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Grace Filled Marriage
The Missing Piece. The Place to Start.
By Tim Kimmel, Darcy Kimmel
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Tim Kimmel
All rights reserved.
The Missing Piece in Your Marriage
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What does grace have to do with marriage?
Up to this point, you may not have thought about the role of grace in your marriage. Grace has status as the prelude to a meal or the theme of that famous hymn. And it obviously receives a lot of focus at church, but you may not have realized the crucial role it's supposed to play in your marriage. In fact without it, we're in trouble, because most marriages don't struggle from a lack of love; they struggle from a lack of grace.
When we said "I do," we imagined our marriage would be a natural partnership in which we would consistently feel affirmed, respected, and appreciated. But unless you're reading this book on your honeymoon, you've discovered that marriage is more like an obstacle course—and you're starting to get bruises on your resolve from tripping over so many hurtful things.
Have you ever experienced situations like these in your marriage?
Your spouse lets loose a few careless words spoken in frustration—but all too frequently. You're starting to avoid her, not knowing when her temper will flare.
Your spouse doesn't appreciate the things you do for him every day. It's especially frustrating because it's a blended family and you've worked hard to love his kids as though they were your own. You tell yourself that you're grateful to serve your family. But deep down, you feel taken advantage of.
Your mate thinks she's hilarious when she jokes about you in public. Her friends like her witty one-liners too. But you're tired of forcing a smile when her constant put-downs at your expense are anything but funny.
You have to endure a condescending bossiness—a push-you-around attitude—that your spouse would never try on anyone else. Just once, you'd like him to treat you with the same respect he shows his friends and coworkers.
Your wife prides herself on being thrifty. You work hard to provide for your family and think you've earned the right to indulge in a few things. But you're tired of having to ask permission to spend your collective, but hard-earned, money.
You're weary of your spouse working late nights or going out with his buddies, not caring that your homemade dinner—and your romance—is getting cold.
These inconsiderate attitudes and actions have a way of replacing the spark in your marriage with a dull, burning ache. But do they indicate an absence of love? Not necessarily. Couples who do these kinds of things often love each other. These situations—along with most of the things that hurt or disappoint you in marriage—are caused by an absence of grace.
Grace is desiring the best for your spouse, even when they may not deserve it. I know, because I married an angel. She married an idiot.
When we drove away from our wedding reception, Darcy didn't realize she was riding next to a man who likes to go down dead-end roads just to make sure they truly lead nowhere. She was holding the hand of a man whose dreams consistently eclipsed his abilities to make those dreams come true. While we're checking off the full-disclosure box, I need to let you know she also married a man who struggled with seeing the little things of life—like his car keys, wallet, and wristwatch. If this wasn't enough, Darcy married me not realizing she'd be slipping into bed each night with a testosterone-filled man who thought she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever met.
Then there was the fact that she didn't know I ...
had an aversion to anything on my dinner plate that wasn't meat and potatoes,
didn't have a working relationship with clothes hangers, and
was suspicious of anyone who found women's romance novels anywhere close to realistic.
I was a ready-shoot-aim type of guy who thought he had a good track record of making lucky shots. To me, elaborate plans were for posers. I prided myself as a party waiting to happen, which is fine when you're hanging out with friends on Saturday night but very annoying when you're trying to make a living while raising kids.
Fortunately, Darcy and I had a kernel of something that would eventually grow into the defining feature of how we process our life together. It wasn't something that emanated from our personalities, our upbringings, or from some abilities we brought to the arrangement. Its presence in our marriage was in spite of us. In fact, it was our realization that we had gotten to the end of our own abilities that helped us see that our marriage didn't have a chance without it.
We had grace.
It was a grace that grew from a faith decision we had both made a couple of years before we decided to cast our marital lot with each other. Had we not had God's grace going in, or picked it up along the way, I feel certain that after forty years of marriage, we wouldn't have much of a love story to tell. At best we'd have a "like" story, but probably it would be a "loathe" story.
Without a full measure of grace seeping its way through the pores of every moment, every comment, and every thought, even marriages that were supposedly made in heaven will end up frustrating, disappointing, and hurting the two people center stage in the wedding photos.
