faith · family · life · marriage

marriage: it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful (part two)

In the post marriage: it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful (part one), we began to look at the history of marriage in this passage:

And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.
So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.
And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.
Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

I’ll preface again with the fact that I am not a Bible teacher.  I am only His student, reading His book, sharing my thoughts.  First we considered that God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.  We looked at God’s design for marriage. Now we read,  “I [God] will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Let’s examine what a helper, a help-meet or companion suggests. Again sourcing the dictionary we find that a helper is one who:

  • assists, makes things easier, makes it possible to do something that cannot be done alone
  • advises
  • makes things better, brings improvement in a situation
  • provides for someone’s needs
  • serves

A substantial list! A helper makes possible the difficult, improves the circumstances by advising, helping, providing and *gasp* serving.  I am to make my husband’s life easier, better, more useful. I should not be adding to the burdens and pressures he already carries, but rather I am to help him bear those responsibilities.  I should serve my husband? Yes!  Why is it that I am happy to serve my church, serve my community, serve my guests, serve others in general…but I do not want to be a ‘servant’ to my husband, the very one I loved so much, with whom I chose to spend the rest of my life?

Years ago, I read a book by Dr. Laura Schlessinger called The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. This is an excerpt taken from Amazon:

Dr. Laura reminds women that to take proper care of their husbands is to ensure themselves the happiness and satisfaction they yearn for in marriage…disrespect for men and disregard for the value, feelings, and needs of husbands has fast become the standard for male-female relations in America. Those two attitudes clash in unfortunate ways to create struggle and strife in what could be a beautiful relationship.

While she is not necessarily writing from a Biblical perspective (although she is very respectful and supportive of this view), I think she has much insight in this regard. We have a symbiotic relationship with our husbands…we need each other. When one feels loved and appreciated, there is more often than not a positive ripple effect. There will, at the very least, be an improved atmosphere in the home.

Okay, so assuming I accept my God-ordained role as helper, what are some practical applications? The first is so obvious, I feel foolish mentioning it; yet, I also know from my own experience that, unfortunately, those closest to me don’t always get ‘the best me.’

♥ I must be kind.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

I must be kind without expectation. How many times have I been disappointed when my husband doesn’t notice some special something I’ve done for him, or he forgets to thank me for my daily efforts or for going ‘the extra mile’? I can take it personally, let my feelings be hurt, and eventually become resentful and bitter toward him. I might even stop doing nice things, thinking, “what’s the point, why bother?”

When my attitude demands recognition for my good deeds, it is not kindness. This is self-seeking; I am not his helper.

Kindness does not only apply to specific acts, but to my overall demeanour. I need to remind myself to speak kindly to him. I am a planner. I was never particularly spontaneous, yet My Love totally enjoys ‘flying by the seat of his pants.’ When the children were babies, it was quite frustrating when My Love would say,”Let’s go to such-and-such a place for the weekend.” Piles of dirty laundry and dishes and to-do lists would be mocking me, daring me to leave them undone.  I could (and often did) respond negatively so easily. I remind myself that this is one of the qualities that attracted me in to him in the first place. Naturally. Thankfully, the Lord is tempering these traits in each of us and I will usually try to go with the flow.   But, I am still quick to snap at him because I’m busy doing something and to roll my eyes when he calls me to find something (which may or may not be in plain view), I tend to be impatient and easily annoyed, and to respond to him with sarcastic remarks.  This is not kindness.

When I am unkind, I am not his helper.

