This weekend gave me the chance to be about as perfect a husband as I can be, simply through putting into practice some basic principles written in a letter nearly 2,000 years ago. In that letter, mailed to a place called Ephesus, Paul writes:
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 . . .
There is a lot in there, but a tidy way of breaking it down into practical pieces of advice, according to Dr. Robert Lewis, is in the following fashion:
1) Connect Emotionally
When Paul writes, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .” the picture is pretty clear. First, love is the focal point. Ask any honest woman what she longs for most, and I bet most of your answers will be the same, “To be loved.” So as a man, I need to recognize that my wife “wants to be loved,” and that looks a certain way to her—which is where the “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” part comes in. Christ gave the church the precise thing it needed. It needed a Savior, so He allowed Himself to be hung on a tree. The church needed guidance, so He poured forth His spirit on her.
The simple matter is that Christ loved the church in the way the church needed loving, and similarly, I need not love my wife the way I think or guess or feel she needs to be loved—I need to find out how she really needs to be loved and pour that on. I mean, seriously, if guys were left to determine the ways to marital love, how would that look? For most of us it would be watching sports and having sex; I mean, seriously, my wife has it pretty easy when it comes to the brainstorming stage on how to love me. But she is not me, and she may even be (gasp) more complex in some ways—I have to figure out what it takes for her to feel loved and supply that thing in her life. And for most wives, this begins in the frightful realm of emotions. By figuring out what makes my wife’s emotional pistons fire, I figure out how to love her how she needs it.
2) Stand for what’s right.
Another longing for most wives/girlfriends/significant others is that of security. I’m not talking in a chauvinistic, caveman way wherein a woman has no independence apart from a male. No, I’m talking about in a beautiful puzzle piece way in which man is not too good at being alone and woman is perfectly designed (and hence most fulfilled) in filling the void in man. Together man and woman complete a cosmic puzzle, and both find purpose and security in that.
And one aspect of feeling “secure” for a woman is not having a man who shifts and bends with even the lightest breath of wind. There is a certain sturdiness a woman craves, an unwavering direction that can come from a man who is resolutely guided by right-minded (important distinction in that “right-minded” part) convictions.
In short, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” indicates that a man sanctifies a woman by following God’s Word and forming unwavering familial convictions based on that. Most women I know are good planners, so they are refreshed when their man has a plan, and frustrated when that plan is a non-stop audible—especially on the big things. Lewis calls this being a “standard bearer,” and women are often most secure when they know what to expect in terms of convictions from the man they are connected to. (And I would add that everyone is a standard bearer for something . . . We must, all of us, consider what standards we are upholding and from where those “convictions” are coming.)
3) Financial Provider
My wife works and really helps our family out in doing so. She, in a lot of ways, is an independent woman who is benefiting from social movements that were instigated decades before she was born. And that is all well and good.
But biblically, part of a man “giving himself up for” his wife means providing for her basic needs (and beyond when possible). This, of course, isn’t to limit the woman or to keep her bound to the home—it is to give her absolute freedom: work full-time, part-time, or no time . . . ultimately the choice is hers because the sacrifice of her man.
So on to my weekend, during which I got to provide all of these things to my wife in a span of about ten hours.
I arrived home Saturday afternoon and informed my wife that we’d be hanging out that night. “What are we going to do?” she asked, knowing that usually I have no plan and leave her exasperated before we even try to engage on the daunting prospect of a date. But this time, I had a plan . . .
“We are going to the mall,” I declared triumphantly, and I slapped down on the table a wad of money I had gathered from the bank.
“What’s that?” she asked perplexed.
“Well, we have been saving money like crazy, and you’ve done such a great job with that, well, I wanted to celebrate that. I figured we could go to the mall and you could spend that money on whatever you want—just treat yourself. And, the best part, I’ll be with you, so we’ll get to hang out. It’ll be fun!”
My wife’s eyes were golf balls. We are an overly frugal pair, so this departure from that—even just a few twenty dollar bills’ worth—was altogether different. But in that, I was telling her that financially we are “okay.” I was reminding her that I was a provider and that no matter what I would work—sacrificing myself—to always insure she was provided for with the essentials (and the extras when available). I think she felt loved.
And if she didn’t in that moment, she probably did after two hours of purse shopping, in which I didn’t utter a single complaint. “That one looks really great!” I might have over-enthusiastically stated a time or two hoping to coax her into a decision, but complain, nope, I bit my tongue and held her hand the entire time.
We returned to our home, new purse in tow, and I knew that I had connected with her emotional needs. I had spent quality time with her, engaging her in discussion, and holding her hand, touching her back, putting my arm around her. I was an erupting geyser of love languages, and my wife went to bed full.
In the morning, we woke up groggy, both of us wanting to stay in bed.
“Do you want to go to church?” she asked from her kitten-eyed side of things.
My honest answer was no. Having attended a Christian Conference the day before and getting four hours of “church” I felt adequate in my pursuit of holiness and desirous of another hour or two of sleep.
But instead I answered this way:
“Yeah. That is what we do. We go to church.”
My wife, who also wanted to sleep, kissed me and bounced from the bed to ready herself to leave, and off we went to church because that is a conviction we hold as a couple.
Last night my wife commented on what a great weekend it was and how I had “been so sweet all weekend.”
Honestly, I hadn’t done much beyond following a 2,000 year old bit of advice. I connected emotionally, I stood for our convictions, and I reminded her that I am committed to provide for our family. It wasn’t that hard (okay, the purse shopping was a little hard!) and it breathed life into my wife.
And, in a weird way, it has me excited about today. How will I connect? How will I make my wife feel loved? How will I make my life easier and better? Because loving my wife isn’t entirely selfless either. The writer of that ancient advice closes his section with this sentiment:
“He who loves his wife loves himself.”
Hopefully, I will keep relying on the sages of the past to better my present and guide my future. Hopefully, I will keep growing into a better lover of my wife.