Space for Grace: A simple method for enhancing your marriage
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Marriage is an absolutely unique and sacred relationship for us as humans. It is not a static state. It's not about checking a box or crossing some imaginary goal line.
We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary so you might wonder, who are you to be offering advice on marriage?
It’s true, our new marriage is still sparkly with handholding and romance and has hardly been tested. But we come at this from an unusual perspective.
Robin and I know romance is fleeting and that a long and happy marriage is hard to come by. We know it because combined, we’ve been married 51 years, attended more than a dozen marriage workshops, studied another dozen relationship books, and met with about as many marriage counselors. Despite all that, both of us experienced the crushing deaths of marriages we dreamed would last a lifetime.
This time around, we thought we’d focus our attention on a marriage technique that seems both impossible but profoundly simple. It comes straight from the mouth of Jesus, who told His followers that everything we need in order to thrive in life can be summed up like this…
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and mind… and love your neighbor (spouse) as yourself.”
Robin and I wondered what it would look like if we became diligent in applying those words practically to our marriage, so we wrote our vows with them in mind and we meet regularly for a “growth night” to talk about how we can get better at loving God first and loving each other as much as we love ourselves.
Before I list a few of the ways we practice this, I should tell you I recognized how powerful it could be on my first date with Robin. Dining on the rooftop of Terrelli’s on a breezy summer night, we shared our difficult marriage stories and I stared at my plate as I told him the ways I felt I had fallen short.
I was pretty sure it would be our last date.
“I think God is disappointed in me and wishes I’d get it together,” I confessed.
Without missing a beat, Robin responded with a broad smile. “Oh no,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what God’s saying at all. I think He looks at you and says, ‘That’s my girl!’ And I delight in her.”
Loving your partner as yourself means making the radical commitment to seeing Him or her from God’s point of view.
I wish I had understood earlier that a great marriage is more about knowing God than knowing each other. We married a year and a half after that first date, and in our wedding vows, we promised to remind each other with our words, our touch, our actions, that we are wonderfully and beautifully made in the image of God.
Even the 18th-century German writer, Goethe understood that “If you treat a man as he is, he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become the bigger and better man.”
I admit it’s a lot easier to love like this when you’re dating than when you’re married and living up close to another sinner. But when we love God with all our heart, soul and mind, God says our way of seeing is transformed and we are supernaturally able to think with the mind of Christ (Rom. 12:2) When that happens, we see and celebrate one another as the redeemed sons and daughters of God, rather than the annoying blocker of our desires and longings.
Something else happens too.
When we lean on God instead of each other for our deepest longings, we free each other to grow at our own pace. Robin and I call it space for grace. While we wait in that space, we come to terms with our sense of entitlement and expectation, the weight of which no spouse can bear. The paradox is that when we release our unmet expectations, giving our partner a little space for grace, we often get what we want most from them—the free and un-coerced gift of extravagant love.
Questions for consideration:
- What might it look like to love your spouse as much as you love yourself?
- What are some ways you can grow deeper in your journey to love God with all your heart, soul and mind?
- Are there any unfulfilled expectations you have of your spouse that you would be willing to release to God?