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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This is my fourth post in this series on grace in marriage.  You can read it as a stand alone, but if you want the context, I encourage you to catch up on the whole series starting here.

Today I want to tackle another misconception about grace in marriage. I’ll pose it in the form of a question:
Does showing grace to my spouse over their mistakes, shortcomings and annoyances mean that these things shouldn’t bother me??
It’s a good question and probably a common one for many who are seeking to grow in grace.  What do you do when your husband makes a bad financial decision that genuinely impacts you negatively?  Do you just shrug it off and hope for the best? Are you supposed to pretend you don’t care when your wife consistently refuses you sexually?  What do you do with the negative emotions that rise up when your spouse does that thing they know grates on your nerves for the tenth time, seemingly on purpose? Do you just stuff it down or suck it up and pretend it doesn’t matter to you?

My short answer is no. Stuffing it down and sucking it up do not fit with my understanding of grace. 

A Few Reminders

It’s important to keep in mind that grace, by definition, is undeserved. The very fact that you are choosing the way of grace indicates your willingness to let go of your justification for offense. That’s hard, but that’s grace.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are showing grace simply by suffering in silence or by hiding your ill feelings from your spouse.  True grace requires that you be willing to lay down your rights for the good of your marriage. If you are just keeping quiet, eventually things are going to boil over or explode in a flash of emotion.  Stuffing it down isn’t grace, and it doesn’t work in the long run.

So what do you do when you are genuinely bothered by something your spouse does?  How do you approach a matter in which you are struggling to find the grace to forgive and forget?  

Seek a Heart Change

For some things, especially those that are merely an annoyance or inconvenience, my first suggestion is to ask God to change your heart.

Do you recall how in my “Grace and the Big But” post I suggested that you “let grace work on you” as the first important step in getting to a grace-full marriage? It’s true that as we more fully understand the grace we have been shown by Jesus, we are more able to give the same kind of grace to others, especially to our spouse.  Remember that marriage is designed to reflect our relationship with Jesus, and that includes the same kind of grace.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

What Stands in the Way of Love?

Does God care when we mess up? We know his grace is sufficient to cover all of our sins, past, present and future.  We know that when he looks at us through the finished work of the cross, he sees us in perfection.  Jesus won for himself a pure and spotless bride. Awesome and amazing truth!

So does God care about our shortcomings, mistakes and ungodly habits?

The key to understanding grace in marriage is to understand that the fiery and passionate love of God does not wax and wane with our behavior.  He is love. Period. It’s who he is.  He cannot help it.  By grace we are covered by that love.

But remember what I said at the beginning of this series: the real purpose of grace is intimacy.  So that’s God’s only agenda in response to our mistakes.  He wants to get rid of everything in our lives that hinders love and intimacy with him. Everything. He is a zealous and a jealous lover. He wants nothing to stand between us and him, and is relentlessly in pursuit of intimacy with us. He wants to have all of us.

So when you are seeking the answer to the question of whether or not you should care about something your spouse is doing, the real question is whether or not that thing is a barrier to intimacy. Does it hinder your love relationship or is it just a personal preference you’ve clung to selfishly.

The key to understanding grace is that it should come freely and automatically, without any conditions attached. It should be made clear to your spouse that their mistakes and foibles don’t change how you feel about them. Let love and forgiveness be complete and unconditional, then focus on whatever hinders intimacy, and make it clear that your marriage relationship is the only motivation for seeking solutions to these things.

Be a relentless pursuer of intimacy with your spouse.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

As I’ve said, we aren’t as good at grace as God is. We get tangled up in our human emotions, and that can make it hard to see clearly past the issue and into the true heart of the matter. Our vision gets clouded and we can’t see who our spouse really is in God’s eyes.

That’s why we need the Holy Spirit. He guides us into all truth. So when you are faced with something your spouse has done or continues to do that is hard for you to accept, ask for the Holy Spirit to show you what is really going on.  Is it simply a pet peeve that you need to let go of?  Is it something that is limiting intimacy in your relationship (spiritual, emotional or physical)? Is it motivated by selfishness or by love? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how God sees your spouse and the situation. 

You’ll be shocked how things can become so much clearer when you step back from your emotions and ask for heavenly insight.

Natural Consequences

Some mistakes your spouse makes will result in natural negative consequences.  Mistakes with money or that involve other people certainly can.  A car wreck, a bad investment decision are minor examples.  More serious matters, like infidelity or drug use, also carry significant natural consequences. 

Regardless, the thing to remember in working through the consequences, is still to stay focused on what really matters: wholeness in your marriage, which necessitates wholeness in the individuals. Focus on eliminating everything that hinders love. Your relationship matters most above all else.

Getting Unstuck

I understand the fear that by giving grace you’ll be stuck with your spouse’s bad behavior forever. But the truth is that grace can actually be the very mechanism to get you unstuck! 

Grace, as a component of unconditional love, is a compelling force.

Of course your spouse still has free will to ignore the love and grace you show. It’s not a guarantee, but grace is the most likely course to getting and keeping your marriage strong and growing in love and intimacy.

Grace doesn’t mean you don’t care. It just means you care about something different: intimacy.


Jan Stevens said...

I am loving your series on grace in marriage. I am sure that you have helped plenty of people change the way they treat their spouses and their relationship. I do agree with you in what you said that holding back on the things that bother us and pretending that nothing is wrong only hinders us from being truly close with our spouses, and that we should be open to them about these things. And also to be more patient with them about things that are everyday annoyances like not refilling the coffee or taking out the garbage when they're supposed to. So thank you for this!

Beth Templeton said...

Scott, this is really good stuff. Grace means you care about something different-- love this! It is a game changer way of thinking. I think it is an excellent approach to parenting in Grace as well. It doesn't me we don't care about behavior, but it does mean that the focus of our care is not the behavior, but intimacy in relationship. Lots for me to process here. Thanks!

andie063 said...

I enjoy reading these articles. To the 'thing' that challenges our marriage my husband responds 'it is what it is'. I have no choice but to place my confidence in the grace of God because I do believe it is sufficient for me.

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