Wed by the Word, p.4: The Importance of Grace in Marriage

I’m excited and honored to welcome back Pastor Bruce Goldsmith, of Laurel Hill Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., to guest post on Classic Bride blog today as he continues to share valuable insight on creating a Godly marriage. Our hope is that this series will help couples in forming a beautiful and strong foundation for their marriage built on God’s love – you can read all the posts in this series here. And I’ll turn it over to Pastor Bruce now:

Marriage is wonderful! There is nothing like it. The joy of living with a person for many years, sharing life, raising children and getting old together is awesome. My wife and I just celebrated thirty-one years of marriage and the days are filled with joy and love that grow and grow. However, marriage is not easy. It has its difficulties. And those difficulties come in lots of ways.

One of the things I do with couples who come to see me for counseling before their wedding is to have them stand facing each other and hold hands. While they are facing each other, I have them stare into each other’s eyes and dream about how much they love being together. I have them talk about how their life together is going to be so wonderful, and enriching and encouraging, as they embark on their journey into marriage. It’s fun for them and a little weird at the same time.

Then, I have them lean to one side of each other and pretend they are looking down the corridor of time into their past. What they see is multifaceted. For example, they will see the faces of people they love: parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, etc. They will see exciting moments they were part of. They will see events that were important to them. But they will also see troubling things. Often these are the things they don’t want to remember. Challenging things, even hurtful things that they have put away from their conscious minds. And many times, there are people they see from their past that did not leave them with good memories.

You might wonder why I have them do this. I do this because, as a couple, they need to understand that their marriage is not just between the two of them. In other words, their marriage will include all the events, people, circumstances, joys, sorrows, triumphs, failures, they have experienced in life. And they are bringing all of that into their marriage. In some way, all these things are a part of us and we bring them along as a package deal. So, in effect, when we are getting married, we are asking our future spouse to accept, not only me, but everything that comes with me. My mother used to say, “love me, love my dog.” In other words, if you say you want me, you must accept all that comes with me.

This is usually a very eye-opening experience that many people don’t like to think about. Most people want marriage to be blissful and without any wrinkles. But unfortunately, that is not reality. Life is not without wrinkles. Let’s say it this way, life is full of baggage, some good, some not so good. We want the good, but we also have to accept the not so good.

The good news is marriage can be filled with the good things a couples wants in the middle of all the baggage each one brings with them into the relationship. And that good news is found in one word, grace. Grace is a beautiful word, it’s a godly word because it represents God and how He works or operates with people.

If I were to define grace, it would be something like looking past the failures and loving the person anyway. Now, let me be clear, grace is not pretending the issues don’t exist, but acknowledging the issues, and choosing to love and honor anyway. Let me try to illustrate the practicality of grace with an example from a couple I once counseled. I’ll change the names to protect the innocent, so to speak.

Bob met Sally while working for the same employer. They did the normal things couples do when they first meet. They talked about the weather and basic life scenarios, work and more work, their employer and other employees, how much they like and dislike working, family, friends and significant things they find important in life. And after a while, Bob and Sally began to talk about each other and their feelings for each other. And soon, they were dating and they fell in love. And it didn’t take long to talk about marriage.

But their relationship was not without problems. As it turns out, Sally had been with several other boyfriends. And those relationships were very close, if you get my meaning. Sadly, and as you can imagine, even though the relationships had ending for Sally, Bob really struggled. He just couldn’t get past thinking about his future wife in the arms of another man. Sally’s past seriously haunted him, even though the relationships were a part of Sally’s life, before she ever met Bob, he struggled to get past them. Often, Bob would get very upset at Sally and begin to argue with her and even call her names and interrogate her. It was a real problem in their relationship.

When Bob and Sally came to see me, I began to talk to them about grace. Remember, grace is not pretending the issues didn’t exist, but loving the person despite the issues. In Sally’s case, there was nothing she could do to change her past, it was done, no way to go back and change anything. And believe me, she wished she could go back and change it. Through many tears, she exposed her feelings about how she wished she had saved herself for Bob.

What Bob needed to hear is, we all have issues from our past, if for no other reason than we are, what the Bible calls sinners. People who are messed up, broken. We have all violated God’s righteousness somewhere in life, the Bible makes that clear. (Romans 3:23) But God also says, He loved us anyway. (Romans 5:8) In fact, the Bible teaches us, Jesus gave up His home in heaven to come to the earth to die in our place, even though we didn’t deserve His sacrifice or His love. Jesus came to pay the penalty of our sin that we owe to God. Death! The Bible says, all who sin must die. (Ezekiel 18:4,20) Not just physically, but spiritually, because everyone who has been born, other than Jesus, rebels against God. But Jesus came, to give His life, in exchange for our life.  In other words, He sacrificed for us, even though we have been so messed up in our past. (John 3:16) That is grace!

If you want an easy way to remember what grace is, there is an acronym that helps. G-God’s, R- Riches, A – At, C- Christ’s, E – Expense. (G-R-A-C-E) God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s beautiful, isn’t it?

As Bob contemplated all this, he became aware of his own past and began to realize that it was wrong to treat the woman who loved him that way.

Let me add one more act of grace that helped Bob and Sally. The issue was over Sally’s car. She had purchased a car some years prior to meeting Bob and absolutely loved it.  Unfortunately, the car was part of her relationships with the other men. So every time Bob got in Sally’s car, it reminded him of the problem he was having with Sally. So, we talked about how it was just a car. But I said to them, if the car is that much of a problem, as silly as that sounds, get rid of the car. Get something that will be yours, with no stigmas.

That may sound ridiculous, but grace allows for that kind of thing. Grace says, if it is better for you, even though it will cost me, because I love you, I will get rid of it or I will change it or something to show you that I love you, even if it affects me.

Grace in a relationship is not only beautiful, but extremely necessary. There will be many things that require a lot of grace. In fact, the older I get, the more grace I need and the more grace I need to give to others, even my wife. And believe me, she gives me a lot more grace than I give her.

If you are soon to get married or hope to one day, think about grace, the grace Jesus has for us, that caused Him to die in our place, even though we didn’t deserve it. Do all you can, with Jesus’s help, to apply grace to your relationship. Don’t always lay down the gauntlet or an ultimatum and watch God do amazing things, not only in the one you love, but in your heart as well.             

Learn more about Pastor Bruce and Laurel Hill Baptist Church by visiting the website where you can listen to weekly sermonsread the pastor’s blog and more.

Photography and styling by Sarah Darcy.