I’m in the kitchen making dinner and I hear the kids bickering and fighting over a toy just like I had heard them do three minutes ago. I actually remember to pull the almost burning pot off the stove this time, and round the corner, outwardly bothered that I have to intervene again. My patience is lessening and my frustration is growing. Will I react to them in anger, or by God's grace, use this opportunity to teach them what is going on in their own hearts?
Parenting brings daily reminders of the pride that remains in our hearts. In the same manner, marriage is simply a mirror that reflects the sin already present in our hearts. Often the things we view as ridiculous behavior in our children are the very same things we see in our spouse. We choose to fight over petty things just for the sake of being right. We want our spouse to see that they are wrong or that their actions are misguided because of the pride that has swelled up in our hearts and blinded us to the reality of our own sin.
Pride often starts small, and over time, we feel more and more justified in how we feel or think to the point where it begins to take root and burrow a comfortable home in the recesses of our hearts. When conflicts and miscommunication occur, we put up our guards and prepare for battle. James 4:1 says, “What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
The reality is marriage requires fighting. However, the type of fighting required is a fight for your marriage, rather than against your spouse. So, in which way are you fighting in your marriage? How do we fight in a way that is productive and restorative, rather than damaging and destructive?
We Begin with the Foundation of Humility
Humility, at its core, does not look to one’s own goal or agenda, it looks to the other and desires to love and repair. Humility looks to God and Who He is and immediately sees just how small we are. Humility puts us in our proper place. Andrew Murray said, “Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.”
Our natural, broken, and typical first response to stressors in marriage is pride. Pride is such a comfortable shoe to wear for us that we even respond with pride when we know we are the one in the wrong. We don’t have to look much further than Genesis 3 to see this play out as we see Adam and Eve’s pride through their sin and blaming one another. They were so full of pride that they skipped right over their own sin and immediately blamed one another.
The Bible does not articulate the details of Adam and Eve’s communication during this time, but I can’t help but think their sin immediately ushered in arguing, bitterness, and resentment. What once was harmonious, life-giving conversation shared between husband and wife was now dysfunctional discord.
Pride does nothing but disrupt the grandeur of God and place us on a pedestal we do not belong on. When we become large and God becomes small, our marital arguments, strife, and disagreements only become more and more magnified. However, it is much more challenging to stew in bitterness and anger when we choose to maintain a right view of the glory of God.
God, in His abundant love and kindness for us, offers us so much hope to battle this pride and fight for humility. This grand, mighty, and glorious God does not just sit on His throne and point an angry finger of shame at us. He desires to meet us right where we are. Right in the messy, prideful, ugly moments when we decided to use our tongue as a dagger instead of using a “gentle answer to turn away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1).
We are not left alone to figure out how to fight redemptively. As Christ-followers, He has given us all we need in Himself, His Word, and through the Holy Spirit to speak life giving beauty into our marriages. Our Heavenly Father is so full of compassion and grace for us that He deeply longs to help us, guide us, and show us how to love our spouses in a way that demonstrates His great and abundant love for us. 1 Timothy 1:7 tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” So, what exactly does this look like and how do we go about pursuing this?
We Must Next Look to Him.
We have an approachable God; a Friend Who desires us to pursue unity and peace with our spouses. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). What an amazing God to not leave us alone to try and figure it all out. Pride only ignites the fire with more fuel, but humility extinguishes the flame. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19).
When we are faced with conflict with our spouse, we have a choice. We can react out of pride and self-righteousness, or we can ask the God of mercy and compassion to fill us with His Spirit and speak with gentleness and humility.
All of us are far from perfect. We will continue to fail and choose ourselves over our spouse. Nevertheless, God’s kindness towards us beckons us to trust Him with the hurts and wounds that come in marriage. He sees our pain, our struggles, and our hurts. He is intimately acquainted with the hearts and minds of His children and understands the depths of pain that can come from being married in a broken and fallen world.
But He gives more grace (James 4:6). The more we make it a habit to see and understand how ugly and dark our sin is, and how good and kind and compassionate our God is, the more we see how undeserving we are of His grace. This view of our sin and our own forgiveness in Him leads to more and more humility and compassion when our spouse sins against us.
We Choose to Sit in His Kindness and Grace
The Lord does not push us away, bring up old accounts of wrongdoings, yell at us, or shame us for messing up yet again. No, our God lavishes His perfect mercy on us, calls us to repent and sit at His feet where He restores and renews and calls us to greater freedom in Himself. How different would our marriages look if we stopped to first remember all that He has done for us? To remember our own sin that He has forgiven and wiped clean.
Choosing to sit in His kindness towards us has an undeniably profound way of showing us our need to forgive others and to “seek peace and pursue it” with our spouse (Psalm 34:14). He is calling us to seek peace with all humility, even when our circumstances do not warrant it. And we can do this because He, in His great and abounding love, has already done for us what we could never do for ourselves.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).
What a powerful example He has given us to follow in our marriages! Christ humbled Himself as a servant to forgive us of our sins, redeem us, and call us His own. Let His example spur us all on to keep fighting for our marriages!
1) As you reflect on this, be attentive to the Spirit and what He brings to mind. Is there an on-going issue with your spouse that you can recognize as pride?
2) What is one specific way you can choose this week to walk in kindness with your spouse and choose humility over pride?
Prayer: Lord, please strengthen us to fight for our marriages with humility and kindness, empowered by Your Spirit. And let us always choose to remember what has already been done for us on the cross.
Authored by Kate Buchanan. Kate is a former Licensed Professional Counselor who has a passion for walking alongside others in day to day ministry. She resides in Arkansas with her wonderful husband and two children.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels