Yesterday my wife and I were talking about the radical lengths required for real reconciliation to transpire. We both agreed that as a couple we both had to abandon our right to have rights and humbly confess that we were both in need. She for different reasons than I, obviously, and perhaps she will speak to that from her perspective in a later post.
As the outright offender in our marriage, it might seem obvious that the very least I or anyone in my position can do is take a posture of complete and utter servitude and humility, willing to surrender any and all rights for the one betrayed. Yet you would be surprised to know how many people refuse to come to this place (and how long it took for me to get there myself!). They are sorry (at least they think they are) for what they have done, and they desire to reconcile with their family but they want to do so on their own terms, or at best, expect some compromise in the negotiations. The following sentiments are expressed far too often by people who want reconciliation:
She expects me to leave my job! Is she crazy? I want to get back together but she’s totally unreasonable!
She’ll take me back but only if I drop all my friends. It’s she or them, she says. I want our marriage to work but her ultimatums are ruining our chances!
She says that for us to work out I need to give up the internet. I don’t mind cutting back some, but I have to have it for my job. She doesn’t get it.
Such negotiations are the exact opposite of the truly penitent. As Amy and I thought about the sacrifices necessary to reconcile we were reminded of the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When this son “comes to his senses” after living unfaithfully as a son to his father, he determines to return home and say,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).
Absent from this confession and plea are any grasping for rights. The son returns with head bowed and heart torn, willing to be treated as a slave rather than a son. Can anyone imagine this prodigal returning home to say that he is sorry for squandering everything and betraying the love and trust of his father, but dad, I want my old room back? Dad, don’t ask me to clean the pigsty cause I’ve been living in it long enough. Dad, you need to show me some consideration, as I’ve been through a lot.
Let me be blunt. If you have been unfaithful to your spouse and are bargaining in these ways or others you are not truly repentant. You haven’t yet come to your senses like the prodigal son and are deluding yourself into thinking you still have rights. The tension and angst your feel and the reason reconciliation seems so impossible is because you won’t die to yourself completely but still hold out hope that you can keep some of the old man around, though perhaps dressed up in new clothes.
If there is any hope for restoration you are going to have to be the first to die. A necessary part of that death is a dying to self – to your rights, your dreams, your ideas of what the marriage ought to look like, your former life altogether. This is the path so few are willing to walk. But I can assure you that you do not walk it alone. You can know that as a forgiven sinner, as you walk a path of humility before your spouse and others whom you’ve hurt, that you are walking the path of Jesus, who took your sin upon his sinless shoulders like a lamb being led to the slaughter (Isa. 53). “Consider him,” the author of Hebrews writes, “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).
If the Son of God, who did not deserve it, could endure with patient humility such hostility from us, surely you, who does deserve it, can endure the evacuation of your rights for the sake of true repentance and reconciliation.
If not, then son, may you soon come to your senses.