I had appointments in town yesterday and, though I don't usually stop anywhere to eat when I am out and about, I was so hungry that I took the time to sit down in a café and grab a salad.
The two women in the booth next to mine were discussing their husbands. Since I was alone, and had no one to converse with, I could not avoid overhearing their many complaints. One of them was especially disparaging.
Her husband did not plan his next business trip the way she would have done it. She has to rag on him to do the most menial tasks. After they had moved in together, she had to cajole him to finish his degree. He does not eat often enough, or at the right times. He does appreciate exercise the way she does....
After listening to this "lovely" conversation for a while, she bowled me over by announcing to her friend that she had informed him that he had better not say anything [about her role in the struggles of their marriage?] to her because she is so desirable that she could find someone to replace him in no time flat. She could have someone new in her bed by that very night, in fact!
Instead, I disposed of the rest of my salad and left.
"What happened?" I wondered to myself as I walked to my car. There must have been a time when she thought the world began and ended with this man, yet now she had nothing but vitriol for him.
I continued to mull over it as I drove home. It occurred to me that this may be a fleeting emotion - maybe they'd just had a big fight and she was venting her frustrations to her friend without thinking about how powerful words are, and that they have a lasting effect on others.
I thought back to a time in my own marriage when I had to learn this lesson the very hardest way. We had hit a rough patch in our marriage and I blamed him. I had a good friend at the time whom I called nearly every day.
Each day, the conversation would deteriorate into a one-sided husband bashing, and each day she would try to encourage me to do what was right... to obey scripture... to try something new to make a difference.
I was full of excuses for why I could not improve my marriage - I had tried this or that (probably only for a minute) and it had not worked. Besides, it was all his fault anyway!
After weeks of listening to me count and recount my husband's many faults (how did she endure it?), she said, "Why don't you just leave him?"
I was shocked! That is not what I wanted to hear!
I still wanted my marriage, this man - but I was unwilling to take responsibility for MY part in the problem and fix it. She had made many good suggestions as she tried to help me understand that I can only control ME.
I could not change what my husband said or did, but I COULD change what I said or did.
How I would respond.
How I would love.
How I would serve (and with what attitude).
I had ALL of the power concerning whether or not I even LIKED him.
It took me a while to catch on to all of this - but one change I made right away: I stopped complaining.
Yep. That was it. The very first change.
Most women do not marry men that we don't LIKE to begin with - yet somehow, along the way, we loose sight of the very things we liked about the man in the first place!
I think that is just one of the reasons we are exhorted in scripture to control our thoughts:
"...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5
"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8(NLT)
So Ladies (and Gents, if you're prone to complaining), the next time you open your mouth to speak a word...
that, once spoken, can never be retracted...
close your mouth quickly and think:
"Is what I am about to say really true?"
"Is what I am about to say going to bring honor or dishonor to my spouse (or to me by saying it)?"
"Is what I am about to say the right word to edify the hearers in this moment?"
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29 NIV
"Is what I am about to say going to paint a lovely word picture, or an ugly one?"
"Is what I am about to say going to cause the hearer to admire my spouse more? Or less?"
"Is what I am about to say excellent and full of praise?"
Years have passed (we are celebrating 19 years next month!), and we have hit several more rough patches, but one of the things that I have been learning is to zip my lip. I have tried to talk to other Godly women when we have struggled, but I continue to feel as though the speaking of negative words - even toward someone who is plugged in to God - casts a shadow over their perception of him later on.
The best thing that I'm discovering is this: when I talk only to God about it, often the frustrations are resolved within a few days, but without the lasting effect of the word spoken to another in a moment of anger.
It is paying off.
I am DEFINITELY much more in LIKE with my husband!