He's been named "America's Pastor," and in a recent national survey was ranked one of the most widely known and respected Christian authors, second only to Billy Graham. He has sold more than 39 million books, including his most recent Come Thirsty (Thomas Nelson), most of which center on our relationship with God and the forgiveness/love/grace connection. That's Max Lucado: the soft-spoken, gentle, unassuming husband to Denalyn (pronounced DEE-nuh-lin).
But do the Lucados (rhymes with "potatoes"), specialists on the subject of grace, really need it in marriage? Don't they have it all together?
"Hardly!" laughs Denalyn. "The Lord has been good to us. But learning how to extend grace doesn't happen overnight. Max and I have had to practice forgiveness for 23 years."
When have you been tempted not to forgive?
Denalyn: During our first year of marriage, when we invited our first overnight guests, I became hyper about making sure our new apartment was ready. So I was on my knees scrubbing our kitchen floor. Meanwhile, Max sat in the living room, putting together a wedding photo collage.
I was boiling inside because he wasn't helping! I finished up and went to bed to have a pity party. I had no intention of forgiving him!
How was that resolved?
Denalyn: The next day, after a while of giving Max the silent treatment, he asked, "Okay, what's wrong?" And we talked it out. Max hadn't meant to do anything to upset me. In fact, he'd been oblivious that there was a problem. And I hadn't said anything to educate him. I wanted him just to know what I wanted him to do. That's when the Lord helped me see Max for who he really is and not for who I'd made him out to be.
It's not a natural instinct to forgive. But the more I know the kind of grace and forgiveness Christ pours over me every hour, every minute, the more I find myself convicted of unforgiving thoughts or desires to lash out or to criticize or judge.
Max: Forgiveness comes more easily when we lower our expectations. Many people set impossible standards for their spouse. Yet only God can completely meet our needs for intimacy, identity, hope, and security. Once we understand that, our spouse's failure to meet those needs—while unfortunate and probably difficult—is forgivable.
Denalyn: We had to learn that lesson the hard way.
In what way?
Max: About ten years ago, I traveled all over the country speaking, then I'd arrive home Saturday night, speak at my church on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to church work. Then I was off again.
We had three small kids: Janna was six, Andrea was four, and Sarah was a newborn. So I was leaving Denalyn home every week to care for those kids by herself.
Denalyn: If it wasn't travel, it was church. I'd think, All we do is church, church, church, and we can never be a family. Then I'd get pouty.
Max: During one trip, I called Denalyn and said, "Honey, next year I'm going to do 10 or 15 special events, and go here and here and here." There was dead silence. I knew something was wrong, but at the time, I thought, Aren't you excited that I get to do these cool things?
We left the conversation hanging. And when I arrived home and saw Denalyn, I realized I'd been so self-centered.
Why? What happened?
Denalyn: I'd gone into a deep depression and was suffering from almost uncontrollable anxiety. It felt as though a black cloud had descended over me. Because of the anxiety, I was so jumpy and shaky I felt as if I'd had five thousand cups of coffee. I couldn't be still; I couldn't eat. I'd just pace back and forth.
Max: That was a scary wake-up call.
Denalyn: I'd suffered from milder cases of depression before. But this time was different. Max didn't see what was going on for a long time because we were both on a speedy treadmill.
Max: I didn't realize what I'd done, but the stress of rearing three kids had exhausted her.
Denalyn: To be fair, I don't blame the depression on Max. His being gone may have been part of it, but I overstretched myself and my capabilities. Max was on tour. It was Christmas. And he was about to turn 40. Thinking I was a superwoman, I wanted to make sure it was all wonderful. Sure, I can take care of the kids for two straight weeks, and handle all my church commitments, and we can have a great Christmas, and then a surprise party after that.
So what did you do?
Max: When I came home that night and saw her pacing frantically back and forth, I begged her forgiveness. Then I cancelled several speaking obligations I'd made for the next year.
Denalyn: I went through counseling and got on medication. I had a lot of people praying for me. But it was a very dark time for us. There was a lot of need for grace—on both our parts.
Max: Part of the problem was that I didn't understand depression. I've never been a moody person. To be honest, there was a part of me that thought, Come on, Denalyn. Buck up. Let's move on. But depression isn't something you just snap out of. Even with counseling, medication, and prayer, it took eight months.
What did you learn from that?
Max: I learned that the purpose of my marriage is not for Denalyn to watch over my kids and take care of my home so I can advance a career. That's the ultimate display of self-centeredness. And I'm so glad Denalyn forgave me.
A good marriage is a canvas on which God can paint a picture of how he's able to bring harmony. It's so God can unite two hearts so that somebody somewhere can look at that marriage and say, "Whoa, look at the work God did there." And that includes a whole lot of forgiveness and grace.
How do you establish a pattern of forgiveness in your marriage?
Denalyn: I ask God to give me grace at the moment I need it, because it's not as if I can anticipate when I'll need to forgive Max. I also pray for Max. I pray, "Lord, would you give Max a blessed day? Fill his heart with new things and refresh him." As I continually pray, it becomes easier to express grace and love for Max out of the grace and forgiveness God has daily poured out on me.
Max: Before we married I lived on a houseboat. I thought it was really cool—and it was for a single guy right out of college.
When we got married, I sold it for an $800 profit, which we planned to use for a move to attend grad school. I put the cash in an envelope and stuck it in a drawer. And I'd dip into it whenever I needed something—new shoes, a dinner out.
Six months later, we were ready to move. When I pulled out that envelope, it had about $50 in it. I'd spent the whole thing! I knew Denalyn was going to be angry!
Max: Here's the amazing thing. She said, "That's okay, Hon. We'll be all right." Her grace was a rainbow to me. She set the tone for forgiveness in our home from that point on. She didn't hold what I'd stupidly done over my head. Her forgiveness motivated me to be a better money manager.
In what ways has grace impacted your family?
Max: Denalyn and I share some of the same characteristics—we're forgetful and we're not prone to details. So she'll forget her keys. I'll lose my wallet. And we don't make a big deal out of that. We cut each other slack. I think that's created a happier home.
Denalyn: Grace gets passed down. We want our girls to know the grace-giver, Jesus Christ, and to know how to offer that same kind of grace to their friends and eventually their husband and children.
Here's an example. Two years ago, we were going on a cruise. We had to catch an early flight. Halfway to the airport, I checked my purse and realized I didn't have my driver's license, which meant I wasn't going to get through security.
We didn't have enough time to go back home and still catch our flight.
I panicked. But Max was totally calm and sweet. He said, "It's okay. We'll go back home. Let's call the airport. Don't worry about it. "
But how could I not? I was about to ruin our family's vacation!
Here's how grace was passed down. My oldest daughter said, "Mom, we can go to the lake for vacation. It's okay."
I was the most blessed person that morning. The Lord took care of all of it. We caught another flight and got there in time to make the boat. That was huge grace extended to me.
The point? Always extend grace, because the Lord goes before us anyway. If he's sovereign, he's over all of it.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.