Grace is Rocket Fuel

When we first got married, my wife and I made a decision to go to bed together at the same time. We had been told by more than one person that schedules can get hectic and bed time can help us reconnect daily. And we believed it.

For the first few months, we disciplined ourselves, and it wasn’t easy. During that first year, we both were working full time, and I was getting my Master’s degree from a school an hour away from where we lived. It didn’t matter if one of us worked late or if I had homework, we made it a point to go to bed at the same time, every night.

Until that one night, in the middle of the semester.

That’s going to happen, by the way. If you’re getting married, and you’re setting up rules to live by, understand that those rules must conform to how you’re living. When we decided to go to bed together, we didn’t quite grasp the idea that both of us were going to be unable to make that commitment all the time. Making a rule that will only end up in unneeded guilt doesn’t help anyone.

So back to the scene. Sunday had endured a rough day, and I was getting settled into a long night of reading and research.

Then she yawned. She followed that by a stretch, and an even louder yawn. I tried to ignore the staring and the blinking and the loud coughing hints that she was going to bed. I didn’t look up when she came back in the living room, brushing her teeth. I didn’t bat an eye when she leaned over to kiss me good night, wearing her flannel pajamas.

I didn’t get up. I didn’t say anything. I was surrounded by work, and it was calling my name.

Then, she asked the question that neither of us wanted to answer: “Are you coming to bed?” I looked around our small living room that was now spotted with open books and academic journals, and I still didn’t say anything.

I didn’t want to say no. I had made a deal. I’m not the type to go back on a promise, and I felt the pressure. I wanted to go to bed at the same time as Sunday, but I didn’t want to flunk out of grad school to do it.

I looked up at her, and she asked another question: “You have some work to do?” She showed her great sense of humor, since she asked the question while standing in the middle of the small library I had brought into our tiny apartment.

Before I tell you what she did next, let me make a point that will be very important.

Here’s the deal:  everyone wants to stay in love, right? That’s not a Christian ideal; it’s a human one. We all want to believe that a marriage should stay together through the promise we made to each other and the love that we hold. That’s why I promised to marry my wife. That’s also why I promised to go to bed at the same time. Love and a promise.

But we also know quite a number of people who fall out of love, despite the love and the promise deal. I’ve actually attended weddings where the marriage started with a love and a promise, and now the marriage (and the love and the promise) is long dead.

So how do you stay in love? Do what Sunday did—offer grace.

If you’ve grown up in church, you might have heard that grace is “unmerited favor.” When you give grace, you provide something that the other person has not (or cannot) earn. They don’t deserve it. You just give it. The clearest picture of grace, of course, is Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus died for humanity while we were still in our sins. We were enemies of God, and He offered himself as a sacrifice for that. We didn’t earn it. He just gave it.

So that’s a good way to stay in love. Grace. You’re probably not going to love, long-term, without it. To put it in metaphorical terms, if love is an engine, then grace is the rocket fuel.

In fact, if you know someone who has fallen out of love, then you understand this perfectly—that person has quit giving grace.  More than likely the person who has fallen out of love has begun requiring the other person to earn everything. That step, friends, is the first step to loveless-ness.

Back to the scene. As she stood there in the midst of my books, she let me off the hook. She told me that she knew I had hours’ more work to do, and I didn’t have to fulfill my promise. When she said that, I closed my book and went to bed. Fully clothed. And when she had fallen asleep, I got back up and did my schoolwork.

I did that because she gave me the grace to make my choice. I made my choice because I promised. And I love her.



Matthew Towles is the Chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Liberty University. He and his wife, Sunday, help to lead a marriage ministry at Blue Ridge Community Church in Forest, Virginia.


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