My dad’s getting pretty old these days. He’s eighty-two. His health is good but he has macular degeneration and can’t see where he’s actually looking. He only has peripheral vision. Sure, it keeps him from driving and makes it almost impossible for him to read something or do something as simple as writing a check, but with that new flat-screen TV and high definition satellite signal, he can watch Arkansas beat Tennessee in the SEC basketball tournament. He can see the phone so he can call me to gloat. He’s doing just fine.
But he’s overweight. Has been for years. We’ve been prodding him to exercise more and eat less but he just makes excuses. “It’s that medicine I’m taking. It makes my legs weak and my knees aren’t what they used to be.” Yada, yada, yada. I took him out to eat last night and as we were walking across the parking lot, I asked him, “Did you take a walk today?” He responded, “I don’t walk anymore.” I couldn’t help but think he was walking just fine to get to the restaurant. I was at the gym the other night, enduring one of my rare workouts (I’m thin but just as lazy) and I thought how my dad could do something — anything — even while sitting in a chair, that would burn some calories and take some of the weight off those knees and legs so he could get around better. It’s a shame, really. There’s no talking him into it. It’s become normal. His comfort zone is not doing those things that we all know he would so enjoy doing — if he would just get rid of some of that excess weight.
I see couples doing this very same thing all the time. No, I’m not talking about overeating and under-exercising — though, now that I think about it. That would be a good topic of discussion sometime in the future. Hold that thought.
Here’s a common story: He did something stupid years ago. I don’t know, maybe he had an affair, maybe he was married once before and didn’t tell her, maybe he spent all of their money on drugs or gambling and didn’t tell her before the sheriff’s department and the IRS did. It doesn’t have to be the guy. Women make mistakes, too, but men aren’t smart enough to remember what they did. That’s why wives win all the arguments. They don’t get hysterical. They get historical. And most men don’t do history very well — unless it’s got something to do with sports. I’ll never forget Kirk Gibson limping to the plate with the World Series on the line, but I swear she didn’t tell me to buy rice at the store.
It really goes both ways. Everyone does dumb things. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone makes choices based in selfishness, pride, and a fear of really trusting God and doing what He tells us to do. Instead, we do what we want, what makes us feel good, what makes us comfortable, and we hurt each other when our choices are based in sin this way. He found out she was putting money on credit cards he didn’t even know they had. She caught him looking at pornography on the computer. He still resents the fact that after the kids were born, she let herself go — eating too much and daring him to challenge her on it. She looks back over the last few years and realizes she’s been raising the kids pretty much as a single mom while he’s been working, playing golf, fishing, hunting, and going to ballgames. Shall I go on? Have I struck a nerve, yet? Good!
Are you keeping score? Who’s winning? Are you angry, yet? So many couples carry this stuff around with them, day after day after day. Resentment builds and they strike out at each other – usually with words but sometimes it gets uglier. If someone doesn’t do something differently, it will definitely get uglier. And the kids get to watch. You think you can hide it from them but you can’t. You may think its okay to go at it right in front of them. After all, that’s what your parents did and you turned out okay, didn’t you? No, and it’s not okay.
For the sake of your marriage, for the sake of your kids, and because there’s such a better life you can all have together, will you please just stop? This is not “normal.” This is not hopeless. This is not the way your life is supposed to be any more than my dad is supposed to spend the rest of his days sitting in a chair watching life go by.
Here are some truths I hope will help you get rid of the stuff that’s keeping you from experiencing the kind of marriage God always intended for the two of you:
1. Realize that hurting people hurt people. If your spouse is somehow hurting you, begin looking to see how he or she has been hurt in the past by you or others. Help your spouse deal with it and forgive those who did the hurting. You might need to learn to say, “I’m sorry.” You might need to learn how to forgive, as well.
2. Realize that when someone hurt you, Jesus was right there beside you. Ask Him where He was. That’s what He’ll tell you. He was protecting you from being hurt worse. He allowed the pain you did experience because from that pain He knew something very good would come — or it could. It should. He knows all about this. He allowed Himself to be crucified so you and He can have a relationship.
He loves you. Let Him take your pain and use it for something good. There are so many others hurting that need to hear from you that Jesus loves them, too. When you see that the pain someone else imposed on you is actually healing to others, you won’t feel the pain so much anymore. You’ll kind of be glad that Jesus chose you to touch others with His love. You can forgive.
3. Allow your spouse to change. Love hopes all things. Love believes all things. Pray for your spouse, even if he or she hurts you. Jesus loves your spouse. He died for your spouse. Ask Jesus to show you what He sees. Ask Him to give you His love. He will. And should your spouse truly repent and want to change, let the past go. Don’t let that be dead weight that you drag around the rest of your lives. Jesus doesn’t do that to you. Isn’t it great to know all the dumb, bad things you’ve done in your past don’t matter to Him? Be like Jesus to your spouse. Forgive.
4. Live a life with boundaries. This is normal. If your spouse continues to hurt you, this is not normal. You may need to set the boundaries for him or her, just like you do your kids when they want to play in the street or climb that big tree out in the front yard. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is say, “No more.” But not in anger. Not with a motive of self-protection. In love. With your spouse’s well-being in mind. And forgive.
Forgiveness is your gift to others. But you get as much or more from it than they do. Forgive your spouse. It will give him or her power to grow. It will give you power to live the life God wants you to. It’s powerful to know that no one can hurt you but that Jesus doesn’t know about it, lets it happen, and together you can use it for good. It’s powerful to forgive. It will give your marriage the power to move past the bad and experience the good. And others — the kids, your families, your friends — will get a taste of heaven through your Covenant Marriage.
13 “ Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:13-17
Used with permission.
Dave Brown is a pastor and is on the CMM Board of Directors. He co-authored Covenant vs. Contract with Phil Waugh, the Director of the CMM. He has a newly released book, Simple Christianity.