In my own life, and in conversations I’ve had with other men trying to salvage their marriages, I see two great obstacles to achieving openness, brokenness, and freedom.
The first obstacle is probable intuitively obvious to the casual observer – Pride.
The second may not be as obvious, and it is rarely acknowledged or dealt with by those who are failing to truly reconcile with their wives. It is the entitlement mentality which is so pervasive in our society today; the idea that I somehow deserve to be forgiven by my wife, or that others should recognize how much I’ve changed and congratulate me for it, or any number of other detrimental attitudes.
For example, without getting into details, I was once talking with a man who had decided to try the principles taught in 4 Days 2 Freedom. He had physically abused his wife, committed adultery literally countless times, but he decided to come clean and ask her to forgive him. I think it was less than three months later that he asked me something like, “How much dirt do I have to let her pile on top of me?!?”
You see, he was upset that his wife hadn’t forgiven him and then completely forgotten about all the pain and anguish he had caused her and the family. He was upset that she had the audacity to keep bringing things up, especially when he was displaying the same type of behavior toward her that he had shown before coming clean.
My response? It was in terms of Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” I said something akin to, “How much dirt did Jesus let people pile on top of Him on His way to the cross? He was completely innocent, but He took the penalty for all of our sins.” That man went away angry, and completely destroyed his marriage because he didn’t get the treatment he thought he deserved.
Friends, there is a scripture which brings home to me exactly what I deserve: “For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23a
Yes, I know the rest of the verse, “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, His Son.” (emphasis mine)
Does anyone else out there get it? Or am I completely off base, here?
When I came clean with my wife, I pulled a big dump truck full of garbage up to her and emptied it all on her head! She drew upon God’s grace and forgave me, as did a lot of other people I confessed to and asked forgiveness from. In fact, folks thought I was such a good guy for having come clean, no one even bothered to ask how I was doing for almost a year…and as Proverbs 26:11 says, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Getting caught, having to confess to my wife again, and going through the aftermath thoroughly drove home to me God’s grace as demonstrated through my wife. She really wanted to kill me…but she chose to listen to God, and extended true forgiveness.
I know that I don’t deserve my wife’s forgiveness, but I am grateful to receive it, and sorrowful when something happens to cause her to remember the pain I have caused. True forgiveness does not forget past sin (see Revelation 20:11-12 regarding the “great white throne judgment), but chooses not to remember (Psalm 103 – God removes our sin, but there is no indication he forgets it).
Getting back to entitlement…how can I possibly think that my wife owes me forgiveness, much less that God owes me forgiveness? He does forgive, but it is an act of mercy, purely by His grace, not because of any I have done or deserved (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So, when my wife gets hurt, or upset, or expresses her frustration that I have not changed in an area of my life, the way of brokenness is to humbly take responsibility for her pain and fear, to acknowledge that it is my sin which is at fault, and start the process of figuring out what she needs to feel loved (it takes – gasp – communication, guys…something I am horrible at, but learning). Do I always have the right reaction? Far from! I am nowhere near as broken and humble and loving as I want to be, but when I do make the right choice (and it is definitely a choice), the pain is assuaged, the reconciliation is sweet, and my wife feels the love of Christ.
Give up your perceived rights, friends. The only right you really have is to receive death, and there but for the grace of God go I.