Please read the first part of this article here: How Not to Throw Stones in an Argument, Part One
Christ does not end the conflict simply by “cooling down” in these various ways. He also chooses to show mercy to the woman caught in adultery. It is significant that Christ doesn’t simply forgive any such sin, but adultery. Adultery is one of the greatest sins a spouse could do against another spouse. Yet how many times have we not forgiven our spouse because of much littler things – burning dinner, failing to do a chore, repeating an annoying habit, the tone in their voice, or some critical remark or unkind thing they did – let alone adultery. How little we practice Christ’s mercy. Do we forgive our spouse when they hurt us? When they make us upset? Do we forgive everything our spouse does? Do we tell them after the argument that we forgive them? Do we say this to them even if they do not ask for it? Remember Christ forgave us while we were still sinners and even forgave adultery. Christ sets the bar high, but it is this bar we need to aim for to have peace and reconciliation in our conflicts. He instructs us to not throw stones, which ends in death, but to show mercy, which brings life.
Mercy is a tough virtue to practice. We certainly need to pray for God’s grace to be able to do it. But it is also helpful to understand mercy properly. Christ did not only forgive the woman caught in adultery, but also says, “Go and from now on do not sin” (John 8:11). Christ by offering mercy is not excusing the sin of the adulterer. Likewise, when we practice mercy, He is not telling us to not discuss what hurt us or to not ask another to stop doing it. Rather, He instructs us to be merciful and then and only then discuss the sin of our spouse.
It is important to note that mercy must initially precede discussing the faults of another because it places those faults in perspective. One of the chief problems with conflicts is that we take the words or actions of our loved one out of context. We get upset when all we see is sin and rightly so. But the proper context of the sin is to remember that your spouse is a person, like you, who is a sinner but is always a beloved child of God capable of changing and being holy. Notice that Christ presumes that the adulterer is capable of mending her life. He does not think or say, “Oh this is the way she will always be, so I better not forgive her or be nice to her” or “If you can manage it, then sin no more.” No. Christ knows everyone can change and be holy by His grace so He definitively says, “Go and from now on do not sin.”
This command to not sin anymore is not a command that restricts a person’s freedom. It is an affirmation of the person’s inherent worth that he or she is a type of person who is capable of change and living a holy life. By granting mercy to your spouse before discussing a particular grievance you are saying to that spouse: “I believe your love is deeper than this hurt. I believe who you most really are is the person who gave themselves totally to me on the altar in marriage. You really are not your sin. You can change and with God’s help you will.”
Do we believe our spouse will change with God’s help and thereby grant them mercy in? Or do we think that they will never change and thereby harden our hearts like the Pharisees, who also refused to offer forgiveness because they could only see an adulterer and not one of God’s beloved children capable of great holiness?
After granting our spouse mercy and believing he or she is capable of change, Christ next shows us that it is then appropriate to discuss the sin that originally hurt us and come up with ways to avoid it. This is one implication of Christ saying to the adulterous woman “go and from now on to sin no more.” There really are sins in relationships we ought to avoid and if we love our spouses we ought to honor them by trying not to sin in those ways.
We must ask what ways have I hurt my spouse? In what ways can I change to love my spouse better? Ask God to teach you how to love your spouse as He loves them. Remember Christ did not avoid discussing sin, rather He constantly said to go and sin no more because sin is destructive of our life and those lives around us.
Thus, to resolve a conflict where a spouse has hurt another spouse, each spouse must set aside time to discuss what went wrong and must look together to Christ, the saints (especially holy married couples), and His Church, who teach us by their lives and their teaching what is and is not a sin all the while affirming us as persons, whom God loves unconditionally.
Also, given that a person is not defined by any particular sin, it is extraordinarily important to remind the person the ways in which he is loving and how he is loved by God after an argument or discussing a particular sin. It is too easy for a spouse to think she is only her sin once she has come to recognize her failure. Therefore, Christ reminded the adulterer of the great love of God that is greater than any sin of hers in His final great, gesture toward her, which I will discuss briefly below in the last paragraph. For now, remember that one of the last parts of how to resolve a conflict like Christ is to recall the love you share and to remember God’s love for both of you.
To recap, this Advent let us not throw stones like the Pharisees the next time we find ourselves in an argument with someone who has hurt us, but instead let us respond like Christ: Let us “cool down” by praying, recalling our sins, and standing under God’s will for our response to the situation. Let us not take the words or actions of our beloved spouses out of context, but show mercy and remember they can change with God’s help. Let us calmly discuss grievances and attempt not only to avoid that which hurts our spouse, but also try to avoid all sin because Christ does not say to the adulterer to simply not do her particular sin of adultery, but “to sin no more” in any way.
Finally, we may find it appalling that the Pharisees would stone a woman in the temple of God, yet do we not also defile God’s temple when we allow our angry emotions to dictate cruel words or actions to our spouse? Is not our spouse’s body, like Paul says, a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Perhaps the next time we get angry with our spouse we should eventually end the argument by genuflecting to her because she is a holy place and taking her hand say, “You are a temple of God. I love you. Let us pray.”
After all, as the Pharisees left one by one, Jesus did bend down again and write on the ground in front of the adulterer as their conversation was coming to an end (John 8:8). I would like to think that He, the God of the Universe, during that moment humbly genuflected toward the adulterer indicating her great worth before God, wrote her sins in the sands and let the winds erase them as a sign of His healing forgiveness. He then said while still kneeling, “Go and sin no more.” What amazement, love, awe and fear of failure would have ensued in her heart now knowing how much God loved her.
Likewise, let us tremble in our hearts before the same image of the God of the Universe genuflecting toward us every time we sin in arguments with our spouse. He calls to us on His knees to be something more as a couple -to a love that is free and sins no more – to be a holy temple of God, a domestic church, to acknowledge each of our spouses’ bodies is a temple. If we meditate upon this and attempt to do those holy things mentioned above this Advent, following Christ, we will surely begin to know a little better why Christ shortly later says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).