I thought reading books about marriage would be fairly painless since we are in a good place right now. Alas, I was wrong. It is simply impossible to look into the mirror God holds before your face without seeing how short you fall when you compare yourself to His standards.
Dennis and I have always been willing to share the truth about our marriage. We struggled more than was necessary for the first few years because we were foolish and immature in every way. We bumbled our way through another decade without accountability or guidance. BUT GOD, through His faithfulness, saved us from ourselves and taught us how to live with each other with understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, and grace.
We are not the same people we were when we said "I do" (praise the Lord!), but we still have a lot to learn about "outdoing one another in honor."
Great marriages do not just happen. Great marriages exist because both people are willing to give the marriage everything they've got, and when they have nothing to give, they can admit it, and ask for grace.
As long as we are alive, we will sin. We will make mistakes, disappoint, hurt, and offend one another, and misinterpret and make assumptions - instead of giving each other the benefit of the doubt and assuming the best. (Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:7) It is easy to bear and endure all things when you love each other, like each other, and life is going as planned. But what happens when this is not the case? What happens when selfishness replaces sacrifice? What happens when the outside pressures of life press so hard against you that you both lose sight of what matters? Rebellious children - Disapproving parents - Strained friendships - Sickness - Financial stresses - Unmet expectations ... will you bear with one another and endure those things together? Confessing, forgiving, and loving one another when you are at your worst?
Dennis and I have seen each other's worst. More than once. We have been gracious and forgiving toward one another, and we have been spiteful and mean toward one another. We always make up, but we do not always do it quickly. We forgive, but sometimes we let bitterness take root before we do. We overlook offenses as Scripture commands, but sometimes choose to make one a hill to die on. In short - we are two siners trying to live with each other in a way that glorifies God - but the only time we succeed is when we are fully immersed in Scripture, prayer, and fellowship with other believers because it is only then that we are able to let go of Self and outdo the other in honor.
Neither one of us ever has, or ever will claim that we have it all together when it comes to our marriage (or any other topic for that matter). We praise God that He did not let us stay the immature 20-something's we were when we pledged our vows to one another, and now we beg Him to continue to mature us, refine us, and strip away more of Self every single day because it is the one thing that keeps us from being the godly husband or wife He calls us to be. Self or the Savior - it is a daily choice. We chose Self far too many times the first decade of our marriage, so our desire is to deny Self more and more so that when we are an old, wrinkled, shrunken couple we can look at each other and declare, "Hey! You look like Jesus! I hardly see any of YOU!"
I pray the following quotes and truths from this wonderful book (chapter five) will challenge you. They struck a blow to my conscience and revealed how very much I need to grow as a wife and as a woman of God.
Thank You, Lord! These words are timely and good. Now, please give me the humility to make the changes needed so I can love and serve Dennis better, and in a way that honors You.
✢ You simply can't continually rehearse in your heart all someone's perceived wrongs against you and grow in affection toward him or her.
✢ No change takes place in a marriage that does not begin with confession.
Confession is the doorway to growth and change in your relationship. It is essential. It is fundamental. Without it you are relegated to a cycle of repeated and deepening patterns of misunderstanding, wrong, and conflict.
✢ It is a grace to know right from wrong.
Accurate diagnosis always precedes effective cure.
✢ It is a grace to understand the concept of indwelling sin.
One of the most tempting fallacies for us ... is to believe that our greatest problems exist outside us rather than inside us.
You know that you have been gifted with grace when you are able to say, "My greatest marital problem is me."
✢ It is a grace to have a properly functioning conscience.
It is a perverse ability to that all sinners have - to become progressively comfortable with things that should shock, grieve, and embarrass us.
✢ It is a sign of God's grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we have become.
✢ It is a grace to see ourselves with accuracy.
Few things prevent change more than a distorted sense of self. Few things are more needed than eyes to see ourselves with clarity and accuracy.
✢ It is a grace to be willing to listen and consider criticism and rebuke.
It takes grace to be ready to listen and willing to hear.
It takes grace to quiet our mind, to focus our attention, and to settle our heart so that we can actually receive the help that God is offering us in the moment of unexpected confrontation.
Healthy relationships have two essential character qualities:
the humility of approachability and
the courage of loving honesty.
✢ It is a grace not to be paralyzed by regret.
It's hard enough to consider our present weakness and failure. It is even harder to consider the fruit that weakness and failure have produced over the years. So, rather than giving in to the temptation to run and hide, we need to run where help can be found.
As we face regret, we bask in forgiveness and then turn to live in a new way, embracing the power that is ours as children of God.
We will be lovingly honest
We will be humble when exposed
We will not excuse
We will be quick to admit wrongs
We will listen and examine
We will greet confession with encouragement
We will be patient, persevering, and gentle in the face of wrong
We will not return to the past
We will put our hope in Christ
We say goodbye to finger-pointing and self -excusing. We abandon our record of wrongs. We settle issues quickly.
And we do all these things because we know that everything we need to confess has already been forgiven, and what is needed for every new step we will take has already been supplied.
We can live in the liberating light of humility and honesty, a needy and tender sinner living with a needy and tender sinner, no longer defensive and no longer afraid, together growing nearer to one another as we grow to be more like Him.