My struggle with pride is so often tested in the context of marriage. It is most apparent when I have to apologize to Edric, too. Why? Because I tend to think that I am right and he is wrong (which doesn’t make me right!) I also think that offering an apology means to raise the white flag of surrender — to give up a strategic advantage in a verbal conflict. (Also wrong.)
Let me illustrate this problem of mine in a story. On Monday I felt weak, like I was coming down with the flu. My body was heavy, my brain was foggy, and I had little appetite. Being overwhelmed by the kids’ homeschool portfolios heightened my feelings of malaise, too. If I could have laid down to sleep off the fatigue I would have but the kids needed me and I had responsibilities to get done.
Since it was date night and Edric and I were set to enjoy a buffet dinner together, my mid-afternoon phone call about changing the plans came as a disappointment to him. But in my state I wouldn’t have been much fun and the thought of eating a huge meal when I couldn’t appreciate it was unconscionable. So I requested to do date night at home, with a movie on the couch. Not too exciting. Edric agreed but he wasn’t thrilled.
When he got home, I didn’t greet him immediately, either, which was a mistake. He hollered for a bit while awaiting my appearance at the bottom of the stairs to run into his arms. However, I stayed upstairs on my bed, half resting, half hovering over papers, trying to grade Elijah’s physical science tests. When Edric saw me, he commented, “Oh so this is why you wanted to stay home, because you had to get homeschool work done.”
“No, I really am not feeling well,” I replied.
Perceiving me as preoccupied, he took the kids to the garden to throw the ball around.
When evening settled in and dinner was done, Edric and I asked the kids to give us some time alone in the family room. We talked about Edric’s day — the highlights and lowlights. He opened up about a major problem at work which disheartened him so we spent some moments in prayer together, lifting up the issue to the Lord. I thought that this exchange qualified as a good substitute for a conversation we might have had over if we had gone out that night. Afterwards, we watched the film, Unbroken. (A great film!)
Interested in the true life story of the character being portrayed, Louie Zamparini, I googled the guy and read an online biography about him. When the movie ended I was still on my phone reading so Edric interjected, “So you’re still busy.”
“Nope. I was just reading about Zamparini.” Shortly after I put my phone down, too.
When we retired to bed, he didn’t attempt to cap off the night with a conversation. Instead, he turned over to his side and said flatly, “Goodnight. I love you.”
After nearly fifteen years of marriage and almost twenty years of knowing one another, I am very sensitive to Edric’s mannerisms and tone of voice. I most certainly know when he is upset. So I asked, “What’s wrong? Are you upset?”
No answer came. I waited for a few moments. Absolute silence. Then, in my irritation I said, “I really feel hurt when you don’t answer me.”
He didn’t like this comment at all. It roused him from his pretend slumber and he turned around to face me. Then he proceeded to enumerate the different ways I disappointed him that afternoon and evening. His primary sentiment was, I didn’t give him the time and attention he expected to receive. I was too busy for him. Plus, he hoped to end the evening with intimacy, but he felt like I was not interested because I was sick.
Since the evening didn’t play out the way he imagined it would he decided to go to bed. And my question and comment to him about not answering me felt like an insult that he explained as, “turning the tables around and projecting him as the bad guy.” With indignation he asked, “What do you want from me?”
I responded in a feeling-holier-than-thou sort of way, “I want you to be spirit filled when you respond to me.”
He took this as a verbal jab. Okay…it was. I didn’t like his aggressive tone and I felt like he was only looking at things from his perspective. Wasn’t I the sick one here? I had a long day, too. And didn’t we have a wonderful moment on the couch to talk and pray together?
I even added at one point, “So are you faulting me for being sick?”
He responded with, “Are you about to get your period?”
“No and this has nothing to do with getting my period.” (Why do husbands always think this is a reason?!)
There was silence again. His corner and my corner.
