Discloser time – Jan and I haven’t always had a perfect marriage. Okay?
We both entered into our relationship (after a brief courtship of five and a half months) with very different expectations of what our relationship should look like. We’d both seen the film, Love Story, from which we gleaned a nugget of wisdom, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Okay, so most of you are too young to remember that one. Sorry…Trust me when I tell you not to bother.
We had also seen our own flawed parents (and we also became flawed partners in front of our kids).
I expected to fix everything that was wrong. She wanted that from me sometimes, but mostly she just wanted to talk…and talk…and talk. I didn’t know how important it was for me to listen. We would retire to our bed for the evening, and she would begin talking. Sometimes….most of the time…I would fall asleep only to awaken in a few minutes and manage to utter a word or two and fall back asleep.
I don’t think she ever knew.
We fought and loved. We argued and made up. We yelled and screamed sometimes. I would get so frustrated that I would do the only manly thing I knew to do – I would get in my 76 Honda Civic and take off down the road somewhere. I tried to burn rubber (you know, just to make a point about my testosterone), but that poor car just didn’t have the power. An hour later I would return to a sullen and angry wife.
We didn’t know what we were doing.
Then a few years ago, I was reading a book about what it was to be a man of God. To be honest with you, I was reading it to prepare for a class for a group of unmanly men that I wanted to “straighten out.” But somewhere in the study, I came across a scriptural challenge – “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.”
Was I that husband? The question hit me like a ton of fresh elephant meat. As I pondered the answer to it, I couldn’t sleep. I knew the answer was NO, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit it at first.
So I began to pray – every day until now. “God, give me the grace to love my wife as Christ loved the church.”
What I had been waiting for, before I began loving her that way, was for her to become the submissive wife with the quiet and gentle spirit. But that’s not how it works, apparently. Experience had taught me what I should have known all along – I have no control over what anyone else does or says. Not even my wife.
So I enclosed myself in a very small circle and began to ask God to change me. That’s right, ME! As far as I was concerned, I was the problem. And do you know what happened? God began to whittle away at my pride and arrogance. I started becoming the husband from that passage.
In the past, whenever a couple would come to me for marital advice, I would listen to the blow-by-blow accounts that each of them had to offer, and work like a dog to get to the bottom of “what happened.” The problem with that approach is that both accounts were flawed – told from each partner’s point of view. Neither was totally false nor totally true. Besides, I wsn’t there, so what did I know about it.
At some point a bit of wisdom penetrated my hard head, and I came up with a plan. Now I tell people, “You can give me the blow-by-blow account, but my answer is still going to be the same.” Usually, their jaws become unhinged and they look at me with their mouths agape. I give them my answer, and they return to their futile attempt to put me in the middle of their dispute. I stop them and remind them that my answer is NOT going to change…no matter what they tell me.
So what do I tell them, you ask. I just read Ephesians 5. Basically it says for wives to have a submissive spirit towards their husbands and for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Then I ask them if this describes them. Is this the kind of wife you are? Are you this husband?
For good measure, I usually throw in another passage from I Peter 3 – It’s almost the same except it adds a little phrase about wives not being nattering gripes (my translation).
What I found out is that when I began to ask God to change ME – to mold ME into a husband who would lay down his life for his bride, to serve her, and to make sure that she was confident in my desire to protect her, she slowly became the wife I desired her to be.
About a year after I began praying, I asked her, “Do you realize that we haven’t had a fight in over a year?”
She smirked, looked out the window like women do, and said, “I just decided that you were beyond changing, so I gave up.”
No she didn’t. I know she didn’t just try to take credit for what I had done. So I told her, “Actually, I’ve been praying for over a year for God to change ME…to make ME into the husband I was created to be.”
I’m sure glad that God laid it on my heart to plead with him for this kind of transformation because I’m in a position now to attend to her needs like I never thought I would have to. As her condition progresses more and more, she relies on me more and more to navigate the confusion that her world is becoming.
You might think that it’s tough on me, and you would be right in one respect, I guess. But what I think about most is that it is a privelege to serve a woman who put up with a man who didn’t love her as God intended for her to be loved for so many years. It’s almost like I’m able to assuage my guilt a little by being more of what she needs now.
I still think about the old days of dysfunction. And it still hurts that I dropped the ball in such a profound way. But mostly I just praise God that he’s working on me. I praise him that he’s still sanctifying me. If I were him, I would have given up on me a long time ago.