The past few years my life has changed dramatically. I gave birth to two children, and it has transformed my life and my marriage. Nothing remains the same. My work schedule, my relationship with my husband, my daily routine, my personal space and sense of identity, my time with the Lord, everything was impacted by this change.
By God’s grace and my choice to submit to His lead, this has resulted in an overall improvement in my quality of life. It has strengthened my faith and my walk with God, I am growing in my relationship with my husband, and I see the world differently. I have now, I think, a more complete view and understanding of God’s character, His purposes and what life is all about.
Recently God has been pulling back layers of my onion, especially in my relationship with my husband and family. This peeling process seems to recur every six months or so, going deeper and deeper.Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it’s freeing. And the results are good, to the extent that I cooperate with the Lord’s work on my heart.
During this same time period, I have witnessed several friends and family members experiencing similar spiritual pruning. To my surprise, it’s even harder to watch than it is to experience for myself! When I read the following passage last week, I knew it touched on the centerpoint of this process God is working in each of His people, any time we’ll let him: Letting Love Rule. Our hearts, our homes, our churches, our friendships.
When Love Rules the Home
The environment of the Christian home, like that of the church, should be one of love, acceptance and forgiveness. People need these three things to come to wholeness and they need them in the home just as much as in the church.
We can have these three ingredients in full measure in our homes only as Jesus Christ is Lord both of the husband and the wife. I am not saying that to put down those who live in divided homes. I don’t want anyone to despair. But just as a home is not complete with only a father or mother, neither can love be complete with only one parent being obedient to God.
My purpose is to advocate what God intended the home to be — a place where both husband and wife are under the total Lordship of Jesus Christ. I must warn you that if you are compromising your own commitment to the Lord, if you aren’t in the process of becoming what He wants you to be personally, you are heading your home toward disaster.
People come to us with incredible marriage and family disasters. They come from every walk of life, high income and low income and everything in between. Usually the disaster is a result of husband or wife or both not being under the Lordship of Christ. If Jesus isn’t your Lord, you must begin there to bring love, acceptance and forgiveness into your home.
“God has poured out His love [agape] into our hearts.” How? “By the Holy Spirit” (see Romans 5:5). If Jesus Christ is not your Lord, if the Holy Spirit is not filling your life, you do not have agape love. You can fake it. You can have friendship and you can have emotional love, but just as you can’t buy apples at an auto parts store you can’t get agape anywhere but from God. He is the exclusive source.
Agape love must become the mark of our homes. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). There it is again, agape joined with giving. Agape is always a giving love.
Do you know what an ideal marriage is? It is husband and wife each giving to the other all of the time. If both are giving, obviously both are getting as well, but the dynamic is completely different. I know a relationship is in trouble whenever a husband or wife says to me, “I am not getting anything out of this marriage.” Apparently his or her partner is not giving anywhere near 100 percent, and husband or wife doesn’t have an attitude of giving either, but is focusing on getting.
Love gives and it gives with the idea of meeting the other person’s needs, emotional and spiritual as well as physical. One of the greatest love gifts you can give your partner in marriage is total, unqualified acceptance. You see, although I speak of love, acceptance and forgiveness as three distinct things, they are closely related.
It comes as something of a shock to most of us when we discover we didn’t marry a saint after all. We married a sinner like ourselves. Acceptance means we give each other enough elbow room to live. Acceptance conveys the idea: “You don’t have to be my ideal; I love you.” This is real unqualified acceptance of you as you now are and does not imply, “I will accept you in spite of your obvious faults.” That idea is egotistical.
Too often we act so as to communicate: “You are not exactly what I would like you to be.” We compare here, suggest there, manipulate elsewhere, con a little, play little reward games. Why? We are not the Lord, and no one has to answer to us, including our spouses.
If you have a very capable husband or wife, beware of getting into competition. I was intimidated by my wife’s grade point average when we were in college ages ago. Barbara was always disciplined, got her assignments in on time, made A’s on the tests. I was always playing Ping-Pong or softball or basketball, drinking Cokes and running around. I could never figure out why she had a better GPA than I did. I was intimidated by her grades and I was intimidated by her discipline.
