Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marital Impediments to Forgiving, Loving and Cherishing

Only Christ can give us the resources we need to break through denial to restore our relationships. Let me try to demonstrate this with the example of marriage. Although marriage can be perplexing, frustrating, and deeply troubling, according to the Bible, the answers are very clear-cut:

  • Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephes. 4:31-32)
Interestingly, even secular therapists now agree with this prescription! However, this raises the question, “If it’s really so easy, why do we continue to have such problems with our mates?”

Clearly, there is resistance or impediments to implementing this clear prescription. For one thing, we really don’t want to implement it and are able to produce many reasons for this:

  1. I’m not getting out of this relationship what I’m putting into it.
  2. I’m not getting my 50%.
  3. I’m doing all the changing. My mate will never change.
  4. S[he] isn’t worth it!
  5. I can do better elsewhere!
In short, we tell ourselves, “My mate is unworthy of me!” Of course, if we believe this way, it will be difficult to continue to love and cherish.

However, perhaps we are spiritually blind. Perhaps we are not seeing clearly. Perhaps we have a distorted view of our mate. Psychologist Aaron Beck claims that blindness is the substance of a troubled marriage:

  •  “Typically each partner in a distressed marriage believes that he or she has made the most adjustments…[and] has given more to satisfy the mate’s needs than they have received.”, Love is never Enough, 77)
One revealing study separately asked husbands and wives, “What percent of the housework do you do?” Often, the husbands answered “50%,” while the wives answered “95%.” What a testimony to our inflated estimation of our contributions! How then can we resolve our problems if we can’t even agree on the facts!

The Bible agrees that blindness is typical:

  • All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2; 16:2; 20:6; 30:12)
If this is the case, then blindness is highly damaging to our relationships. It means that problem solving – working through disagreements – is almost impossible. Therefore, trying to correct our mate can become an obstacle course with live bullets. In fact, we tend to be so blind that, according to Jesus, we shouldn’t even attempt to correct someone else:

  • "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)
We have inserted a plank into our eye, blinding ourselves to whom we really are – our faults and failures. In our denial and refusal to see our culpability, our spouse becomes the “bad guy” – the sole cause of our marital problems.

Our plank conveniently enables us to think that we are the “good one.” However, denial kills relationships. It creates distance and hopelessness. Nevertheless, there is hope. If we accept ourselves as we truly are – especially those ugly parts – we can begin to appreciate our mates.

A thought-experiment might help to illustrate this hope. Just imagine that you had been sentenced to a long prison term for child molestation. Consequently, all of your friends and associates abandoned you, except for your mate. Now imagine that you were going to be discharged early because of your terminal illness and your mate is glad to receive you back and to care for you. Would you now be willing to overlook all of the disappointments and frustrations of married life? Would you now fully forgive and cherish? A drop in our self-esteem can produce wonders. Our mate once again looks beautiful.

We are tragically blind about our unworthiness. We live in denial about our bad traits and inflate our good and have little appetite for the truth about ourselves. Instead, we have convinced ourselves that we are kings. Therefore, we will not be satisfied with anything less that a perfect Queen. However, after we have been disgraced, we become grateful for our less-than-perfect spouse. (I should mention that old thinking-patterns die slowly!)

However, facing the truth about ourselves is the last thing in the world we’d choose to do. Jesus claimed that we hate this light:

  • This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
If we hate the light, it means that we can’t bear the truth about ourselves. No wonder problem-solving eludes us and self-acceptance is harder to attain than a trip to Jupiter. If we are in denial about ourselves and our contribution to our marital problems, then any attempt to force us to see will be met with great resistance.

What then is the cure? Simply Jesus! As we grow in Him and the assurance of His love and forgiveness, we can pass this along in our marriage. As we come to know His acceptance of us, we can begin to accept our mate. With our growing assurance, we can begin to let down our guards and confront the ugly truth about ourselves. We also have to always remember from where God has brought us so that we’d be grateful and faithful (Titus 3:3-8).

I am a recovering cave-dweller – a light-hater. However, as I’ve grown to tolerate, even to love the painful light – and this humbles me – I’ve also grown to be grateful for my wife. Consequently, I’m quicker to pass over irritations and disappointments and more ready to love and cherish.

I also try to regard myself as terminally ill – and I am - and, if not a child molester, as someone equally undeserving, who, in truth, I am. My wife may not be a queen. However, with each passing day, her crown becomes more apparent.

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