Tuesday, May 23, 2017

when grace blows in.


When we were engaged, I made a habit of asking other married couples for a bit of advice. "What's one thing we should know about marriage?" I would ask. We got all the typical advice, "Don't go to bed angry." "Say I love you every day." It was all a bit generic, if well-meaning. But I realize now that even if these older couples had given it to me straight, I wouldn't have heard them. Much like youth is wasted on the young, marital advice was mostly wasted on me. I was 22 and energized by love and arrogance and I didn't need advice. I knew we might encounter 'for better or worse and sickness or health', but I thought our love was so strong it was exempt from the work of marriage.

Imagine my surprise then when I came to find myself eight years later, standing in my kitchen, eyes red from crying and completely exhausted by the work of my marriage. We were deep into an argument about coffee that wasn't about coffee at all. You probably know the kind I mean. It wasn't about coffee; it was about trust and sacrifices and the little hurts we had inflicted on each other over the years that we thought we had forgiven, but really we were holding on to, collecting like little stones. The weight of them had added up and suddenly the argument about coffee laid bare the real issues and our frustration and pain was bursting at the seams.

I have to imagine every relationship finds itself at this crossroads, perhaps many times in the course of a marriage that spans decades, the moment when you see past the coffee and into the heart of the matter. You make a choice to keep fighting about the thing that's not really the thing, or you make the choice to address the heart of the matter. We both knew we had to drop it about the coffee and go deeper.

And perhaps what happens next is what makes or breaks us all.

We started to wade into the murky waters of pain, into the things we've said and done to each other, usually subtle and usually without realizing our wrong doing. With reluctance and trepidation we each held our hearts up to the other, showing just where the stones had bruised and cracked. We untangled the mess of things that hadn't been said and unpacked the assumptions that had left both of us protecting our hearts with iron gates. As we waded deeper, I could feel the temptation to hold on to the hurts, to declare 'my right' to be angry, demand the absolution I thought I deserved. 'Protect yourself!' my heart cried out.

But I didn't. I did the harder thing.

I asked for forgiveness. I named my wrongs, both seen and unseen. I laid out those little stones one by one and repented for each one. I left the watch over my own heart to tend to his. But he did the other hard thing- he forgave me wholly and completely. He assured me he wouldn't keep a record of these wrongs. He let down the gates around his heart to let mine in.

Where there had been pain and hurt, words unspoken and resentments piled on top of one another, there was now release. Grace blew in like a cool breeze.

And it was a victory for our marriage. It was victory for every marriage.

Maybe after eight years I'm starting to realize why no one gave me the hard hitting advice I was looking for at 22. Maybe they could see the youthful arrogance in my eyes and they thought, "Better to let this one figure it out on her own."

Because I know now that if I had the ear to hear it, anyone who has been married longer than five minutes would have said, "Your love is so special. But that doesn't mean you're exempt from the work of marriage, it means you need to work harder to protect what you've got." Maybe they would have looked me in the eye and said the thing that is true, that the real work of marriage is grace. Grace is monumental. So much hangs in the balance in those moments when we choose to do the hard thing of apologizing and forgiving. Maybe they would have told me that marriages are forged in the fires of forgiveness, galvanized not by standing firm on the high ground of pride, but in laying down low, apologizing first, erasing the score. 

Maybe they knew that until I had a few years of marriage under my belt, the posture of grace wouldn't feel as significant. Maybe that's why they settled on "Don't go to bed angry."

To the naked eye, there was nothing special about what happened in our kitchen when we stopped fighting about coffee and let grace blow in, but we knew something big happened. We knew we'd come across a piece of wisdom that will change our marriage for the better. 


1 comment:

  1. Hi Cari!! I LOVE this post :) Your mom shared it with me on my Instagram account! My husband Caleb and I are wedding photographers based out of Madison, Wisconsin and we, too, are super passionate about marriage! If it's okay with you, I would love to share your post with our newsletter community by posting a link to your post in our upcoming June Newsletter — would that be okay with you? You can email me at maisonandcaleb@maisonmeredith.com if you prefer! Thank you so much!! <3

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