This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.
Ever think about the fact that the best of marriages likely face the most intense spiritual warfare? Or that the spouses who are most serious about their faith (even if their spouse isn’t) endure the most vicious of spiritual assaults?
Doesn’t this make sense? Satan wants to take out those marriages that most inspire and feed others, or, if one spouse is serious about God, he wants to attack the spouse who represents the greatest threat to his chaos.
By your act of reading this kind of a marriage blog on a regular basis, you are proclaiming your desire for a deeper, richer marriage that can serve the Kingdom of God. So the bad news is, if you’re reading this, your marriage is probably under increased attack. You are under increased attack.
So you need to be wise. And this post deals with one of the most subtle, clever attacks Satan ever levies: the cunning “second attack.”
I was alerted to this second attack by Gregory the Great (540-604), who was surely one of the most spiritually attuned popes who ever served (Gregory was pope from 590 to 604). He initially mourned being chosen pope, as he preferred a life of quiet contemplation and worship, but he realized that just as pride moves some to aspire to famous positions, so pride (love of self) can move others to shirk responsibility—and so he served. Are you getting how in tune he was with the subtle way in which sin can attack us from both ends?
Thus in marriage: 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient.” If you are impatient with your spouse, you’re not, at that moment, loving your spouse. The Bible exalts patience far more than we tend to do today: “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Prov. 16:32)
The Spiritual Blessing of Patience
Patience protects us from so many other spiritual evils. For example, if you think you are more spiritually mature than your spouse and so regularly display impatience with your spouse’s weaknesses, Gregory would suggest you’re disqualified from being a teacher: “He cannot truly be a teacher of what is good, if in his own way of life he does not know how to bear with equanimity [patience, long-suffering] the evils that others do.” Without patience, you are spiritually disqualified from leadership and ministry.
Impatience with others’ sin also turns us into arrogant people; when we don’t put up with the sin of others, we mentally elevate ourselves above others which is the very definition of pride.
Patience also allows us to fulfil the high call of the gospel. “Among men, it is virtuous to put up with enemies; but before God it is virtue to love them.” (Gregory is applying Matt. 5:44 here). In other words, patient people don’t just “put up” with their spouses or children’s sins, but seek to love them in their sin, to keep serving and being kind, to not let their sin lead them into their own sin of neglect. Without patience, we become resentful and pull away instead of moving toward our spouse.
The Second Attack
But none of this constitutes the dreaded “second attack.” It was Gregory’s perception of this second attack that blew me away. Gregory warns us that patient people often suffer a “first offense” with great patience—they are aware, sensitive, and mindful of the immediate temptation toward impatience, bitterness, and judging, so they apply grace. But like a boxer who has knocked down his opponent and starts to breathe a little easier, thinking “I’ve got this fight,” that initial victory can cause us to let down our guard, making us even more vulnerable.
Gregory warns what happens next: after a certain amount of time passes (different for all of us), Satan begins tempting us with onslaughts of resentful thoughts. What we bore in the moment, we resent in hindsight, and all that spiritual good shrivels up in our souls. Just as Satan incited the first person to cause the offense, so he incites the second person to become resentful of the offense. When we initially resist his intrusion into our thoughts and marriage, he simply pauses and waits, and then attacks us again when we are less aware.
All of which is why Gregory warns, “The patient are, therefore, to be admonished to fortify their heart after victory, to be on the lookout for the enemy who was overcome in open conflict” but who circles back when the patient one is not as alert, and by this “subsequent ruse” “tread on the neck of the conqueror who for a long time had been inflexible against him.”
You will rarely enjoy the luxury of forgiving a loved one once. The temptation toward bitterness and resentment all but assures that you will have to choose to forgive multiple times to keep your soul fresh and pure.
This is why daily reminding ourselves of the “Gospel”—the good news of Jesus Christ who died for us, rose from the dead, chose us to be in a relationship with him, and saved us apart from anything we might have done—is so key. If I don’t receive grace every day, I stop giving grace. Before you “feed” your family (if you’re like my wife) you go to the farmer’s market so you have something to serve your family.
Grace and patience are just like that. We have to receive grace, be reminded of grace, and thank God for his grace so that we have grace to give, lest we fall prey to the second attack and become bitter after we win the first victory. Otherwise, we’ll win the first battle, but fall prey to the second when we are less aware.