One would think that, after all the books, articles, and blog posts that I’ve read on the topic of marriage over the years, both faith-based and secular, that I would not be brought up short by something said in passing, something that should have been obvious to me years ago, but sadly wasn’t.
It was at, of all places, a conference on the issue of sex trafficking. One of the speakers, after he was introduced, in turn introduced his wife and proudly announced that they had been married for over 11 months — and he even announced the weeks, days, and hours! He made a few other remarks that, coupled with his obvious joy and enthusiasm, let us know that he not only loved his wife very much, but deeply respected her as well. Then he offered some advice to the unmarried men: “Find a wife who will challenge you to be a better man!”
He went on to give an excellent, dynamic talk, but those introductory words, not even meant for me, hit me hard.
Then, more recently, I saw this:
If I were to die today, I don’t think my husband could say that about me — that he is a better person for having been married to me. I haven’t challenged him. That makes me really sad, and disappointed in myself.
Of course, I could come up with all sorts of excuses and reasons and justifications and explanations for why that is. I could, for example, blame some of the ridiculous books and articles I’ve read. For example, there was the one that insisted that, if my husband made a disastrously poor decision and asked for my advice in how to deal with the terrible fallout, I was to smile sweetly and submissively and lob this passive-agressive insult at him: “Oh, I’m sure you’ll make the right decision, dear!” Luckily, I’m not that passive-agressive, nor self-controlled, nor submissive. But, I read enough of that nonsense, and too much of the not-so-extreme advice that I needed to treat my husband’s ego as some fragile flower, and accept everything about him, that “challenging” him would sinful and disrespectful. In fact, even admitting that he might have room for improvement was questionable!
It’s not just the books. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t have been so taken in by the “my dear Rebecca, you will never live up to the ideal of godly womanhood because you just don’t have what it takes” messages if it weren’t for my own issues and the over-all dynamic in our marriage.
But those are all excuses and the bottom line is, I’m without excuse.
Contrary to all the nonsense out there, no husband — no matter how wonderful and godly he may be — has obtained perfection in loving his wife as Christ loves the Church, nor is he infallible and thus worthy of being submitted to without question. Nor is any grown man so weak and fragile that his wife needs to prop him up and dare not question him lest his precious ego dissolve and he crumple into a little heap on the ground — or whatever it is we wives are supposed to be afraid of happening to the poor dears if we don’t treat them with kid gloves.
There is a teaching out there that our role as “helpmeet” is to help our husband fulfill his “vision”. If I had a dollar for every wife who has told me that she would love to help her husband fulfill his vision if he just had one, or who complained that her husband’s vision seemed to be watching as much TV as possible, I could probably finance at least one woman’s vision. (I have a sneaking suspicion that far more women than men have some sort of “vision” for their lives.) But apparently we are supposed to sit around, praying and waiting for our husband to come up with his “vision”. I guess it’s supposed to hit him while he’s busy at work, while he’s commuting, or during a commercial break. Nagging doesn’t seem to help.
If we read the Bible more, we wouldn’t come up with such nonsense, nor would we be taken in by it.
I look at this differently now. There are certain things that the Bible makes clear are what God desires of all of us who want to follow Him. We can challenge — which is different from nagging — and encourage our husbands in their pursuit of God. There are things that are required of husbands. How will our husbands know if they are loving us like Christ loves the Church if we never communicate to them when they succeed and when they fall short?
All too often, we get caught up in marriage as an authority structure or hierarchical relationship. We forget that we are supposed to be “one flesh”. I think that, in many cases, those of us who are wives understand and long for intimacy (as in real intimacy, not a code word for sex) much more than our husbands do. We can either buy into the cultural notion that “guys just aren’t wired for intimacy” and treat our husbands like neanderthals or boys — or we can treat them with respect, like equals, like our other halves, and encourage them to stop fearing vulnerability, to open their hearts to real love, and to become better men. We can hold them accountable to obeying the clear commands of Scripture, and not look the other way when our husbands compromise their integrity or purity. We can challenge and encourage them to become the men God wants them to be, strong and courageous men who allow God, rather than culture, to define manhood.
After thirty years of marriage, I’m finally starting to do what I should have been doing from day one.