The day had come. I'd lasted as long as I could in my marriage. Once my husband, Bill, left for work, I packed a bag for myself and our 14-month-old son and left our home. It was the only year in our married life when we lived in the same town as my parents. Obviously the convenience of being able to run to Mom and Dad made my decision to leave Bill easier.
With a tear-stained, angry face, I walked into Mom's kitchen. She held the baby while I sobbed my declaration of independence. A washcloth and cup of coffee later, Mom told me she and Dad would help me. I was comforted to know they'd be there for me.
"But before you leave Bill," she said, "I have one task for you to complete."
Mom put down my sleeping son, took a sheet of paper and pen, and drew a vertical line down the middle of the page. She told me to list in the left column all the things Bill did that made him impossible to live with. As I looked at the dividing line, I thought she'd then tell me to list all his good qualities on the right hand side. I was determined to have a longer list of bad qualities on the left. This is going to be easy, I thought. My pen started immediately to scribble down the left column.
Bill never picked his clothes off the floor. He never told me when he was going outside. He slept in church. He had embarrassing, nasty habits such as blowing his nose or belching at the dinner table. He never bought me nice presents. He refused to match his clothes. He was tight with money. He wouldn't help with the housework. He didn't talk with me.
The list went on and on until I'd filled the page. I certainly had more than enough evidence to prove that no woman would be able to live with this man.
Smugly I said, "Now I guess you're going to ask me to list all Bill's good qualities on the right side."
"No," she said. "I already know Bill's good qualities. Instead, for each item on the left side, I want you to write how you respond. What do you do?"
This was even tougher than listing his good qualities. I'd been thinking about Bill's few, good qualities I could list. I hadn't considered thinking about myself. I knew Mom wasn't going to let me get by without completing her assignment. So I had to start writing.
I'd pout, cry, and get angry. I'd be embarrassed to be with him. I'd act like a "martyr." I'd wish I'd married someone else. I'd give him the silent treatment. I'd feel I was too good for him. The list seemed endless.
When I reached the bottom of the page, Mom picked up the paper and went to the drawer. She took scissors and cut the paper down the vertical line. Taking the left column, she wadded it in her hand and tossed it into the trash. Then she handed me the right column.
"Becky," she said, "take this list back to your house. Spend today reflecting on these things in your life. Pray about them. I'll keep the baby until this afternoon. If you sincerely do what I ask and still want to leave Bill, Dad and I will do all we can to assist you."
Leaving my luggage and son, I drove back to my house. When I sat on my couch with the piece of paper, I couldn't believe what I was facing. Without the balancing catalogue of Bill's annoying habits, the list looked horrifying.
I saw a record of petty behaviors, shameful practices, and destructive responses. I spent the next several hours asking God for forgiveness. I requested strength, guidance, and wisdom in the changes I needed to make. As I continued to pray, I realized how ridiculously I'd behaved. I could barely remember the transgressions I'd written for Bill. How absurd could I be? There was nothing immoral or horrible on that list. I'd honestly been blessed with a good man—not a perfect one, but a good one.
I thought back five years. I'd made a vow to Bill. I would love and honor him in sickness and health. I'd be with him for better or for worse. I said those words in the presence of God, my family, and friends. Yet only this morning, I'd been ready to leave him for trivial annoyances.
I jumped back in the car and drove to my parents' house. I marveled at how different I felt from when I'd first made the trip to see Mom. I now felt peace, relief, and gratitude.
When I picked up my son, I was dismayed by how willing I'd been to make such a drastic change in his life. My pettiness almost cost him the opportunity to be exposed daily to a wonderful father. Quickly, I thanked my mother and flew out the door to return home. By the time Bill returned from work, I was unpacked and waiting.
A new outlook
I'd love to say that Bill changed. He didn't. He still did all those things that embarrassed and annoyed me, and made me want to explode.
The difference came in me. From that day forward, I had to be responsible not only for my actions in our marriage, but also for my reactions.