Kristin’s Story

On Friday I mentioned I had a story for you. It’s a story about what “speaking [gospel] truth in love” (Eph 4:15-16) can look like in real life.

Last Thursday we had Community Group (our church’s small group ministry) in our home. This is not the group we typically attend. In fact, it was our first time with them since our new church started them two months ago. Benny opened the meeting by reviewing the purpose of our groups: to grow in biblical fellowship by learning how to incarnate the love and hope of Christ to one another. After some brief comments he asked if anyone in the group had anything happening in their lives for which they wanted help.

After a brief pause, Kristin (not her real name) spoke up. Because she is new to both Christianity and to the group, I was impressed by her humility and the obvious grace she had witnessed in the group the prior time she had attended. Who would so easily open up their life to a group of people she doesn’t know well — unless she had witnessed the compassionate care she now desired to personally experience?

Kristin humbly shared concerns and disappointments about her marriage to Scott (who wasn’t present) but did so without putting him in a bad light. She started by communicating her eagerness to focus on her own weaknesses because she understands the only person she has any control over changing is herself. I didn’t know this young woman, but I was already inspired.

As she described weaknesses in how she and Scott communicate, my heart was warmed when Benny and other men in the room identified with Scott. This prevented Scott from being “the bad guy” as several husbands empathized with his responses and thinking, and wives admitted they struggled similarly to Kristin. What grace.

Group members also asked helpful, compassionate questions about her struggles. She responded to each with gut-level honesty. As a young woman expecting her second child in less than two years, it became apparent that she is in a tough season. Martial strife and anger, pregnancy nausea, fatigue, and financial stress are taking their toll on this new Christian.

“Sometimes I get so upset I just have to leave. So I go outside, sit in my car and read my Bible. And God leads me to something that helps me to know what needs to be fixed in me. I can’t fix my husband but I know God can fix me.”

How inspiring that such a young Christian facing weighty challenges could be so open and have such a healthy dose of self-suspicion! She is also running to God, rather than becoming bitter that becoming a Christian didn’t solve all her problems. Amazing. Individuals in the room communicated how inspired they were by her humility. Even her honesty wasn’t without an understanding disposition toward a husband toward whom she regularly struggles with disappointment and anger.

Then someone asked Kristin if she felt God’s biggest priority was to “fix” her.

You see, Kristin grew up in a religious system where doing or praying the “right” thing was a focus. That night she wanted to know what she needed to do to change. Her desire to focus on herself rather than her husband is impressive, but the fact is their marriage is hard. They are both suffering from patterns of sin in themselves and their spouse. They’re weary. Frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Financially strapped. Young and inexperienced. And another baby is coming soon.

When someone asked Kristen what one thing she most wanted to see change in her marriage she said, “Our communication. Even when we’re sitting together on the couch watching TV I feel alone. I just want him to listen to me. To care about what I’m saying. To understand what I’m going through. But my overreactions and anger aren’t helping. I understand why he doesn’t want to talk to me sometimes because our conversations start with me being angry.”

A woman in the room went back to Kristin saying she needed to be “fixed” by God.

“Kristin,” she began, “You obviously see that your angry outbursts and over reactions to situations are hurting yourself and your marriage. And you’re right. But God is helping you to see this and it’s an evidence of His grace that you have eyes to see the affects your sin patterns are having. Yet I’m not sure God’s priority right now is to fix you. I think what might be most important to Him is for you to know He loves you.”

Kristin needed to hear that what she is looking for — attention, affection, a listening ear, comfort, companionship — will never ultimately come from Scott. Yes, Scott needs to grow. By God’s grace, he will learn how to more tenderly care for his wife. But chances are that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Two of the ladies (representing me, too!) were able to share how common her and Scott’s struggles are by admitting similar temptations to anger and criticalness.

And even if Scott changes, God is the only One who will always love her; always be available to listen to her; always care about what she says; always accept her. Because of His death on the cross, she is forever loved and cherished, even though she gets angry and has become bitter toward her husband.

As these thoughts were shared, Kristin began to cry.

“I came tonight hoping I could get help. I thought that people would tell me I need to stop nagging and being so angry at Scott, which is true. But God is saying He loves me even though I’m sinning so much? That just makes me love Him more.”

