In their younger years, my kids played Upward Sports. These church-run, entry-level leagues are a great place for children to learn a sport without the pressure of intense competition. If you know anything about Upwards, you know their policy of not keeping score. They want kids to play for the sake of fun.
But nobody plays Upwards without keeping score. Everybody, from the kids to the coaches to the parents on the sideline, is keeping score. We can’t help it. Even if it’s not broadcast onto a scoreboard, everyone wants to know who is winning and who is losing. And everyone wants to win.
Unfortunately, if you focus on justice and not on sacrifice, you are ultimately working against your own best interests. Your desire to even the score will, in most cases, push your spouse farther away from you, not bring healing to the relationship. You may be “right” but you will not likely be any closer to bringing peace to your marriage.
A few weeks ago I was reminded of a simple principle that illustrates this perfectly. It has the power to change the dynamic of even the most troubled marriage.
"Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it." I Peter 3:9 (NLT)
Like many of the commands for living the Christian life, this directive from scripture is completely counter-intuitive. And it doesn’t come naturally to any of us.
Most of us are not very good at returning a blessing when we are wronged. What we are good at is giving people what they deserve. If they hurt us, then they deserve to be hurt.
If your spouse wrongs you, your natural tendency is to let them know how it feels by responding in kind.
In many marriages, the result of this cycle is misery for both parties, leading to emotional disconnect, outright disdain, and (potentially) divorce. Most of the marriages in crisis I encounter are not due to some huge infidelity or transgression. They are usually falling into disrepair because one or both parties has chosen to "defend their rights" at all costs, clinging to "the principle of the thing."
Extending grace is never an option.
But what would happen if we did what Peter instructs in this verse? What would happen if, when you are insulted or wronged by your spouse, you responded with a blessing instead of trying to hurt him in an equivalent way? In many situations, it would diffuse what might potentially turn into a huge conflict.
Obviously, if there is physical abuse or some other significant habitual behavior that is destroying your home, seek counsel on how to establish some reasonable boundaries and consequences for the wayward spouse. I'm not suggesting that you throw out good sense, only that we all consider what it means to respond like Christ-followers instead of like the world.
In many cases, getting even may be the most natural thing to do. If you have been wronged you can always find a friend who will encourage you to return in kind; to take an “eye for an eye.” But this doesn’t reflect the heart of Christ. If Christ has forgiven you much, then you are required to forgive much, as well.
Is this ever easy? Absolutely not. But it does require you to stop keeping score and start being generous with grace and forgiveness in your marriage. If you find that impossible, then perhaps you need to re-visit the cross and ask God to remind you of what Jesus did for you there. At the cross, Christ’s love was generous, complete, and never-ending. There was not a limit to how much He was willing to forgive you. It was a love that “keeps no record of wrongs.”
Do you want to get even with your spouse? Ultimately, it’s never going to happen. And it shouldn’t happen. Instead of desiring justice, pray that God would change your heart, fill you with His Presence, and enable you to love as He loves. After all, you didn’t get justice from God. You got forgiveness. And that is what draws you close to Him, making you want more of Him.
Why would we think that marriage is any different?
*You can get a free download of the first three chapters of my new book, The Talk(s): A Parent's Guide to Talking about Sex, Dating, and Other Unmentionables.The book has been developed to assist parents as they help their kids navigate our hyper-sexualized culture. The full book will be released in late February.
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