Several years ago, returning from a trip, I stepped inside the front door and felt like I had walked every one of the four hundred miles I had just driven. I had spoken six times in four days, and had driven through four different states to get where I needed to go. I pulled into the driveway thinking, “I’m so tired. All I really want to do is watch a football game.” And as I walked into the door, Lisa was thinking, “Good, he’s finally home! I’ve had the kids to myself all weekend and they’re driving me crazy.”
This is the stuff that five-star marriage fights are made of. These are the situations that feel like they are specifically cooked up in hell.
And then, to my astonishment, I discovered that Lisa and I had matured. I tried to play with the kids as best I could. I had brought them some flavored popcorn, and we talked at the kitchen table as they ate – yet I noticed Lisa was being incredibly sensitive to how tired I must be. “You’ve got to be exhausted,” she said. “Let me take care of the kids tonight.”
But hearing her say that made me want to take care of the kids. I realized that even though she had a valid reason to pass the nighttime duties on to me, she was being hard on herself and easy on me; and that made me want to be hard on myself and easy on her.
We don’t always act this way, by any means, but it’s wonderful when we do.
I think we’re led to this approach by the apostle Paul, who confessed that he was “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16). I don’t think there’s a better recipe in all the Bible to help us become better spouses. If we assume that our spouse has the hardest road to travel and that we miss the mark most frequently – and then act accordingly – we’ll find a mix that’s just about right.
Contempt is born when we fixate on our spouse’s weaknesses. Every spouse has these sore points. If you want to find them, without a doubt you will. If you want to obsess about them, they’ll grow – but you won’t!
Jesus provides a remedy that is stunning in its simplicity yet foreboding in its difficulty. He tells us to take the plank out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye (see Matthew 7:3–5).
If you’re thinking “but my spouse is the one who has the plank,” allow me to let you in on a secret: You’re exactly the type of person Jesus is talking to. You’re the one He wanted to challenge with these words. Jesus isn’t helping us resolve legal matters here; He’s urging us to adopt humble spirits. He wants us to cast off the contempt – to have contempt for the contempt – and learn the spiritual secret of respect.
Consider the type of people Jesus loved in the days He walked on earth – Judas (the betrayer); the woman at the well (a sexual libertine); Zacchaeus (the conniving financial cheat); and many others like them. In spite of the fact that Jesus was without sin and these people were very much steeped in sin, Jesus still honored them. He washed Judas’s feet; He spent time talking respectfully to the woman at the well; He went to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Jesus, the only perfect human being to live on this earth, moved toward sinful people; He asks us to do the same, beginning with the one closest to us – our spouse.
Build contempt for contempt. Give honor to those who deserve it – beginning with your spouse.
Excerpted with permission from Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas, copyright Zondervan, 2002.
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Gary L. Thomas
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