I had been struggling with an issue in my marriage that I just didn’t know how to resolve. My willingness to fix it did not give me the tools to fix it.
And so I went to counseling a couple months ago, for the first time, during one of the best seasons of my life. I recognized my need for help. Talking to my husband and to friends about the problem just wasn’t enough.
I’m not embarrassed to say I went to counseling. Probably every one of us could use a professional “friend.” We all have weaknesses. I realized it was time for me to reach out.
I prayed for my counselor before I met her. I asked God to give her words for me that I needed to hear. And she did. She listened. I cried. We talked about my past. We talked about what the Bible says. She gave me a great book to read. I was excited because she was really addressing the problem I came in to get help with.
Then during our second session, she surprised me. She asked if I believed God really does forgive anything. I said yes, definitely. Then she said that whenever we struggle to believe that, or to believe anything God says in His Word, we are putting ourselves as a higher authority than God Almighty. When we doubt what He says, we are placing our own opinions above His.
I was thinking, “OK, I agree with that. I don’t think I struggle with that.”
She had a crown on her desk. When she asked me what a crown represents, I answered, “Royalty. Authority.”
And then she showed me a diagram. “Who is on the throne?” was at the top. On one side, she described the gospel (good news).
There was a crown to show that God was on the throne.
-When God is on the throne, we are saved by GRACE.
-We are no longer condemned.
-Because of Jesus’ death, we no longer deserve any punishment.
-This results in LIFE.
I nodded. Yep, got it, raised on it, believe it. Check.
On the other side of the diagram... She said Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” We may not realize when we do this, but we often put our SELF on the throne.
-When self is on the throne, you become the lawmaker.
I decide what makes a good spouse, friend, child, pastor, etc.
-You make yourself the Judge.
I know immediately when people fail to meet my expectations.
-It’s up to you to dispense punishment.
I withhold affection or friendship or I pout to get others to know they’ve failed me!
-This results in DESTRUCTION of yourself and relationships.
Ugh. Yes, it does.
I was stunned. I could see this exact scenario playing out the night before at my house. My husband wasn’t helping out enough. I felt like I was doing all the chores. So I was grumpy. I ignored him and wouldn’t be friendly or cheerful. I was punishing him.
My counselor gave a personal example. Suppose she had a long day, with lots of difficult counseling sessions. When she and her husband got in the car to go home and she expressed to him what a rough day it was, she could have expectations that her husband would see she was wiped out and then would be “a good husband.” In her mind, a good husband would offer to make dinner or let her take a bath. If he failed to live up to her standards, she would have the right to punish him. Right??
I was cringing. Totally me! Like all the time.
Then she gestured upward from her heart to the heavens, and she said that if we go to the Lord for all our needs and fulfillment and expectations, it frees all others in our lives from living up to our perfect expectations. Then anything they do for us is a blessing, a bonus. We can just continually give grace. Stop keeping track of all the ways others fail us.
I was stunned. Like whaaaaat? I don’t have to live that way anymore? I don’t have to constantly feel let down, frustrated, annoyed, or disappointed with others? I really do struggle with this, you guys. I understand that God gives grace, but being able to constantly give it myself is not easy. Not. Easy.
I told my counselor that I was amazed by this idea. She said my assignment was just to stop and RECOGNIZE every time I started to put that crown back on my own head to be the judge of others.
Before I left I thanked her. And then I cried all the way home. I felt overwhelmed by hope. Hope that I would not have to live that way anymore. It is a sad and frustrating place to be, constantly feeling let down by others’ actions. It sucks, actually.
I just kept thinking, “Grace! Amazing grace. I choose grace.”
I looked up this verse:
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
So that was a couple of months ago now. I still struggle with this. I do recognize when I’m putting the crown on my own head, but there’s still a stubbornness in me that doesn’t like to extend grace.
I’ve been reading Lysa Terkeurst’s book Uninvited, and the chapter called “Friendship Breakups” really touched me. I just read it last week, and as usual, God's timing was perfect. Let her words apply to whatever relationship in which you have trouble giving grace, whether it is a friend, your spouse, a family member, etc.
Lysa describes a friendship of hers that ended after many misunderstandings.
“I imagine you, like me, have a few file folders of proof that build a solid case that we are in fact right! Justified! Not guilty!
“Bang the gavel. Be declared winner. Pump my fist. Feel so vindicated. Walk out victorious. But let’s be honest. You’ve got two pierced souls, a friendship that ended, and a contact now deleted. Is there ever really a winner in a case like this?...
“At this point I’m compelled to reach across this page, grab your hand, and say, ‘Bitterness and resentment have no place in a heart as beautiful as yours.’ I say it, because I need to hear it too…
“But then one day this terrible, wonderful notion popped into my head: Fight for her…
“That’s it. That’s all that kept rumbling around in my heart.
“I rewound the tape all the way back to when I stood with a file folder full of my proof, denying myself the pleasure of presenting a case in my favor. I realized though I hadn’t allowed myself to voice my case, this proof had become my secret treasure. I would quietly revisit it sometimes to privately enjoy it. But just as with any secret treat, just because no one sees you eat it doesn’t mean the calories don’t affect you. Being right tastes good but isn’t worth the bloating it causes.
“Fight for her…
“Ephesians 6:12…’For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’
“We have an enemy, and it’s not each other.
“I point my crosshairs at the real enemy and start firing off positive statements about my friend. I list three things about her that are absolutely terrific. Then I remember a fourth and a fifth. I picture each of these positive statements wounding the Devil as this hits him squarely where he’s most vulnerable. Truth proclaimed and lived out is a fiercely accurate weapon against evil…
“Is any of this easy? No, not at all. It’s so very hard. But it’s good for my soul to get to this place. It keeps me in a place of acknowledging God as God. It’s saying: I don’t know all the details entangled in this issue. But You know all. Therefore, You, God, are the only One who can handle all. There are a lot of things my flesh is tempted to seek- fairness, my right to be right, proof of her wrongdoing, to make her see things from my vantage point- but at this point, the only thing healthy for me to seek is You. You alone. I’m going to be obedient to You and let You handle everything else.
“So I fight for her.
“Not because we will reconnect. We haven’t. And we might not.
“Not because she’s right.
“Not because I’m right.
“I fight for her simply because I want to stay right in step with honoring God.”
My prayer for you as you read this is that God will speak to your heart and show you to whom you need to give grace. Remember that putting the crown on your own head leads to destruction of yourself and relationships. Remember to fight for her. Or to fight for him. Remember who the real enemy is!
I want to honor God this way. But I am (and always will be) a work-in-progress, and this is not easy for me. A daily struggle. But I want to be pleasing to God and to be beautiful within. I pray the same for you.