For months after I fell in love with Brad, my feet barely touched the ground. He sent love notes on tiny papers and read me poetry; we walked the length and breadth of Manhattan, deep in conversation. I thought Brad was perfect; I thought we were perfect.
Thirteen months after our first date, we were married in the church where I worshipped as a child. We moved from New York to California, and less than a year later, our first son was born. We worked at parenting, our jobs, and serving in church. I longed to fulfill each role with excellence, but the demands of each one seemed to steal time and attention from the others. Disappointed with my own performance, I developed a perverse addiction to niggling my less-than-perfect husband with criticisms.
If I was stressed and he asked me to help him with a task, I sighed or rolled my eyes. If he left tools on the patio, I would groan. One day, he said, “I think my spiritual gift might be faith.” I cackled. Inside I was thinking of George Muller and Amy Carmichael, next to whom anyone’s faith would be small. I ignored the living hope my husband maintained that things would improve; that if his boss was upset, tomorrow’s assignment would earn him favor; or if our two sons were fighting, patient conversation would help them reconcile.
As I participated in a women’s Bible study, I began to recognize my criticism of my husband was wrong. One day, I overheard myself grumbling under my breath about something Brad had done. I said aloud, “I don’t want to criticize him anymore. God help me.”
I tried recording my daily number of criticisms. The first day, I tallied five or six. The second day, four. The third day, fifteen. I had believed the false story that Brad should be flawless, because I believed that I could be flawless. Tallying helped me recognize the magnitude of my critical flaw, but it didn’t help me recover.
My sister recommended The Power of a Praying Wife, by Stormie O’Martian. I began praying one of Stormie’s scripture-based prayers every day. The first prayer ends, “God, give my husband a new wife, and let it be me.” Daily prayers aligned with God’s desires for Brad began to change my heart.
Later our pastor, Matt Chandler, taught a sermon series about God’s Beautiful Design for men and women. While preparing us for communion, Matt said, “God would never roll his eyes at you.” As that truth penetrated my mind, I felt a wall around my heart dissolving. If God responded to my mistakes and failures with compassion and kindness, valuing me more than he valued my accomplishments; I wanted to respond to Brad that way, too.
Brad and I enrolled in a twelve-week program called Steps. The first four weeks examined the gospel, which reminded me that God, the perfect Father, runs to forgive us and welcome us home, even when the only thing we’ve done right is to begin walking towards him, realizing how much we need his help.
During the middle four weeks of Steps, we inventoried our failures and people to ask for forgiveness. Brad topped my list. I wrote the sins against him I needed to expose. One day we sat outside in the sunshine and I confessed. Like God, Brad forgave me. The wall in my heart dissolved further. Forgiveness, God’s and my husband’s, freed me to begin becoming Brad’s new wife.
Today we celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Application: Dear friend, if you are wrestling to conquer your own critical spirit, I encourage you to continue to fight. Weary friend, when you recognize the magnitude of God’s grace to you, that abundant grace will begin to flow out of you towards others, especially those nearest and dearest to you.
A friend suggested that most people who are critical don’t realize it. They intend their comments to be helpful, not realizing that they tear down, rather than build up; discourage, rather than encourage. Do you have a relationship habit that needs to be uncovered and dissolved under the waterfall of God’s grace?
The Power of a Praying® Wife by Stormie Omartian
Steps Member Book: Gospel-Centered Recovery by Matt Chandler, Michael Snetzer