As I wrestled in the quiet with my feelings, more specifically, my pride, I prayed that God would help Edric to see that HE WAS THE WRONG ONE, that he was the one over-reacting. Then I waited for Edric to be convicted.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, I heard God address me and my attitude. He told me, very clearly, YOU HUMBLE YOURSELF. Initiate saying sorry. You said you wanted to improve in this area, so humble yourself. You be the one to ask for forgiveness first…for your tone, your irritation and not prioritizing him.
I wanted to ignore the prodding but it was incessant. Furthermore, Edric remained unmoved. Finally I remembered reading about loving God during a recent morning quiet time: TO LOVE GOD IS TO OBEY GOD.
“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” John 14:21
Would I dare to defy and resist God himself?! No way. Not when it came down to that. This wasn’t a fight between Edric and me, this was an occasion that revealed the real war raging beneath the surface — me vs. obeying God by choosing humility over pride.
So I yielded. With gentleness (which could have only come for the Lord) and with quietness of spirit (which also came from Him), I asked Edric to forgive me for my disrespect — for not prioritizing him, for being angry, and for saying the things I did during our conversation.
I found out later on that Edric was shocked by this uncharacteristic behavior of mine. I am ashamed to admit that he usually apologizes first.
But I am also happy to say that after surrendering my rights and feelings, and entrusting them to the Lord, my vindictiveness dissipated. I cried for a little bit to myself, which felt like being cleansed somehow…like ugliness was draining out of me. I was honest with God, “Sometimes it’s so hard to follow you. It’s so HUMBLING!” But He comforted me with his sweet presence as I lay there, in the dark, with my head pressed against my pillow. What followed was relief and liberty, like I had made I through a spiritual test.
Then came something unprecedented. God asked me to initiate intimacy with Edric. “Tell him you will also have sex with him.”
“What?! Lord! That’s too much! That’s giving in too much!”
But I knew why God was asking me to do this. (Let’s not get uncomfortable about sex, okay? This is what you are supposed to do in marriage!) Offering to have sex to Edric, in the context of an argument or at the conclusion of one, was to abandon my tower of pride and to break down my walls of self-preservation. Inviting him to intimacy was to tell him, “I still love you. I still forgive you.” It was an offering of grace.
Edric also revealed to me later on that he didn’t know what to say because I don’t EVER tell him this when we have come from an argument! He was too shocked to say yes! How awkward was this?! But I was thinking…Yey, he didn’t say yes! But Lord, please see that I obeyed by asking, okay?
Two days after Edric and I had a great conversation to repair and heal our relationship. Edric also owned up to the areas where he should have been kinder and sweeter to me.
What’s my point in sharing this very personal story? Humility in marriage doesn’t make me the loser like I wrongfully think it does. It’s being prideful that does. When I always want to win an argument, discussion, or maintain my fighting position, the effect is more pain and anger for Edric and me. In contrast, when I aim to please God and obey Him when he tells me to say sorry, admit my shortcomings, and move towards Edric with a sincere desire to reconcile and restore our marriage, this act of emptying myself of ME invites Christ to fill the space that pride has vacated. What pride refuses to do, Christ enables me to — to wholeheartedly love and forgive Edric, and to enjoy him again. It’s always a gain to choose God’s ways over mine. And always a win when God is glorified.
I don’t know what kind of marriage you are in or what kind of struggles you have as a spouse. But all of us ought to love the way Christ loves us. And a lot of times this may mean denying our prideful-ness and replacing it with the grace He gives to apologize, forgive, accept, hope, and remain committed to the one we vowed to love. So whenever you say sorry first, admitting to the hurt you have caused in your marriage, think of it as surrendering to God, not your spouse.
My father said that “grace is more than unmerited favor, it is the ability to accomplish God’s will.” As Titus 2:11-12 explains, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”
Let me leave you with an insight from author, speaker, and apologist, Ravi Zacharias. “Love is a commitment that will be tested in the most vulnerable areas of spirituality, a commitment that will force you to make some very difficult choices. It is a commitment that demands that you deal with your lust, your greed, your pride, your power, your desire to control, your temper, your patience, and every area of temptation that the Bible clearly talks about. It demands the quality of commitment that Jesus demonstrates in His relationship to us.”