Magic Eyes.” Every time you see your wife, every time you have one of those painful, angry thoughts, if you will pray for “Magic Eyes”, for eyes to see her the way God sees her, with a heartfelt desire to really see her that way – each time you pray that way, I will remove a pebble from your heart.
And, so the baker began to pray for “Magic Eyes”. He prayed to see his wife the way God sees her, to see her through God’s eyes. Before long, the baker begins to see his wife very differently. He no longer sees his wife as a bad person, as a person who intentionally tried to hurt him, as a person who didn’t love him. He begins to see his wife with a compassionate heart, to see her as a vulnerable, broken person who needs his love. His face began to change, and he didn’t look so harsh and stern anymore. The darkness and the heavy burden slowly started to lift, the bitterness melted away, and all of the pebbles were removed from the baker’s heart. He was able to walk upright again.
We see so many powerful lessons about forgiveness in this story. Yes, forgiveness is a gift to the offender, but it is first and foremost the gift of freedom to the forgiver. Forgiveness is not something that can be done out of religious duty, nor is it an intellectual decision. True forgiveness, the kind that heals and restores can only come from the heart. We see that forgiveness of deep wounds is not a one time event, it is a process. And, finally, we see that forgiveness is well worth the time and effort it takes to get there.
C.S. Lewis says that “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” You see, so often we live our lives on auto-pilot, we live drab, routine, empty lives – and God wants so much more for us. He created this beautiful world, and amazing people for us to enjoy. He created the institution of marriage, not for us to just co-exist and barely even notice each other, but for us to experience all of the joy, intimacy and ecstasy of romance and unconditional love, for us to thrive together in this life’s journey. But, we get so caught up in routine, and pain and resentment, that we are missing out on God’s greatest gifts. I think Lewis is right – God uses pain to wake us up, so we don’t miss out on His goodness.
You see, nothing has ever happened in my life that was not first ordained or allowed by God – there is no pain, no wound that snuck through with God unaware. And, there is no superfluous pain – only the absolute minimum amount of pain necessary to wake me up. And, the pain comes as a gift. The pain comes to bring me to the joyful, abundant life he has for me.
I truly believe that if we could see how God knit a person together with their unique personality and vulnerability and, if we could go back and watch every single second of their lives – if we could see from inside their hearts every painful experience, every time they felt rejected, broken, afraid – we wouldn’t even need forgiveness. We’d have so much love and compassion and understanding for them, that we wouldn’t take their wrongs personally at all, we wouldn’t judge them, nor would we hold onto pain and anger in the first place. But, we can’t do that – and so we need a little help. We need to connect with the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of our souls, the eyes that see the one who wounded us from a place of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love. We need eyes that are so filled with love and our core desire for intimate connection that we are willing to risk being hurt again with complete abandon. We need “Magic Eyes”.
So, this Christmas Season and always, I wish for you all the renewed intimacy, romance, joy, lightness, laughter, fun, compassion, and love that come through the process of forgiveness. I wish for you all “Magic Eyes”.