“Having healthy Interpersonal relationships is the hardest thing we try to accomplish as human beings”
-Ward Urion Executive Director of Lifewire
This quote struck my mind like a lightning bolt in 2016 when I first met Ward. He was a seasoned counselor and advocate for broken marriages and people suffering domestic violence.
The quote was helpful to me because it had a note of grace and acceptance. He did not wave troubled marriages off dismissively as if they had a rare and incurable disease. He did not look down on them like they were lost causes struggling with something that the rest of us had already figured out.
No, Ward was clear, everyone struggles with interpersonal relationships and EVERYONE struggles with making marriage work.
Now it is true that some marriages have less pain than others.
But all marriages have pain.
And all marriages require the husband and wife to do things like change, apologize, forgive, have mercy and “try again”
It was June 13 twenty years ago that I married my high school sweetheart. We had a lot in common. We both loved the tacos at San Antonio Taco Company
We also had the added advantage of knowing each other and dating exclusively for 5 years leading up to our wedding. We had traveled together, fought together, and attended college together. We also had a common belief that Jesus was the answer to life’s biggest questions. You would think this would set us up for a flawless and peaceful marriage. But it didn’t.
We had fights.
I lost my temper.
And sometimes we would give each other the silent treatment.
Then we started having kids. Five kids to be exact. We needed help. Believe it or not, Jesus was the answer.
Now you might be saying how can some guy who lived 2,000 years ago 2,000 miles away be of any help to me today? Well you would be surprised. Jesus actually helps us deal with the guilt and shame that comes from fighting. He helps us save face with God and with each other in a way that no one else can.
Let me explain.
When we live together we inevitably end up hurting our spouse either by doing something wrong or by leaving something good undone. When we hurt them it produces both guilt and shame.
The most valuable gift that Jesus gave to us was the ability to deal with our shame and guilt.
Most of the time when Christians talk about Jesus, they talk about guilt and forgiveness. Jesus was big on forgiveness. He even taught if someone close to you (like your spouse) “sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4). This is so important because it shows how God treats us when we come to him. God’s forgiveness has no limits. And it is also important because it teaches us how to treat our spouse.
But before we think about that we need to talk about shame.
Guilt and shame are similar but different. As my friend Werner Mischke says in his book the Global Gospel
“Guilt is about what I’ve done. But shame is about who I am.” (Mischke p.63)
Guilt feels external. Shame feels internal. As a married couple we needed help with both. When I hurt Erin, I was guilty but my actions filled her with shame. If we deal only with guilt but don’t address the shame, then we will never be fully helped.
According to the Bible, when God created human beings in his image and likeness he created us in such an honorable way that he could spend time with us face-to-face talking with us as a man talks with his friends (Exodus 33:11 & Genesis 3:8).
The first married couple experienced this honor of access to God’s face. But then they screwed it up for the rest of us. They made a terrible decision that dishonored God and brought shame on the entire human family.
“When Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). In the original Hebrew language, this verse reveals that “hiding” is the “withdrawing away from the face (Hebrew: pānîm) of God.” This is the result of sin. It is deeply negative; it is hiding and shame – the loss of “face.” (Mischke p. 241)
This shameful act was called sin. As Werner explains,
“The world was cursed under Adam’s sin, and God was sorrowful (Genesis 6:7). Sin is not only the violation of God’s laws. It is ultimately dishonoring of God’s Person... Sin is falling short of an ethical standard, but much more than that, sin is falling short of the glory and honor of God (Romans 3:23).” (Mischke p. 243)
Instead of allowing us to remain in this dishonorable state God made a plan to cover their shame. God’s plan was to choose one family that he would use to bless all peoples. Just twelve chapters later we are introduced to this family. The husband’s name is Abraham.
God promises Abraham, “I will bless you and make your name great and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) This constitutes God’s plan – to reverse the shame of sin and restore his blessing on all humanity through Abraham’s offspring. This promise and plan of God comes to full fruition thousands of years later in Jesus who was himself a descendant of Abraham and the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Jesus suffered the shame of losing God’s face on the cross so that now all peoples- all tribes and tongues and nations can receive the honor of joining God’s family and seeing God’s face once again.
Because of Jesus my wife and I discovered a way out of the shame and guilt that came from having a troubled marriage. Jesus removed my guilt as a husband and removed her shame as my wife.
“In John 12, Jesus was praying to the Father. His soul was filled with fathomless sorrow about enduring the coming events- arrest, mocking, flogging, and torture, humiliating crucifixion to bear the sins of the world, separation and rejection from the Father.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28).
When Jesus prays, “Father glorify your name,” he is essentially saying, Father, vindicate your honor! Save your “face”!
Why would the death and resurrection of Christ vindicate God’s honor? Because it is the only way that God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth could have come true.
God’s credibility hinged on a means for all peoples to be blessed and redeemed… There was only one way that God’s plan to bless all families- to reverse the curse among all peoples- could be guaranteed: through a heart-captivating faith that individuals and people everywhere would place in the name, honor, and finished work of Jesus Christ, a faith that transcends culture…
Jackson Wu Explains:
“Christ’s atonement centrally concerns the honor of God and the shame of man. Salvation preserves God’s honor and takes away human shame. God keeps his promises made…to Abraham. Jesus’ death therefore vindicates God’s name. Therefore God’s people will not be put to shame. Christ perfectly honored the Father, who then reckons worthy of honor all who, by faith, are united to Christ…Jesus is a substitute in that he pays the honor-debt and the life-debt owed by sinful creatures.”
Ward was right. Interpersonal relationships are the most difficult thing we will try to achieve in this life. Just look at how many people can succeed in business, sports and film-making and yet make a total wreck of their home lives! But, that does not have to be our path. Understanding how Jesus takes away our shame on the cross gives us a new strength. It literally gives us a new perspective on our marital fights and our disagreements. No matter what our spouse has done or left undone he/she cannot ultimately dishonor us. Our honor is bound up in life death and resurrection of Jesus.
If you have a troubled marriage, you do not have an incurable disease. Every marriage has shame and guilt and my wife and I are no exception. But when Erin and I began to see what Jackson Wu was talking about it, it gave us a new surprising power to do what Jesus talked about in Luke 17:4 - to forgive each other, sometimes 7 times a day.
Check back next week for Part 2 – Speaking Up When Your Spouse Can’t Read Your Mind