It's Valentine's Day, and I've got no expectations except that my husband would generously do this one thing I ask of him. Just one thing. It will only take five minutes, I say. For today, I subtly embrace the excuse to be served rather than serve. I'm broken in the first hour, broken by his unwilling no and by the grip of my heart on my kingdom. I wrestle with God—why can't he just do what I ask? I got up early. I took care of our daughter. I cleaned all our dishes, and I made his coffee.
The listing of my supposed love hastens a familiar parable etched on my heart:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Justification. In my pride, I'm looking to be justified by my "acts of love," and all I'm doing is choosing my ragged righteousness over the King who calls me to become the least. The Word pierces and starts the breaking of my hard heart, asking me to release my husband from contempt and go stand next to him like we're on the same team.
I head off to Bible study, feeling too vulnerable with my lingering repentance, knowing I'm called to lead from this place. It's our second meeting, and I'm fighting the flesh that wants to hide and appear better than what I know to be true of the pride I’ve seen in my heart. I fight with this exhortation He gave me so long ago for women's gatherings:
Care less about being known and more about making Me known.
I wade deep into the Scriptures with these fresh faces. We're studying Ephesians 1 and asking the question—what does it mean to be "in Christ"? The Spirit prompts a good time for me to share my brokenness. I read from the page of my journal, the entry just hours before, a confession and repentance bleak with my own un-righteousness so they know if there's anything good they see in me, they're getting a glimpse at Christ:
"To be hidden in Christ is to forsake looking for and preserving honor in man's eyes. It is to thwart giving into temptation to protect my worth when it feels threatened by lack of service or inconsiderate treatment. It is to entrust myself to the Father, living in the value He created me with, the unthinkable value He proved as His Son was stripped of it in man's eyes. It is to pierce my pride that keeps a record and thinks I deserve anything, that falsely protects with bitterness and frustration. It is to forgive as I have been forgiven. It is to see and cherish things that are above, to know that I have died—with Christ."
I pull into the house, and my husband makes it clear he's in a hurry. I ask something of him only to realize I've inconvenienced him, and I'm nearly crushed again. How, Jesus, did you endure being “despised and rejected by men”?
He leaves and I'm teary as I embrace the way of the Kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek… I look deeper into the heart of my King, bringing him my hurt and asking to hide in Him. Asking that if I die to my pride that wants to shout and grow bitter and not deny self but exalt it with defenses, could I die with Christ? Would He join me in this place where the pain of laying down my own sin and shame and the sting of my husband's sin feels too much to bear alone?
He texts me about dinner: Steak or Chicken? Cooking is one of the ways he's loved me so well all these years. Tonight could be special. I respond that it's up to him, the chef, and I keep to myself all the pain I'm working through, the yearning to be loved differently—the yearning to be worthy of a different love.
He's confused about my excitement—about where it is. He's looking, but he's not seeing what I want him to see. What he obviously has not seen in our interactions, but I remember one of marriage's lessons: Only the Spirit gives eyes to the unseen. Only the Spirit changes the heart.
The Kingdom is coming in my heart, so I share a peek at the ache not for any other reason but to apologize for my lack of excitement. A simple text: "I'm sorry. I'm really trying to work through my expectations and not feeling worthy in your eyes with the Lord."
His response is startling and seemingly unrelated. He doesn't ask questions or return back to the Valentine's conversation. He says he's amazed at my endurance in the hard of motherhood. I thank him for noticing God at work in me. I cry a little harder and beg God to keep working in me.
Hours later he returns, and I'm tender still. I look at my daughter's face when he comes in, like I always do. She lights up in the most bashful way, and I love them both more because of it. He leans in to kiss her like he always does, and I'm caught off guard when it's me he kisses.
"I'm sorry I haven't treated you well lately. There's no excuse and you don't deserve it. I love you. Will you forgive me?"
Everything inside me halts. His words resuscitate me, reviving that death I'd surrendered to in the quiet with Christ. This confession laced with humility is producing in me the promise: "For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." 2 Corinthians 4:11-12 (emphasis mine)
The life of Jesus manifested here, in my heart, in my marriage. Jesus—the One who was never indifferent or stiff to humble repentance. Jesus—the One who never turned away genuine expression of love and need. Jesus—the One who never keeps a record of my wrongs, who never treats me as my sins deserve, but forgives, always forgives.
Only because of Jesus, I'm not stoic to my husband's kiss nor am I cold to his request. Dying with Christ through sacrifice, submission, and surrender forms in me a posture to receive with gratitude. I nod with tears and breathe out a smile, and I marvel over the kindness of God.
Too many times before I've asked for my husband's repentance, only to feel unsatisfied and unrestored when he concedes. I've expected an apology, only to feel miffed and justified when he surrenders a forced sorry. In my bitterness and self-righteous hurt, I've walled up and made it clear that if he wants a happy marriage again, he will have to come begging. I've surely made it difficult for my husband to humbly repent and seek reconciliation.
But this day, this Valentine's Day of all days, is a day of enlightenment. A day where I discovered more of what it means to be in Christ through dying with Him. Where I found more of Christ’s life through the loss of mine. Where the King’s ways and values proved to be of the greatest blessing.
And the steak my husband prepared for our dinner tasted infinitely richer in the unhindered fellowship only a God merciful and gracious could achieve.