Recently I was helping my wife, Erin, cook a family meal. My job was to cook the chicken. I was using Erin’s favorite cookware: a skillet and glass lid that she’d had for years. After the chicken was a savory golden-brown and placed on a platter, I removed the skillet and lid from the stove and placed them in the sink.
Immediately, from across the kitchen, Erin yelled, “Make sure that you don’t run cold water over the lid!”
I’m not an idiot, I thought to myself. I know how to wash dishes without instructions!
And then everything went chaotic. One moment I was rolling my eyes at Erin’s nerve to tell me how to clean up, and the next moment I thought I’d just been shot.
As soon as I ran cold water over the hot lid, the glass exploded. All I remember was hearing a loud popping sound and then glass was raining down everywhere. It sounded like gunfire, but instead of diving to the ground, I just froze, staring in disbelief at the wreckage around me. All that was left was a handle (which I was still holding) and a 12-inch metal ring rolling to a stop at the bottom of the sink.
I looked at Erin, who stood with her hands on her hips, shaking her head.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to use cold water,” I said with a sheepish grin.
The most amazing part of this story was that Erin didn’t say a word in response to my bungle. She had every right to be upset and to feel frustrated with me. After all, I had ignored her warning and destroyed her favorite cookware. She would have been justified to lecture me or to demand that I clean up the mess I’d created.
But she did none of that. Instead, she calmly inspected my face for wounds from the exploding lid and then helped me sweep up the countless tiny pieces of glass that were strewn across the kitchen floor.
Later that night, I thought about this experience and how it had had the potential to hijack our relationship. Erin and I could have easily gone from cooking to conflict because of one broken lid. However, not only had there been no fight, but I actually felt closer to Erin through this shared experience. Why? What was the main difference? One word flooded by mind: grace.
Grace had been the difference between a husband and wife in conflict and a couple feeling connected. Grace truly is an amazing gift you can give your spouse!
Theologically speaking, grace is an essential way in which God expresses His love for us. The Oxford Dictionary defines grace as “the free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” And the apostle Paul reminds us that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Grace in marriage
God perfectly and consistently exemplifies grace because He is gracious by nature. But as fallen creatures, we often struggle to extend grace — and that can be especially true in marriage. How can you tell if grace is lacking in your relationship with your spouse? Consider the following questions:
- Do you become frustrated over little things your spouse does?
- Does your spouse have certain behaviors or quirks that irritate you?
- Are you tired of trying to change your spouse to no avail?
- Does your spouse accuse you of nagging and nitpicking?
- Do you find yourself regularly losing patience and getting snippy with your spouse?
- Do you assume the worst about your spouse or jump to negative conclusions?
- Are you overly critical of your spouse?
- Do you expect your spouse to read your mind, decode your body language or meet all your needs?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you might be going through a difficult season in your marriage. It’s possible that grace has been replaced by hurt, frustration and resentment. These hurtful feelings toward your spouse could have been slowly building so that your heart has shut down or is hardening. And yet there’s hope.
Grace has a way of recalibrating our relationships. So how can we emulate God and apply this amazing gift within marriage?
Grace is exactly what I need from my wife, and exactly what she needs from me — a commitment to love her exactly where she is. Grace looks past the things Erin does that frustrate me so I can see what’s true about her. It’s about remembering who Erin really is on the inside, not just how she’s irritating me in the moment.
Grace believes the best about our spouse. It fights through the messiness of a particular incident or behavior and remembers that our spouse is a son or daughter of the Most High King. He or she is made in God’s image and is of inestimable value — this is always true!
This is exactly what Erin did for me after I shattered her favorite cooking lid. Instead of focusing on what I did in that moment, she extended grace — she chose to focus on who I am, who I’ve been for the past 25 years. In that moment, Erin gave me the benefit of the doubt. This is a powerful attribute of grace. Instead of making assumptions about our spouse’s motives, grace tries to understand where he or she is coming from. It forces us to then ask: “I know your heart even though your present actions are perplexing. Help me understand what’s going on.”
Another part of Erin’s act of grace that evening was that instead of reacting to my blunder, she was “slow to anger,” which means she exercised patience when I was conducting myself like a difficult person. That was the key for us that night. After I messed up, Erin gave me grace and bestowed blessings in the form of patience, kindness and forgiveness. She forgave me as God has forgiven her. Erin lived out Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” I’m grateful — and your spouse will be, too.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.
Based on research and experience from Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Focus on the Family has created valid and reliable questions that evaluate the strength of your marriage. Take our free assessment now.