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A Marriage Full of Love and Grace

On October 10, 2020, I had the privilege of preaching at the marriage ceremony of the son of close family friends and his fiancée, both of whom I have come to know and love over the past several years. The following Charge to the Couple was edited both to protect their privacy and to make it applicable to anyone who wants more love and grace in their marriage.

The marriage day is one of the most important days of your life. It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of commitment. And it’s a day of testimony to your love and intention to spend the rest of your lives together as husband and wife.

And yet, today is obviously not the beginning of your love and relationship. Today is a highpoint to be sure, but it is just one day, albeit one very special day, in a long flow that began when you first fell in love. So, for a few minutes, I’m going to talk about what you’ve been creating and what’s going to help you successfully continue on this path of mutual love and commitment, which we call marriage.

Live in love

To begin, it’s worth stating the obvious that we’re here today because of love. But, what’s not so obvious to everyone is that there are several different kinds of love, each of which has an important purpose in our relationships, and especially in marriage. C.S. Lewis famously wrote about each one in his book, The Four Loves. To make your marriage strong and enduring, commit yourselves to living in love and by love.

First of all, there is family love. This kind of love isn’t exactly the same for everyone, given that each of us has unique experiences growing up. For many it’s that special bond and affection that they feel for their family of origin. But for others, especially those who have had a painful childhood or been alienated from family members, family love may be felt for a group of people they have identified as their family members, whether they are actually related to them or not. No matter how we may define it, “family” is really important for most of us, because family love, at its best, is what gives us an emotional place of belonging, a place where we can experience unconditional love, and a place we can always return to in order to find people who accept us and want to be with us. What you’re doing today is creating a new family, and inheriting new, extended family members. Don’t take this love for granted. Commit yourself now to doing the hard work to nurture and develop family love as deeply and broadly as possible.

There is also the love between close friends. This kind of love enables you to be each other’s best friend—not only on date nights, but on Monday mornings when you don’t feel like going back to work, on Wednesday evenings when you’re having a hard time getting through the week, and on those long, cold days when there’s nothing to do and all you have is each other. No matter what you might have to face in the years to come, hold on to each other as best friends, and keep cultivating your friendship with one another at deeper and deeper levels.

Then, for a married couple, there is the love of mutual attraction, or what the ancient Greeks called, eros. This kind of love is God’s way of binding a man and a woman together in a unique way, creating a bond that is intended to last for a lifetime within the context of marriage. Celebrate it, thoroughly enjoy it, and carefully protect it. Reserve this level of intimacy for each other and no one else; and enjoy the special closeness that comes from it.

And then, finally, there is agape love. This is the kind of love that the Apostle Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13. Agape love is “patient and kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In other words, agape love goes beyond constantly changing moods and feelings, and expresses a commitment to do what is in the best interest of the other person, even when it requires personal sacrifice.

This is the kind of love God shows us, and the kind of love he wants us to show toward one another, regardless of attraction, friendship or family relations. It’s the kind of love that led Jesus to sacrifice his own comfort and personal agenda to stand up for others, and ultimately to give his life to demonstrate the unimaginable extent of God’s love.

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels actually started out on a sad note. Jesus’ cousin and close friend, John the Baptist, had just been killed. Jesus, shocked and heart-broken, gathered his disciples together to get away by themselves for a little while. They got in a boat and intended to get some rest and time alone, away from the demands of ministry, at their “lake home.” However, we read in Matthew (14:13-14) that when Jesus got to the other side of the lake, a crowd was already there, looking for him. When he saw them, he had compassion on them, because, in his perception, they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he gave up his vacation plans and began to heal and teach them many things.  

In marriage, there are going to be those times when your spouse is going to need something from you that you’d rather not give. Maybe you just sat down in your favorite chair with a book or turned on the TV to watch a show or game. Maybe you’re tired and just want some time to yourself. Maybe your annoyed or have lost patience. But you’re going to have to make a decision. Will you stop what you’re doing, or give up whatever you’d rather be doing, in order to care for your spouse? The degree to which you make these hard, self-sacrificial decisions will greatly determine how much love there will be in your marriage.

I know this is the kind of love you want to have in your marriage and in your family. It’s a noble ideal; but to live it out you’re going to need to help. And that leads us to the subject of God’s love and grace.

Be filled with grace

Your ability to be loving toward others is directly linked to your experience of being loved, especially by God. When you experience the kind of gracious love that God offers—unconditional, generous love, without strings attached—you develop your capacity to be loving and gracious toward others.  

God lavishes his love on us not because of our worthiness, but because of who he is. It’s how he wants to relate to his creation. He wants to love us, and he has within himself the unlimited capacity to be gracious and kind, even when we are at our worst.

