My wife and I recently celebrated our Wedding Anniversary. How good are you at forgiving your spouse?
Reflecting on what makes a marriage work, I was struck by how vital is the gift of forgiveness. My wife, by the way, is very gifted at forgiving, probably because I have given her so much practice. My wife is also very patient and persevering, as I have noticed that often in our marriage, it has taken me a while to really grow and change. The fact that she never gives up on me, and that she keeps on believing the best for me, is a wonderful gift indeed.
A while back, I read a fascinating book entitled ‘Men & Women: Enjoying the Differences’ by the best-selling author Dr. Larry Crabb. He commented that ‘self-centered living is the real culprit in marriages with problems. Other-centered living is the answer.’
Many of us enter marriage thinking that our spouse will meet our deepest needs. We then feel cheated when they don’t, and begin to close our hearts. How many of us enter marriage with the view that we are there to serve our spouse? How many of us see marriage as a way of serving God?
A marriage where both partners are committed to serving one another, to ‘washing one another’s feet’ is a marriage in which self-centeredness gets sidelined. What will it take, says Dr. Crabb, to realize that our selfishness is without excuse and that our first job, in our friendships and marriages, is to recognize our selfishness and learn how we can change?
One thing that men and women have equally in common is that we are all equally self-centered and selfish. Little growth in marriages take place, says Dr. Crabb, until we realize that the disease of self-centeredness is fatal to our souls and marriages.
Nothing exposes our self-centeredness more clearly than anger. Because our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), we have an amazing ability to justify our own anger and bitterness towards our spouse, while simultaneously excusing our own bad attitudes. Being angry at our spouses can be very attractive, because it makes us feel both powerful and self-righteous.
Having coached dozens of couples over the years, I am continually amazed at the self-deception of many who convince themselves that the problem is their spouse, and that their personal faults are far more minor and merely reactive. Self-centeredness is a cancer that blinds us from seeing that the problem is not merely our spouse; the problem is ourselves. Our culture is saturated with excuses for everything. It is not my fault. It’s my spouse’s, my parent’s, my government’s, or my boss’ fault. A.A. calls that ‘stinking thinking’.
Few of us are willing to do a thorough moral inventory of our own personal faults. The bible uses a short, unpopular word for self-centeredness. It calls it ‘sin’. Sin doesn’t mean that we are axe-murderers or child molesters. The heart of the word ‘sin’ is the ‘I’ at the middle. The heart of most marriage problems is self-centered sin.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones, founder of the Christian Ashram, once said that ‘there can be no love between a husband and wife unless there is mutual self-surrender. Love simply cannot spring up without that self-surrender to each other. If either withholds the self, love cannot exist.’
A man and his wife were having painful marriage difficulties. The wife went away to a Christian Ashram, and surrendered her marriage to the Lord. When she returned home, her husband said to her: ‘Well, Miss High and Mighty, what did you learn at the Ashram?’ She replied: ‘I’ve learned that I’ve been the cause of all our troubles.’ She got up from her chair, came around beside him and knelt, folded her hands and said: ‘Please forgive me. I’m the cause of all our troubles.’
At that moment, her husband nearly upset the kitchen table, while getting down on his knees beside her. He blurted out, ‘You’re not the cause of all our troubles — I am.’ There they met each other — and God. Each surrendered to Jesus, then they surrendered to each other and were free. Now this couple, instead of continually criticizing each other, are one in love and forgiveness.
My prayer for those reading this article is that many may find victory through surrender.
I was the Rector of St. Simon's Church North Vancouver, B.C for 31 years, from 1987 to 2018. Ordained in 1980, I have also served at St. Philip's Vancouver and St. Matthew's Abbotsford. My wife Janice and I have three sons James, Mark, and Andrew. I was Past President and Chaplain for Alpha Canada. While serving as the National Chair for Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada, I was one of three co-signers of the Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials
For the past 31 years, I have been privileged to write over 500 articles as a columnist on spiritual issues for local North Vancouver newspapers. In the last number of years, I have had the opportunity to speak at conferences and retreats in Honduras, Rwanda, Uganda, Washington State, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Ontario.
My book For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship, coauthored with Janice Hird, can be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Better-Worse-Discovering-lasting-relationship/dp/0978202236/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1535555614&sr=8-1
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September 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm
Wow, Ed, that’s beautiful!
When my husband and I were first married we had all these “expectations” of what the other would do. And so we both felt cheated when the other didn’t meet those expectations.
But once we gave up the dream that these expectations would be met, an amazing thing happened. We both were freed, and we both changed for the better. Individually we both saw our own weaknesses, and not the weaknesses of the other.
I heard it said once that marriage is not about happiness as much as it is about holiness. And when the holiness comes, the happiness follows!
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