It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter how well you were raised. It doesn't matter how much you've studied the key passages on marriage in the Bible or how many marriage conferences you've attended.
Whether you have a good marriage or one in serious need of help, when life is coming at you full throttle, you simply cannot make it work in your own power.
To have a marriage that thrives, you need grace.
The Missing Piece Is Grace
Ironically, the relationship in our life that most needs to be saturated in grace is the one in which grace is least expressed. We long to feel grace in our spouse's tone of voice, facial expressions, physical touch, and simple acts of courtesy and kindness. Yet we often show more grace to our coworkers, friends, and pets than we do to the person with whom we agreed, before witnesses, to share an underwear drawer, a bathroom mirror, and a credit card.
Marriages without grace have a way of feeling tired and old much faster than we would ever have thought going in. You can numb your disappointment with denial for a while. You can intoxicate your disillusionment with money, busyness, noble causes, and spiritual white noise. You can even agree to define mediocrity as your new normal. Without grace, our wedding day can become the overture to our song of regret.
Just ask Frank and Marci. Frank's idea of a well-spent evening is being out in his garage tinkering on one of his woodworking projects. Marci's idea of an evening well spent is a quiet house and a good book. Frank works away in the garage thinking, One night, Marci's going to come out here with some coffee and just sit here watching me do my magic. Marci reads away on the couch thinking, One of these evenings, Frank's going to come in here with a good book downloaded on his Whatever and sit next to me enjoying what I love doing the most. They live like two people on individual islands within sight of each other, each expecting the other to row over and join their island world. You'd think after raising their kids and logging thirty-plus years of marriage together, it would be impossible for two people to become this naive—or selfish. But they did ... and they are. And every night Marci doesn't show up in the garage and every evening Frank doesn't sit next to her on the couch drives the wedge of disappointment deeper between their hearts.
Frank and Marci are a good example of what happens when a marriage isn't filled with grace. What they need in their marriage isn't more love—they've loved each other through the ups and downs of three decades. Their love is strong and proven.
What they need is grace.
Every married couple will have a tough time making it without grace. That's because, at the bottom line, our marriage is too much about us, individually. They're about our happiness, our peace of mind, our reputation, our money, our future, our kids, our sexual needs. And when our spouse fails to meet our self-directed priorities, we feel justified to dismiss, reject, and punish them.
So, what should we do when our marriages become an obstacle course of hurt and disappointment? There are lots of marriage experts who will tell you to try harder. Maybe you've read those books or attended those marriage conferences—and you've tried many techniques to improve your marriage. But no amount of effort has resulted in lasting change in your relationship.
There are others who teach that the only way to have a successful marriage is to marry someone with whom you share much in common or do your best to find common ground. Although I don't fault someone for trying to match up the variables, I disagree with the premise. Here's why. Regardless of whom you marry and how much you share in common going in, that person is not who you're married to five years later.
And I'm not talking about divorce. I'm talking about life. You get married and (for the majority of couples) move in with each other and away from your parents. Change. You comingle assets or liabilities and are suddenly worth more or less than you've ever been in your lives. Change. You go to a delivery room or adoption courtroom and bring home a new child into your family. Change. Your spouse has a major medical setback. Change. You go to a graveyard and bury one of your parents. Change. Or you sit for almost forty-eight hours in the intensive-care nursery and rock one of the newborn babies your wife put in your arms ... begging God to let that child live. I've done that. You can't help but be changed.
So what determines the level of satisfaction in marriage? To try harder? To make sure we marry someone with whom we have much in common? To try to align our mutual interests? No! Satisfaction only comes when we have grace to adjust to all of the ins and outs of change that life brings our way.
The Flexibility of Grace
When Bill married Heather, he thought he'd signed up for an open-ended party. Heather was spontaneous and fun and loved to laugh. If the chance for an adventure came along, she was the first to sign up. They waited four years before they had kids. During that time, Heather was everything Bill thought she would be—and much more. She especially lived up to her personality of fun and adventure when they dimmed the lights at night. Then the kids came along. Seven years and three kids later, the thrill is gone. Colicky babies, ear infections, and thousands of diapers have rubbed the excitement off Heather's face. There's no signing up for the next adventure either. Bill understands that the heavy-lifting stage of parenting can do that to you, but he wonders if this is what the future will hold for them permanently. He was going to broach the subject with Heather the other night—just after she put the last load of clothes in the washing machine and crawled into bed. But before he could say anything, Heather rolled over to him and said, "Hey, Don Juan, a newsflash for you. I'm pregnant again. Thanks a ton. Good night!"
