Review Stage Two: Pain (Previous Blog)
Sooner or later we disappoint one another’s expectations of marriage. We hurt each other. Anger grows. We ruminate on one another's faults and failures. Walls build. The chasm of distance widens. We go from, “All I can see is what’s good about you” (Enchantment) to “All I can see is what’s bad about you” (Pain). Pride and pessimism characterize the pain stage of marriage. Some stay stuck in the pain stage for months or years. Some never get out. There is another way.
The Third stage of the marriage journey—growth—is represented by a mirror. We begin to grow when we stop blaming our spouse and start taking an honest look at ourselves for what is broken.
Key Attitude: “I’m beginning to see my own faults.”
Though many choose to stay stuck in the pain stage, there are a few who humble themselves. They know they’re lost; helpless to change. They choose a different path. They take the inward look and face themselves. “I’m so bitter, so far from you, God. Where have I gone wrong?” They seek help for the journey—a pastor, a small group, a counselor or a trusted friend who will speak truth in love. One wise pastor said, “The greatest day in your life is the day you face yourself.” That’s the path to growth. It takes honest self-evaluation through the Word of God, through the Spirit of God and by being fully known with the people of God. Deep questions are explored—“What do I do when I don’t get what I want?” “How does my spouse experience me? Does he/she feel my love?” “Have I ever really cared about anyone besides myself?” The answers are painful. Now there’s sorrow and remorse for one’s ugly self-centeredness. That’s the life-changing pain of brokenness and repentance. Repentance means changing our minds about who meets our needs for love and respect. Miraculously the focus is changing from, “All I can see is what’s bad about you” to “I’m beginning to see my own faults!”
Characterized by Humility and Self-Discovery
Humble confession. Naked. Honest. No excuses. We peel back the layers and see how selfish we are. Of course we thirst for love and meaning but we see how we’ve made our spouse into a god, the one from whom we’ve demanded answers for our deepest questions (Am I loved? Do I matter to anyone?). We see how we’ve walked past the one true God and grabbed our spouse by the throat saying, “Meet my needs!” The words of Jeremiah ring true—“‘Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,’ declares the Lord. ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’” (Jeremiah 2:12–13).
What does God do with all our mess? He forgives. No condemnation. He is kind and gentle. Gratitude—that’s the first sign of a humble and surrendered heart for such lavish and undeserved love. Affections grow. Christ is becoming the center in new ways. He’s the only source of lasting security and purpose in life. A new intimacy and identity are embraced—dearly loved child! And new desires emerge, “I want to be kind and tenderhearted. I want to learn how to forgive and give just as God in Christ forgives and gives to me.”
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Have you had “the greatest day in your life” by truly facing yourself? If you have, how did it happen; how did you begin to take an honest look at yourself and go from being stuck in pain and self-centeredness to growing toward loving God and your spouse? Are you still on that road to life change? How has change translated into serving and caring for your spouse? If you haven’t had your greatest day, what do you think might be holding you back?
Though there may be many things you wish were different in your marriage, are you able to say, “Christ is all I need” or are you finding that idea to be illusive? What do you think is the connection between knowing God like that and your ability to see and care about the needs of your spouse even when he or she disappoints you?
What do you think is your next step toward growth? Will you ask God to help you see it and take that step? If you’re stuck here, maybe your next step would mean asking your small group, pastor or a counselor to help you face yourself so you can experience God’s transforming grace.