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Biff and Mable came to me for counseling. They were angry with each other. Imagine that: two sinners living in proximity to each other for an extended period, and they were frustrated with each other. There was low-grade anger running underneath the surface of their lives that would spike every few weeks into full-blown arguments.
During our counseling, I asked Mable what was wrong with the marriage. Without hesitation or skipping a beat, she gave me a long, clear, and detailed list of all the things that were wrong with Biff.
There was no question about it: Biff was a failure.
Because I like to play fair, I turned to Biff and asked him about the state of their marriage. Without flinching or taking a breath, he gave me a list of all the things that Mable had done wrong in their marriage.
There was no question about it: Mable was a failure.
Two people were looking at the same thing but had two completely different perspectives on how their marriage became such a dysfunctional mess.
Not to be discouraged, and because of their impeccable memories about what was wrong with their marriage, I turned back to Mable and asked her to give me a list of all the positive things that she appreciated about Biff. I asked Biff for a similar list regarding Mable.
At that point, a fascinating thing happened in our counseling session. Without warning and within seconds, both of them were stricken with an acute case of amnesia. I never saw it coming.
Because my combatants were stuck in a self-imposed self-righteous funk, I decided to take another angle to solve the puzzle. When honesty is not working, the most useful thing to do is “take it up the chain” by bringing Jesus into the situation.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
A proper application of the Savior’s teaching in Matthew could be to build a “log list.” And so, I asked each spouse to list all the ways they had personally failed in their marriage. The one stipulation was they could not add the word “but” to any of their reasons for their failures in the marriage.
Their log lists were to include all overt as well as the less discernible offenses that they had inflicted on each other. They were to leave nothing off their log lists.
Simultaneously building their log lists, I asked them to create a “grace list.” They were to write down all of the good things they appreciated about their spouse, as well as all the kind things their spouse does in their marriage, family, and community.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4).
In addition to their ongoing grace lists, I asked them to begin communicating these “evidences of grace” to each other (Ephesians 4:29). As the Lord reminded them of His good work in the life of their spouse, they were to share these “evidences” to build up the other person.
Crazy idea, I know!
I want to say they did what I asked them to do, but that was not the case. It is rare for any couple to take this challenge because of the claim that stubbornness, unforgiveness, and other pride-related issues have on the heart.
The gospel is radical by itself, but it is even more drastic when two people begin to practicalize it into their lives. What about you? Has the gospel revolutionized you? There are two ways you can self-assess.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, and do good. For he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:32-33, 35).
If you want to transform your marriage (or any other relationship), here are four things you can do today:
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).