Love, like anything alive, is in a constant state of motion, either growing or diminishing. The conditions we create for our love—and our responses to the hits from life—will determine whether our love thrives.
Bill and Heather love each other. But they need grace that brings encouragement, help, appreciation, and high value to their view of each other's contributions and responsibilities.
Grace is the equilibrium we apply to all the conditions and challenges that allow our marital love to improve with age. Grace is the plus sign to counter all of the negatives inherent in a partnership. Grace is the vintage agent to a covenant love that otherwise becomes flat. Grace is the dealmaker in a "till death do us part" commitment.
Grace is much more than trying harder. It's about Jesus. He's the God of grace. He's the wellspring of grace. He's the beginning, the delivery system, and the follow-through program of grace. There is no "grace-filled" without the Author of grace. Without him, all you end up with is "nice." Nice is nice, but it won't carry you through the deep waters of marriage. Only a heart connection with the Savior can give us the inclination and the power to reject our broken systems that work against healthy relationships. A heart connection with our spouse is a ramped-up version of the faith connection we make with God through salvation. When he is playing, on an ongoing basis, the central role he died on the cross to play, then a grace-filled marriage actually makes sense and works. Until then, our relationship is just a well-intended but misguided, and ultimately impotent, "nice."
For the record, grace and nice aren't synonyms. In fact, nice is so safe that it can actually undermine a relationship. Grace is kind enough to be forthright, accurate in assessment, and ready to take the difficult actions needed to keep love unsullied and strong—you know, the way Jesus did with the people around him every day of his public ministry. Therefore, grace can be quite gritty, as we will see in this book. But it is no less grace because it sometimes hurts when applied. And the goal of grace is always the other person ... and their best interests.
The contradiction for the Christian is to be a willing recipient of the grace God offers us but reluctant to extend the same gift to our spouse. How ironic that the missing ingredient in our marriage when we act that way is the primary ingredient in God's heart when he deals with us.
The Context of Grace
When you pick up a book on marriage written by a Christian author you can pretty much assume that you're going to be walked through Genesis 1–3, 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5:21–33, and 1 Peter 3:1–7. We're not going to do that in this book.
Although these are the four key passages that reveal the biblical "mechanics" of marriage—the leave, cleave, become one flesh, multiply a godly heritage, lead, and submit dynamics—we're not going to go there. I realize that's what a typical Christian book on marriage would do, but we're not going to do that. Two reasons: first, others have already done it as well as it can be done. I can't really add anything to their excellent insights. Second, we have known people who could articulate the principles from those passages—even followed them to a tee—but you wouldn't want to have a marriage like theirs. Something was missing in their relationship that neutralized the impact the wisdom within those passages had to offer.
What I'm going to say next is very important when it comes to understanding the greater message of this book: You can get all the biblical principles of marriage right and still miss the greater point of marriage by light-years. That's because the biblical principles of marriage assume a context of God's overarching grace.
Without a commitment to living out biblical principles in an atmosphere of grace, the guidelines in those passages can be turned into sledgehammers in the hands of a married person. We've seen it happen. But just as the teaching in those passages represents God's desire for marriage, God's gracious example as a husband as well as his overarching teaching on grace throughout Scripture represent his empowerment for marriage. It's on this greater biblical message of applied grace and God's gracious example that we're going to camp.
Grace is what we need to create the marriage we've always longed for.
In Grace Filled Marriage, we'll explore the daily reality of living out a commitment to treating our spouse the way God treats us—with grace. We'll see how God's grace ends up making all the difference in the world as we navigate through the areas of sex, kids, conflict, aging, and endings ... gracefully.
Excerpted from Grace Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel, Darcy Kimmel. Copyright © 2013 Tim Kimmel. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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