We read in Romans chapter two, that God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. In other words, God often chooses to be patient, kind, and merciful toward us, not because he’s soft or doesn’t care, but because he knows that mercy is more powerful than judgment. He knows that the real goal: changing our hearts, producing lasting change, and cultivating love for him will rarely come from harsh judgment and punishment. Changes in the heart come from experiencing agape love, mercy and grace.

In marriage, if you want, you can judge and punish one another when the other person fails you. You have a right to do so. But it’s not the better way. And it won’t make the other person love you more. It simply can’t produce the heart change and the love you truly long for from one another. Kindness, mercy, and grace is what your partner needs when they are trying to get back on their feet and have no right to ask for anything from you.

In other words, grace recognizes that none of us is perfect, and never will be; yet there remains value and preciousness in each of us. Grace chooses to focus on the good, rather than on what’s wrong. Grace accepts the other person as they are, and it forgives when necessary. Grace believes in the other person, even when he or she cannot believe in him- or herself.

Put Christ at the center

When Jill and I got married 38 years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into! We loved each other very much and had become each other’s best friend, but there was so much we didn’t know about ourselves, let alone the other person. We had so much growing up still to do. Sometimes, in our immaturity, frustration, and disappointment, we hurt each other, and said or did things we now regret.

Yet, God’s love and grace gave us the ability to forgive each other when need be. And our common commitment to Christ helped us to rise above ourselves to find direction and purpose that was bigger than our own self-centered instincts. We haven’t been perfect in following Christ by any means, but our relationship with him has been an anchor when we’ve needed stability; it’s been a lighthouse, when we’ve needed to avoid danger in the darkness; he’s been our North star, when we’ve needed to reorient ourselves and figure out which direction to go. And he’s been our common root, which nourishes, renews, and empowers us from day to day.  In other words, Christ is at the center of our relationship and we depend on him to lead and guide and empower our marriage.

To use the well-known metaphor of the cross, we have been seeking to cultivate both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our relationship with God. The vertical dimension represents our personal relationship with God. It’s grounded in God’s love for us and in Jesus’ sacrificial act of love in dying for us. We respond by putting our trust in God’s grace and mercy and by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. Then, in the horizontal dimension, we express our faith in Christ by extending God’s love and grace toward others. This Christ-centered, multi-dimensional spirituality is God’s will for our lives.

So, on this wedding day, fill your relationship with every kind of love, but especially agape love. Put Christ at the center of your marriage and family, and learn how to draw more and more on Christ’s Spirit so that you can offer God’s agape love and grace freely and generously to each other and to others around you.

If you will do these things, you’re going to make it. But far more than just make it, alongside all the mundane and difficult moments, your life together will flourish. It will be full of joy, meaning, and purpose in more ways than you can even imagine now. It will never be perfect, but there will be love, and there will be grace. May this be your marriage story now and for the rest of your lives. Amen.


Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.

Photo Credits:

  • Couple on their wedding day & Northern Minnesota- Timothy Clarence Geoffrion
  • Jill & Tim- Timothy Charles Geoffrion (thiswalkinglife.com)

To learn about my most recent book, What We Can Expect from God Now: Seven Spiritual Truths for Trusting God in Troubled Times, you can read samples, see reviews, and order exclusively on Amazon. This full color, devotional book, filled with beautiful photos from France and US National Parks, was written specifically to encourage Christians during this COVID-19 pandemic.

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I Am Loved!

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I was a broken person.

At age 36, I already felt like a failure. I had accomplished a lot by earning multiple graduate degrees, taking important roles of responsibility as a pastor, and impressing others in various ways. I had an amazing wife and two beautiful children. But in my heart of hearts, my achievements meant little to me. I didn’t feel very valuable as a person. Instead, I kept thinking about being unemployed. Worse, I was plagued by shame over how far short my life fell from what I wanted it to be—and from what I believed God wanted it to be. Not only was I keenly aware of all the “bad” things I had done in my life; I felt like I, myself, was “bad”.

By the grace of God, I was given an opportunity to attend a seminar on the subject of breaking the silence of shame. I learned that what was going on inside of me was far more serious than I had realized. Feeling guilty about our sins and failures from time to time is normal and healthy, and can even motivate us to make needed changes in our lives. What I was feeling was something insidious. I felt ashamed of myself at the core of my being, and when unhealed shame remains in the soil of our hearts, it becomes toxic.

Such shame often produces “weeds,” easily recognizable as products of feeling so poorly about ourselves. For example, our lives may be marked by persistently negative attitudes, highly visible sins, or other self-defeating, destructive behavior. Surprisingly, though, toxic shame can also produce seemingly “good fruit.”

Sometimes, when we believe that we are bad or fundamentally flawed, we try to “fix” ourselves by whatever means possible. We may even succeed at accomplishing much or creating something beautiful. We may hold a highly responsible position. We may serve others regularly and give generously. Perhaps we go to great lengths to make ourselves physically attractive, or to develop extraordinary skills. To us and everyone around us, our lives may appear to be very successful and fruitful.

