Ah, the family. When it’s your parents or siblings driving you crazy, you can roll your eyes and walk away. You didn’t pick your relatives. But what happens when it’s your spouse?
When people first get engaged, their joy is like high beams on an approaching car. Unsuspecting folks have to squint and shield their eyes. Those young couples don’t need grace. They’re walking around thinking, I picked him and he picked me! Aren’t we lucky?
Fast forward a few years down the road, and things are a little different. He looks at her spreading hips and winces at her nagging tone. She can barely get her arms around his Santa-sized belly and ducks from the toxic scents his body emits after a bowl of ice cream. And they look at each other and think, I picked you?
And suddenly, grace matters.
And it’s not funny, not really. It’s certainly not funny when she needs a gentle word and he gripes about the dirty floors. It’s not funny when he needs a peaceful evening and she spends two hours complaining that he doesn’t help out enough.
She cooks a meal and doesn’t get a thank-you.
He reaches for her in bed and gets nothing but the cold shoulder.
They used to go on dates and talk about the future. Now their only outing is the super market, her with a list, him with a calculator.
When did it get so hard? And what’s to be done about it?
While we wrestle with these issues in our homes and in our hearts, there’s another factor at play. Because while our parents and our siblings are associated with us, they don’t reflect on us the way our spouse does. Yes, we picked this person. And yes, he or she is not perfect. So far from perfect, it’s scary. It’s not just that we’re frustrated about the behavior. Sometimes, we’re embarrassed by it.
Please don’t say that. Someone might hear you.
Please don’t wear that. Someone might see you.
I’ve talked a lot about grace in the last few weeks. We covered grace for the unsaved, grace for the church, and grace for your friends. Truth is, we are called to extend grace to all those folks, but we have options there, don’t we? We can avoid the unsaved, change churches, and drop friends. What do you do when the person who hurts you, the person who takes you for granted, is your own spouse?
Every family is different, and every situation is unique, so I’m not going to act as pastor or even trusted mentor. If things are bad, seek help from a counselor. If things are dangerous, go to a safe place. (It is not God’s will for you to stay in a dangerous situation.) If things are simply imperfect—well, that’s life. And sometimes, life is hard. Seek God, seek the counsel of someone you trust. Unfortunately, aside from praying like crazy and doing your best to be obedient to God’s calling on your life, there’s very little you can do to affect someone else’s behavior.
Well, there is one more thing. You can choose to love your spouse. Every day, every minute, even at his ugliest, you can love him.
There’s a Scripture passage that speaks to this subject. You’ll recognize it. You might even remember it from your own wedding. First Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV) says:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I like that part in the middle—“It keeps no record of wrongs.” The Message versions says that love, “Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.”
Do you know what it’s like to live with someone who keeps score of your sins? More importantly, do those who live with you know what that’s like?
Keeping a record of sins—holding a grudge—that’s not love. That’s not grace. Sometimes, grace is forgiving the same sins, over and over. Sometimes, grace is being honest with your spouse about how you feel, and sometimes, grace is letting the little things go. Grace is loving your spouse even when he embarrasses you. Even when she hurts you. Even when he takes you for granted.
Grace matters in a marriage. In fact, I would go so far as to say, the longer you’re married, the more grace matters.
If you struggle with extending grace to your spouse, you might remember this prayer:
Lord, today, help me to give as much grace to my spouse as you give to me.
That’s a lot of grace.
One of my favorite, practical books on grace is Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen. I highly recommend it for your family.