‘Hey, I meant to tell you something.’
It was just a kind, casual comment. But years of experience had taught me that my wife had something important to say. Something I probably didn’t want to hear.
Without warning, I felt like I had two people inside of me. The first was a ninja, ready to dodge any incoming criticism. (And maybe launch a counter-attack). The second knew she loves me and had learned her criticism always makes me better.
I didn’t know who was going to win.
The Dangers Of Imbalance
In moments of clarity, I know this is one of the reasons I married Sharon. She’s as strong-willed as I am and committed to helping me become more like Jesus through honest, loving feedback.
Without an ounce of exaggeration, I can say that God has used her more than anyone else in my life to make me who I am today.
If God is calling you to marriage, it’s critical to find someone who will call it straight with you and do it in love. Of course, if you’re already married, your spouse needs both of these from you.
Think with me for a moment. What would it be like to be with someone who brought only (or mainly) one of these qualities to the relationship?
At first, someone who is always positive and never critical might sound pretty appealing, right? Lots of praise, no criticism. I can live with that!
The problem, though, is that we’re still broken. We don’t always see myself accurately, so we need others – especially those closest to us – to help me see what we cannot. Or won’t.
Ironically, this means that someone who won’t challenge me doesn’t really love me. They don’t care enough about me to introduce discomfort into our relationship so that I can grow. Early on in our marriage, this was my tendency. I’m still working on it, honestly.
What about someone who’s mainly focused on truth? Plenty of honesty and feedback, but little encouragement. It can seem noble and refreshing in a time where so few are willing to tell it like it is.
Here again, though, there’s a problem. Most of us already know that we’re deeply flawed. A steady diet of criticism without a foundation of love and support reaps a harvest of discouragement and despair.
Going further down the rabbit hole, people who don’t encourage others fail to see that God is active, no matter how bleak things may seem. The prerequisites for encouraging others, then, are faith and a deep sense that God is active in my own, messed up life.
Grace & Truth Together, The Secret Sauce
So, if we marry someone who won’t challenge us, we’ll become stagnant and stuck. Not holy like Jesus. If we hitch our wagons to someone who won’t encourage us, we’ll become depressed and discouraged. And we’ll miss the good work that God is up to. In the long run, all the criticism in the world won’t motivate us to change, either.
God gives us a better, third way, throughout the bible. Grace and truth, encouragement and constructive criticism, working together.
To take just a few examples:
Proverbs 27:6 – ‘wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.’
Ephesians 4:15 – ‘speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ’.
John 1:14 – ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
As we think about moving toward marriage, then, we need to find someone like Jesus, full of both ‘grace and truth’. Someone who will fight with us, and call us out in love.
Three Practical Ways To Find Someone Who Will Call You Out In Love
But how? The full answer is probably book-length, but here are three suggestions.
- Be the kind of person you’d like to marry. If you want to find someone who embodies both truth and grace, you’ve got to be heading in that direction yourself. Which side of that equation do you most need to focus on?
- Understand what’s at stake. Our personal happiness is important, but marriage is ultimately about a man and woman picturing the relationship Christ has with us, his people. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul basically says that marriage and the gospel explain each other. In the gospel, we get both truth (we’re way worse than we think) and grace (we’re far more loved than we could ever imagine). So, if we want to have a marriage that reflects the way God relates to us, we’ve got to find someone who mirrors that, however imperfectly.
- Get to know people in groups. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone just by watching him or her interact with others. Spend intentional, group time with someone you’re interested in and just watch. No one’s perfect, but do they try to both encourage and speak truth into the lives of others?
I’m thankful God gave me the grace to back down and listen to Sharon that day. She graciously pointed out an off-hand comment I had made that someone might have taken the wrong way. Not the end of the world, but I hadn’t noticed and her honest feedback was so helpful.
So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to marry someone who will call you out in love, and be that for the person you marry (or, are married to). Over the years, it will make all the difference in the world.
Questions for reflection:
- If you’re in a relationship, is it with someone who will call you out in love?
- Where do you most need to grow: is it speaking up more, or, doing that with more kindness and grace?
- Bonus: for 6 ideas on how to fight well with your spouse, see If You Don’t Fight With Your Lover, Someone Else Will by my friend Ken Reid.