Hurting people hurt others and are easily hurt by them. This dynamic is never more true and seldom more painful than in marriage. Each of us carries around wounded places, raw spots deep within our soul that leave us exquisitely sensitive to the slights of others. These hidden hurts reach back through time, connecting with specific historical events when we felt exposed as a failure, an ugly eye-sore, or a disappointment to others who really mattered. Not easily forgotten, the memories of such moments score the soul with deep scars of insecurity and shame.
I heard of a man once who said, ‘When we fight, my wife becomes historical.” “Don’t you mean, hysterical?” his friend asked. “No, historical,” he replied, “When I am trouble, she reminds me of all the mistakes I’ve ever made.” Just like the wife in this story, our wounds are historical. Every time someone touches these sore spots, the old wound reminds us of all our failures. Isn’t that why we become so snappy? It’s a defense mechanism, as if to say, “You’re treading on thin ice here, keep back! Don’t go there again!”
For men, these tender places often have to do with “respect,” times when big people belittled us, excluded us, or "benched" us on the game of life. For the fairer sex, the issue at stake is more often love. Each wound tells the story of a little girl who once felt herself to be unlovely, perhaps even un-loveable, an outcast from the group, abused, dirty and ugly. Like scratches on an old LP record, every time the needle reaches these scars, the record skips, the music stutters, and things begin to unravel just a bit (or a lot).
Healing these scars takes time and grace. Grace reminds us, no matter how bad things seem, we always get better than we deserve. When it’s hell we merit, everything else is a bonus (Psalm 103:10). This holds true whether our disappointment flows from a person or an event. Let that thought sink in.
Building on this, for the Christian, grace renders every event favorable and fortuitous. Every trial, past, present, or future, was fashioned just for you by the designer-providence of God. When we forget this, the wounded places of our soul refuse to heal. The Christian must learn to view all his pain through the lens of God’s kind providence. If you had God’s power, you might wish to change those events, but if you had His wisdom, rest assured, you wouldn’t change a thing.
Finally, never be a dead end to grace. Freely you have received grace from God, so freely give grace to others. I think you’ll find this to be a much better ethic for marriage than pure justice. The house of pure justice is shut tight to the drafts of mercy and gratitude. It’s hard for sinners to survive such a perfect environment, where everyone is supposed to get what they deserve. In such a home, every slight is taken personally, every debt must earn its own forgiveness, and every favor must be repaid in kind. In such a marriage, disappointment, grievance, and bitterness accumulate like dust around a sawmill. Like a dogtrot/shotgun house of old, grace opens wide the doors and lets the sweet breath of mercy flow through from front to back. In which abode would you rather live?
Husbands, we must take the lead here. In both our posture and our words, we must learn to communicate the following message to our wives: “You cannot survive on the ethic of justice any more than I can. I need grace from God all day every day, and I resolve to pour that same grace out to you. So, I will regard your needs as more important than my own. I will spend myself for your benefit. I will never remind you of ways you disappoint me, I will only live to satisfy you. Whatever ever you deserve, however, I feel, I will strive to be kind to you and patient with you. And when I fail and fail I will, I will keep short accounts, confessing my sins to you in the grace of Christ.”
“Above all, I will not expect from you what can only be found in Christ. Only He can satisfy the deepest thirst of my soul. Forgive me for those times when I leaned on you instead of leaning on him, when I looked to you instead of looking to Him, when I worshiped you instead of worshipping Him. This must have been an intolerable burden, one only God could ever possibly hope to carry! God never intended you to be my Savior.
And by His grace, I will give my life away to you with no strings attached. Confident that such a life will bring with it the sweetest and the best kind of strings – the kind of strings only love can make, tender cords reaching into your heart and drawing your soul willingly and happily close to me.”
Isn’t this the way God has loved us all? “The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3, NASB95). Here the prophet pictures God dragging his people towards Him with ropes made up of everlasting love. Here is the way to heal our hearts and our homes all the way down to the bottom. Let us run, therefore, to Christ, for without Him, we can know nothing, show nothing, and do nothing of such amazing love.