In his thought-provoking book, The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason compares our spouse to a great tree “growing up in the center of one’s living room.” Mason goes on to say how beautiful and unique the tree is – how utterly rooted and unmovable. Standing in the middle of everything, my husband is so stubbornly inconvenient!
That image describes well my first year of marriage.
Bob, standing in the middle of everything, has eyes that see me all the time. For the first time, a husband’s eyes are on me full-time.
My deepest disappointment in singleness was the lack of one, consistent witness to my life. I wanted one someone to know how the holidays make me melancholy. How I don’t like my food to touch on the plate. How cleaning my car is somehow soul satisfying. I wanted the dignity of a daily witness: Yes, I once walked this earth and I was known and loved.
And I got a witness—and more! Bob’s eyes are attentive. For example, he wrote 26 post-it notes for our one-year anniversary. Scattered around the house were alphabetical and observant descriptions of me (adorable, beautiful, consistent). I’d holler, “Found another note!” like a giddy girl on an Easter egg hunt. I felt seen like never before. I drank it in with big gulps.
Other times, the constancy of his eyes feels less affirming. An innocent comment about dinner can send me to shame (“I am an awful cook. I should know how to do this better by now.”). A careless inspection and I escalate further down the slippery slope of self-contempt (“I’ll never live up to Bob’s expectations of a ‘good wife.’ I hate myself for trying.”).
And, when we get in a fight, my scrutiny can be like a chainsaw to his dignity. I try to chop Bob down by blaming. (“If you only stopped doing ______, [fill in the blank with some real or perceived failure], then I would be a better ________” [fill in the blank with something I should be better at]). It’s not pretty.
More often than not, Bob’s eyes of exposure collude with my inner critic and the lies of the enemy to form an unholy trinity. Even when his witness is neutral, I can turn it negatively inward–or as author Brene Brown would call a “shame trigger.”
Bob is now outnumbered by my shame added to the enemy’s accusations. The solution? Surrendering myself to a different tree.
On the Cross, Jesus colluded with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Their verdict is true: I am utterly flawed and broken. I am worse than I know and unable to change by myself. When I agree with their valuation, the enemy is tongue-tied. What else can he say? Busted.
I can’t make myself right in anyone’s eyes, not mine, not Bob’s. What’s left but to cry out to God to change me?
Humility draws me close to the Lord and to my new husband. When I confess my guilt to Bob, our common frailties help us give one another compassion, not judgment. When we remind one another that Jesus remedied the death of Eden’s first tree with His death on the second tree, then our eyes become more gentle. We accept our humanness. Dignity is restored. Under the branches of grace, change has a chance.
We have a long way to go, and Bob and I are just beginning to live under grace as husband and wife. But I pray that the inconvenient and unique tree in center of our living room will remind us of a better tree, a beautiful place of shade and rest for our marriage and for those we love.
[I wrote this a year ago, but thought I would share it here for the first time. We are still learning and growing. Grace upon grace!] For inspiration about experiencing God’s grace in marriage, take a look at Taylor’s story.
–Judy Nelson Lewis