♥ I must put his needs before my own.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” ~Philippians 2:3-4 

We are so ingrained with the mantra of humanism. Me first. Me time. Me me me. My needs. My way. I’m not saying I never need a break. I’m not saying it’s wrong to think of my needs at times. Yet this verse clearly says we are not to act selfishly with anyone, so I’m thinking this means my husband, too. I would say it’s easier to meet my children’s needs before my own than it is to put my husband’s first. Yet, I believe that it is good for my children to see me giving priority to my husband. Sometimes, even the needs of those outside my family get priority over my husband, or simply the busyness of life. When he wants to spend time with me, why do I want to finish just one more thing? I need to make my husband feel his importance in my life. When our kids were young, we had little money to go on a date let alone pay a sitter. But as the children were able to stay alone, we’d go on “no Frills” (a grocery store) dates. Exciting, yes? Let me tell you, it was purely glorious for us! We had an hour or two alone, we were able to have discussions outside the hearing of curious ears, and we didn’t spend any extra money (except on maybe a chocolate or coffee splurge). There were times when My Love wanted to get away even for a weekend, but I had a hard time leaving my kids when they were young. Putting my children before my husband sends him the wrong message. It tells him that he is low on the totem pole. This can hurt him. Make no mistake: men’s feelings are fragile, too. I don’t ever want my husband to feel like he is not valued.

If I am selfish, even with my time, I am not his helper. If I don’t make my husband a priority, I am not his helper.

My Love has changed jobs many times. He went back to school when our kids were little. He was driven to succeed, to climb the corporate ladder. Those times were hard, but I tried to be supportive. I felt like a single mom much of the time. God can help us get through those difficult times. But I realized if I was not my husband’s cheerleader, who would be? Perhaps, it would be someone else, someone I wouldn’t want it to be.  When we prayed about going into ministry, it was so scary. His driving force was no longer success, but serving God with his whole heart. We finally had financial security, a lovely home, our kids were happy in our local church and neighbourhood, we were serving God in various ways. But God was doing something more. I had to trust my husband, trust God, and be supportive in a whole new way. It wasn’t always pretty, but then again, I am a work in progress.

If I am not supportive and I dig in my heels to get my own way, I may be interfering with God’s direction and I am not my husband’s helper.

♥ I must take responsibility.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” ~Colossians 3:17

I have as much responsibility in making my marriage strong as he does. It’s been said that divorce is 50/50. Marriage is 100% all the time. Every home is different when it comes to sharing the workload. I’m not going to label pink jobs and blue jobs. That is something every family must work out according to each member’s time, skill, and preferences. I’m talking about attitudes toward one another. Take responsibility for reaching out, serving, and keeping the lines of communication open. I confess I am not good at seeking forgiveness. I’m like that kid who mumbles “sorry” under my breath, never looking the offended party in the eye. When I’m wrong, when I fail to behave in a godly manner, I must be willing to admit my failures (and there are many) and apologize. I am always reminding my kids that we each have a responsibility to do the right thing, regardless of the other’s actions. We are not to return evil for evil. My heart and my actions must reflect the love of God in all circumstances. On the flip side, I have a responsibility to forgive also, and I must forgive freely and graciously, even when it’s not being asked. Otherwise, bitterness can take root and wreak havoc on my marriage. We had a weeping mulberry tree that grew so huge, the roots broke up our walkway and threatened the foundation of our house. The tree had to go. Those roots were powerful, as are the roots of bitterness, anger and resentment.

If I always expect my husband to bear the brunt of the burdens of life, to be the only one to discipline our children, the one who always bridges the gaps in our marriage, I am not his helper.

♥ I must be realistic.

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” ~Matthew 7:3

Marriage is not a fairytale. There are no Prince Charmings to ride in to save the day. My husband is a regular guy serving an awesome God. I thank God for that. Because I’m ordinary, too. I’m definitely not a beautiful, sweet Snow White, singing prettily with the birds. Everyday life can be much messier than those stories. We are imperfect, we get on one another’s nerves, we make giant mistakes; but with God’s grace we can overlook the unlovely, and rejoice with each other as we see the Potter’s hand moulding us to be more like Jesus, to be more beautiful. I must pray for my husband when I see areas of concern. I should never browbeat, demoralize or demean him, not alone, and most assuredly not in public. Husband bashing is definitely off limits! This will only build walls, which will not be easily breached. I can express my concerns to him in love, but only God can change his heart. A wife might regularly point out her husband’s faults in public, with him present, even going as far as to say she wishes he was more like other specific men. This is wrong! This is so damaging, both to his spirit and to their marriage. Not to mention, that if she publicly belittles him, what is she saying in private? Some of her concerns might be legitimate. Perhaps she wants him to be a leader, a godly example; but in all her rantings she fails to recognize that she is not being the godly wife he needs either. Specks and planks. Oh we need grace in our marriages. I must beware of comparing my husband to others! It breeds dissatisfaction, covetousness, and steals my joy and contentment. And, I certainly don’t want to be compared to other women. Shudder.