However, when our efforts are driven by toxic shame (i.e., desperate attempts to do something in order to feel good about ourselves) and not by the Spirit of God, all our striving will ultimately be unsatisfying. At some point, we may give up out of frustration or discouragement. We may keep pushing and driving ourselves to exhaustion. Or, in spite of convincing everyone else that we are truly extraordinary individuals, we still fail to convince ourselves.

When I heard this teaching, the message pierced my heart. I realized that I could never do enough to truly feel good about myself. I am not ever going to find the solution to toxic shame in my own accomplishments. Instead of putting my trust in what I could do for myself, I needed to trust in God’s love and acceptance of me, despite all my shortcomings.

Photo ©Jill K H Geoffrion, Ph.D., www.jillgeoffrion.com
My two beloved sons today

The image of my holding my firstborn son suddenly flashed through my mind. We were in the hospital, the day he was born. My heart was full, and words gushed out of my mouth that I didn’t anticipate. I looked at him tenderly and said, “Son, there is nothing you could ever do that would make me not love you.” As I basked in the warmth of that precious memory, the same kind of love I felt for my son began flowing within me, filling the lonely, raw, frightened, and empty spaces that were etched as scars throughout my soul.

Our Creator loves us simply because we are his children. He sees all our faults and limitations, and He still loves and accepts us. We belong to Him. And, yes, our moral failures and resistance to God create serious problems that can hurt our relationship with God. Yet, God’s love is so great that He not only reaches out to us with loving acceptance, he also graciously provides a solution for our sin that we could not produce on our own.

With new joy, I recalled the words of the Apostle Paul on this very subject. He explained to the Roman Christians that God’s love precedes all of our attempts to establish our own worthiness. What Jesus did by giving his life for us on the cross shows us how far God will go to to keep us safely in His care forever. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners (i.e. before we even showed any interest in knowing, loving, or serving God), Christ died for us.” (2)

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Jesus healing the blind man (Mark 8:22-25) Chartres Cathedral, France

In that wonderful moment of awakening, my brokenness was healed. My eyes were opened. My heart was touched. I could hold my head high once again. God’s extraordinary love and grace had replaced shame in the soil of my soul. I now had a healthy, life-giving source of strength for my life—firmly rooted in God’s view of me, and not in my view of myself, or in my ability to earn or prove my worthiness. I was given a solid foundation of love to stand upon that does not crumble every time I stumble, or whenever I fall short of my ideals, fail, or feel rejected.

Several years later, someone who knew me well, asked me, “Who are you? “I hesitated for a moment, surprised by the unexpected question. But suddenly, I knew my answer.

Who am I? I am loved.

Photo ©Jill K H Geoffrion, Ph.D., www.jillgeoffrion.com

Author’s notes:

(1) Today’s post is a revised, English version of my recent post in French, “Je suis aimé!” (April 20, 2015). The original text was in French, because I shared this brief testimony with the spiritual pilgrims at the annual Cathedral Retreat, conducted in collaboration with the Chemin Neuf Community in Chartres, France, on April 19, 2015. On May 3, an earlier English version was  published on The Full Light website, which offers hope and healing words for those suffering from abuse of various kinds, under the same title, “I am loved!

(2) Romans 5: 8, NIV. I added the words in italics to clarify the meaning of the verse.

(3) Thank you to Jill Geoffrion for the photos above.

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4 Steps to Loving ‘Hard-to-Love’ People

What do you do if you’ve just had it with someone? It may be a family member, a friend, or maybe a co-worker. You may have even been quite close at one time, but lately the relationship just isn’t working. I am not necessarily talking about someone who is actively spewing forth hostility or hatefulness, or someone you have to avoid for your own safety. I’m thinking of those people you simply don’t want to be around, but can’t avoid, or you feel as if you shouldn’t give up completely on them for one reason or another. On your best days, you would still like to be able to love them better or show Christ’s love to them. Loving such “hard (for us)-to-love” individuals is, well, hard! Sometimes the slightest comment or look by “hard-to-love” individuals can stir up a whole rash of negative feelings and even bring out your worst self. Then, there are all those times when your best efforts to try to love them actually backfire, and the relationship deteriorates even further. You’ve figured that you can’t change them, and you also probably realize that it is harder to change yourself than you might like to admit. You may already be at the point of giving up completely.

