(the first post in a series on marital conflict)
"But you started it!"
I'm still surprised by how frequently I employ preschool-level argument tactics during disagreements with my husband. It's not that marriage has made me a bad person---it's having quite the reverse effect---but it certainly makes my badness more clearly seen. And just when I thought I had developed a 20/20 self-perception of my flaws, baby Stephen entered my life and I discovered whole new depths of my own selfishness.
But here's where it gets worse: I keep thinking that this problem is close to being solved.
If only my husband didn't make me mad so often.
If only Stephen wasn't such a needy kid.
If only I had access to the right organizing tools.
If only I was eating the right superfoods.
I'm sure that if I followed steps A, B, and C I wouldn't have conflict anymore...
I was convicted about this recently when talking to a friend about a struggle I was having. I found myself asking her for "tips on how to get better." Practical tips can be very helpful, but when I heard myself refusing to call my "issues" out for what they really are, I realized how lightly I view my sin and how half-heartedly I fight it.
Later that night my friend read to me Psalm 51. David wrote it when he lusted after a woman, got her pregnant, then killed her husband. Verse 4 struck me hard: "Against You, You only, have I sinned."
I feel like if I were in David's shoes I would have been primarily beating myself up about what I did to the woman, not what I did to God. I would have written an "I'm-really-sorry" song to the person who I can see and whose scorn I can feel, not to the unseen God who doesn't really seem involved in any way.
David's attitude is reminiscent of Joseph's in Genesis 39. Joseph worked for an important man named Potiphar, and Potiphar's wife tirelessly tried to seduce him. And Joseph responded, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" If I was Potiphar's wife, I would have retorted something like "What does God have to do with this? Aren't you more concerned about what would happen if your boss found out?"
Oftentimes when I sin against Peter, I feel like that's the extent of it: I sinned against Peter. And in those moments it's not really a big deal to me because I'm mad at Peter and it feels like he deserves it anyway.
But if all I'm doing is upsetting my husband, I only need a husband-sized savior who can solve my husband-sized problems.
However, my sin is an offense to GOD; so I need a God-sized Savior who is bridging this impossibly large chasm my sin has made between me and my Maker.
(If you think I'm just being dramatic, be sobered by Psalm 7:11-13: "God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If man does not repent, God will whet His sword; He has bent and readied His bow; He has prepared for Him his deadly weapons, making His arrows fiery shafts.")
And that God-sized Savior came! Jesus bore the guilt of my sins against not only Peter but against God Himself! And the peace between God and man indeed was made because Christ rose again, proving that God had accepted His payment.
So, by realizing this, that I have greatly sinned and therefore have a great need, and that I have a great Christ who met and daily meets my need, I can have a thankfulness much greater than Peter-sized gratitude. And since my sins are much greater than merely Peter-sized, I can respond with something much greater than Peter-sized repentance and experience greater than Peter-sized joy.
I hope I haven't lost you. If I have, here's an example.
Today my mom watched Stephen so I could catch up on homemaking stuff, and I wasted a lot of that time.
I looked up pictures of Hilary Duff's baby.
I did some useless, judgmental Facebook stalking.
I looked up pictures of Bryce Dallas Howard's baby.
I clicked around on different blog websites but didn't really read anything.
Before I knew it, a serious chunk of time had passed. I felt sick from my idleness (and from the inhuman amount of pretzel sticks I consumed during this time.) This situation may sound like a small thing, but I really indulged in sin and it's serious.
When Peter gets home he will probably wonder why his work clothes aren't clean or why Stephen's room is a wreck or why dinner is lame. He might be upset.
I can think of at least a few responses I can make:
a) I could call my time-wasting "escapism" and tearfully tell him that I am just trying to numb the pain from some area in my life where I've found myself to be the victim.
Likely result: I'll either receive pity I don't deserve and Peter will feel horrible for apparently making me depressed, or that excuse won't be good enough and we'll end up arguing.
b) I could tell Peter "I'm sorry I wronged you. You really deserve clean clothes. I'll try to make sure I'm more efficient about that."
Likely result: He'll forgive me then the next day I'll keep in mind his disappointment and maybe work harder. Then he'll be more happy with me.
c) Before Peter even gets home I can acknowledge that I am not just wasting my time or Peter's time but I am poorly handling God's time. Like Denethor poorly stewarded Gondor, I poorly handled the time God has given me. I was created to worship God; I didn't do that; this grieves God. But I don't leave wallowing in what I did and apologizing repeatedly so God can love me again. I rejoice in what Christ did for me, and rest in God's resulting irrevocable favor. (And when Peter gets home, I could do option b as well.)
Likely result: Joy in Christ's work on the cross and peace about Christ's work in me that mobilizes me to do what I was made to do.
This is how the gospel transforms every part of our lives. This is why, when marital---or any kind of relational---conflict comes, we must see our issues not as inconveniences but as sin: lethal, enslaving, offensive to God, and, for the Christian, blood-covered. Praise God.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like lime green, Coke icees, and I wear my Crocs until they have holes in them...or melt.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today