Willing to Change

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Listen from:
“I know that I am always late, but that’s the way I am!” “I’ve always taken a twenty-minute shower; it’s my way of waking up!” “I know I’m not nice to be around in the morning, but I can’t help it. I often wake up in a bad mood!” “I know I fly off the handle easily when something bothers me, but all my family are like that!”
Perhaps we have all heard remarks like these, and maybe we have said similar things ourselves. Yet how often it is these seemingly little things that are the cause of marital disharmony. In another article in this issue, we have noted that “some come to marriage today with unresolved problems in their lives and unjudged, sinful attitudes and tendencies in their characters, personalities and lifestyles.” In one way or another, we all bring such things to a marriage, to a greater or lesser degree. We may have seen some things in our Christian lives that we feel need correction, but others we may excuse as being insignificant in the overall picture. Even more frequently, at a relatively young age we may not even realize the full tendencies of our hearts, since we have not yet been tested in the crucible of life and in the marriage relationship. Often it is only under the trying circumstances of marriage and family life that some of these things come to the surface.
When two people are married, both come to the relationship with certain expectations and an outlook that is based on their genetic makeup, family background and the environment in which they were raised. In the adjustments that necessarily follow in the melding together of two people, the traits and tendencies of each may grate on the other. If these are not dealt with, the resultant irritation may well destroy whatever joy there might otherwise have been in the marriage.
Infirmities and Sins
Some of these things fall into the category of infirmities — entities that are the result of sin in the world, but not sinful in themselves. For example, the tendency always to be late is not a sin in itself, just as the penchant for spending money is not necessarily a sin. But if these trends in our character are carried to an extreme, they may well lead to sin. Others may carry the opposite characteristic to an extreme, so that a punctual person may become so rigid that there is no allowance for any leeway, for any reason. A miser (the opposite of a spender) may be so grasping that he cannot ever give something away, even if there is a real need.
Other aspects of our character and personality are more than infirmities — they are downright sinful. The tendency to exaggerate and lie, for example, is more than an infirmity; it is sin. The tendency to be dishonest is a sin and must be confessed as such. A bad temper is sinful and must be recognized for what it is; we cannot simply excuse it. In more recent years, a tendency to look at pornography has become a widespread evil among Christian men; this too must be recognized as a very serious sin.
Where then does this leave us with respect to marriage? Are we to postpone marriage until we can be sure that we have dealt with every infirmity or besetting sin in our lives, so that we will bring perfection to the relationship? No, for we will not be perfectly like Christ until we get home to the glory. Or are we to tell our spouse to “accept us the way we are,” because that is the way we are made? No, for that is to make our spouse miserable and to condone something that may well be sinful, or at least lead to sin. But equally true, we cannot expect that marriage will automatically cause all of these tendencies to disappear, or that our spouse will not be upset by them! I would suggest that there is a remedy from the Word of God.
Some time ago, I was reading a short article written by a middle-aged Christian woman. In the article she confessed that she was one of those who was chronically late, often inconveniencing her friends and other people who were obliged to adjust to her tardiness. She went on to say that for many years she had regarded this as only a “minor character flaw” — something that others, if they loved her, would simply overlook. It was only when she got into the Lord’s presence that she realized that this was not merely an infirmity; it was a sin that she needed to confess to the Lord. Her lack of care in being punctual for appointments, meetings and other functions was nothing more than self-centeredness — an inclination that gratified itself at the expense of others. It was only then that she asked for the Lord’s help to overcome the tendency and was ultimately able to do so.
If we read through the Proverbs, it is striking how many times we are reminded of the need to accept correction. Here are a few examples:
“Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (Prov. 9:88Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. (Proverbs 9:8)).
“Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish” (Prov. 12:11Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish. (Proverbs 12:1)).
“A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent” (Prov. 15:55A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)).
“He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Prov. 15:3232He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding. (Proverbs 15:32)).
Many others of similar wording could be quoted, in order to show the importance of being ready to take correction and to act on it. To be willing to admit we are wrong and to recognize the need to change are the first step to God’s blessing, yet how often our natural hearts refuse this! We like ourselves too much, and instead of being willing to admit a wrong tendency, we may recall some fault in our spouse and bring that up, seeking to justify ourselves.
The Complement of Opposites
We may marry someone who is, at least in some characteristics, the opposite or complement of ourselves. This tends to work well, for what one is lacking, the other may supply. However, that opposite trait in our spouse that seemed so attractive during courtship may well become a downright irritation when we live with it every day. God may well use our spouse to point this out to us, not merely because it is irritating to him or her, but because it is a sin before the Lord. Of course, there is a time, place and manner for such conversations in a marriage! If we are wise, we will listen to the one God has given us and seek grace from the Lord to correct or at least modify our inclinations, not only to please our spouse, but also to be more like Christ.
Self-centeredness is probably the most serious barrier to a happy marriage. The unwillingness to adjust to one another and to deal with those things that are not what they should be is a real test, not only of our relationship with our spouse, but also of our relationship with the Lord. In the language of Proverbs, are we like the wise man who loves instruction and correction, or do we behave like the fool who despises and refuses it?
W. J. Prost