Tough times on the Camino 2006
Tough times on the Camino

So, what hope is there? Lessons from the Camino In 2006, when my wife, two sons, and I walked five hundred miles across northern Spain on the Camino, a ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, we had a LOT of time together as a family. We were deeply grateful for the unique opportunity to be together for 37 days on this kind of spiritual and physical adventure. On the other hand, our close proximity under these conditions made it impossible to avoid facing unresolved tensions in our relationships. Blow ups, sulking, withdrawing, attacking, followed by more conversation, trying to listen better, many miles to walk and think, praying, and stumbling along under stressful circumstances made the journey a lot harder than we ever imagined. Yet, facing the truth of our relational issues all led to some new insights over time. What emerged were four practical steps anyone can take to improve a broken or difficult relationship that proved to be quite helpful to us then and ever since in many different contexts. Here they are. 1. See—The first step is to open our eyes to see people for who they are, not who we want them to be, or who we’ve caricatured them to be. 2. Accept—We need to let go of any negative emotion we might be carrying from our dislike/disappointment/resentment/frustration etc. arising from the fact that they are not who we want them to be. 3. Appreciate—From a peaceful place of acceptance of another person, we are in a much better place to look for the other person’s qualities and unique gifts and contributions, and to begin to genuinely appreciate something about them. 4. Delight—From an attitude of appreciation, we can now let ourselves actually delight in this or that aspect of their personalities or way of being in the world.

On the journey together
On the journey together

How these four steps transformed my marriage In my own marriage, this four-step process has been extremely helpful. My wife and I share many things in common, but our personalities are quite different, and clash rather easily. Learning to “see” her for who she is has included giving up my ideas of what I thought a perfect wife should be and even who I thought I was marrying! One of the most helpful things I have tried is to consciously set aside my previous expectations for her and start over. I step back and try to see what is real about her. I keep asking her and myself, “Who is Jill?” Not, “Who do I want her to be?” but “Who is she, actually?” (step one) Seeing her for who she truly is leads then to a decision point: Will I accept her as she is? A negative answer perpetuates my unhappiness and the tension between us. A positive answer opens the door to greater peace—not resignation, but simply accepting that this is the person she is without a big, negative emotional charge. (step two)  Then it becomes a whole lot easier to stop reacting when she doesn’t meet my expectations in one way or the other. With this, I have been training myself to say, especially when the old reactions flare up, “Well, that’s Jill.” (That is, “That’s who she is, and I can live with that.”) At this point, the marriage can take a real turn for the better. I’ve decided that I don’t want to stay stuck in disappointment or resentment, thinking about all I might want her to be or to do. Instead, I choose to focus my attention on her unique gifts, her tremendous love for me, all that she does for me and for our family, and the many ways that she creatively contributes to the world. (step three) Then, delighting in her suddenly didn’t seem so impossible to imagine anymore. In my case, I begin to genuinely enjoy many of the idiosyncratic ways Jill gives of herself to love and help me, our family, and many others day after day. There’s nobody else quite like her, and I am now more sure than ever that I wouldn’t want to be married to anyone else! (step four)

Tim and Jill dancing on the Camino
Learning to dance together again

Not giving up It may be easy to blame “hard-to-love” individuals for our feelings or attitude toward them.  But Jesus’ teaching on loving our neighbor and even our enemy doesn’t really support that kind of thinking. He simply doesn’t give us much room to blame someone else for our not trying to love them. To love others is our calling regardless of how others behave, not our reward for their approved or desired behavior. So, in the end, from Jesus’ point of view, loving others is not about them, it’s about us. It’s about our commitment to being people of love, who continually ask God to love others through us more and more. It’s about our willingness to humble ourselves and to let God change our hearts. It’s about doing the hard work of learning how to see—accept—appreciate—and even delight in our “hard-to-love” neighbors, so that we may love them as God loves us and we love ourselves. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV) If you want more suggestions… Who is one “hard-to-love” person in your life? You may be at a complete loss to know what to do differently or you may feel powerless, but you still would like to learn how to let God’s love flow more freely through you to him or her.

  1. Make a list of their characteristics as fairly and objectively as you can. Who is he? Who is she? Without judging them, try to “see” them for who they are.
  2. Let go of all that you’ve been wanting them to be, and choose to accept that this is the way they are—and who they are likely going to be unless they choose to change. Take a deep breath and release all your pent up feelings as you exhale. Pray for the grace to get to the place where you can observe this person and simply say, “Well, that’s _________________ (so-and-so).” You know you have successfully completed this step when you can mention their name without an emotional charge, and you can think of them without disdain or distress in your judgment of them.
  3. Now, identify their strengths as you perceive them. What do they contribute to the world or others? What potential do you see? What of their life do you genuinely value, even if they are not offering their best side to you personally?
  4. Lastly, from a place of peaceful acceptance and genuine appreciation, is there anything about this person that you actually like or enjoy? Don’t try to force this step, but ask God to give you eyes to see what Christ delights in when he sees this person, and to free you to begin to enjoy some aspect of that person, too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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