Marriage And One-Way Love
A marriage is a like a petri dish for the weight of conditionality and the beauty of one-way love. Husbands and wives are often so hard on one another, merciless with their demands and expectations, their criticisms and silences. I’ve seen husbands and wives keep score on one another for the most ridiculous things, from the way they chew their food, to the way their voice sounds when they’re speaking on the phone, to the type of presents they give each other. And yet what brought the couple together in the first place was almost always an experience of grace, some connection that transcended their worthiness. As Southern novelist Walker Percy writes in Love in the Ruins, “We love those who know the worst of us and don’t turn their faces away.”
You and I both know that beneath our happiest moments and closest relationships inevitably lies some instance of being loved in weakness or deserved judgment. Someone let you off hook when you least deserved it. A friend suspended judgment at a key moment. Your father was lenient when you wrecked his car. Your teacher gave you an extension, even though she knew you had been procrastinating. You said something insensitive to your spouse, and instead of retaliating, she kept quiet and didn’t hold it against you the next day. One-way love is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience—a person who is loved in their guilt and weakness blossoms.
A marriage flavored by one-way love eschews score-keeping at all costs. It is not a fifty-fifty proposition, where I scratch your back and then you scratch mine. A grace-centered marriage is one in which both partners give 100 percent of themselves. They give up their right to talk about rights. This means that a grace-centered marriage, in theory, is one where both parties are constantly apologizing to each other, asking for and granting forgiveness. No one is ever innocent in a grace-centered marriage. If original sin is as evenly distributed as the Bible claims it is, then both parties have some culpability. Every marriage is the union of two selfish people, fighting for their way, desperate to win. That’s why an apology so often feels like we are betraying ourselves. We would rather see a marriage fall apart than cede any ground in the “war of the roses.”
The world tells us to stand up for ourselves, to stick to our guns. But the Gospel frees us to lay down our arms. There is nothing at stake, and therefore nothing to fear, ultimately. Our righteousness, which we are often hell-bent on protecting in a marriage, has already been secured, and it is not our own. No more having to win, no more having to be right, no more fighting to secure love and extract affection. Because everything I need and long for I already possess in Christ, I am now free to do everything for you without needing anything from you. The fire to love unconditionally comes only from being soaked in the fuel of being unconditionally loved.
For the marriage grounded in one-way love, there is always hope, always a way forward.
Excerpted from One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World