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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Maximum Effort: Saving a Marriage

Please welcome guest blogger today; Glenn Machlan, Bible Translator with Youth With A Mission.  Currently, Glenn is translating the scriptures into a language spoken in a remote village in the Philippines   His work is the first translation for this language. 

“I did everything I could”

After my wife left me, I heard some people in similar circumstances say that they had done everything they could to save their marriage, but it wasn't enough. Every time I thought, Did they really do everything they could? Who really does that? Who is that perfect? I was certainly aware of wrong things I had done, and good things I didn't do in my marriage. So I thought it was incredible that there were people who had been that good in their marriages. And yet there have still been many times when I've thought, I wasn't bad enough to deserve that! Which I suppose, when you come right down to it, is the same thing!

Still there’s a persistent idea in our humanness that if we do a certain amount of good, then we deserve certain good results. And we are shocked and offended if we not only don’t receive good results, but actually suffer instead. And if you’re like me, you can easily wallow in self-pity. 

Shortly after the roof collapsed in my marriage, when I was falsely accused, I was encouraged by 1 Peter 2:13-14. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” (ESV) It was amazing to think that this would be the source of my blessing, but it helped me avoid self-pity at the time. (Of course, many times since then I have had a hard time believing I was blessed, and self-pity seemed to be a good friend!)

About that same time, I watched the DVD of “Fireproof.” The message in the movie seemed to be that if you do all the right things, your marriage will be good, or will at least survive. But that seems to be a very legalistic approach to marriage and to life. I thought it was interesting that in the film that even when the main character had finished the Love Dare, his wife still wasn't sold on staying with him. It was only when he took the sizable amount of money he had been saving for a boat and used it to help her parents out that her heart was melted. I thought, Great! What can I do of that magnitude? I knew that God is capable of doing anything, but in my situation it was going to have to be Him doing the heavy lifting if things were going to change. It wasn't going to be anything I did, unless God opened up the opportunity and gave me the power to take advantage of it.

Several years ago I read a Christmas mystery by Anne Perry, and she made a profound point through one of her characters. A young woman had surprised people by turning down the proposal of a handsome, charming, wealthy young man, and instead married his younger, seemingly less attractive brother. The reason she chose the younger brother was because the older one was not a forgiving person, a very wise decision indeed. She recognized that marriage is not the coming together of two perfect people who can then enjoy each other’s perfection, but the joining of two rather imperfect people in constant need of forgiveness. What life is like for us as Christians, in perpetual need of God’s grace and forgiveness, is also what life is like for us in relationships, but especially a marriage relationship.

I’m reading the book Assaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic, by Stephen W. Simpson. A big part of his ‘redemption’ happened when his wife gave birth to quadruplets (and the rest of us should thank God every day that He hasn't so blessed us!). Coping with four needy babies put an incredible strain on their marriage and they – both psychologists – started to see a marriage counselor. One day the counselor pointed out that Stephen didn't like his wife to see his flaws, a revelation to his wife. “In that moment, things started to change. We started giving each other more grace. I started trying harder, and it worked because I was motivated by love for Shelley rather than fear and resentment….Shelley and I started to see

each other as we really were: broken, imperfect people who were trying to love each other and our kids.” 

That’s it! We don’t do everything right, or everything we can, but there is forgiveness and acceptance and grace that covers our sins and empowers us to do better.

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