Giving Off the Scale
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
~ Philippians 2:3–4 (NIV)
John Powell describes different kinds of relationships, including one he calls “pan-scale love.” A pan scale is what Lady Justice carries. She stands blindfolded atop a courthouse with pans held by chains at both ends of a balance beam.
Powell says that many of us enter courtship or marriage with a pan-scale commitment. In the exhilaration of first falling in love, we give 100 percent of ourselves to our mate, and our end of the pan scale hangs heavy with love’s offerings. For a week or a month or even a year, we don’t check to see whether the pan scale is balanced because we assume our partner is also devoting 100 percent to the relationship.
But, says Powell, there comes a time when we begin to analyze which way the pan-scale balance beam is tipping. Invariably, as much as we love our spouse, we begin to recognize that he or she isn’t investing quite as much as we are.
So we pull back a little. Maybe she doesn’t pick up the clothes that he carelessly leaves in corners of the bedroom. Perhaps he doesn’t offer a cheery “hello” and warm kiss when she walks in the door. Maybe she doesn’t stop to pick up the dry cleaning or he forgets to gas up the car. This gradual lessening of giving doesn’t usually mean coming up short on the scale of big things; rather, it’s little cuts that over time begin adding up to the message: “I’ve been giving 100 percent to this relationship, and you’re only offering 87 percent. If you won’t put your full load of love on your end of the pan scale, I’m going to pull some of mine back to even things up.”
The trouble is, such efforts at balancing the pan scale of love only backfire. Typically, when partners begin to notice that the scales aren’t even, they each begin to think they are giving more than the other. The response is a subtle but progressive retaliatory cutback on a full deposit.
It may take a while, but if left unchecked, pan-scale love will eventually bankrupt a relationship. As I view my investments as overmatching my partner’s, my mate, from another vantage point, feels similarly cheated. If we check the nuptial agreements and try to reclaim what we believe is rightfully ours, Lady Justice is left with empty scales.
How much better to be known, as the Philippians were, for their generosity. People in that church sensed Paul’s needs and, without being asked, sent him gifts time after time. Paul regarded those surprises, their over-the-top giving, as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). God asks each of us to bring him an offering according to what our heart prompts us to give, not one that matches what God gives us—that’s impossible and we know it.
Likewise, we are to give to our partner in marriage—without weighing it against what’s being offered on the other side, with humble thanks for each other, with sincere appreciation for each other, with gratitude for the opportunity to meet each other’s needs without being asked. Then our giving will be an off-the-scale fragrant offering to each other, an acceptable sacrifice that is pleasing to God.
- In what ways do we treat our giving in marriage as pan-scale love? When have we felt cheated?
- How can we increase the level of generosity in our relationship? What gifts do each of us bring? How might they be used to strengthen our marriage?
- How can each of us invest more in our marriage without worrying about whether we’re getting a good deal?