Continuing with our series of entries from Judgment & Love, here is RJ Heijmen’s chapter. RJ is head minister of St. Paul’s Church in New York City – you can subscribe to his terrific podcast here. Again, J&L is a collection of 35 true-life stories illustrating the powerful truth that when love is shown in the face of deserved judgment, lives are changed. To order your copy at the reduced price of $10, go here or click on the button at the bottom of the post.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

A few weeks ago, I was in the kitchen with my wife Jaime, and it had just happened again. For the umpteenth time in our nine-year marriage, she had told me how something was going to turn out, I hadn’t believed her, and, of course, she had been right. Again. What exactly she was right about is beside the point, and I can’t remember anyway. What mattered was that, once again, in spite of her long track record of levelheaded, accurate prognostication, I had in my foolish pride doubted my wife and, once again, she had been one-hundred-percent correct.

Humbled and frustrated with myself, I took a deep breath and sighed it out. I turned to her and asked, “Am I ever going to believe you?” She looked at me with love and a bit of mischief in her eyes and said very matter-of-factly, “No.”

This may not seem like an important marital event, but it is a moment I will always remember. In her simple one-word response, Jaime let me know that, in spite of myself, she loved me and she always will. While she uttered only a single word, her delivery spoke volumes. What Jaime was really telling me in that instant was that she accepted me as I was, loved me in spite of my arrogance and lack of trust, had come to terms with the fact that I would probably never change, and wanted to be with me anyway. If that is not God-like love, I don’t what is. It broke my heart and set it ablaze all at the same time. With one word, Jaime’s love crushed my pride and self-loathing; it put me in my place and raised me up.

A friend once told me the best marriage preparation wisdom he had ever heard came from a speaker who, as the first order of business, looked into the audience and asked the question, “How would you feel if ninety-five percent of your spouse-to-be never changed?” There was an uncomfortable silence as the room full of people preparing to make vows of eternal love all recognized the extent to which they were secretly hoping to mold their partners into something more desirable. Relationships do not require people to be flexible, to change and grow. What people need is unconditional acceptance and love, the kind of love that says, “Even if you never get any better, I will still love you.”

This kind of one-way love can become the inspiration for change. This is true in all relationships. Although I could have never predicted it, my father only began to be the father I always wanted when I let go of my expectations and started loving him for who he was. My wife would have been completely justified to be angry with me for my lack of belief in her, but that would have only created greater defensiveness on my part. I wish this were not the case, but it is. Yet by some miracle, Jaime withheld righteous anger and judgment and offered something unexpected and undeserved in their place, forever changing me.