by Renee Dallas
“…let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12: 1
When I was 15 my family took a trip to Italy to visit relatives and to see the many historic sites. Looking back, I can see this was no easy task for a family of five. My mother packed us to the hilt for our two month vacation, tucked the carefully planned itinerary into her purse, and off we went. It was our first trip to Europe, and we were thrilled to be taking it.
But little did we realize what a challenge lugging around our suitcases would be! In Italy, trains remain the primary way of travel; hauling suitcases through the station and getting them and ourselves onto the train was a daunting task. Many times, as we were running late, the only way to manage was for my father to stand out on the boarding area sidewalk and throw the suitcases through a window, almost missing the train himself. A vital part of our trip could have been lost just because of extra baggage.
Keeping It Just In Case
Every day I speak with wives who are losing a vital part of their life journey because of unforgiveness. It’s like extra baggage they choose to maintain and drag around. The more they carry those battered bags, the heavier they get, tiring them out, and slowing them down. The solution—“Throw the thing off the train, already!”—seems obvious.
But for many, especially for the wife who has experienced a betrayal in her marriage, a suitcase with “OPEN IN THE EVENT OF FURTHER BETRAYAL” can be hard to give up. What if she needs its contents? What if he relapses? What if it all starts again? Keeping a protective garment of unforgiveness available seems reasonable when we feel so vulnerable. After all, what if it rains again?
But the Christian life is all about traveling light. Free from the burden of our own sin, we’re forgiven so we can live and move, directed by the grace that we’ve been given. Likewise, free from the obligation of carrying someone else’s debt, we can forgive those who have trespassed against us, allowing them to operate under that same grace. Grace that liberates, strengthens, comforts, convicts, helps, sanctifies, empowers—in short, grace that is greater than all of our sin: his, mine, and ours.
Forgiveness Does Not Equal Trust
I know many women may say, “All right, I get that I need to forgive my husband. But what about my own pain? And what about his continued infractions?”
That’s the tricky and often confusing part. There is an important distinction between forgiveness and trust: Forgiveness is mandated, trust is earned. Jesus told us through parables and other teachings that because we are forgiven, we are expected to forgive others, reflecting the way He forgives us (see Luke 17:1-10, Matt. 6:12-15, Matt. 18:32-35).
But forgiveness doesn’t always translate into trust, nor should it. A wife should forgive her husband, and at the same time continue to set boundaries, clarify expectations, and watch for deposits back into the Trust Account. Just as the Bible commands the wife to forgive, it also commands the husband take responsibility for his behavior, cultivate faithfulness, kindness, love and respect (see Prov. 3:3-4; Gal. 5:22, 1 Peter 3:7). In a marriage covenant, two partners have a right to expect no less. Forgiveness and faithfulness work together to rebuild trust.
Unloading the Burden
Even as we know what’s expected of us, we struggle with our hurts and limitations. We have wounded hearts and limited understanding. And that’s where Jesus comes in. He won’t expect something of us that He doesn’t also give us the grace to accomplish! In Matthew 11 He talks about taking our burdens:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give your rest…you’ll find rest for your souls…my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:28-30)
And more good news: we can entrust Him not only with our pain, but with our purpose. As Paul said:
“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
So my prayer for wives (and in fact, my exhortation to them) is that they remember they are on a journey God has mapped out, a journey in which He asks them to lay aside whatever weight that keeps them from traveling light and fully experiencing the adventure He has for them. Whether it be the weight of pride, envy, or unforgiveness, He calls us to throw the baggage off the train by “casting our cares on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). In doing so, we remember not only our journey but our confidence in the One who ordained it and His ability to help us run it with perseverance and joy.
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Renee Dallas is the founder of WifeBoat.com, a ministry to wives in crisis over their husbands’ sexual sin. She and her husband Joe minister regularly to couples in crisis, and have spoken and written extensively on the subject. She is the Administrator of Genesis Counseling, where she has led groups for wives and consulted with women in crises. She has served at Newport Mesa Church in Costa Mesa, California, as Director of the HELPS (Women’s) Ministry Team.