|Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:48
I wasn’t happy with my wife.
Our family had talked about observing Lent, and without a moment’s hesitation, both Lisa and my son, Graham, had it planned for me: “You need to give up Pepsi.”
What, they think I couldn’t do it? What is Lent — forty-six days? (We don’t observe Lent like the Roman Catholics, who get to imbibe on Sunday; our family goes for an “absolute” Lent, from Ash Wednesday all the way up to Easter morning.) I could handle six and a half weeks, no problem.
Two weekends into the ordeal, I called Lisa from the Chicago airport. “Look,” I complained, “I don’t have a lot of diversions on the road. I don’t look at Playboy. I don’t rent dirty movies at the hotel. I don’t get drinks at the bar. I don’t even enjoy the occasional cigar on the golf course. What’s so bad about a daily Pepsi? Why did you say I should give that up?”
“Those drinks are so bad for you,” Lisa answered.
“Can’t I have just one stinking vice?” I protested. “Just one?! You encouraged me to give up the one thing I can enjoy when I’m traveling and tired and stuck in an airport. Thanks a lot.”
But you know what? Forty-six days later, after breaking the habit, I realized I really don’t need a daily Pepsi. And how pathetic, anyway, that I count my one pleasure on the road sitting down with a sugary soft drink to get a caffeine pick-me-up? Breaking away from that “one stinking vice” helped me see that, in the long run, I might feel a lot better if I occasionally settled for an iced tea.
Admittedly, whether I drink a daily Pepsi is a very trivial matter — but the principle behind it goes much deeper. My statement “Can’t I have just one stinking vice?” has infected my own and many other marriages on a much more significant and profound level. Husbands may say, “Look, I don’t have affairs. I don’t gamble with the mortgage money. I’m home in the evening. Yeah, I occasionally lose my temper and wound you with a few careless words, but am I not allowed one vice?”
Wives may say, “I’ve been a faithful wife. I don’t bust the family budget. I’m there for my family. Maybe at times I talk negatively about my husband behind his back when he really ticks me off, but all in all, I think he has it pretty good.”
And so we excuse something we know we should change, but we ignore it, based on the faulty assumption that, since we are generally good husbands and wives, we can maintain our “one little vice.”
But the Bible doesn’t give us permission to ignore “one little vice.” Second Corinthians 7:1 urges us to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (emphasis added). When we say, “All in all, my spouse has it OK,” we’re not perfecting holiness; we’re excusing wickedness. I have a tendency to get a little short with my wife when a publishing deadline approaches — and this book was no exception.
Just days before my editor needed the manuscript, Lisa and I had a misunder- standing, to which I responded in a less-than-gracious manner. I can excuse these episodes with, “Well, I’m under a lot of pressure right now, so it’s to be expected,” or I can take the attitude of perfecting holiness, resolving that I don’t want to treat my wife like that — ever. Being generally gracious to her during the eleven and a half months of the year where I’m free of a deadline (not that I always am) doesn’t mean I’ve stored up the right to neglect her or get short with her for those other two weeks. Instead, I can learn to recognize the temptation and more effectively prepare to deal with the stress in a way that won’t wound my wife.
We fail to see that one hole can sink a ship as effectively as can ten holes; it may take a little longer, but the ship will still sink. Since any hole can threaten a marriage, such cavalier thinking has to be challenged.
The truth is, I’m not granted “one little vice.” Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). If something injures my relationship with Lisa, out of love I will work with God’s Spirit to root that habit out of my life. I won’t make excuses by pointing to the lack of other negative things about me, and I won’t try to hide behind my strengths. A weakness is a weakness, regardless of any strengths that surround it. Sin is sin, regardless of how many virtues accompany it.
Doing good doesn’t create marital “bank deposits” that allow us to make vice-ridden “withdrawals.” Don’t excuse that one little vice. Keep in mind that, apart from Christ’s sacrifice, just “one little vice” would keep you out of heaven for all eternity.
This week, stop yourself when you start making excuses or try to explain away personality faults by thinking, “All in all, my spouse has it pretty good.” Instead, challenge yourself with Scripture: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”