We waste so much of our happiness arguing over petty differences. Like Jesus told the Pharisees, we strain at gnats and swallow camels. It’s a funny picture, isn’t it? In those days a man would pour his wine through a fine cloth (like the tea sock used in Asian coffee shops) to remove the smallest foreign particle. Yet, Jesus said, that same man was swallowing a camel, something many times bigger. The point was clear. They argued over petty matters, but neglected the issues that mattered most.
I see the same attitude in troubled marriages. One or both partners forget what is most important. They become obsessed with details, using their partner’s small failures or oversights to shift the attention from their own major problems.
I know a man (we’ll call him Simon) who is married to a difficult woman. Simon’s wife, (let’s call her Felicia), continually punishes him for small failures. Does he forget a request or overlook a task? He will surely hear about it. His wife excels at faultfinding, and she doesn’t do it quietly.
Felicia, when irritated, has a voice like the sound of car brakes squealing. “S-i-i-i-mon! How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t leave your cup on the table!” I believe Simon sometimes forgets on purpose. He thinks it’s the only way to preserve some sense of dignity. No man wants a wife who scolds him like a nagging auntie scolds a child.
Simon wants a good marriage. He wants to take some steps that would improve their marriage, but his wife’s attitude makes it difficult. Felicia refuses to admit her need for change. Instead she repeatedly shifts all the blame to Simon. That is a pharisee’s tactic. Point the finger at everyone else, give them impossible standards to live up to, and never admit that you have even greater problems than they do. Pride makes people act like that. Rather than admitting our need for change, we become expert faultfinders.
Principle-Centered Leadership, by Stephen Covey, is a book aimed directly at business leaders. Although I would not agree with the author’s religious beliefs, much of his material is simply excellent. How surprising, in a book written for business leaders, to find the following thoughts:
“. . . I once observed a marriage where there were frequent arguments. One thought came to me: These two people must have a broken heart and a contrite spirit toward each other or this union will never last. You can’t have oneness, unity, without humility. Pride and selfishness will destroy the union between man and God, between man and woman, between man and man . . .”
While teaching marriage seminars in Asia I came to the same conclusion. I have taught principles of marriage and family to thousands of people, and my wife and I have counseled many couples. We have found that one principle, only one, marks the difference between healed marriages and broken marriages. That essential is humility. When both members of a marriage humble themselves, they become reasonable and responsive. Positive change begins immediately.
Some years ago I had to rush my wife to the hospital. Extreme pain from an internal problem caused symptoms of shock. Immediately on our arrival the medical staff wheeled her into a treatment room. They punctured the vein in her arm to start an intravenous drip. Almost instantly Diane felt better and the symptoms of shock lessened. Humbling ourselves to God and one another has the same effect. It hurts, but it begins the healing process.
Pride is the real enemy of marital harmony. It makes us irritable people, easily offended by the simplest, most insignificant things. Does it really matter if your husband squeezes the toothpaste differently than you do? Does your wife always have to wake up before you do? Do you absolutely have to have everything done your way? Pride and self-centeredness make us rigid, inflexible people. How can we adjust to someone else if we can’t flex a little?
Is your mate married to a pharisee? Is your pride causing you to strain at gnats and swallow camels? To find out, let’s examine some characteristics of a pharisee’s mentality:
- Pharisees are perfectionists. Everything must be done their way, and only their way. We call that attitude intolerance.
- Pharisees lose their temper over small mistakes. They get angry over issues that would seem unimportant to another person.
- Pharisees are judges. Jesus called this the “splinter and log” way of thinking. They become experts on their spouse’s minor shortcomings, but ignore their own major ones. By using this tactic they can shift the attention from their own sinful attitudes to the weaknesses of their husband or wife.
- Pharisees manipulate other people. They cannot feel good about life unless they have everyone under their control. There is no end to their tactics, but one of the worst is their use of a super-spiritual attitude to make others conform to their wishes.
- Pharisees seldom experience true happiness, true joy, or true rest in their relationships. They are just too busy seeing problems, defending themselves, and blaming everyone else.
- Pharisees often have external order and internal disorder. Jesus said they wash the outside of the cup but ignore the inside. Pharisee husbands and pharisee wife consume a lot of energy keeping up appearances and saving face. Sometimes they fool people, at least for a while. Eventually, though, their acquaintances begin to see the truth.
Without question, pharisees are hard to please, hard to enjoy, and hard to live with. They themselves are seldom happy, but they are too proud to admit it.
At this point in an article I usually give my readers some helpful hints, but I don’t think I can do that this time. There’s just one cure for the illness I have described: husbands and wives must humble themselves. Did you know that no one else can humble you, and that you cannot humble another person? You can humiliate them, but you cannot force them to become humble. So here is my advice to you. It’s taken right James, chapter 4, verse 6:
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
Notice the promise for those who humble themselves: God gives grace! In human relationships, what does grace do? It makes us tolerant of failures. It keeps us from being self-centered and self-righteous. It removes the pressure that comes when two proud, unyielding people try to control one another. True humility (and the grace it brings) activates love in our lives. We cannot love without grace and we cannot love when pride controls us. So grace makes love possible.
If both husband and wife humble themselves what results will they see? Positive change will be easier, and quicker. Tension will decrease and joy will increase. They will see themselves more accurately and will become far less irritable.
Wouldn’t you love to have a marriage like that? If so, let’s pray this prayer:
“Father, you have made grace abundantly available to us, but our pride has kept us from experiencing it. We humble ourselves to you and ask you to forgive us. Give us your grace and change us from faultfinders to faithful partners. Amen.”