Stubborn people have a tendency to pick fights. That’s me. It helps that I argue like a boss. When you come from a family of politicians arguing and winning are your thing. This is where I shine. So winning conflicts in my marriage isn’t necessarily a problem. The problem is when I value winning at all costs.
A few years ago, in Rob Bell’s Love Wins—a book not about marriage and relationship—I read something that made me realize just how much was on the line when it comes to stubbornness, fighting and the future of my marriage. Rob wrote,
“We aren’t fixed, static beings—we change and morph as life unfolds. As we choose evil, it often leads to more evil. Tell a lie, and moments later you find yourself telling another lie to cover up the first lie. And so on. When we choose to reject our God-given humanity, we can easily find ourselves in a rut, wearing grooves in a familiar path that is easier and easier to take…
What makes us think that after a lifetime, let alone hundreds or even thousands of years, somebody who has consciously chosen a particular path away from God suddenly wakes up one day and decides to head in a completely opposite direction?
That’s a wake up call. Because that means, I am, this moment, becoming who I will ultimately be. And if how I am choosing to live now, conflicts with who I want to see myself becoming later, then I better change my current course or change my future picture.
Every time I choose pride, every time I resist ownership in the problem, every time I want to make a point over making peace, I create a groove in my soul. I make a pathway in my brain that makes it easier next time to do the same, and harder next time, to make it right. So more than an argument is on the line. Who I am growing into, what kind of character I will have, how much integrity I will possess, is being determined in each and every conflict. Today. Right now. And if I value winning at all costs now, if I let my stubbornness call the shots now, I am making it less and less likely I won’t be that way later.
What will I become if all I ever practice is being right, instead of laying down my rights, if I forfeit connection for correctness, if I only ever defend myself and my motives against others, and not protect the heart of the one I’m in conflict with?
In that world, the future does not look bright.
Years ago I read about a Hasidic Jewish tradition that says at the time of birth, every human being is connected to God by a rope. But every time we sin, mess up, and fail to do what is right—when we offend, hurt, and buckle down in our pride in a refusal to own our shortcoming—the rope breaks.
But the tradition says, once the rope is broken, it doesn’t have to stay broken. It can be retied and knotted, again and again reclaiming connection with God. And with each knot made, the length of the rope gets shorter, accomplishing the unbelievable. The rope not just reconnects us with the one we’d created distance from. It moves us closer.
What if—this tradition asks—our shortcomings, failures and mistakes, were actually the things that drew us towards God, rather than pushed us away, allowing us the chance to experience more of Him, not less?
That’s grace. The picture of reconciliation in spite of ourselves. A God who closes the gap when we’ve done much to widen it.
But I wonder if it isn’t more than that too.
I wonder if there is the same sort of rope between each of us, as a human race. And I wonder if the same thing that happens to the rope when I sin against God, happens with Rodney, my kids, my friends, my co-workers, when I sin against them. I wonder if in some way, every time I offend, dig in my heels and refuse to own my part in the conflict, I’m severing the rope between us. Allowing the distance between us to grow farther and farther apart.
And I wonder if my willingness to say, “I’m sorry” is the first step to tying a new knot and closing the gap. Because the rope can’t be shortened, relationships can’t be repaired, unless we first profess our part in severing it in the first place. If we want a shortened rope, if we want the ones we’ve hurt to have the chance to close the gap between us, we have to name where we got it wrong, take ownership, and learn to say we’re sorry.
That’s how we create new grooves. That’s how we make new pathways. That’s how we change course.
It’s necessary for who we want to be right now, but also for who we want to be five years from now, ten years from now, and twenty. Will we be people with worn grooves of pride, arrogance and anger? Or will we be trailblazers of peace, honor, respect, and grace?
Who will we become?
As a wife, as a mom, as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend, I don’t want to be afraid to say, “I got it right sometimes. But sometimes I didn’t”. I don’t want to believe my reputation or my influence hinges on how often I picked the winning side of the argument, how often I was able to get away with, explain away, cover-up what I did wrong, or how persistent and insistent I was about something I was sure I was right about.
I want to believe, and then behave like I believe, that some of my best moments in my marriage and life will come when I am able to look the ones I sinned against in the eye, and say to them “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” That’s when grace is at her best. When we can admit to being at our worst.
Life is a series of breaking and mending of the rope between us, and our best relationships will be forged in the diligence we show in knotting and re-knotting the ties that bind, no matter what that costs our pride. It’s not easy. I like to win. I like to make sure it’s clear I’ve won. But I don’t want to be that person down the road. So I better work on being something better, today. There’s already enough in the world working to sever the ropes between us. I want to start being a rope mender. And stop being a robe breaker, because that’s what God did for me. I want to be a rope repairer, because that’s where stuff gets good. In the work of putting back together what we managed to break apart. And becoming stronger in the process, doing the work today, to become who we want to be tomorrow.
So what about you?
What would you stop doing today, and start doing today, to make your marriage the best it could be?