Occasionally, I feel as though my wife has wronged me. More justifiably, my wife may feel that I have wronged her. I can’t help it. Love her as I might, I’m not able to overcome my flaws and love her perfectly. These wrongs are small things … whose turn it was to wash the dishes, who should pick up the crying baby, a harsh word that is quickly taken back. But these small tensions add up over time.
As a pastor, I’ve counseled many couples whose marriages have begun to fray under the stress of unresolved feelings of being wronged. Often, the issues were old arguments and hurts that kept appearing again and again. There was no progress because each person had the need to feel that the argument be settled “fairly.” I’ve also dealt with situations — particularly at funerals and weddings — where families are ruptured and split, brothers who don’t talk to brothers or a “black sheep” relative who embarrasses the rest. It’s a sad fact of life that many families are affected by divorce, feuds, and hard feelings.
None of our families are perfect, so what’s the difference between a family that stays together and one that eventually splits up? The difference isn’t fairness or justice; after all, we all feel wronged at some point by a family member. The difference is how successful families handle those grievances. Insisting that justice be done in any and all circumstances won’t allow for a family to last very long, because no family is capable of that. The glue that holds a family together is mercy.
God has a never-ending willingness to show mercy. If God’s mercy can save the world, it can certainly save our families. By practicing mercy within our relationships, we will not only survive but our love will grow stronger and stronger.
Here are six ways we can show mercy within our families.
1Leave the last cookie
It’s a beautiful thing when my wife leaves the last cookie on the plate. She knows how irrationally happy I get when I see a cookie, so she decides to save it for me. Often, she never says a word about the sacrifice, either. Her generosity has even begun to make me think about how I can secretly arrange so she can have the last cookie. I know this sounds insignificant, but these small, daily acts of merciful love add up.
2Turn the lights off when you leave a room
I estimate that I’ve spent fully half my life turning lights off in empty rooms. I seem to always be the only one annoyed about. There are other annoying habits. For instance, my children always leave the chairs pushed away from the table when they get up from dinner. Every single night, I go into the dining room and push the chairs neatly back into place. One night, one of my children had already pushed her chair into place. I shed a tear of joy. Not pushing your chair in, leaving lights on, or leaving a dirty dish on the counter may not be a big deal, but if it bothers other members of the family and you adapt, that is truly a merciful action.
3Stop the complaining
Being with someone who frequently complains is tiring. It’s also a temptation to join in with the negativity, especially when debriefing from a long day at work or wanting to gossip about another family member. It’s a great mercy to spare those we love from such an experience.
4Do the extra chore
A few weeks ago our six-year-old really wanted to wake up before mommy so he could make her a surprise breakfast. He set his alarm for 6 a.m. and, when it went off, he slept through it. He did, however, manage to wake up his mommy very early because she’s the one who had to get up and turn it off. Imagine how touched she was by the gesture, and how much more touched she would have been if he’d actually accomplished it?
5Forget about fairness
Family dynamics rarely make for fairness. Someone gets stuck sharing a room, someone gets the worst chore, husbands and wives have different responsibilities and may consider that the grass is greener on the other side. Families that show mercy, though, never count the cost.
6Never mention past mistakes
The easiest way to win an argument is to bring up an old failing. It may seem justified to do so, but in the end, all it does it create a sore spot that eventually becomes a major conflagration. Showing mercy, forgiving completely, and turning the page is a major component to a happy family.
What you may notice is that most of these everyday forms of mercy are simple. They’re so small that other members of the family may not even notice them — that’s the point. Mercy doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s a gift we give each other in myriad daily ways and it never expects to be thanked. It may not be fair, but fairness is over-rated when compared to a loving, happy family.
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