Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25, NIV).
No, I’m not talking about Jack Bauer. I’m talking about my marriage. Today marks 24 years that my wife Mandi and I have been walking together as husband and wife. Mandi is my best and dearest friend, and of the people who walk this earth is the one I love the most.
Getting married to Mandi was one of my best decisions in life and was one of those defining moments. Those vows of commitment to stay true to each other in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, and in sickness and in health proved very prophetic. In our twenty-four years we have been through all of that; and as long as life goes on we will continue to experience all that.
One of the things I have been learning is that marriage changes you. And not just a little, but a lot. Marriage is either going to make you better or bitter, sweeter or sour, a wise man (or woman) or a wise a**. I think I’ve been traveling more towards better, sweeter, and wiser. If Mandi says I am, then I am…she knows me better than anyone.
Here are some of the lessons God has been teaching me as I have been learning how to love my wife as Christ loves His Church.
- Commitment. Marriage is 100/100. Whoever said marriage was 50/50 was probably never married. Marriage takes commitment. You have to be committed 100% to it. The thing is you will never really get to test your commitment until things get rough. Anyone can say they are committed when things are all coming up roses. It is when they are all coming up thorns that you learn commitment.
- Forgiveness. There isn’t anything Mandi has done or could do to me that hurts me as much as I hurt my God every single day. And He hasn’t given up on me, so what right do I have to give up on her? You’re going to hurt each other. That’s part of life. But remember how much God has forgiven you for. That will keep you humble and ready to forgive even when you’re really hurt.
- Criticism does not work. Nothing motivates a person more to respect and respond to you more than honest praise. Nothing brings up a person’s defensiveness faster than criticism. One of the cardinal laws of personal relations is this: people thrive under praise and deteriorate under criticism. If we want to be exceptional in our relationships we have to master this basic principle. People thrive under praise and deteriorate under criticism. Look for the good in your spouse and praise it. Praise it often. Praise it sincerely.
- Admit when you are wrong. You can imagine in twenty-four years of marriage I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve done a lot of dumb things…intentional and unintentional. I have been learning that one of the worst mistakes is not admitting when I am wrong. Hiding it, burying it, denying it, or rationalizing it always ends up making things worse. When you are wrong admit it, ask for forgiveness, and make things right.
- Be slow to anger. Nothing tests your patience like marriage…unless of course you have kids, they give you a run for your money too. You are going to get hurt. Your spouse is going to say and do some pretty hurtful things. As Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8, love covers a multitude of sins. If Jesus pointed out every mistake I made, He wouldn’t have time to tell me that He loves me! Jesus does not lose His cool with me, therefore I should not lose my cool with Mandi. If I can let something pass, I should. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to say nothing.
- Speak the right language. People have different ways they like to be loved. Some want your time, others want touch, others want kind and affirming words, others like acts of service, and still others like gifts. My “love language” is time and words of affirmation. Mandi’s is acts of service. I can whisper sweet nothings in her ear all night long and tell her I love her twenty times a day. But none of that says “I love you” to her as loud and clear as doing the dishes does. For her to feel loved, I need to speak her language, not mine.
- Give. Love always gives. Gives what? Whatever she needs. Sometimes giving is pleasant and full of joy. Other times it is hard and costly and full of tears. Love is about giving. This giving is not about her deserving it, or earning it, or “giving to get.” This is gracious giving. As Charlie Jones used to say, it is giving because you have something. If you are giving to get something you are not giving, you are trading. This is giving whether you get anything back or not. This is one-way giving. This is giving everything you’ve got—even your life. You can’t love your wife like Christ loves the Church and not be a giver.
- Grow your love for Jesus. Mandi would tell you, that I love her best when that love is born out of my love to God. Author and pastor John Piper summed up love with this sentence: “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.” When the reason you love your husband or your wife is because you love Jesus, then you will be able to bear with each other in your weaknesses. You will find it easier to forgive, to be patient, to be kind, to trust, to hope and to persevere. Commit to loving Jesus more than you love your spouse.
- I am not enough. We all want to be enough. We want to be able to meet all our spouse’s needs. We want to be the man with the answers, the plan, the right stuff. The reality is I am not. I can’t meet all her needs. I don’t have all the answers. The reality is there are times I come up woefully short. More than I would care to admit. There are things that happen in life that will knock you sideways no matter how good or careful you may be. I have experienced enough of them to know I am not enough. And it is foolish to think that I am. Marriage and family life will teach you this one over and over and over until you start to get it…then God will start teaching it in deeper and deeper ways so that you can be learning lesson 10,
- Jesus is enough. I am not enough. I was never meant to be enough. But perhaps the most precious thing I have been learning these past twenty-four years is that Jesus is enough. He is always enough. And in Him, I never have to worry about being enough, because in Him I will always have enough. When I look back and reflect on my life, time and time again when I realized I was not enough, He showed He was enough. I didn’t always see it right away, but He was always there. Always. And He always will be.
I have not learned these lessons. I am learning them! I will be learning them until I die I suspect. But as long as I am willing to be learning these lessons, I believe my marriage is going to continue to get richer and fuller with each passing year.
Happy anniversary honey! I love you…and yes, I’ll do the dishes when I get home. =)