20 “He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
Second marriages have a seventy percent fail rate; first marriages have better–but still dire– odds. That’s dreadful. Doesn’t every marriage hope to succeed? Who wants to go through all that heartache… again? Are we doomed? What can we do to strengthen our relationships?
In John Gottman’s best-selling book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he earmarks the following as a key relationship-saving element: ‘turning toward each other instead of away.’ He claims fighting isn’t the problem. He observes that couples who are able to make a funny face.. and make the other one laugh.. during a fight are the couples who make it. He calls these “repair attempts.” He says marriages are doomed when one or both parties ignore the other person’s repair attempts. He says one “virtue of turning toward each other is it is so easy to accomplish.”
But if it’s so easy, why do we find it so hard?
In yesterday’s verses we saw the prodigal son prepare an apology speech. He wasn’t acting. He meant it. It came from his heart. It’s so good it’s worth studying as a model of repentance. But today, we see that all the prodigal son had to do was start walking toward home… and his father comes sprinting out with his arms wide and falls on his son’s neck–before the son has said a word.
That is what turning toward each other looks like. That is what happens when we’re in the middle of a fight, and we think, “what am I doing?” and so we just stop talking and hug the other person–and they actually hug us back. But what do we do when we know we should stop arguing, and we find something hard and unyielding in us that just can’t do it? That’s when we need grace– the gift of undeserved compassion. Grace is when we ignore repair attempts and the other person hugs us back anyway… and holds on, fiercely, until we surrender.