Last night I stayed up late reading. I had stumbled across a novel that was lying, pitifully unread, in my room and it has turned out to be quite an interesting read! It has been a while since I couldn’t put a book down and found myself up past midnight (although I love those kinds of books!) At one point in the story, the main character realized her father was not the total monster she thought he was. Her heart began to take in a broader view of the man and she described herself as having “doctored the books” where he was concerned…she had only kept track of his wrong-doings and either refused or forgot to remember and include the positives and good times in her record keeping. This simple paragraph in this simple fictional story caught my attention. I love it when that happens!
I totally can identify with this idea of doctoring the books. How about you? There are times in life, especially when we are hurt, tired or just plain self-centered, that we have a very lop-sided view of those around us. For me, there was a time in my marriage when my record keeping was ridiculously skewed. All I could see about my husband were things I didn’t particularly like or appreciate. I had established a mindset which only tabulated his faults and shortcomings, and there was no room for his strengths and admirable qualities on the books. Doctored? Absolutely. Did I realize what I was doing? Hmmm…not exactly. See, when you are doctoring the books many times you feel justified and as though you are right in your estimation of the person. Many times almost everything they say and do, in your own eyes, only validates your negative perception. And, as in the scripture below, many times when we are busy doctoring the books we lose sight of our own weaknesses and flaws.
Matthew 7:1-5 (the message)
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
It is true that sometimes people mistreat us. They hurt us. Sometimes people are just plain selfish. It is also just as true that sometimes, more often than we want to admit, we are that person. As long as I continued to doctor the books concerning my husband, we were going to stay in a less than enjoyable cycle. We were only willing to see the worst in each other because as long as I can point my finger at you then I can let myself off the hook, so to speak. And as long as I only have eyes to see your faults, sins and weaknesses then I don’t have to make an allowance for your humanity. I deem you unworthy of grace and mercy because I refuse to be fair about the complexity and imperfection in every human life. You can bet if you are doctoring the books with someone, eventually the books will be doctored where you are concerned. When my husband came at me with his lop-sided list of my shortcomings, I was more than ready to fire back with all of my good qualities, all of what I did do right, all of the things he was taking for granted about me. Of course he couldn’t really see those because like me, his mental picture of me was a list compiled of the ways I was disappointing him. And so we went…for years.
Scripture like the one above in Matthew is pretty hard to get around. You can avoid it altogether or you can bite the bullet and hear what Jesus so plainly is saying. I needed to hear it. Gracious, did I need to hear it! How did I eventually come to see the pitiful way I was doctoring the books in my marriage? Looking back, I think there were two crucial ways God continually showed me which finally humbled me (ways that no doubt I still revisit!). First, when I would read the “love chapter” in 1st Corinthians 13, the following words would jump off the page and bloody my lip: Love…doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. There was no denying I was keeping score. And no doubt I resented having the score kept on me! At some of the hardest times when I wanted to scream, and did, God would speak to my heart and ask me to name which sins of mine He had refused to forgive…He would remind me not of my sins, but of the mercy and grace and patience He extended to me in the ugliest times of my life. The bottom line is that I was living in a prodigious amount of arrogance if I, a mere woman, would withhold from another person what God had generously poured out on me. The very thing I would thank God for, His patient kindness and mercy in the midst of my failures, was the very thing I wanted to deny another. After all, I had my evidence on the books.
The second element in the revision of my book doctoring was realizing my life and marriage was being distorted by contempt. As God helped me to see my husband with His eyes, I remembered and began to see again all of the strengths and wonderful qualities about him that I had not been able to see. I began to actually appreciate him again. Those qualities were there all along, but in doctoring the books I had only recorded what I didn’t like. Some of what I didn’t like were issues we really had to work through. And some of what I didn’t like boiled down to letting another person be who they are…taking my prodding, pushy hands off of him and letting him be himself. The very same thing I so desperately wanted! But, because we held each other in contempt, we were lacking the grace it takes to give someone the freedom to be loved just as they are.
Neither my husband nor I are perfect! Never will be! Some of the things that used to be explosive between us are unchanged but we are learning to lighten up and give each other room to be ourselves, grow and change. I must be honest and say my books are still doctored from time to time. But mostly the scales stay heavy on the side of my husband’s strengths…on the overwhelming appreciation I have for him as a husband, provider and father. Now, when I think of him my mind trips over how blessed I am to be married to him! First of all, my marriage has taught me more about myself and God than anything else. I don’t resent the difficulty because God used it to make us stronger…He took the thing that drove me crazy (my marriage!) and made it my testimony. He was there with me during the pain,contempt and pride. And He let it break me. Oh I just wanted to rise above it all like a super-hero Christian! But God did something so much more profound and beautiful. He let me walk it out. And He changed my heart and my marriage. I lived through the destruction of doctoring the books…the effects of only seeing another person through the lens of score-keeping. I learned that healing and freedom to enjoy life together will come when grace begins to reign instead of contempt.
You know what led me down that road to begin with? I discovered God’s grace in my own life. I knew the pit I was in. I knew the wrong choices I made. I knew that God had every right to hold me in contempt and let the record speak for itself. I guess if you first of all can’t see the mess you are or remember the mess you were, it will be really hard to stop doctoring the books. If you have never been broken by the weight of the sin you carry and experienced Jesus lifting your burden and dressing you in His finest, then you may have a harder time relating to what He asks you to do with others. If your own pride and how well you believe your own record looks has never been ruined forever with the bloodstains of Calvary, it may be hard to make allowances for the imperfections in others. But when you taste just a drop of freedom in the grace and mercy of God toward your own life, when you have been rescued from the jail of your own efforts at joy and peace and having your way, you might grow willing to stop keeping score.
My life is like a dry sponge soaking up the waters of forgiveness and mercy. See, I know what I’m like. I know all about my own bent toward keeping score. I know where some of my weak spots are. And I know that any day I live as more than myself it’s just Jesus making me a better version of the me He created me to be! I can’t take the credit for any ‘good’ in my life or character!
I live mostly blown away at what the love of God can do when it begins to drown out the sounds of failure (mine or another’s) and we let God revise our book keeping.