This article is part of a series looking at Colossians 3:12-17 and how it applies to marriages. Being chosen and loved by God, long before our spouse ever chose us or loved us, Paul commands us, among other things, to "be thankful” (Colossians 3:15, ESV). Much like anxiety, un-thankfulness doesn’t build relationship, it erodes relationship. Take a moment to think about attitudes and postures that stem from a pattern of ingratitude and entitlement--envy, strife, coveting, fights, and quarreling.
This is exactly what James is talking about in chapter 4 of his letter. He says,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1–2, ESV).
Why is there fighting and quarreling? Because they want what they don’t have. They are un-thankful. As a result, envy and coveting builds within them, bringing with it fighting and quarreling--it begins to destroy the relationship. It begins to eat away at the relationship from the inside, slowly and surely, sometimes unnoticed.
This type of un-thankfulness can work itself out in a number of ways. First, it can be directed at your spouse. It’s amazing how easy it can be to take our spouse's love as a given and express ingratitude for them and the things they do in our marriage. We get caught up into routines and patterns and easily forget everything that each of us do (and sacrifice) in order to make the relationship work.
As we are going through our day, we begin to think about the things we wish our spouse would do--clean up there, fix this, build something, finish that chore--and we begin the process of becoming un-thankful. It doesn’t always immediately jump into the category of entitlement, but the process begins--the seed has been planted. Then we begin to water that seed as we think about all of the things we are doing in this relationship and focus on the one thing they are not doing. As the seed grows, it blossoms into un-thankfulness. At that moment, our relationship begins to erode. To use James’ language, we desire what we do not have, so we fight.
I think it’s easy for us to see how un-thankfulness toward our spouse can erode relationship, however, ingratitude in general can just as easily erode relationships. Actually, I think it’s even more dangerous because we don’t easily notice as it is happening. When our attitude in life becomes discontented entitlement, it seeps out into all of our relationships--especially our marriage. When we become unsatisfied with the house we own, the job we work, the car we drive, the time we have, we begin to easily focus on what we don’t have. When we focus on what we don’t have, we get angry because we feel we deserve to have the things we don’t have--we fight and quarrel.
But where do we direct this anger? We often turn this anger toward our spouse or ourselves. We may not notice it at first, we may even be so blind that we don’t see it, but we may start blaming our spouse as the reason we do not have these things. On the other hand, we may blame ourselves for not being able to get these things. This can cause us to be angry at ourselves and feel shame, which will again cause there to be a break in our relationship. It will begin the process of erosion. Intimacy will begin to slip away.
So, fight against the temptation to allow un-thankfulness to seep into your relationship. When you notice an attitude of un-thankfulness beginning to take root in your soul, fight the temptation to nurture that attitude. Uproot it! We have to be very intentional about being thankful. Sadly, we aren’t naturally thankful about where we are in life and what we have. We must intentionally think about the ways God has blessed us.
My wife and I have fought this battle in a number of ways. Personally, each of us has committed ourselves to weeding out the un-thankfulness that grows up toward one another. We recognize that it will grow--it just happens--but we have committed to uprooting it as soon as we notice it. We each spend time reminding ourselves what we appreciate about one another and then take time to speak that into each other’s lives. We also spend time together, discussing the many ways God has blessed our family. We talk about the way God has blessed us through our children, our home, etc... We block out one morning a week where we have coffee together and are intentional about spending part of that time discussing our blessings. Typically, the conversation overflows into the rest of the week.
As we’ve done this over the years, we noticed a snowball effect. It can go both ways. An un-thankful attitude will snowball into more un-thankfulness, but a thankful heart snowballs into more thankfulness. It’s powerful. We find ourselves offering up thanks to our God repeatedly throughout each day, thanking Him for provision and guidance. It also allows us to rest in His goodness.
Take time this week to think about the ways you are thankful for your spouse. Take time to talk about the ways God has blessed you as a couple. Take time to rest in the goodness of our Creator and Redeemer. Choose to be thankful.
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra