For Christmas, my daughter, Joy, gifted me with a whole season of Gunsmoke on DVDs. As a boy I enjoyed watching Matt Dillon, United States Marshall, and his friends Chester,

Doc, and Kitty confront and defeat the bad guys in Dodge City, with every program also teaching a powerful moral principle. One evening I appreciated an episode entitled “Mistake.” Matt Dillon misjudges a man, treats him unfairly, and challenges his honesty repeatedly. As facts surface, Matt realizes he is wrong, and he apologizes to the man but is still guilt-ridden concerning the whole sorry affair.

“I was wrong; will you forgive me?”

Chester tries to console Matt, saying, “It was just a mistake, and anybody can make a mistake.”

“Yeah,” Matt replies, “just a mistake, but it was my mistake, and it was a bad one. I can’t wish myself out of it with a few words.”

I understand how Matt felt, and maybe you do too. We feel horrible when we don’t live up to our standards, which can happen often in marriage. To paraphrase King Solomon, author of Ecclesiastes, none of us does right all the time and everybody makes mistakes (see Ecclesiastes 7:20). I fail to love Sarah perfectly, she fails to respect me perfectly, and neither of us can “wish ourselves out of it.”

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What to do? Matt’s good friend Doc offers him (and us) encourage- ment when he says, “Anybody can make a mistake, but it is a rare man who don’t try to weasel out of it.”

Doc’s grammar may be a bit lacking, but his wisdom is profound. All of us make mistakes, but instead of trying to find a sneaky “weasel way out,” we can choose to do the loving or respectful thing. There are no more powerful words in marriage than “I was wrong; will you forgive me?” Those seven words aren’t a magic wand that turns mistakes into pixie dust, but they go a long way toward helping us gain wisdom, empathy, and new resolve to improve our practice of love and respect.

Prayer: thank God for his forgiveness of your mistakes. In trying to be a loving man or respectful woman, we blow it. Owning up to mistakes is never easy, but it is always the way to move forward. Take good care not to accuse your spouse of mistakes as you pray. Also, pray about any forgiving to be done in the family, any forgive- ness that needs to be asked. Children may need forgiveness (and what about Mom and Dad?).

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Love and Respect