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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

List of Irritants

If you've ever lived with someone for any period of time, you've got one. I'm talking about that list of things they do or don't do that annoy us. No matter how much you love your spouse, you really wish she'd learn how to ring out the dishrag, stop making soup that way, park her car straight in the driveway, etc.

I remember when I first married, my wife would not wring out a dishrag to suit me. I got all bent out of shape about it. The harder I tried to make her do it "the right way," the more resistant she became to my instruction. It wasn't long before the struggle between us wasn't even about the stupid dishrag any more. I was intent on getting her to live by my expectations. She was equally intent on not allowing herself to be manipulated.

I was counseling someone recently, and he was describing his volatile relationship with his wife. They were fighting about everything it seemed. And the fights would escalate to some really ugly levels. He asked me why I don't have such fights in my marriage. At first, I didn't really have a good answer. But after I thought about it a bit, a realization came to me. It's more of a revelation actually. Let me explain.

Through the years of my marriage, I have made a mental list of all things that my wife does or doesn't do which irritate, frustrate, or annoy me. Now logic would tell you that such a list is to be placed on the table as a mandate. "Here are the things I need you to start or stop doing so that I can be happy in this relationship." Isn't that the conversation we'd all love to have? "I'll just develop this list of my demands for this relationship, you'll agree to meet them and we'll live happily ever after." Yeah, right!

So what's become of my list? And what happens to the new entrants to that list? You know, the new things that arise over time? Well, it seems that the list gets forgiven. That's right, forgiven. And to be honest, I'm convinced that is what God wants us to do with such lists.

So get together a list of all the things that your spouse does or doesn't do, is or isn't, has or doesn't have --- which make you unhappy. When you have that list compiled --- you'll actually have a huge treasure. This is the list of things you must forgive. It may also be the list of things you need God's supernatural help to forgive. (Did you even know that was available?)

I once did some marriage counseling and the wife was going on and on about all the things he did or didn't do which she found quite unacceptable. He didn't pick up his dirty socks. He didn't finish projects he started. He didn't like to go anywhere. He never put his dirty dishes in the sink. After each section of her ranting was complete, she would add a question. "Just how much of this do I have to put up with?"

Finally, I asked her if she wanted me to answer that question. She nodded that she did. So I told her. "You have to put up with all of it. That's what is meant by 'for better or for worse' in those marriage vows you took. Remember those?" Needless to say, she was shocked and deeply disappointed with my response to her complaining. Quite clearly she wanted me to take her side and convince him to change so that they could finally have a "good marriage."

Unfortunately, she didn't get what she wanted. I pointed out that he hadn't beaten her or kept her from God, and he hadn't committed any sort of adultery. So my my way of thinking, she had no grounds for divorce. Put another way, she had no grounds to do anything but forgive. And after she divorced him, I had to help him come to terms with the fact that she hadn't actually loved him. She loved herself more. And she was far more interested in being right than she was in being reconciled.

And so it has been with my own marriage. And your marriage. And any of our other committed relationships. We can make that list of things that irritate, annoy, frustrate and disappoint us. It'll be the list of things they do or don't do, have or don't have, are or aren't. I encourage you to make it as comprehensive a list as possible. Then there won't be any doubt about what you have to forgive and/or what you need God's help to forgive.

We can't forgive what we haven't identified. So we identify it, and place it on the altar as Jesus' feet - and walk way with all the forgiveness we'll ever need to restore and reconcile that relationship. And by doing so, we'll know that our intent in that reationship is sincere. It'll be when we are more focused on being reconciled than we are on being right or on having our position "heard." In fact, it is at this place in the relationship that we might also receive the forgiveness that we need.

'Oh Lord, forgive us as we forgive each other.'

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