Years later, she launched her, “Touch of Beauty” radio broadcasts. Way down inside of me there lurked a subtle fear that she would do better than I. Sure enough, that which I feared came upon me. Men would come up to me and say, “We listen to your wife every day on the radio.” Competition.
God helped me realize that we are not in competition, that we can release one another to be what God wants each of us to be. Now, as I am writing this book, her first book, How to Raise Good Kids, is already out and doing very well. I can honestly say that I am not threatened by that fact. I accept her strengths now. They don’t intimidate me any longer. I also accept her weaknesses and she does the same for me.
Accept your spouse; that is the greatest gift you can ever give him or her. If you have trouble with this, perhaps it is because at some subtle point you have not been able to accept yourself. In turn, that may be because you are not thoroughly convinced that God accepts you.
I lived a lot of my life trying to get God to accept me. I didn’t like me very well. I was too short. My ears where too big. I wasn’t put together the way I thought best.
I was crossing the street in Seattle one day when the Lord spoke to me clearly, “Jerry, why don’t you quit trying to be a Christian? You are one. You are accepted in the Beloved.” I did not even know that last phrase was in the Bible.
Three days later, I was lying on my bed in the room I was renting near the college. I opened my Bible to Ephesians, chapter 1, and began reading. When I reached the sixth verse, it jumped on me like a thing alive — I am “accepted in the beloved” (KJV).
That experience totally changed my life. Suddenly I wasn’t trying to get God to like me anymore. He had liked me all the time. As I began to accept myself because God accepted me, I found I was better able to accept other people. So you see, acceptance, like love, depends on the right relationship with God which includes exercising the faith to believe that God loves and accepts us in Christ.
Along with love and acceptance, forgiveness is one of the most healing elements in a home or church. Now, forgiveness involves forgetting. We have not truly forgiven someone until that matter is dismissed by us not to be retained anymore.
People tend to retain grievances, and although they “forgive” they keep things in a little bag for instant recall as needed. Introduce that system into a home and it becomes absolutely devastating. One cannot live with a person who is collecting his mistakes in a little bundle and bringing them up periodically just to show him he is not nearly as smart as he thinks, because remember when…
“There we go again; I thought that was settled.”
“Well, it is, but…”
When people live together in the same home, their weaknesses are going to show. They just will. A strong relationship is not one in which the people have no weaknesses but it is one in which each knows how to handle in love the other’s failings.
In a marriage, people so often get into little ego struggles. A minor issue — leaving a rake in the yard, being late for an appointment, not putting gas in the car — becomes a major issue. Then it becomes a matter of, “You’re always doing something stupid or irresponsible.” We generalize from a small issue into a great accusation and we are caught in an ego struggle.
The classic example is the huge, enormous problem that arises when he squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle and she rolls it from the end. All they would need to do is buy two tubes of toothpaste, let him squeeze all he wants and her roll to her heart’s content. That would take care of it.
Such conflicts can be funny to hear about but they hurt when you are caught in one. Multiply the hurt by many repetitions and many other small issues and you come up with two people who love each other but have lost each other. They no longer communicate.
Many such couples find each other only in their children. That is their one meeting point. When those children are gone, the husband and wife separate or spend the rest of their lives together but alienated.
Couples can build an environment in which they will not lose each other if they will let love and acceptance rule the home. And if they will learn a few things about forgiveness. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Has Christ forgiven you? Then that is your basis for forgiving others. As a Christian, you have no excuse to be unforgiving in any relationship, particularly in your home. Forgive.
I must emphasize the importance of forgiveness not just as an event but as an environment.
“I forgave him for that thing.”
Not good enough. You must forgive him for everything, all the time. People need the security of knowing they can blow it and still be loved and totally forgiven with nothing held over their heads. I am pleading for an environment of forgiveness in our homes, where people don’t have to wonder or endure some painful interlude before they can be forgiven.
