He wasn’t putting himself out there. His indirect attempts at prompting my admissions were not working. I stood firm and resolute. He kept prying.
It was our third date, he was putting the feelers out, and I wasn’t having it. No way would I be the first one to jump in the water. I expected him to directly broach the topic of our relationship. I wanted him to tell me his feelings first and initiate an official relationship. Yet we were at a stalemate. The awkward silence swallowed our fun evening as it came to a close.
When we parted ways, I became angry and began to doubt him. “Maybe he’s not the kind of guy I want?” “This isn’t going to work out.” “He’s not leading and initiating like he should.” My harsh judgments were growing like a hard shell around my heart, and I began rejecting him internally. I thought it would end before it had even begun.
But a good friend intervened and deflated my idealism with some wise realism. “Give him a break. It’s really hard for guys to put themselves out there. Help him out a little.” I swallowed my pride, realizing I needed to encourage and support my potential boyfriend, so he could feel safe to try again. I provided another opportunity for us to spend time together, which led to him asking me out.
It’s a good thing I listened to my friend’s advice, because that potential boyfriend became my husband.
Before I got married, I was hard on men because I knew the Bible laid out high expectations for biblical manhood. This mentality served me well at weeding out the “bad ones” in the dating world, but held me back from going forward with the “good ones.” My lack of graciousness was my Achilles’ heel — the one place of weakness and vulnerability amidst my strength and pride.
I was really good at knowing what others should be doing, especially men, but negligent on my end. Having a strong view of biblical manhood and womanhood can be an advantage in dating and marriage, but it can also breed unrealistic expectations.
“The grace I extended to my husband in our dating relationship helped him step out and lead.”
Knowing what we should be (the ideal) can make us forget what we really are (the reality). Men won’t always lead perfectly, just like women won’t always respect and submit to their husbands. The moments when the ideal transcends reality are an evidence of God’s grace at work on our behalf. This same grace at work in us is our example to live by. Grace must temper the standards in our relationships.
This truth in no way means that we “settle” for immaturity in dating, or that we enable sin or abuse in marriage, but it does remind us that we should examine our own hearts, not just critique the failings of others.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:3–5,
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
One way grace manifests itself in our lives is through examining our hearts first. It’s easy to see others’ shortcomings while ignoring our own weaknesses. God’s word does call us to speak the truth in love, which at times will produce confrontation. But if we ask God to make us more aware of our sin than the sin of others, we’ll find a long-lasting solution for many of the problems in our relationships. We all fall short of the ideals laid out in Scripture. Knowing this truth gives us the humility we need to spur one another on to these very same ideals.
What I Learned from Grace
I learned a lesson when my husband and I were dating that I’m still learning in our marriage. I’m better at criticizing (even nitpicking over small things) than I am at being gracious. When he doesn’t do things right, according to God’s standards or mine, I can be harsh and unloving. I can still help my husband by showing him ways he can grow and change, but I often neglect the call to change myself first.
The grace I extended to my husband in our dating relationship helped him step out and lead. I changed before he changed. I took the log out of my eye, so I could see the best way to help him with the speck in his. After five years of marriage, I am still happily called to do this “till death do us part.”
I’m so grateful my friend confronted my unrealistic expectations and challenged me to extend my suitor some grace.