When my husband, David, and I were dating, I thought he was Prince Charming come to life. He did a lot of wonderful things, like take me on romantic dates and listen intently to my stories. One of the biggest impressions he made was the fact that even though he was a football fan, he rarely watched it on television—an endearing quality to a girl who didn’t grow up in a football home. I think we spent only one Saturday afternoon during our engagement cheering his favorite college team together.
What I didn’t know then was that after he dropped me off from our dates, he would stay up hours after midnight researching professional football players on the internet and updating his Fantasy Football rosters. Funny … he conveniently forgot to mention that to me!
After our wedding in September (smack in the busiest part of football season), I was soon disillusioned by his sports habit and by the realization that this ritual would be a consuming part of everyday life each and every year from August to January. He watched hours of football on Sundays, and then there was the big Monday night game, most Thursday games, and occasional Saturdays.
I was more than disappointed—I felt deceived. I was beginning to see that he wasn’t perfect after all. And there were still many shortcomings to discover. During the years, I’ve been privileged to see the behind-the-scenes footage unfold—from disagreeable spending habits to the way he sticks his foot in his mouth when he’s angry with me.
The truth became clear—I married a sinner.
We are all guilty
It’s easy to see faults in other people, isn’t it? I can tell you all about someone else’s faults, but ask me about my own, and I might miss a few. My husband, however, could probably triple my list. I’m sure there were times when David felt somewhat deceived when he married me—I was putting my best foot forward as much as he was.
I certainly can’t claim to be the perfect wife. I know when I’m acting out of sinful behavior—rolling eyes, deep heavy sighs, finger-pointing. Not exactly Christ-like. The fact is, David married a sinner, too! And so did your spouse. We are all sinners in need of each other’s forgiveness and grace.
Somehow we have been convinced that our spouses should be like fairytale royalty—always perfect, always attractive, always sensitive to our needs. Yet we don’t expect to be treated with the same standard. We expect our spouses to be tolerant of our sins, but not the other way around.
Practicing what we preach
All of us should expect our spouses to fail from time to time. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens, but instead let it push us to build marriages that are grace-filled. One definition of grace is “unmerited favor,” which means extending kindness to your spouse even when he doesn’t deserve it. This is how God treats us—giving gifts and joys and good things even when our sinfulness should keep us from it. And that’s how God expects us to treat one another.
Realizing that we’re married to sinners gives us Christians the opportunity to practice what we preach. It’s easy to talk about love, grace, and mercy, but not so easy to do. But as the book of James reminds us, if you can’t put your words into practice, how can you say that you really believe it? “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’” (James 2:17-18).
Instead of dwelling on disappointment when your spouse fails, ask yourself what you can do to encourage your husband as he pulls himself back up. In their book Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem, Dennis and Barbara Rainey refer to this as giving your spouse the “freedom to fail.”
When you give your mate the freedom to fail, you begin to remove the pressure to perform for acceptance. You free your mate to take risks and try again. You free him to excel. Failure then becomes a tutor, not a judge. In the presence of freedom, we learn from failures instead of being intimidated by them. In the absence of condemnation, confidence in how God can use you mounts.
Unfortunately, couples are often so preoccupied by taking score of each other’s shortcomings that they miss out on one of the greatest blessings of marriage—the benefit of not having to live under pressure to be perfect. It’s the one relationship, other than our relationship with Christ, where we can feel secure knowing that someone loves us for who we are, warts and all, and there is great peace in that.
What can you do today to bring grace into your spouse’s life? Are there any words of encouragement that he needs to hear from you? Do you need to work on areas of ending bitterness and extending forgiveness? If you’re having trouble giving grace and forgiveness to your husband, try making a list of all your own faults, and consider how God has forgiven you. Then learn to extend that same grace to your spouse. As you do, your marriage will become less focused on faults and more focused on love.
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