Integrity Reborn

Can trust be re-born in a marriage? Yes, if integrity is re-born. Trust dies when deceit is born. When you lie to your spouse in order to cover-up some behavior, you have taken the first step in killing trust. A few more lies and trust will be destroyed. The only way to restore trust is to confess your sin, ask for mercy, and then re-commit yourself to telling the truth.

On the practical level this means that you must establish a new record of being trustworthy. Invite your spouse to investigate your behavior. Every time your mate discovers your actions matching your words, trust grows. It takes time, but you can become a person of integrity and your spouse can come again to trust you.

Love is Gentle

When a couple comes to the point of separation, it is usually with many negative emotions. The temptation is to express these emotions in harsh words and brutal attacks. Nothing pleases Satan more than to see two Christians fighting each other. God’s way is love in the midst of hurt. Christ loved us even when we were killing him.

The scriptures say, ‘love is not rude’. The opposite of rudeness is courtesy. The word means to be ‘friendly minded’ – to treat your spouse as a friend. There is nothing to be gained by arguing and screaming. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). Certainly you need to discuss issues, but not in the attack mode.

Kindness Expressed

In my book, Hope for the Separated, I’m bold to suggest that you should be kind to the spouse who has walked out on you. I know it doesn’t seem natural, but we are called to love our enemies, and love is kind. The word ‘kind’ means ‘to be useful or beneficial’. What can you say or do that would be useful or beneficial to your spouse?

If you are a husband who has left, there are scores of things around the house that you could do for your wife, if she is willing. If your wife has left you, you may still be able to do some things that are ‘beneficial’ to her. What is to be gained by not helping her? You can be God’s agent of love. Love, expressed in kindness, is often the first step toward reconciliation.

Love is Patient

Some people find it strange when I suggest that the greatest thing you can do for an estranged spouse is to love him or to love her. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus taught. We are to love even our enemies and we are to return good for evil. One of the ways in which you express love to a spouse who has walked out on you is by being patient.

The scriptures say, “love is patient”. Your marriage did not fall apart overnight and it will not be rebuilt today. Don’t set time limits for yourself or your spouse. Be patient with your spouse’s ambivalence. During separation people are often pulled in two directions:  On the one hand is the desire for reconciliation, on the other, there is the pain and hurt that says, ‘give up’. Patience is the first step toward love.

Love Our Enemies

Can you really love a spouse who has been unfaithful to you? One lady who was reading my book Hope for the Separated, told me that when she came to the chapter on “long distance love” that she threw the book on the floor and said to herself, “I’ll never love him again after all he’s done to me.”

“A few days later”, she said, “ I  picked up the book and continued reading. I discovered that Jesus said that we were to ‘love our enemies’. Well my husband certainly qualified. It took a few weeks, but I remember the day I baked him a pie and took it to his apartment. It was the beginning of our process of reconciliation.” Yes, with the help of God we can love those who hurt us deeply.

Blessed to Give

Adults and youth alike are attracted to the young man or woman who goes out of his or her way to serve others. Healthy families are producing this kind of young people. As parents we must seek to build an attitude of service into the hearts of our children. Start young by teaching children to be ‘helpers’. Then celebrate their ‘service’ with cheers and accolades. Make ‘service to others’ a big thing in your family.

When children see that serving others is important to you, it will become important to them. Take them with you when you deliver cookies to the elderly. Let them help you shovel snow from the neighbors drive. Children learn by experience that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Desire to Serve

A healthy family has an attitude of service to each other and to the world outside the family. Read the biographies of men and women who have lived lives of sacrificial service and you will find that most of them grew up in families that nurtured the idea of service as virtuous. In every vocation, those who truly excel are those who have a genuine desire to serve others.

The most notable physicians view their vocation as a calling to serve the sick and diseased. Truly great politicians see themselves as ‘public servants’. The greatest educators gain their rewards from seeing students reach their potential. Let’s pray today that God will give us the attitude of Christ who said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Virtues of Work

In Bill Bennett’s book, The Book of Virtues, he lists work as one of the top ten virtues. Most historians agree that Western culture was built on the work ethic. In the family, much work needs to be done. The question is who will do the work and with what attitude? In a healthy family work is seen as an act of love, as something noble and godly.

How do you build this attitude into the hearts of your children? First, by your model. When you say to a child, “I just love making breakfast for you,” you are demonstrating an attitude of service. Second, by celebrating the service that is already being done. Around the table, Johnny says, “one way in which Dad served me today is…” And every one says, “Yeah, Dad.”

What Can I Do To Help?

It is hard to reject sincere acts of service. A young husband once told me that for the first month after the wedding, his wife served him breakfast in bed. He said, “It took me a month to get up the courage to tell her that I don’t eat breakfast.” I did a little research some time ago and found out that not a single wife has ever murdered her husband while he was washing dishes.

What is your attitude toward your spouse?  In the early years of my marriage, I made demands of my wife and gave her harsh words when she did not respond. Later I learned that Jesus had a better plan. He said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.” When I learned to ask: What can I do to help you? The whole atmosphere of my marriage changed.

Attitude of Service

Slavery is at the heart of dysfunctional families. Service is at the heart of healthy families. Slavery creates anger, bitterness, and resentment. Service stimulates love, and encouragement. Service is freely given, not out of fear, but out of choice. It comes out of the personal discovery that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

In my book, The Family You’ve Always Wanted, I list “an attitude of service” as one of the five fundamentals of a healthy family. The husband serves the wife. She serves him. Together they serve the children. Later, the children learn to serve the parents and each other. Then, the entire family serves people outside the family. Imagine what would happen if service became a way of life in our families.