I recently got into a brief argument with my wife over something totally minor. In the moment, however, it felt like it was a huge deal (pride has a way of converting little offenses into major ones).
After we stopped bickering about the issue, I was still stewing inside, getting more and more irritated with her. I thought, “She’s always so … ” — but then I stopped before finishing the sentence with a negative description. The words of a pastor, a friend, and a singer held me back.
The pastor who officiated my wedding gave me advice about marriage that has often restrained me from thinking negative thoughts about my wife. He said, “Beware of global criticisms of your wife in which you use words like ‘always’ and ‘never.’ They draw an unfair caricature of her and nothing good comes of it.”
That quote has come back to me many times and restrained me from redefining my wife in a negative way. If I reduce her to one big negative description, my heart will eventually harden and I won’t be able to see her for who she is. I’ll lose her beauty, and in exchange, all I’ll get is the cheap pleasure of feeling right all of the time.
My friend Beth, who has been happily married to her husband for over 20 years, gave me similar advice on marriage: “Work on keeping a tender heart towards your spouse every day. Don’t even let the thinnest sheet of ice cover it, because if you don’t guard your heart, it will eventually freeze over.”
But it’s one thing to talk about keeping our hearts from freezing, and it’s another thing to actually keep the fires burning. For my wife and me, that has required the warmth of apologies and the willingness to assume the other person might be right — it’s basically just giving in to humility. Otherwise, we end up more focused on being right and less focused on the calling to love each other as we are.
Along those lines, singer Sara Groves has had a lasting impact on my marriage through the words of a song called “Loving a Person.” Here are some of the lyrics:
There’s a lot of pain in reaching out and trying
It’s a vulnerable place to be
Love and pride can’t occupy the same spaces, baby
And only one makes us free
Hold on to me
And I’ll hold on to you
Let’s find out the beauty of seeing things through
When I was single and people would tell me that marriage was hard, I judged them, figuring they must not really love their spouse. Marriage changed my mind. I’ve realized that it really is hard work to keep choosing to reach out and embrace humility when you feel so right, but it’s the only reliable path to joyfully seeing things through.
Groves also sings:
Loving a person just the way they are, it’s no small thing
It takes some time to see things through
Sometimes things change, sometimes we’re waiting
We need grace either way.
As Scripture says: “God has made everything beautiful for its own time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So for all of us married folks, let’s take the time, however long it is, to risk everything and love our spouses the way they are — just like we need them to do for us.