My dad likes to tell the story about his first tool set. Although the tools were child-sized, they were substantial enough to use. So he set to work. It wasn't until his parents crawled into bed that night that they discovered his handiwork — when the entire bed collapsed. My dad had managed to saw through the bed's legs.
Despite that shaky beginning, time and training eventually turned a child into a skillful carpenter. With the same kind of tools my dad once used to deconstruct his parents' bed, he learned to construct solid homes. Yes, my dad grew to be a builder.
My husband and I are also in the business of building — but not homes. Since the day God joined us together more than a decade ago, we've been partners in the business of building each other up in Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
One powerful way that we're working at building is by "saying grace" together. What I mean is this: When we speak, we're deliberately choosing words that are grace-filled — words that offer unmerited love and kindness; the kind of favor God showers on us through faith in Christ. And this makes the difference between destruction and construction in our home.
When we say grace together, we join the apostle Paul in living out this prayer: "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). If we want our partnership to be beautiful, meaningful and lasting, then we ought to be living out God's grace by extending it to one another.
And that takes work. It takes work all the time, but especially during arguments when our defenses are up. For example, when we're having that familiar marital disagreement about finances. In the past, we'd use the bulk of our words to chip away at one another through accusatory statements. We'd exchange comments like, "You always spend money on things we don't need!" or "Why don't you trust me with spending?"
Now, we're getting better at first offering a gift of grace. When it comes to that familiar disagreement, we might try something like this instead: "I understand how that can happen; I've done that myself." Sometimes we might ask: "How can I help with this? What could I do differently?" From these statements, we continue on to have meaningful discussions without inflicting relational damage.
And "saying grace" doesn't just work in the bigger issues of married life. It fits all sizes. Consider these potentially explosive situations and how saying grace can make a difference:
When your husband seems to be ignoring household chores. Instead of asking him, "How long are you going to wait to take care of this?" try commenting, "Maybe we can talk later about how we're taking care of the house. I really want to work together."
When your husband is running late. Instead of declaring, "You always do this to me!" try, "I understand what it feels like to be running late. How can I help you?"
When you feel your husband is about to make a poor parenting choice. Instead of exploding with, "I wish you'd stop spoiling the kids!" try explaining, "I'm thankful you have such a big heart for our kids. After they're in bed, let's discuss how they're doing — and how we're doing as parents."
Offering words of grace in marriage is not work for the weak. It takes focus, strength and self-control. But with a bit of practice, offering the gift of grace to your husband, instead of taking a cheap shot at him with your words, can actually become a habit.
Just like my father learned that the same tools used for destruction could also be used for construction, so we can grow in grace as we choose to use our words carefully. And as we do, we'll find we're building one another up — one grace-filled word at a time.
Janine Petry has served as a writer and editor in Christian publishing for more than a decade.
This article appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2014 by Janine Petry. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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