I got absolutely shredded by my pastor’s sermon Sunday. He was talking about the story of the prodigal son, and I was nodding along in familiarity, enjoying the art of his delivery, when it hit me:
I’m the legalistic, bitter son at the end of the story. And because of that, I’m the legalistic, bitter spouse in my marriage.
The past two years have been hard. In that time I lost my job, our family has moved, and money is tight. In all of this I feel like “God, this isn’t fair! Don’t you see? Why aren’t you responding?” All those questions are okay – they’re biblical actually – but what wasn’t okay was when my lamenting led to bitterness and entitlement. It felt like God was holding out on me, or that if I could just do the right thing, confess the right sins, say the right prayers, then God would give me what I wanted. The more I tried this though, the more things stayed the same, and the more angry I became.
What I realized Sunday was that my “older son” mentality – where I didn’t understand the Father’s love for me was unconditional and ever-present – was siphoning off my ability to love and show grace to those around me. Like, my wife. Especially my wife. I began treating her the way I felt God was treating me – demanding more, never being satisfied, being sarcastic and distant. This is what always happens: how we receive (or don’t receive) the love of God is how we will love others. Always.
So how are you loving your spouse these days? Are you kind? Generous? Full of grace? Patient?
Or are you angry? Demanding? Bitter? Jealous? Distant? Insecure?
There’s a very good chance that this is a reflection of how you understand and live in the love of God.
So for us “older brother” types, what do we do? We have to see our Dad in heaven differently. In the story of the prodigal son, the older brother is angry at his father for celebrating the return of the younger son, and the dad says “son, everything I have is yours!” For years, probably decades, the older brother had been living in the house of his father, but not in the love. He completely misunderstood his father’s character and intentions. He didn’t know who his dad was.
Do you not just know, but also receive, the Father’s unconditional love for you? Can you feel it? Live in it? Does it animate your day-to-day life and fill you with grace and compassion for others, especially your spouse? If your answer is some degree of “no,” then you’re right there with me and basically all humans on the planet.
So today, ask God to help you understand his love, so that you can share his life with your spouse. Ask him to expand your ability to receive his love it, so you can freely give it. I think if we do this regularly over days, months and years, it’ll transform our marriages.