The letter quoted at the end of this passage is a personal one that Elisabeth Elliot sent me in response to a letter I mailed to her over a quarter century ago.
That was in the days before the Internet, when handwritten correspondence was still in fashion.
The ink on that correspondence has faded a bit and the stationery yellowed with age, but the advice Mrs. Elliot gave me therein is as timely today as it was then.
It deserves to be shared and taken to heart — for in a world filled with Hollywood chick-flicks and high expectations and Harlequin romances and (even) homeschool courtships, it is easy to lose sight of reality.
That reality is this: Your husband is human. He has flaws (as do you). And forgiveness will be essential if you ever hope to look beyond those flaws and build a happy, successful marriage.
~ Words of Wisdom ~
We know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but there is a difference between philosophically acknowledging your husband’s inherent sin nature, and experientially coming face to face with a particular offense which affects you. This is where the rubber meets the road, where forgiveness becomes more than a theoretical platitude.
I first grappled with this distinction back in 1986, the year I finished college. Doug and I had met two weeks before graduation and become fast friends. We held so many things in common — values, goals, beliefs, even mannerisms — that my own mother told me she would fear we were siblings had I been adopted as Doug was.
We were soon making plans for the future, determined that our life together should be built on trust and transparency. Against the advice of all his friends, Doug was completely candid with me about his past failings, and I am eternally grateful for his honesty.
Although the events he described had occurred in the distant past, his confession was difficult for me to bear; it consumed my thoughts by day and tormented my dreams by night.
Careworn and weary, I finally wrote to Elisabeth Elliot for counsel. With her permission, I close this chapter with her response, dated September 30, 1986.
How my heart went out to you last night as I read your letter, just received. I understand perfectly how you felt…. Even God, who forgives the sin and casts it into the depths of the sea, does not undo the effect of that sin, nor can you…. The tears, the nightmares, the unbidden imaginary pictures that torment you — how well I empathize with all of that, and pray for your comfort and healing.
First let me say that Doug is to be commended for not allowing himself to deceive you. He must have been in an agony over the decision to tell you, knowing at least a little bit how much it would hurt.
Second, you suffer not alone, but actually and redemptively with Christ (see Colossians 1:24, Philippians 1:29, 1 Peter 4:12-13, and many other passages). This aspect of suffering is a real life-changer. Study it for the rest of your life.
Third, you suffer quite literally because of another’s sin, which is exactly what Christ did. Because He paid the price for yours, you too must be willing to pay the price for Doug’s — the price of sorrow, heartbreak, the sense of irremediable loss…. Forgiveness means absolute relinquishment of all that. It is a laying down of your life. Your dream of the “perfect” man has to go — it is this man God has given you, another sinner (there isn’t anything else to marry!) — it is this gift you receive in thanksgiving, acknowledging the fact that in this fallen, broken world, there is no place where the heart may be perfectly at rest and wholly filled except at the Spring of Living Water. Drink there, dear Jennifer, and be at peace.
Doug’s admission will always be a reminder to you that he needs your sacrificial, self giving love. When you sin against him, as you certainly will, any wife does, you will then know, when you have to ask his forgiveness, that you are two human beings in need of the Amazing Grace that saves WRETCHES!! You are, as Peter wrote, “heirs together of the grace of life.”
So forgive him freely, utterly, joyfully — for that is how Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). Bring all those awful thoughts and imaginations under the Lordship of Christ (2 Corinthians 10), and receive this man as your God-given husband, promising to honor, which means, among other things, never to bring up again that which has been put under the Blood.
I know a young woman who steadfastly refused to forgive her husband…. She has, in spite of Christian profession, destroyed her marriage, destroyed her own life, and blighted the lives of others. Don’t refuse the grace of God for your own deep needs, nor refuse to Doug the grace He will give you to forgive him.
I’m not sure what I had expected Elisabeth Elliot to say to me, but — twenty-eight years and twelve children later — I am so very grateful that she gave me the advice she did… and that I had sense enough to take it.
If this is an area of struggle in your life, I pray God will give you the grace to take it, too.
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