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GRACE NOTES 2/15/14: 'I love him, but...'

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By Nancy Kennedy

I’ve always said motherhood is easy when you don’t have kids. Likewise, it’s easy to be married when you’re not. When you’re not married and you’re only dreaming about it, you imagine the ideal. In your imagination, you and your spouse say and do all the right things, and even your arguments are sweet and making up is rosy.

In real life, however, marriage gets thorny, and sometimes bloody.

Mostly, it’s just regular, with a few blips and annoyances along the way.

Recently, I was with a group of women talking about husbands, as women often do. I shared with them some excerpts from a funny little book about husbands that I found years ago called “I Love Him, But…”

For example: “I love him, but he growls at the dog, just to make it clear who’s the boss.”

“I love him, but he leaves the kitchen cabinets and drawers open. All the time. If it’s dark, I walk into them and nearly get knocked out.”

“I love him, but he loves horse art. The house is full of horse paintings — bad, good, old, new. You can almost smell the hay — or worse.”

“I love him, but he saves things. He loved our cat, so he saved her hairballs. Cat’s been dead 10 years. He’s still got her hairballs in his nightstand.”

I could add a few of my own, but I won’t.

It’s a funny little book, but in a way, the premise of it really isn’t all that loving, because it focuses on another person’s annoying habits and quirks. When that’s your focus, (well, mine at least; I can’t speak for you) you — I — start thinking, “If only this person’s flaws would go away, I could love him or her better.” 

But it’s not love if the burden or fault is placed on the other person.

I remember years ago being in a women’s Bible study that turned into a husband-trashing session and leaving there feeling icky. Although I hadn’t participated, I knew at times I had been guilty of concentrating on negatives — and in any relationship there are negatives.

With the women I was with the other day, we talked about the little book, but reversing it. Instead of: “I love him, but (fill in the blank with quirk or flaw), we would reverse it to say, “He does this or that, but I love him.”

The original way ends with the flaw, so that’s what you’re left thinking about. That’s where you stay parked.

But when you reverse it, you’re left with the love.

Such a little thing, but so transformative.

It reminds me of a friend who had been going through a rough time in her marriage and didn’t really like her husband all that much. As his 40th birthday approached, her counselor suggested that she make a list of 40 things she admired and appreciated about her husband.

She said the first two or three things were very difficult to think of, but once she started she discovered that she could actually list more than 40. When she was done, she realized that her husband, although far from perfect, was actually not so bad after all.

It’s unfair to demand, whether spoken or unspoken, that people change or be someone they’re not in order for us to love them, or love them better. 

God never does that to us, although he has every right to. Instead, the Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Another translation puts it this way: “God didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway” (same verse, The Message paraphrase).

Just think: We who are his — we were once enemies of God, dead in our sins, objects of his anger and wrath and deservingly so, but he loved us. He didn’t expect us to clean ourselves up in order for him to love us; he just did. He loved us first.

Not only that, we still sin, but he still loves us.

Plus, his love for us enables us to love others — even a husband who sometimes tosses socks at his wife’s head. Just sayin’.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.