That is the kind of home I need. Not that I intend to offend. I am not asking for license. I am not asking to be a tyrant and still be loved. I don’t want to be unreasonable. I don’t want to be hard to live with. Not many men do, though it may look that way.
Sometimes I meet a person who seems to want to be hard to live with. I think, He must be trying to be ornery, because he is certainly succeeding. When I get close to him I find a frustrated person who can’t understand why there is trouble and why people have a hard time with him. I don’t know any woman who tries to be contentious either. I know several who have succeeded, but none who planned it that way.
We need to build an environment in which husbands and wives understand that their mates are not holding grudges against them, not remembering the mistakes of the past. I need to know that when my wife looks at me she’s not screening me through all the foolish things I’ve done over the past 15 years. And I’ve done a few, but I honestly think she has forgotten most of them. At least she has convinced me she has, and that is just as good. She doesn’t throw the past up to me and I try not to throw the past up to her.
Forgiveness is liberating. If you don’t have an environment of forgiveness you can’t live freely. You can only defend yourself constantly. What chance do you have then? None whatever, because you are going to fail sometimes regardless.
I’ve seen husbands and wives live together as though they were vultures. He’s perched over here and she’s perched over there and they meet in an arena between. Each is just waiting for the other to make a mistake so he or she can lash out. Have you learned yet that people tend to live up to your expectations of them? Just perch there watching for your husband or wife to blow it again and you probably won’t have to wait too long.
“My husband is never on time for anything,” a woman said to me. “And he is always in a bad mood. He has never been able to handle money either.” She went down a list of about 15 things her husband “always” or “never” did.
When she finished I said, “You undoubtedly have the most consistent husband I’ve ever heard of. You have been married for 24 years and this guy has made totally wrong decisions all that time — quite a record.”
You get the point and so did she. What are you looking for? You will find it. If you are looking for a mistake you will find it, but a forgiving spirit does not look for mistakes. When the mistake is there anyhow, it forgives. This paves the way for continued living. Unforgiveness becomes a gate across your road of life. It drops down and you can’t get through to go on. Only forgiveness can open that gate.
If you want a good home, build an environment that grows good homes. How do you have a good garden? Pull out the weeds and plant good seeds, not bad seeds. If you are planting seeds of rebellion, jealousy, suspicion, unforgiveness and criticism, what are you going to grow? You will reap what you sow.
To have a home in which love reigns, sow seeds of love. How do you do that? By being a loving person. You can be a loving person when Jesus Christ is Lord of your life and the Holy Spirit is shedding abroad the love of God in your heart.
What I’m saying about husbands and wives applies to parents and children as well. I know parents who are unforgiving toward their children. They remember every mistake that kid ever made. Parents whose children are grown and married tell me about the mistakes those kids made when they were still at home. Forgive your children. Forgive that teenager.
“But he hurt me.”
Forgive it and forget it. Let the wound heal.
I’d like to inject into your home these three things — love, acceptance and forgiveness — but I can’t. All I can do is point you to Jesus. He loves you, accepts you and forgives you. As you are exposed to His love, you can begin to love. As you realize His aceptance, you can begin to accept others. As you experience His forgiveness, you can forgive.
How many of your past sins does God remember? None whatever. There is no record of you in heaven as a sinner. Insofar as God is concerned, your life began clean when Jesus became your Lord. Bless God. That’s strong. That’s forgiveness. Put it to work in your home.
— Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness by Jerry Cook (with Stanley C. Baldwin)
Wow, that was long. But totally worth it. I want to remember this always, and continue following God’s lead in establishing this atmosphere in my home. I can already see His hand leading me in this direction, though I hadn’t ever seen it all written out in one place exactly like this before.
Total acceptance. This is something God has been placing on my heart lately. Understanding that acceptance of a person is not approval or endorsement of sin. Love, acceptance and forgiveness should always be fully loaded and ready to fire out the cannon of my spiritual weaponry.
How is judging, criticizing or being hurt going to help anything? It won’t! But the love of God is a powerful healing force, and it is “the goodness of God” that “leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). May God’s goodness — His grace, His undeserved favor, be upon you today!