Friday, November 30, 2012

Uprooting bitterness

Few pet sins will more quickly choke the marital garden than bitterness. The "Well, he.../Well, she..." interchanges, rather than bring some kind of resolution and restoration, dump Miracle-Gro all over those weeds. Emerson Eggerichs in his superb work on husband/wife interaction, "Love and Respect," aptly calls this "The Crazy Cycle."

How does one eradicate such a tentacled weed from their garden?

Let me back up a few days. One night earlier this week during the evening when I had been reading through the Bible with my daughters, we took a hiatus from Isaiah and flipped to the beginning. I had some lessons I wanted to impart upon my girls, but God had some lessons he wanted to impart to me. As I took them through the history of Cain and Abel, I hoped to share with them the importance of sin's destructiveness, and while this is a true premise, I was moved by God's conduct throughout the ordeal (Genesis 4:1-16).

Consider God's grace,

1. God doesn't accept an inappropriate sacrifice. Rather, in his goodness, justice, and grace, God provides instruction (read: discipline) in that rejection to move Cain to repent of that sacrifice and to then offer a proper sacrifice.

2. God provides a warning. When Cain became angry at God, God continued to lavish grace, love, and discipline upon Cain, his child, by pointing out his improper displeasure, by warning him about sin's close proximity, and by encouraging him to get himself right before things went far worse.

Understand this: God would have been completely justified in ending Cain's life when he offered the improper sacrifice and especially when his anger flared at God because the Lord did not accept Cain's improper sacrifice. Isn't that like us? We get angry when our sin isn't coddled or understood. It's your fault I sinned! Back to God's great grace.

3. God provides an opportunity to repent. Cain kills his brother. Does God then sentence him to a swift and agonizing death? Nope. More and more grace. God does for Cain just as he did for Cain's daddy, Adam. He offers an opportunity for repentance. As God called out to Adam, "Where are you?" in hopes that the man would step forth and confess, God calls out to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" God knew where Adam was. God knew where Abel was. In fact, Abel's blood cried out to God from the soil. How's that for haunting imagery? In his goodness, God gave both the opportunity to come to him before he confronted them.

4. God restrains his wrath. Cain sasses God. No, really. All out and from his toes, Cain gives God lip. "Am I my brother's keeper?" I imagine him doing so with a sullen intonation and a shrug while not having the masculine fortitude to look God in the eye. Such a response from my child would ignite a fury in my stove. Had I been God in that situation, you would not have found a particulate left of Cain in the cosmos. God, in his grand grace, restrains his just wrath.

5. God indicts, sentences, and provides hope. No more quibbling. God makes plain that he knows all things, that Cain has been measured in the scales and found wanting. Once again, rather than destruction, God separates Cain. Cain, with blood still beneath his nails, knows the jig is up, and he frets that the increasing multitude that has sprung from the offspring of Adam and Eve will seek to slay the murderer. God's inexhaustible grace lavishes forth again upon Cain. You are marked. None will harm you, you have my word. Because Cain is allowed to live, God grants him time to take stock, assess, and hopefully turn back to God in repentance for what he had done.

We never know what happens to Cain after that apart from his offspring, but it is possible that he repented before he died. Would we expect any other result from God's amazing grace?

All of these things overwhelmed me as I chatted with my daughters. It made me think of Peter's self-centered query to his Master about how often he should forgive. Rather than mock or ridicule Peter, Christ (yep, in his grace) instructs the buffoonerous disciple. "Seventy times seven." Translated: stop keeping count! God demands of his children what he already is and does. How many times has God forgiven you?

So where is all of this going in your relationship with your wife when it comes to the weed of bitterness and resentment? You know full well. Forgive her much. Pour out your grace upon your wife.The five things above that God did with Cain do not correspond with what you should do to your wife except that they exemplify God's extraordinary love and grace toward Cain. As God has done with us, so he expects us to do with others, especially those near and dear to us, and especially our brides.

Some practical apps:

1. Don't keep score. You'll never win. And you will never have a bigger tally than the one that God's NOT keeping against you.

2. Hear her. This comes up again and again. Typically, when a bride's bile rises against her man, the man's bile immediately counters. DON'T! Take a Tums. Then listen to her. Really hear what she has to say. You'll be amazed at how that will reduce the intensity from her perspective when she knows you are listening to her.

3. Don't divert. What do I mean by that? Stay on topic. Don't bring up something that she has done that has caused you to act like a burro. She's responsible for her conduct. You are responsible for yours. If your conduct has brought harm, own it. Confess your sin to God, and apologize to your bride.

4. Be a man. This is no longer junior high school. Your bride will offend you at some point future as you will offend her, BUT one does not permit the other. If she steps on your toes, man up and show her grace. Trust that she does love you and that the slight was not intended. I'm not saying to not call it to her attention, but when you do so, show her respect and that you trust in her love. Don't take a toe-crunch as an opportunity to drive your beloved into the dirt. Act like a man and not a prepubescent bully.

5. Remember your paid debt. Yes, the one forgiven much should forgive much--unless you've forgotten how much you've been forgiven. How do you keep a sober mind in that regard? Think often about the cross of Christ. If you've not read through the Gospels recently, do so. Twice per year would be the bare minimum for a believer. When we consider much what God has done for us, it is far easier for us to then lavish the grace bestowed upon us onto others.

So brothers, if you catch sight of the bitterness weed getting hold of your heart, give it no place. Go to the cross and let God pull it up so you can in turn love him and your wife as he intended.

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