As I was running errands with Thyrza (my mother-in-law for those of you just tuning in) yesterday, she casually mentioned that she had never seen me irritated, annoyed or upset with anyone. I just about ran off the road, when my eyes rolled up inside my head, and I'm pretty sure the iced tea I was drinking came out of my nose. Now I know she has short term memory problems. In fact, I'd been struggling not to be annoyed through our whole grocery store adventure. I mean, it's not her fault she takes twenty steps per meter and has to slowly process every single item she carefully lifts from the shelf. She's in her nineties now, she's earned this slowness over more living than I expect to do. So it's easy enough to show her a little patience.
However, it's not quite as simple to show that same kind of patience with those I live with, those I actually love the most in this world. The truth is, Beve is the object of my annoyance, impatience, irritation more than anyone else on the planet. Seems a little backward when I think about it. I love him. I am in love with him. I am grateful that he is who he is, and that he's in my life. But he drives me crazy. When he drapes the kitchen towels over the counter instead of rehanging them up, when he stuffs plastic bags any old place rather than putting them in the closet in their container, when he leaves condiments on the counter, and his coats in the back room. He drives me crazy. When I've hung up that towel, replaced the condiments, found all the errant plastic bags, there are times when I grit my teeth. More than grit my teeth. Sometimes I might actually say a thing or two outloud. Even scream. Usually I'm alone in the house when I'm reacting thusly. But the dogs hear it. They splinter in different directions, let me tell you.
What I try NOT to do is yell at Beve about these things. I know, I know, some women have done better jobs at training their husbands than I have. But all along (like the last 25 years) I've felt hesitant to make the small things into big things. And these things seem--are!--trivial. In light of all Beve is, in light of his tender servant's heart, his habits are annoying at most. And, though I'm loathe to admit it, I'm also reluctant to nag him about such habits because I'm well-aware that were he to keep such a list of my flaws, that list might well cover the earth. And though some of my habits are also petty, trivial and ridiculous, they probably bother him as much as his towel habit bothers me. I have always imagined what that kind of 'fight' would look like: two birds pecking at each other, the offenses growing bigger and bigger--peck, peck, peck--until an eye was put out, then another. Then we'd be blind and hurting and blaming each other.
No, it's not something I dare start. Now don't get me wrong. Beve and I do disagree. We argue at times like we're siblings. He plans one thing, I plan another, and unfortunately, each of our plans are only in our heads. Then when each initiates that plan, we discover the other wasn't reading our minds. The result of this is more like the butting heads of rams. We go head to head until we reach a consensus. Often someone has to ask forgiveness, someone else has to extend grace.
These two different kinds of conflicts with one's spouse are what Paul writes of in Colossians 3: 13. "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone." The first clause, 'bear with each other,' is about the trivialities that occur in daily life. Maybe you don't like the way someone clears their throat--and they do it ALL the time!--or maybe the way he blows on his hot coffee annoys the socks off you. Bear with each other, Paul says. Let the small things slide. Just bear it. Keep life in perspective.
But there are also big things. 'Hills to die on,' as my son would put it. Things that are legitimate grievances. You know the things I mean. You know them for you, that is. Is it spending money? Child-discipline? Adultery? Real grievances, real make-it-or-break-it grievances. About such things, such things that could sever a relationship, Paul says, "Forgive one another." I don't say this, he does. Jesus does. I know well that I wouldn't say this at all. Though I grew up with a father who said he was sorry every time my mother raised her voice (and believe me, this means he was saying he was sorry ALL the time!), I'm pretty sure he never felt completely contrite. Nor wrong. And my mother wasn't always forgiving. In fact, now and then, when she was really mad, she told him to "Stop saying you're sorry!" So I didn't learn forgiveness at my parents' knees. I did learn to say I'm sorry quickly, but I didn't learn to mean it.
This learning to forgive comes from Christ, not from our natural selves. It goes against the grain of our sin-flooded humanity. But there it is. There it is in His words and there it is, of course, in His actions. He didn't stop to measure the grievance before He allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross. He simply did it. Allowed those nails to be pounded into His flesh. His very human flesh. And so, at times, we must also allow nails to be pounded into us, by the deep hurts our loved ones inflict upon us. And still, we must forgive. "Forgive others as I have forgiven you!"