Chapter 2

Guarding the Give

S–T–R–A–T–E–G–Y. Eight simple letters with a world of import.

To me Scrabble is a game of varied possibilities limited to the space of one turn. Because a player can’t predict what letters will be drawn or played in any one turn, any strategizing is short–term. I enjoy not having to anticipate what might happen in the next ten turns. </p

For Scott, however, playing Scrabble is a sacrifice of love.

But as trying as Scrabble was to him, his board game of choice was even tougher on me. Though somewhat dependent on the roll of the die and the cards drawn, Risk requires players to plan long–term strategies over several turns, with numerous possibilities in each. I tend to be stronger studying individual situations than seeing overall connections. Strategizing for the length of the game, with the goal of wiping out all of my opponent’s armies, was no easy task.

Not yet married a year, we decided one evening to play Risk so Scott could teach me the game. As he defeated the last of my armies, Scott amiably began putting away the pieces. He had enjoyed the match but would quickly come to recognize I did not share the sentiment. Two hours of time gone, and I had been completely wiped off the board. I could see how my weakness in not being able to think long–term played to Scott’s strength. He walked away with the win, and I was left feeling frustrated.

In time, we learned to enjoy playing a game together, even in our weaknesses. Scott has won his fair share of Scrabble games, and I have learned to power through short–term losses in Risk to come out victorious. Though mere games, the lesson they have taught has been valuable: weaknesses exposed can either strengthen or debilitate a relationship.

Weaknesses exposed can either strengthen or debilitate a relationship.

The power of companionship is readily visible when we see how the strength of one partner works well to build in for the weaknesses of another. Scott is stronger in quick decision–making, while I am better at reading the interpersonal atmosphere surrounding a decision. For example, when a crisis arose during a youth event with one of our female staff, we needed to respond quickly to keep the event moving forward. The reassignment of female staff fell under my scope of leadership. My strength, working through relational nuances, was now working against me as I struggled to make a confident decision quickly. Working as a team, Scott stepped in and suggested he make the call for me. I didn’t feel slighted; I felt supported. With the decision made, I was then free to work in my gifting to make sure the team would continue working together effectively.

There are times, however, when a weakness in one partner becomes a weakness in the marriage. Our response determines whether the relationship will grow stronger or atrophy. When we become frustrated with our spouse, we may perceive the relationship as a battlefield. Readying our lines of defense, we respond to our spouse’s weakness with ineffective strategies: attack, ignore, or overpower.

Let’s be honest. We work hard to hide our frailties, and we are readily tempted to expose the weaknesses of those with whom we have conflict. Our spouse is no exception. So it’s easy to understand why, in the heat of marital disappointments, some choose to leverage their partner’s weakness as a point of power. Highlighting what’s wrong with you deflects from my sense of vulnerability, and I am less concerned about my need to change when I am demanding yours.

Equally destructive are attempts to ignore or overcompensate for a weakness in a spouse. To do so, especially if the issue is rooted in sin, is not only dishonest (Colossians 3:9) but will eventually undermine the stability of our relationship. Pretending delays healing, and what is hidden will be exposed on the altar of accountability. Jesus told his disciples, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke

Peter urged believers, “Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Such love deals with sin the way Christ does: in truth and with honor. Jesus does not excuse our sin, but neither does he expose our brokenness as a means to gain an advantage. In love, he comes alongside and calls us to repentance and transformation. We should practice no less in our marriage.

Recognizing a vulnerability in our spouse doesn’t immediately qualify us as a hypocrite according to Matthew 7:5. Rather, the perspective is one of proportion and motive. The key to dealing with our partner’s shortcomings centers on what Jesus said a few verses earlier: “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged” (Matthew 7:2). Iron sharpening iron, the weaknesses we see in each other become places to become stronger together. But this transformation will happen only as I honor my spouse the way I desire to be honored.

This transformation will happen only as I honor my spouse the way I desire to be honored.

Together, we must each accept responsibility for our behavior. This encouragement becomes a reality when Christ is our goal. To love Jesus means my spouse will see me as Christ does, even when my weaknesses create stress in our relationship. But if I am in Christ, then I must also make his wholeness the aim of my life as well as the hope of my marriage. With this end in view, winning becomes Christ, not me. Satan’s ploy in the garden destroyed not only the communion between God and humanity but the covenant between a husband and wife. This context helps us better understand Paul’s admonition to be “tender and compassionate … loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:1–2).

A key point of clarification, though: humility isn’t the loss of self–respect. While Paul reminded the Philippian church to “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves,” he continued, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3–4, emphasis added). Humility is the choice to dispense with my rights in order to reach someone else, the setting aside of my need to take priority. To allow someone to demean me is not a position of humility; it is the marker of an unhealthy codependency, one where I am actively condoning another person’s sin. Real humility cultivates compassion; it does not enable destructive behavior to continue in another.

This same compassion sustains love when weaknesses chafe, hope wanes, or transformation tarries. Certainly there are circumstances where the supernatural intervenes to create a dark–to–light change. The same God who met Saul on the road to Damascus and left behind a changed man still works in us today. But not every transformation happens that way.

Change usually takes time. The process of healing is often that—a process. In the waiting, between hope and reality, we have to learn to “guard our give.” Permit me to explain.

One individual cannot carry the full weight of healing in a marriage. But we can walk our role well. With so many unknowns in play, our choices should not be sculpted as a strategy. Guarding our give means that Christ alone can provide what I need to know to respond to weaknesses in myself, my spouse, or my marriage. That wisdom begins by not “worry[ing] about anything; instead, pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6). More than a to–do list for God, my prayers become a gateway not only to recognize his sovereignty but to gain his heart for my spouse and to experience his closeness. Each step of the way, I must rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Guarding my give means also guarding my thoughts. It’s easy to see my weaknesses or those of my spouse, but I get to choose what thoughts dominate my mind. Right thinking keeps my heart focused on the hope Christ brings to my marriage. If I really believe he is the God who specializes in making all things new (Isaiah 43:19), then I must choose to keep my “thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Philippians 4:8). Then, as I “think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise,” I learn to make changes in my choices through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the process find unquestionable peace (vv. 8–9).

Chapter Questions

1. Hiddenness and codependency hinder the healing in our relationships. What is at the root of each of these behaviors?

2. What a weakness in you that creates a weakness in your marriage? Accepting responsibility doesn’t just mean acknowledging its existence but it also means accepting the challenge to change. What seems or feels difficult to you as you accept the challenge to deal with that area?

3. Identify three ways you can better guard your give when responding to a weakness in your partner.