Oh, the hope that gospel truth brings.

Speaking the truth in love to Kristin means telling her the whole truth. The gospel truth. It’s true that her pattern of sinful anger and bitterness is eating away at her love for Scott (like his sins are equally hurting their marriage). It’s true that she needs to change. But it’s also true that God loves her. He looks on her with favor, acceptance and tender care. He is never angry or frustrated or wearied by her talking or impatient or selfish. And His power is at work in her to help her to go from seeing her sin to experiencing real and lasting change.

Scott will never be God to her. There is only One who is capable of loving her endlessly and perfectly.

As peace settled onto Kristin, one of the guys spoke up. He shared that unlike Scott (and other husbands in the room…smile) God always wants to hear her talk and that she didn’t need special prayers to communicate with Him. “Just talk to Him like you did to us. Pour out your heart to Him and He will always listen. Don’t feel you have to say it the ‘right’ way.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?!?!?” she exclaimed. “I was just going to ask for prayers I can pray to have this kind of relationship with God.”

Oh, how I love the active presence of the Spirit of God when His people gather.

I know this post has been long. Thank you for your patience. But it’s not enough to read about “speaking the truth in love.” Kristin’s story shows us what speaking gospel truth to one another can look like in a real person’s real life circumstances.

As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Yes. That’s the gospel. And I saw it in action last Thursday night.

Is Kristin’s story your story?

A Pastoral Surprise

Several years ago my husband, Benny, took a group of small-group leaders from our former church on a marriage retreat. And he had a surprise for us. You see, past retreats like these had been characterized by various couples or individuals getting onto the “hot seat” where marital sin patterns or weaknesses were lovingly discussed. Leading up to these weekends, couples started joking about who would occupy the hot seat this year and wives noticed their husbands being extra nice. Smile.

The hot seat wasn’t horrible. It was great to get helpful input about our marriages. The correction was given with the collective heart to express care and love. But over the years we learned that something was missing.

So this retreat was different.

Benny started by sharing there would be no hot seats this year. The focus of the weekend would be Biblical Fellowship in Marriage, characterized by learning what it really means to speak the truth in love to one another. 

We have been a part of churches that valued truth-telling. My life has been changed by friends who had the love and courage to point out areas in which I was blind to weaknesses or sins in my life. I don’t know who I would be today without them!

But had we “missed something” about what truth telling fully meant?

Ephesians 4: 15-16 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Speak the truth “instead” of what? To find that out we have to look at the preceding verses where Paul exhorted believers to grow in Christian maturity and warned them not to be confused by false doctrines. In the past I learned that “speaking the truth in love” essentially meant “pointing out someone’s sin or weakness with a smile.” But is that really what Paul was talking about?

What will help us grow and protect us from false doctrines isn’t just being nicely confronted by our friends. Loving correction is certainly one aspect of genuine Christian love. But the thing we most need to hear to grow and protect us is the gospel.

It’s the truth of the gospel that we need to speak to one another.

On that retreat, Benny taught us how to speak gospel truth to each other.

How did he do this?

  • By giving husbands and wives the opportunity to draw attention to evidences of God’s grace in one another’s lives.
  • By asking questions that prompted the group to talk about areas in which we had seen growth in one another over the past year.
  • By allowing time to pray for and minister hope to one another in areas of suffering (parents with a child battling anorexia, a couple dealing with challenges with their pre-teen’s regular lies, another couple whose tense conflicts were escalating).
  • And, yes, by giving people an opportunity to confess sins or weaknesses that were hindering their marriages from growing in specific areas for input and accountability.

The truth about us, he explained, is that we are both sinners and saints. We have areas of needed growth and achieved growth. The gospel truth is that we are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ by His mighty power. Yes, we remain sinners, but growth is occuring because Christ, the hope of glory, lives in us!

Commentator P.T. O’Brien says this about the Ephesians passage above:

“The apostle is not exhorting his readers to truthfulness in general or speaking honestly with one another, as appropriate or important this may be.  Rather, he wants them all to be members of a confessing church, with the content of their testimony to be the ‘word of truth’, the gospel of their salvation.”

What can this kind of gospel speech look like?

I have a story to tell you on Monday.