If I am unrealistic in my expectations, I am putting extra pressures on my husband and I am not his helper.

♥ I must respect him.

“Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” ~Ephesians 5:33

Respect carries many connotations:  admire, honour, deference, esteem, appreciate, regard, treasure, value.  I admire my husband for many reasons. Do I regularly tell him? Do I let him know how much I appreciate what he does? Do I give him my full attention, or am I always distracted? I need to stop what I am doing and focus on listening to him when we talk. Do I respect his decisions, or do I undermine his authority? When my older kids were in their early teens, I would find myself saying, “I don’t mind, but Dad doesn’t think you should do this-or-that” or “I know you’re busy with this, but Dad wants you to do so-and-so” One day the Lord convicted me of this. I was undermining his authority and I was not standing united with him.

I was making his job as a father harder. I was not being his helper.

I think the subject of submission naturally goes hand in hand with respect. Submission/subjection in the Greek is ‘hupotassoo’ which describes a functional relationship, one that is objectively appointed as a rank order. Appointed, in this case by God. If I am to submit to God, I cannot ignore this part of marriage. In Colossians we’re told to put on the new self, and this is how it looks for wives in the Christian home:

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord…” ~Colossians 3:17-18

It’s not about being a “doormat”, downtrodden, oppressed, exploited or subservient. It’s about loving and respecting the man chose to marry. Submission is a choice to yield in love and obedience. Not just to my husband but to God. It’s not always easy, especially in this world where demanding our rights and asserting ourselves is actually an admirable trait. Pride often prevents me from acquiescing, from trusting my husband’s leadership and judgment. It is, naturally, acceptable to respectfully discuss a matter in a humble way, without complaining or making disparaging remarks.

If I make it harder for my husband to be a godly leader in his home, I am not his helper.

My submission must be in the right spirit. An outward show of obedience is not the same as yielding happily. The heart attitude is key. I’m a list maker. I like to check the boxes. Yup, do this. Yup, did that. Nope, don’t do that. But is my heart in it? Do I do it with grumbling in my spirit? Do I have an ‘I’m doing it, but I don’t like it’ kind of attitude? When I behave this way, I am not setting a good example for my children in regard to submitting to my authority, their father’s authority, or God’s for that matter.

If I am not reflecting God’s glory in my marriage, I am not my husband’s helper.

Biblical submission blesses my husband, it blesses me and it glorifies God. My husband will feel respected, trusted, appreciated and he’ll feel like the leader of his home that God has called him to be. In turn, he may even respond in ways that make me feel cherished and loved.

If I am submitting to him as unto the Lord, I am his helper. I may even be his crown.

One last sidebar:  notice that these benchmarks do not require a prerequisite of a deserving husband.  We are to exhibit Christ-like behaviour whether or not he is behaving in an appropriate way.  Obviously, I am not, in any way, suggesting that one should subject herself to abusive behaviour from her husband.

Are you feeling as inadequate as I am?  I have good news, friends.  God knows it’s not easy for us, not a natural condition for us.  We are sinful and imperfect just like our husbands.  I can’t be a good wife, just like I can’t be a good Christian through efforts of my own.  God can transform me.  He can help me be the wife He wants me to be. I need to take my struggles to Him day by day, hour by hour, and sometimes even minute by minute.  Remember, He can take that imperfect marriage of two imperfect people and still make something beautiful.

Look for the conclusion to these thoughts in marriage: it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful (part three).

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