Robert is a friend that tbV and i met once in Americaland at a protest of sorts and have since become strong online friends and co-appreciators of Pearls Before Swine and other shared forms of humour as well as sharing in a hunger for following Jesus – he has been married to Heather for close to 18 years and while this is more of a story than a ‘one thing to learn’ piece, there is a lot in here to help us be better at loving our spouse…
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor,without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:23-33 ESV
I’ll bet that most people who read the above passage and the other various passages probably know the verse that comes before this better than this passage. While they may come from various different positions, almost everyone can rattle off “Wives submit to your husbands” and know that it comes from this letter of Paul’s (it is also in Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1 I’m not going to get into a discussion of those passages. Instead, however, I’d like to talk about the husband’s role. And, to be honest, while I could probably do a pretty decent job of discussing the biblical text and all that goes into it… I’m not. You see, probably more important than the way I interpret the words of Paul and explain them is how I live it out. So, let me tell you what I do as I try and figure out what it means to love my wife as Christ loved the church.
My wife’s body is not in the best of condition these days. Oh, don’t go there… I’m quite pleased with her appearance and such. She’s a gorgeous woman and I am constantly amazed that she married a geeky nerd like me. But folks who read my blog know that we are heading into the seventh month of a journey we never asked for, that of cancer and the treatments that go along with it. So, when I say my wife’s body is not in the best of condition, I mean that between surgeries, medicines, side-effects, etc., it’s a little bit broken right now and needs a bit of healing and fixing up. Because of that, she can’t do what she would normally be able to do as a wife, a homemaker, and a mother, three roles that she deeply loves to fulfill. As much as she wants to, she just can’t.
Now, I’m no paragon of masculinity with a well functioning body, buff and ripped with that fabulous Adonis-like form. I’ve got my issues and my problems. But, right now, I’ve got a lot more capability to do stuff than my wife so, in comparison, I’m doing pretty good. There are also things that are my roles in life that I deeply love. I love being a preacher, I love being a scholar, I love being that big strong Daddy to my little girls, I love doing the handyman thing around the house, and I love being a husband to my lady-love. These are the things I do. However, during this particular time in our “one-flesh” life, some of this I have to give up. As much as they are my strengths, as much as they are my heart passion, I can’t do the preacher thing as much any more. I can’t spend hours on end reading books and pontificating about the things I learn. There are all sorts of other little pleasures I have in life that I need to set aside. Why? Because I love my wife.
Let me give some examples.
My wife and I both love to cook. In fact, we “fight” over the kitchen sometimes because we love it so much. Usually it’s her anyways because I don’t get back from my commute until almost 6:30 at night. But these days, when she can’t cook a meal because she’s too tired or in too much pain, I put down my laptop case, throw off my coat, strap on an apron and head to the kitchen to cook.
We have two girls who cannot decide which of their two loving parents they want to have read bedtime story to them at night. So, my wife and I split the duty where we each get one kid every night and, the next night, we switch. That way, each girl gets some Mommy nights and each girl gets some Daddy nights. However, when she can’t tuck the kids in at night because it is too painful to trudge up the stairs, I scoop up both of my girls and give them their snuggles and love before bed.
We try to live a simpler life than most. Because of that, we decided a long time ago to be a one income family. My wife had no aspirations to be a career woman. Teaching piano lessons, being Mommy, and keeping house were her biggest goals. So, I do the work thing and she stays home. And since she has the time, she takes care of stuff around the house during the day so that, in the evenings and weekends, we can be a family together. But when she can’t do the laundry, sweep the floors, scrub the toilets, clean out the fuzzy-green monsters from the refrigerator, wash the dishes, etc., because she has used up all her energy from the day simply getting dressed in the morning, I stop being the husband and start being the homemaker for a time.
My wife has ceded to me the recliner in the living room because it fits my body better than hers. It is a very comfy chair and it is my default seat in the evenings. But these days, when she needs the comfy chair in the living room because she needs to prop up various body bits to alleviate the discomfort, I give up my man-chair so it can nurture her wounds.
All part of being a stay-at-home-mom (and because I don’t get home in the evenings until almost 6:30 at times), my wife gets to play taxi and drive the daughters around to their various thingies. But pain, fatigue, exhaustion, etc., makes it so she can’t do this. When she needs me to drive the kids to school, flute lessons, horseback riding lessons, friends’ houses, church, Sunday school, youth group… basically everything that the Mom Taxi Service does, I use my vacation time to stay home so that the family continues to run smoothly and “normal” is preserved.
Note something here: I don’t do all this stuff because I HAVE to. I do it because I WANT to.
My time is not my own. My energy is not my own. My desires are not my own. Everything that is me, I give up so that my wife has the space, time, energy, and rest she needs to heal. It is my way of nourishing her, cherishing her so that she can, someday, get back to doing what she does.
But, to be honest, I’m not going to give up giving up for her. When she finally gets back to full health (and I trust in my God enough that I KNOW that will happen), there will still be days when I tell her to sit down and prop up her feet while I get a few things done around the house. There will still be days where she gets a well deserved day off and is allowed to rest and replenish herself. And I hope, honestly, that this journey we are on right now will train me up better so that those days will be more frequent than they were before this whole thing came down.
The situation my wife and I find ourselves is a bit extreme. Not every marriage faces these challenges. But every marriage, as I see it, should have this kind of sacrifice as the absolute core of what it means to love one another. Love is not about what you can get out of the marriage. Love is about what you put into it. I’m putting my entire self into it, sacrificing everything that is me in order that my wife will know how absolutely essential she is to me. Before I was married, I thought I was a complete person. Now that I’ve been married for almost 18 years, I cannot even begin to understand how I could have ever been so mistaken. Because of that, I give myself, my life, to my wife “as Christ loved the church”.>