My husband used to be a romantic. He brought flowers when he picked me up for dates. He wrote poems. He took me on a hot air balloon ride once. Another time, he showed up unexpectedly with a new, red dress for me complete with fancy black heels and tickets to see Romeo and Juliet. Magically, the dress fit like a glove. The man raised the bar. High. So high, he has struggled to leap over it ever since.
Marriage tends to drain husbands of their motivation for over-the-top romantic gestures. I get it. I'm sure I used to cook pork chops more often, and offer doe-eyed compliments a little more freely.
Still, the lack of romantic overtures irks me sometimes. I've lowered my standards over the years. I don't need to be whisked off on a second-honeymoon or anything. But a little unexpected thoughtfulness from time to time would go a long way.
One evening, we were getting ready to go out. I planned the date. I asked if he wanted to go. I arranged the babysitter. All he had to do was show up. And he did. 15 minutes late and kind of grumpy. I lost my mind. I yelled. He apologized. I sat in our room, pouting, refusing to leave for our date because I no longer wanted to go have fun with him.
"I'm sorry, please forgive me," he called through the door. Because of course I had locked it.
Part of me wanted to let go of my offense and enjoy the evening I had been looking forward to all week. Most of me wanted to stubbornly refuse to speak to him for as long as I could manage because this wasn't the first time we'd had this argument. Proving my point through a dramatic drawn-out fight felt like the only way to force him to change.
I weighed my options. I calmed down enough to talk it over with God. I prayed a weird, angry, self-justifying prayer, looking for permission to hold my ground. "God, I know he apologized. But, how many times am I supposed to forgive him for the exact same thing, when I know he's not going to change and he's going to just keep doing this over and over again?"
I didn't really expect an answer, but I got one. A quiet thought that I tried hard to ignore:
Seventy times seven.
I had no response. No witty retort. The bible was clear, and God reminded me of it. If I fancied myself a follower of Jesus, then I would do the thing Jesus told his disciples to do and I would forgive my husband again. I would forgive him again and again. I would forgive him every time, every day if I needed to, even for the same offense, even if I knew he would never change.
My husband Ryan is my "seventy times seven person." We each get one or two of those in our whole life. Some of us might have a small handful of "seventy times seven people," if we have large families that we're particularly close to or a circle of old friends we keep up with.
He is my opportunity to practice extravagant grace. He is one of the few people who can tax my love, take advantage, forget to appreciate me, and all the while allow me the privilege of learning (very slowly) to lay my life down. Now, when I get angry with him, which still happens pretty often after seventeen years of marriage, I try to remember that forgiving him is an opportunity I have been given. It is a chance to learn a little more about God's kind of love.
If I ever perfect the art of loving him and my kiddos, hopefully I can move on to some people who are harder to love. Maybe I can allow myself to get close enough to them to feel disappointed, hurt, and angry. Maybe the practice I've had forgiving my "seventy times seven people" will help me show strangers the kind of supernatural grace that doesn't come easily to me. Maybe I'll start to look a little more like Jesus and a little less like the stubborn, selfish, wreck of a human I sometimes choose to be.
Who are your "seventy times seven people?" Can you start to think of all the irritating things they do as amazing opportunities for you to slowly transform into the person God made you to be?
(Please note, this principle does not apply to circumstances where someone's behavior puts you or others in physical or emotional danger. In circumstances of abuse, forgiveness never means putting yourself or others at risk. Forgiveness is not permission. More blogs to come on this topic.)