Jenny was running late on her way home from work–construction on the freeway had slowed traffic to a crawl. The moment she walked in the door, her husband Thad snapped at her: “Late again! You just can’t seem to manage your time!”
Daryl was never a morning person–his wife Keisha’s pleasant “good morning!” was met with Daryl’s grunt, as he ground their morning coffee. “Oh, sure! Just ignore me! You care more about making your coffee than you do about me!” Keisha shouted, slamming down the newspaper.
Do scenarios like these ever play out in your marriage? If so, you are all too aware how quickly a (relatively) minor event can spiral into an all-out brawl that takes the rest of the day (or longer!) to untangle. How can you prevent these minor issues from turning into major problems?
In a word, graciousness. Ephesians 5:32 sets the pattern for our marriage: Marriages are to be display cases of Christ’s love for his church. That is, in our marriage we are to reflect the same love, respect, and care that Jesus offers to his bride, the church. And of course, one of the defining qualities that mark Jesus’ care for his church is grace. Grace–the undeserved, unearned, favor of God–is a golden thread, woven through God’s interactions with His children. So, how do we embody grace in our marriage?
Let’s look at three specific ways that graciousness can work in your marriage.
Do you give your husband or your wife the benefit of the doubt? When they are running late, or when they make a remark that sounds like it might be insensitive, or when they repeat the same bad habit time and time again, what assumptions frame your reactions? It’s easy to assume the worst: Your wife was late because she is poor at time management; your husband leaves his towel on the bed deliberately because he knows how much it bothers you. Sometimes, the more familiar we become with our spouse, the more we tend to assume the worst about them. An attitude of graciousness learns to assume the best in their intentions. Practicing graciousness means that you learn to trust that your spouse has your best interest at heart. Of course, this requires building a mutual relationship of trust. Assuming the best in our husband or wife becomes difficult when your spouse has a track record of ignoring your needs, or being insensitive to you. But graciously learning to assume the best about your spouse can build a relationship of trust with one another.
We all have our not-so-fine moments. We’re grumpy first thing in the morning. You forget to take out the garbage…two weeks in a row! When a moment like this rears its ugly head, you may be justified in your anger. You might even have a right to make an issue out of that snarky remark or that insensitive action. After all, they wronged you, didn’t they? Graciousness is the practice of looking past minor offenses. Healthy marriages are cushioned with grace that acts as a shock-absorber for those everyday irritations, and those offenses that are best left on the table. Of course, hurtful patterns need to be addressed, and more serious offenses and conflicts need to be worked out between you. But, learning to weigh minor offenses, and release them will serve you well. Ask yourself – “Will I remember what my wife has done by this afternoon?” “Will my husband’s abrupt response matter by tomorrow?” Many of the things that seem like major problems are in fact comparatively minor, and with grace, we can let them go!
Of course, not all offenses are minor. Sometimes, words are spoken that leave you humiliated and angry. Actions are revealed that are destructive. We have a responsibility to confront bad behavior using the guidelines of Mathew 18:15-20. We bring in accountability as needed as we pursue healing and reconciliation. Some offenses, such as abuse, need to be held accountable before any reconciliation can be possible. The greatest display of grace is God’s commitment to forgive us even the worst of our offenses. Marriages that go the distance require a commitment to forgiving one another. Forgiveness is the greatest act of graciousness–it is a process by which we commit to no longer holding a wrong against another. Forgiveness says that I’ll give up my right to even the score, and no marriage can thrive unless the both of you are willing to make that commitment to one another. Forgiveness requires grace–it means you repay a hostility with kindness. And, forgiveness can be incredibly difficult.
Of course, it is in the act of forgiveness that we see and experience the greatest portrait of Christ. We can forgive to the degree we know we have been forgiven! “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” Paul writes, “forgiving one another just as in Christ, God forgave you!” (Eph. 4:32).
In other words, graciousness soaks into our marriage as we realize and experience the way that God’s graciousness has soaked into us! May your marriage be a display case of God’s grace to us.
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra