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August 27, 2015

The Only Woman in the World

Gary Thomas — 

The Only Woman in the World

Men, if you would like to have superlative satisfaction in your marriage, if you would enjoy a love for your wife that has no comparison, go back with me to the beginning of time—when Adam walked the earth by himself with God. Adam watched little animals and bigger animals, he discovered a wide variety of plants, and he talked to a God who was beyond imagining.

But there was no one like him.

No one.

He lived like that for a while. How long was that “day?” We don’t know.

But then Adam was put into a deep sleep. When he woke up, he could hardly believe his eyes. Before him stood Eve, like him in the most important ways but also so unlike him in even more important ways.

There she stood with eyes that seemed curiously soft, legs that were like his but somehow gloriously different, soft lips, and breasts!

And she was his, as he was hers.

What made this moment especially powerful, momentous, and even enthralling?

There was no Holly, Shanice, or Sofia.

There was just Eve.

Adam couldn’t compare Eve’s shoulders to Camille’s or Eve’s back to Emma’s. He couldn’t say “Eve is kinder than Janet,” or “Eve isn’t as sensitive as Claire,” because there was only Eve, in all her glory, the woman who defined “woman” to the first man. He couldn’t imagine any other woman, because there wasn’t one. He couldn’t wonder what it would be like if she were taller, heavier, slimmer, darker, or lighter.

She just was.

The only woman in the world.

And Adam couldn’t have been happier.

If you want to be fully satisfied in your marriage, treat your wife like Eve. Let her be, in your mind, the only woman in the world.

Pray a prayer that I talk about in Sacred Marriage, one that I prayed early on in my own marriage: “Let my wife define beautiful to me. Let her be the standard for what I find most attractive.”

Do you think that’s a prayer that God will have to think about answering? “Hmmm, not sure I want to do that.”

Not a chance.

It is stunning to me that yesterday, after 31 years of marriage, my wife was standing in front of me feeling all stressed out, talking about how tired she felt, and how frustrating certain aspects of her day had been. While trying to respond with empathy on the outside, inside I was thinking, “She is gorgeous. Still gorgeous.”

I don’t compare my wife’s occasional frustrations with another woman’s peace just as I won’t compare my wife’s face to another woman’s eyes. If I want supreme satisfaction in Lisa, she must become to me like Eve and be the only woman in the world. The only one I will ever look at in that way.

I defy any man to honestly say he has derived any lasting, godly satisfaction from looking at another woman the way he should look only at his wife; after the short moment of excitement, there will be a much longer season of frustration and discontent. Has looking at another woman or comparing your wife to another woman ever led you to more joy, a happier marriage, or more peace with God?  Of course not.

No man’s marital happiness has ever been served by comparing his wife’s weaknesses to another woman’s strengths. That’s how you create discontentment, assault any attitude of cherishing your wife, and how you ruin your own happiness.

It’s a choice, men—it’s a choice. I have a choice to look at my wife like Adam looked at Eve, the only woman who matters. I have a choice to fill up my eyes and be so taken with her that there is no Juliet, Jada, or Anna.

Just Lisa.

Have you ever lived that way husbands? Do you think you could pray this week, “God, let me start looking at my wife like Adam looked at Eve—as the only woman in the world?”

It’s a prayer first, then a choice, then a recommitment. You will stumble. You will have to go back and pray again. You will have to choose again.

But if you keep doing it, eventually, it happens.

Your wife is cherished.

Your wife isn’t just your first choice, but your only choice.

You become happy, satisfied, and fulfilled.

Because your wife defines beauty for you, your picture of the most beautiful woman in the world ages with your wife. You won’t be a sixty-year-old man pining after a 25-year-old centerfold. Who wants to be that guy, anyway?

You’ll eventually be a sixty-year-old husband who is enthralled with his sixty-year-old wife and still finds his heart skipping a beat when she smiles in her own particular way, or she stands in front of you in that dress and the sun hits her just right and you forget about everything else, including time.

You want this men. Trust me. You do. It is one of the supreme blessings of marriage that is often overlooked.

It takes vigilance.

It takes intention.Small Sacred Marriage Image - Cropped

It takes practice.

But when it arrives—when your wife is Eve and there is no other—you will feel like the most blessed husband alive.

Your wife will feel cherished, because your adoration will be as genuine as the beginning of time. Your heavenly Father will experience joy because He delights when his daughter is richly cherished. Your kids will feel secure because their home is protected.

Everybody wins. Everybody.

But Adam wins the most.

Would you like to be particularly happy in your marriage?

Do you want the security of knowing that no matter what happens the two of you will face the future together, and that nothing will tear you apart?

Do you want the feeling of being truly and finally married—no doubts, no re-evaluations, no “what-ifs,” just daily growing closer together?

It’s possible.

It will require both of you to adopt a new mindset, to in fact go back to the very beginning of time and recapture that special intimacy experienced by Adam and Eve.

Have you ever wondered why Adam and Eve were initially so happy in their marriage? What was unique about their experience so that they could know perfect paradise while being together?

Of course, there was no sin yet, but there was something even more specific than that which led to Adam and Eve’s sense of satisfaction.

It wasn’t just about being naked and unashamed.

It wasn’t about being free from children (most of us don’t want to be free from our children.)

It wasn’t even about the fact that they lived in a rich, lush garden.

It was the fact that when Adam was first introduced to Eve, there was literally no other woman in the world to whom he could compare her. When Eve first saw Adam, she didn’t know what a man was “supposed” to be like or how he was supposed to act.

Eve defined woman to Adam, as Adam defined man to Eve.

When you’re with the only woman in the world, you don’t expect her to be more intelligent, less sarcastic, lighter or darker, thinner or curvier, she just is—Eve, the only woman in the world. The person who defines woman to you.

That led to quite the happy union, and it’s a mindset we can cultivate today.

Comparison Kills

Have you ever visited a friend’s house who just had their kitchen remodeled? New appliances. A new floor. Marble counter-tops. A brand new island with pot fillers!

After a lovely dinner you return home and turn on the lights and see your same-old kitchen, with the slightly worn cupboards, the out-of-date refrigerator, the floor that makes you wonder why you ever chose that tile in the first place…

It’s the same kitchen that four hours prior you didn’t think twice about. Now it looks so bad that it even makes you sad.

What happened?

Comparison.

You saw what a kitchen could be and yours feels so awful in comparison.

Too many spouses do that with their mates.

Adopting an “Adam/Eve” “Only man/only woman in the world” mindset recognizes this spiritual and psychological reality and chooses to let your spouse define what a man or woman is supposed to be. Comparison loses all of its negative force.

When cherishing becomes the new standard of marriage, exclusivity reigns. My wife becomes the only one I will let myself think about sexually. She’s the only personality I’ll care to make my best friend. I will figure out how to make this marriage work with her because she is my only option, the only woman in the world.

The foundation of a cherishing marriage is something I wish every husband could say and every wife could hear:

“My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (Song of Songs 6:9).

Daily Walking Down the Aisle

It used to be that, when the wedding march began playing, every eye in the church looked back to see the bride walking up the aisle, but more recently I’ve noticed how this has changed. Because of some Internet memes, more and more people want to catch the face of the groom. Is he smiling? Crying? Looking nervous?

Men, try to remember that moment when your bride walked down the aisle and you lost your breath seeing her in all her glory. No one else existed for you at that moment. No other woman came to mind.

This doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can be a daily reality.

To cherish our wives this way, we have to mentally choose to not look at any other woman that way. If you compare a two-carat diamond to a three-carat diamond, it will look small in comparison even though it’s bigger and more expensive than 99% of the wedding ring diamonds out there.

I prayed early on in my own marriage: “Lord, let my wife define beautiful to me. Let her be the standard for what I find most attractive.”

God has answered that prayer, and it’s so affirming to my wife. However she is, is what I am most attracted to. She is the “plumb line” of beauty for me, a plumb line that ages with her.

Cherishing goes far beyond physical appearance. I don’t compare my wife’s occasional frustrations with another woman’s peace, just as I won’t compare my wife’s skillset to another woman’s gifts. If I want supreme satisfaction in Lisa, if I want to truly cherish her, she must become to me like Eve, the only woman in the world. The only one I will ever look at in that way.

No man has ever derived any lasting, godly satisfaction from looking at another woman the way he should look only at his wife; after the short moment of excitement, there will be a much longer season of frustration and discontent, followed by anger and marital distance. Fantasizing about another woman is the highway to discontentment and marital separation. It never leads you to your wife; it carries you away from her at seventy miles an hour. That’s how you create discontentment, assault any attitude of cherishing your wife, and how you ruin your own happiness.

Adam was so blessed—and so happy, accordingly—because there was literally no one else to compare Eve to. And while the world is now populated with billions of other women, we men can still make the choice to look at our wives as Adam looked at Eve, the only woman who matters in that way.

To fill up our eyes with only her.

To be so taken with her that there is no Juliet, no Jada, and no Anna.

Just Eve.

It’s a prayer first, “Lord, let me look at my wife as the only woman in the world.”

Then it’s a choice.

Then we guard our hearts and keep our focus.

It requires a recommitment when we stumble. We will have to go back and pray again. We will have to choose again.

But if we keep holding her dear, mentally reserving our focus exclusively for her, eventually, it happens: our wife is cherished. Our wife isn’t just our first choice, but our only choice.

We become happy, satisfied, fulfilled.

You’ve taught yourself to cherish her and it’s worked. You’ve become enthralled with her, as you are with no other woman.

You want this, men. Trust me. You do. It is one of the supreme blessings of marriage that is often overlooked. When it arrives—when your wife is Eve and there is no other—you will feel like the most blessed husband alive.

Your wife will feel cherished, because your adoration will be as genuine as the beginning of time. Your heavenly Father will experience joy because he delights when his daughter is richly cherished. Your kids will feel secure because they spiritually feed off their parents’ affection.

Everybody wins. Everybody.

But Adam wins the most.

The Only Man in the World

Women can take the same journey. Divorce statistics reflect that women tend to be more dissatisfied in their marriages than men. Wives may have to fight more fiercely against the onslaught of disappointment lest they be tugged toward frustration, collapse into bitterness, and find themselves captive to contempt.

How can you fight contempt? How can you learn to cherish your husband as if he were the only man on earth?

Here’s the spiritual choice you have to make: when any woman gets married, she agrees (consciously or not) to a “commitment of contentment.” She forever resets the boundaries for what makes her content. She doesn’t get to compare her husband to other husbands because to her, he must become the only man in the world. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3).

You’ve already made your choice, in your ideal world you have no intention of ever starting over with someone else, so why not put your energy into and your focus on building on the strengths of that choice, and making yourself ever more grateful that you made that choice? Think of yourself as Eve in the Garden of Eden, standing before the first man Adam. Eve didn’t have anyone to compare Adam to. All she could possibly think was, “This is what a man is like. This is what my man is like.”

No man can be everything. A successful long-distance cyclist can’t be a body builder. A handyman may be able to fix a lot of things, but he may view exercise or long talks as chores rather than something he relishes. Though there are exceptions, dedicating one’s time to becoming exceptional at one thing usually means not being exceptional at a whole lot of other things.

Since no one man can be everything, one of the best gifts a woman can give a man is to tell him with her eyes, attention, words, and acceptance, “You don’t have to be anything other than what you are. You are my Adam, the only man in the world. I cherish you.

With such an attitude, anything your husband isn’t becomes irrelevant—your guy isn’t that, so you don’t expect that and there’s no point in fretting over that. If you marry a guy who isn’t a handyman, you don’t judge him for not being a handyman. If you marry a guy who is a bit silent, you don’t brood over the fact that your best friend’s husband will sit and talk to her for hours.

Instead, you think of your man as Adam—the only man in the world. You cherish him for what and who he is, you don’t expect him to be anything else, and you never compare him to anyone else.

At some point, if you want marital happiness, if you want to learn how to cherish a real man instead of longing for an imaginary composite, some “Frankenstein” husband who somehow has it all, then you have to own your choice and even learn to cherish your choice. “My vineyard, my very own, is for myself” (Song of Songs 8:12).

It’ll take biblical understanding to do this, then prayerful supplication to God (“God, help me do this”), then an intellectual consent (“I want to do this”), and finally a determined act of the will (“I’m going to do this”) to fully go through this process, resetting your brain to think of your husband as Adam.

It’s not a one-time deal. You’ll catch yourself slipping back into comparison at times, and then you’ll have to go back to square one and set the process in motion once again. Over time, it will just become the way you look at your husband. Thinking of him as Adam will be your default mode.

When that happens, you’ll find that you cherish your husband instead of having contempt for him. You’ll discover that you are grateful for his strengths instead of bitter about his weaknesses. You’ll experience the joy of your heavenly Father, who delights in seeing his sons cherished, encouraged, and respected. You’ll be a strong witness to Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ll provide one of the best parenting role models a mother could ever provide for her children.

But just as importantly, you’ll find more contentment, enjoyment, happiness and intimacy in your marriage. Your heart will swell with pride and you will be the envy of all your friends—the one woman in their circle who is utterly and contentedly in love with her husband and can’t even imagine being married to any other.

That’s a very pleasant place to live.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

June 29, 2018

The Worth of a Woman

Gary Thomas — 

 

If you’ve been a longtime reader of this blog, you know I don’t typically speak out on topical issues, news items, or politics. There are plenty of places you can go to for that kind of information, written by people much more in the know and more capable of immediately writing about late breaking events, scandals or controversies.

The way my brain works (slow, slower still, and then come back and rewrite), I shoot for what could be called “timeless truths.” Blog posts should hold up and be true regardless of who is in the White House or what pastor did what thing in what church, or what denomination invited what speaker to what convention.

One timeless issue we have been facing is the way women are viewed and treated, especially by men in the church. Just as important is how women are viewed and treated by other women in the church. A woman fully alive to who she is called to be in Christ makes for the best wife, the best friend, the best sister, and the best servant of Christ.

So this week I’m going to excerpt a bit from Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. While trying to set women up to have the most influence they can have in their marriage and on their husband, I stress the need to first ground themselves in their identity in Christ—that we matter not because someone chose to marry us, but because God adopted us. That we have security not because someone else contributes to the family income but because God has promised to meet all of our needs in Christ Jesus. That we have worth not because our spouse is still attracted to us and interested in us, but because God calls us “chosen and dearly loved.” Once we know who we are in God, we are better able to handle the inevitable hurts and pains of being married to an imperfect spouse in an imperfect world.

What I set out to show in Loving Him Well is how the Bible affirms women in a way that was quite radical for the time in which it was written. Because some passages seem to suggest husband and wives share different roles in marriage, there are those who see the Bible as an accessory to the oppression of women, when in fact, even the Old Testament became an agent of radical change in a world that viewed women as children or property.

For example, the Old Testament stepped outside its cultural milieu to insist that women mirror God’s own character and image just as fully as do their male counterparts: “So God created man in his own image, he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Right from the start, we learn that women and men together mirror the image of God. Since God is above gender, males alone (or females alone) fail to adequately represent his character and image.

Just as tellingly, the admonition to shape this world and even to rule over this world is given to women just as much as it is to men: “God blessed them [the man and the woman] and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28, emphasis added).

Women are not told to sit passively on the sidelines and cheer for their husbands as the men run the show. On the contrary, from the very beginning, women share God’s command for humans to rule, subdue, and manage this earth. They are co-regents.

This strong, affirming view of women continues into the first book of the New Testament, with the inclusion of women in the genealogy of the Messiah (a literary act that breaks with the tradition of the first century). Yes, there is Abraham and David and Joseph — but there is also Rahab, Ruth, Mary, and Bathsheba. Who would expect such a thing from a very patriarchal and even misogynistic culture? It took both men and women to set up the human events that led to the birth of the Messiah. God chose women of diverse personality and status to build the human line that ushered in the Savior of the world.

Rahab, of course, was a prostitute. Bathsheba may well have been raped (when the king calls for you, consent isn’t an option). Ruth was a Moabite, a tribe whose genesis came from a grotesque act of incest, and it was her taking action (“Let me go to the fields” she pleaded with Naomi) and bold proposal that set up not just the birth of King David, but the human ancestry of Jesus as well.

Including each one of these women in the hallowed ancestry of Jesus is God’s way of saying that even if you’ve been sexually abused or come from a horrific background, God still has a plan to use you mightily.

Jesus came into this world through a woman; not a single male had anything to do with the immediate conception or birth of our Lord. Mary, a woman, is the only human who contributed to Jesus’ DNA.

Jesus also elevated women in his teaching. In Mark 10:11, Jesus astonishes his disciples when he tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” Why was this astonishing? According to rabbinic law, a man could commit adultery against another married man by sleeping with that man’s wife, and a wife could commit adultery against her husband by sleeping with another man; but no provision stipulated how a husband could commit adultery against his wife. Jesus was telling those first-century men, “Your wife has equal value in God’s sight. It is possible for you to sin against her every bit as much as it is possible for her to sin against you.”

And let’s look at Jesus’ death. While one male disciple betrayed our Lord and the others cowered behind locked doors, some very courageous women dared to watch Jesus’ final minutes on this earth. Mark goes out of his way to emphasize the scene at the foot of the cross: “There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40 – 41). In Jesus’ most trying moments, he was supported by many women. Modern readers might read right over this narrative fact — but in the first century, this was a startling truth and a challenge to any false view of male superiority.

But perhaps the boldest statement came after Jesus died and was raised from the dead. According to ancient Pharisaic law, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a tribunal as too untrustworthy. Only men could give witness. So when Jesus rose from the dead — the most important event that has ever occurred or ever will occur — who was present to give witness and testimony? Women! Jesus pointedly uses women, whose testimony could not then be heard in contemporary courts of law, to proclaim his glorious resurrection.

This elevation of women at all points in theological pronouncements, historical accounts, and practical teaching should astonish us, given the male-oriented culture in which the Bible took shape. It should form the way we respect our wives as women and teach our children to honor their moms with the respect given them by God.

We don’t have to tear down the Bible or men to lift up women; the story of God’s redemption took millennia to unfold and is even yet unfolding. What matters most is that women understand who they are in Christ, and that their husbands and fathers and sons also let their thinking be shaped by Scripture’s arc.

As much as the above Scriptures challenge me however, I still have to confess that few things have motivated me as a man more than having God reiterate to me that Lisa is his daughter and I’m to treat her accordingly. As a father with three children, including two women, this image shapes, corrects, inspires and challenges my every interaction and thought in marriage. The more I respect my wife in particular, the more I respect other women in general. I don’t want any other man sexualizing my wife, making her feel uncomfortable, or putting her in the miserable position of spending nine hours a day in a creepy environment or find some other place to work—so I’m going to go out of my way to not do that to someone else’s wife.

It would break my heart if a son-in-law was harsh or abusive to a daughter; that motivates me to be encouraging and gentle with Lisa.

It comes down to this: if we would look at people as God looks at them, and treat men and women the way God calls us to, all these news items would be resolved. They’d never happen to begin with.

I have great respect and appreciation for those who push necessary conversations, who bring abuse to the surface, and who have the fortitude and demeanor to enact change. The world needs activists and prophets, and I thank God for them. We need servants who cry out, “This is wrong.” We also need some, and I hope this blog can be such a place, to cry out, “This is right.”

Treating all women, but especially our wives, with respect and dignity, is right.

 

September 1, 2015

The Only Man in the World

Gary Thomas — 

The Only Man in the World

Women, the door to true happiness in marriage—the key to becoming the most pleased and happiest of wives—is to begin viewing your husband as Adam, the only man in the world.

When you get married, you agree (consciously or not) to a “commitment of contentment.” You forever reset the boundaries for what makes you content. You don’t get to compare your husband to other husbands (that’s what girlfriends should do with boyfriends, but not what wives should do with husbands) because to you, he is the only man in the world.

Think of yourself as Eve in the Garden of Eden, standing before the first man Adam. Eve didn’t have anyone to compare Adam to. She couldn’t think, “His arms look below average, but at least he doesn’t have a unibrow.” All she could possibly think was, “This is what men are like.”

The “new boundaries” of your new commitment to contentment once you get married means that anything your husband isn’t becomes irrelevant—your guy isn’t that, so don’t expect that. If you marry a guy who isn’t a handyman, you don’t judge him for not being a handyman. If you marry a guy who is a bit silent, you don’t brood over the fact that your best friend’s husband will sit and talk to her for hours. If you marry a guy who thinks exercise is picking up the game controller, you don’t think about what it would be like to marry a guy who does triathlons.

Instead, you think of your man as Adam—the only man in the world. You love him for who he is, you don’t expect him to be anything else, and you never compare him to anyone else.

This might sound extreme to some of you but tell me, what have you ever gained by comparing your husband’s weaknesses to another husband’s strengths? Has it ever made you happier, more content in your marriage, or a more loving wife? Has it ever made you feel closer to your husband or given you more joy?

Of course not.

If you want to be married to a man who reads books then marry a man who reads books. Marrying a man who doesn’t read books and then faulting him for not reading is your problem not his. You made a choice and now you are second-guessing it. The problem isn’t with your husband—the problem is that you made a poor choice establishing your boundaries of contentment.

When you can finally see and agree that the problem you have with contentment is thus yours, not his, everything about your marriage will change. Everything.

I promise you, you will be so much happier in your marriage. You will become a much better wife if you simply pray through the creation account in Genesis and begin thinking of your husband as Adam—the man who defines all other men for you—and then start treating him that way. It’ll take biblical understanding to do this then prayerful supplication to God, then an intellectual consent, and finally a determined act of the will to fully go through this process resetting your brain to think of your husband as Adam.

It’s not a one-time deal. You’ll catch yourself slipping back into comparison at times, and you will have to go back to square one and set the process in motion once again. Over time it will become the way you look at your husband. Thinking of him as Adam will be your default mode of thinking and relating.Small Sacred Marriage Image - Cropped

When that happens, you’ll find that you cherish your husband instead of having contempt for him. You’ll discover that you are grateful for his strengths instead of bitter about his weaknesses. You will experience the joy of your heavenly Father who delights in seeing His sons cherished, encouraged, and respected. You’ll be a strong witness to Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ll provide one of the best parenting role models a mother could ever provide for her children, boys, and girls.

But just as importantly, you’ll find more contentment, enjoyment, happiness, and intimacy in your marriage. Your heart will swell with pride and you will be the envy of all your friends—the one woman who is utterly and contentedly in love with her husband and can’t even imagine being married to any other.

That’s a very pleasant place to live.

March 18, 2014

The Ballet is Woman

Gary Thomas — 
8405185756_4a470484ea_b

photo: Kryziz Bonny, Creative Commons

There’s a saying that “the ballet is woman.” Male dancers recognize that their role is all about showcasing the female dancer’s beauty. In the words of Sarah Jessica Parker (who recently put together a documentary on the New York City Ballet), “When a male dancer is paired with a ballerina he can support, stabilize, lift and turn her, allowing the partner to perform feats she could never do alone.” (You can see a clip on the partnering aspect of ballet here: http://tinyurl.com/n7lusu9)

Isn’t this a marvelous description of marriage? Together, we can be more than we could on our own.

What if we husbands took the attitude of male dancers, seeking to showcase our wives’ beauty? It may be the beauty of wisdom, and in social settings we do our best to see that she is heard. It may be the beauty of leadership, and we support her life so that her gifts can be performed. It may be the beauty of hospitality, and we buy the things she needs and open up our homes (when we might prefer to be left alone with our sporting events) so that her beauty can be on full display. A biblical husband “praises [his wife]. ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’” (Prov. 31:28-29)

What if wives adopted the same attitude, helping their husbands perform feats they could never do on their own? What if a husband knew—in the deepest part of his soul—that his wife was his strongest support, his most encouraging partner? What would that do to him? What if he was willing to risk failure out in the world because he knew in his wife’s eyes he would always be the courageous champion? She supports him, she stabilizes him, she binds up his wounds—spiritual and emotional—and she turns him so his strongest side is always showing. Instead of ridiculing his social awkwardness, she finds a way to help him fit in. Everyone starts to think more of this guy when they look at him through his wife’s eyes.

Marriages turn on one axis: am I trying to showcase my spouse, or am I fixated on how my spouse is not showcasing me? You can’t control the latter; you can only control the former.

One thing I like about this is that it forces me to meditate on my wife’s beauty, identify her strengths, and then plot how I can help those strengths be showcased. How many times do we do the opposite? We obsess over our spouse’s weaknesses and then meet with others to gossip about them.

I want to sit with God and ask, “How do I showcase my wife’s beauty?”

We have to cherish

My last post “Enough is Enough” crashed our website several times. We’ve had to upgrade our website platform and pay for the frantic efforts to keep the blog up in the midst of the overload. We’re so sorry for the frustration you’ve had and the ensuing issues that followed (like earlier blog posts not being immediately available).

It’s at least a hopeful sign that many Christians are apparently resonating with the thought, “It’s time to stop the abuse.”

But stopping the abuse is just the first step. Now it’s time to address the second. Christians shouldn’t be known for merely avoiding evil. We’ve got to celebrate the excellent, the good, and pursue the high call of a truly biblical love.

In other words, it’s not enough that a wife not feel threatened. A Christian wife (and a Christian husband) should be cherished. (I trust it’s obvious that this is not a word for those wives who need to escape an abusing husband.)

 Reading the testimonies of so many women from the blog made me want to redouble my efforts to treat Lisa in a special manner. I don’t want her to just feel “safe.” That should be a given. I want her to feel really and truly cherished.

“Cherish” is, after all, what the vast majority of us promised on our wedding day. We promised to “love and to cherish until death do us part.” It’s what we said we would do in front of a lot of human witnesses and, even more importantly, in front of God.

To say, “I didn’t really mean it” or “Hey, that’s just what the pastor told me to say,” isn’t good enough. If we’ve let this promise slip, we need now more than ever to pick it back up and pursue a cherishing marriage. Besides, we’d be eager to practice cherishing each other if we truly understood the benefits of doing so.

If your heart was broken over the stories of pain so many spouses face, one of the things you can do in response is to raise the bar for what is considered acceptable behavior. Your marriage—how you treat your spouse, talk about your spouse, cherish your spouse—can actually change the climate of many other homes. You can bless other husbands and wives. You can make life so much more pleasant and feel so much more secure for so many children (other than your own).

How?

Personal witness and transformation is the Christian model for societal change. Paul says “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely and to persevere in them so that everyone could see his progress—and so that others could be saved (1 Tim. 4:15-16).

High ideals need fleshly models. Gregory the Great wrote “Almighty God [gives us] examples, so that we may more easily hope for everything we believe to be impossible, the more that we hear that others have already accomplished it.”

Is a cherishing marriage possible? You can show others that it is. And when you do, others will take notice and perhaps be convicted. When a husband cherishes his wife he raises the bar for other men who are entrenched in their selfishness and apathy. Christian husbands who treat their wives like Eve, the only woman in the world, challenge men to see that simply not lusting at other women isn’t enough; on the contrary, in a cherishing marriage we look at our wives in a cherishing way, truly seeing them (they are never invisible to us) and searching them out, celebrating their beauty. Such a wife feels pursued, adored, valued, and affirmed.

When wives cherish their husbands other wives will see that laughter gained at a husband’s expense costs too much. Such a wife can challenge other women with the rare satisfaction that she enjoys in her marriage (because cherishing leads to increased satisfaction). She can raise the bar for how a woman looks at, touches, treats and talks about her husband.

I’ve had so many goals in life: wanting to publish a book, finish a marathon, and many others. One that I am now determined to chase is that my wife will know, in the bottom of her heart, that I cherish her. Perhaps our marriage could kick-start other marriages that have grown a little cold or tired or selfish.

Will you and your spouse make a commitment to pursue a cherishing marriage? Some of you may have to start unilaterally—your spouse may not “awaken” toward you until you start cherishing them on your own. It may take some time. But you can part of those who seek to raise the bar of what is possible in marriage. Not only will you be blessed by doing so (because a cherishing marriage is much more pleasant to be part of), but you can inspire other couples around you. You can set a higher bar for your own children.

You see, I believe a cherishing marriage can be learned and chosen. A person might “fall in love” but they have to choose to cherish. There are attitudes we can adopt and habits we can practice that groom our minds and hearts to cherish our spouse. It’s something God wants for us and if we will just look to Him and His wisdom, He’ll empower us and guide us and help us to get there.

Let’s not stop at “I don’t abuse my spouse.” Let’s pursue, “I want to cherish my spouse.”

My book on cherishing your spouse will be released in just a few weeks now. You can pre-order it here, and get a lot of free stuff thrown in as well (including the first three chapters, immediately):Cherish

http://www.garythomas.com/cherish/

Imagine if men ordered this book for themselves and their wives and said, “I want to build a cherishing marriage in 2017. I want you to feel even more cherished by the time 2018 rolls around.” Husbands, how do you think that would make your wives feel?

What if women decided to study together how to cherish husbands who stumble in so many ways? What if they said, “Being negative and complaining hasn’t gotten us anywhere. Let’s see what happens when we choose to follow through on our promise to cherish our husbands”?

Early reviewers have told me that they believe this book delivers on its promise. I hope you will give it a chance.

And just to cut off potential criticism before it gets to the comments: I have a chapter in this book that says spectacular advice for some can be spectacularly bad advice for others. I am not calling wives who are married to husbands they should separate from to cherish their abusers. If, however, you are convinced God wants you to stay in a difficult marriage—as should be true for the vast majority of us—cherishing is a tool and an effective strategy to make whatever marriage we have even better.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

May 8, 2019

More than Mothers

Gary Thomas — 

My goal in this week’s blog is simple: I want to help us guys (me first) to celebrate our wives and moms on Mother’s Day without being narcissistic. If we’re not careful, we can value our moms primarily for what they gave us and our wives for what they give us, but this pegs their worth to how they impact us, which is basically the very definition of narcissism (not in the clinical sense, but in the popular usage of the word).

I wrote in A Lifelong Love that if I love my wife because she’s kind, I don’t necessarily love my wife; I love kindness. If I love her because she’s a willing participant in sexual relations, I may not love her as much as I love having sex with her.

Biblical love is the love of God that loves because it loves, a unilateral commitment that proclaims the worth and excellence of its beloved because it has chosen to. God loved us while we were yet sinners—not because we deserved or deserve it.

The reason it’s necessary to point this out and pursue this kind of love is because there will be times in any marriage where the wife or mother may not act in a “lovable” manner. She may not be kind and she may even be a chronic or bitter complainer. The Bible promises you that your spouse will mess up regularly and creatively (James 3:2). If your love is pegged to how your spouse treats you, it’s being held up by thrice-used tape.

 

A Better Way

A better way to celebrate our wives and moms is to remember how the Bible affirms women for who they are, not what they do for us. Just as we need to meditate on the goodness and wonder of God to maintain a worshipful heart, so we need to meditate on the wonder of women in general to cherish our spouse in particular.

Without attacking or even diminishing motherhood, the Bible brilliantly portrays women as much more than mothers. Women are God’s daughters, God’s servants, and leaders in their own right apart from their ability to give birth.

This proclamation begins at the beginning. It’s quite astonishing how even the book of Genesis steps outside its cultural milieu to insist that women mirror God’s own character and image just as fully as do their male counterparts: “So God created man in his own image, he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Our original creation proclaims that women and men together mirror the image of God. Since God is above gender, males alone (or females alone) fail to adequately represent his character and image.

Just as shocking, the admonition to shape this world and even to rule over this world is given to women just as much as it is to men: “God blessed them [the man and the woman] and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth’ ” (Genesis 1:28).

Women are not told to sit passively on the sidelines and cheer for their husbands as the men run the show. On the contrary, from the very beginning, women share God’s command for humans to rule, subdue, and manage this earth. They are co-regents.

This strong, affirming view of women continues into the first book of the New Testament, with the inclusion of women in the genealogy of the Messiah (a literary act that breaks with the tradition of the first century). Yes, there is Abraham and David and Joseph — but there is also Rahab, whose courageous stand against her own country earned her citizenship into God’s people; Ruth, who broke with the idolatry of her homeland to enter the faith and “salvation history” of the Jewish Messiah; Mary, given news that could have seemed like a death sentence, whose response implies consent (“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled”) and whom God used to bring our Lord and Savior into this world. There’s also Bathsheba, a woman whose consent didn’t matter when she was “summoned” by the king. Though once a victim, she is remembered for playing a crucial part in a story that leads to the birth of Christ. Rather than being forever tainted by what was done to her, she is beloved for what God did through her.

Just as significantly for Christians, Jesus came into this world through a woman. Not a single male had anything to do with the immediate conception or birth of our Lord. Instead, a woman is the only human who contributed to Jesus’ DNA.

Jesus also elevated women in his teaching. In Mark 10:11, Jesus astonishes his disciples when he tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” Why was this astonishing? According to rabbinic law, a man could commit adultery against another married man by sleeping with that man’s wife, and a wife could commit adultery against her husband by sleeping with another man; but no provision stipulated how a husband could commit adultery against his wife. Jesus was telling those first-century men, “Your wife has equal value in God’s sight. It is possible for you to sin against her every bit as much as it is possible for her to sin against you.”

When a woman called out to Jesus in praise of Mary, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you,” Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:27–28). Back then, a woman was valued primarily for what her children accomplished; Jesus directly refutes this as a woman’s only value, saying he also exalts women who embrace his truth and go to work on behalf of his kingdom.

And let’s look at Jesus’ death. While one male disciple betrayed our Lord and ten others cowered behind locked doors, some very courageous women dared to watch Jesus’ final minutes on this earth. Mark goes out of his way to emphasize the scene at the foot of the cross: “There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40 – 41).

In Jesus’ most trying moments, he was supported by many women. Modern readers might read right over this narrative fact — but in the first century, this was a startling truth and a challenge to any false view of male superiority.

But perhaps the boldest statement came after Jesus died and was raised from the dead. According to ancient Pharisaical law, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a tribunal as too untrustworthy. Only men could give witness. So when Jesus rose from the dead — the most important event that has ever occurred or ever will occur — who was present to give witness and testimony? Women! Jesus pointedly uses women, whose testimony could not then be heard in contemporary courts of law, to proclaim his glorious resurrection.

Though the apostle Paul is often called a misogynist because he seems to suggest that there is a difference between the genders, and that gender may impact the relationship and even leadership within a marriage (Col. 3:18, 1 Cor. 11:3, and Eph. 5:22, among several others), he still “got” the transformation Jesus imparted when it comes to gender when he urges some widows in 1 Corinthians 7 to seriously consider staying unmarried so they can more fully devote themselves to kingdom work. This underscores Paul’s belief that a woman’s highest call isn’t to find a husband to help but rather a Savior to serve.

This elevation of women at all points in theological pronouncements, historical accounts, and practical teaching should astonish us, given the male-oriented culture in which the Bible took shape. It should form the way we respect our wives as women and teach our children to honor their moms with the respect given them by God.  

 

What this Means for Husbands and Sons

The best marriages will be shaped by husbands who live in the truth proclaimed by both Jesus and Paul: before your wife is a wife, before she is your kids’ mom, she is God’s daughter and God’s servant. She wasn’t put here on earth to make us happy and our kids comfortable; she was created to be the woman of influence God created her to be.

I can’t love my wife well if I have a faulty, narcissistic view of women in general. If we love our wives primarily as our wives and as our kids’ moms, we’re defining them in a very selfish, even narcissistic fashion. Jesus tells all of us to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).

The key for me is remembering that Lisa’s first role and her first identity is being God’s daughter and God’s servant. I can’t respect her if I don’t respect (and release her for) that. From this foundation, making a big deal out of Mother’s Day with loads of dark chocolate (for Lisa, “dark” starts at 85%) and hipster indie coffee is a great idea. We can and should celebrate their service to us.

Let’s just not stop there.

 

 

Note: a large portion of this post is adapted from my book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband

 

What if one of the most dangerous attitudes for believers is self-righteousness?

What if it’s possible to be “right” and toxic at the same time?

What if, in the name of doing God’s work, we find ourselves furthering the cause of Satan?

I’ve been reading through Thomas Brooks’ Christian classic Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. It’s a book I’d recommend every Christian read. Precious Remedies may remind you of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, though in a vastly different, point-by-point Puritan style of presentation. Brooks (a 17th century English non-conformist Puritan preacher) presents Satan’s methods (“devices”) and then “divine remedies” to counter them.

One of the most vicious and subtle attacks on God’s church, according to Brooks, is Satan’s determination to destroy the saints by dividing them, until we “bite and devour” one another (Gal. 5:15). One of Satan’s favorite tools to accomplish this aim, according to Brooks, is the saints’ own self-righteousness. We catch somebody doing or saying one thing wrong, and then use that as license to destroy them and everything they are.

Brooks quotes Erasmus who showed how silly self-righteous judgment can be. Erasmus chastises a scholar who “collected all the lame and defective verses in Homer’s works—but passed over all that was excellent. Ah! This is the practice of many people, that they are careful and skillful to collect all the weaknesses of others, and to pass over all those things which are excellent to them.”

Homer’s writings are widely regarded as foundational works of great literature, but if you focus on his worst passages, you miss the beauty, power, and poetry of the best.

It would be like someone collecting videotape of Tom Brady’s worst plays, weaving them together, and putting out the video with a caption, “Tom Brady is not a great quarterback.” You ignore his nine Super Bowl appearances and six Super Bowl rings because, well, in a January 2010 playoff game against the Ravens he threw for just 154 yards and had three interceptions.

The chronicler reveals himself to be an absolute fool. Brady had a bad day, but he’s still a great quarterback.

Yet how many of us treat family members this way, looking for the worst and defining them by their worst? And how many of us treat Christians with whom we disagree this way?

Self-righteousness shame casting gets us angry and vindictive and then it snowballs. We look for more that is wrong, more to chastise, more we can use to “shame” who has now become our enemy as we “bite and devour one another.” We forget the human condition—that every person has strengths and weaknesses.

Dare I say it? Every ministry has truth and lies. The only perfect sermon was the sermon on the Mount. The only perfect book is the one God wrote. The only perfect spouses (Adam and Eve) didn’t stay that way for very long. This is the lesson I take from reading the Christian classics: there are often many nuggets of gold occasionally surrounded by a few pieces of excrement. I am most dangerous and most deadly when I become a stranger to humility and make myself the arbiter of all things true and moral and good.

Brooks asks why we “enjoy” self-righteous diatribes: “Tell me, saints, is it not a more sweet, comfortable, and delightful thing to look more upon one another’s graces than upon one another’s infirmities? Tell me what pleasure, what delight, what comfort is there in looking upon the enemies, the wounds, the sores, the sickness, the diseases, the nakedness of our friends?”

If we gather in groups to share our spouse’s shortcomings; if we meet after church to chastise the sermon’s weaknesses and the church’s failures, if we gather in blogs or on Facebook to organize and execute the most recent take down of the next victim, we may be giving way to one of “Satan’s devices.” Self-righteousness is like a snowball rolling down the hill that gets larger as it rolls, picking up momentum and force as others join in. Now, imagine an entire church or online community pushing that ball. I’ve seen some get so frenzied in their zeal they’d roll that snowball right over Jesus to attack the object of their disdain.

It’s Personal

What if Jesus views that “object” of your scorn as his son or daughter? If you have kids you know they aren’t perfect. You know they make mistakes and occasionally do or say stupid things. But you can’t stop looking at them through the eyes of a parent, can you? You are still for them even when you are against what they do or say. That’s the attitude of a graceful Christian—you remain for someone even when calling them into repentance.

God looks at every Christian you attack as his son or daughter. When we must disagree and confront sin and false teaching, we should do it with reverence. Christ died for the person you are attacking. Christ wants that person’s best. If we had to be perfect to merit God’s favor, no one would be left standing in the church.

I’ve said time and again that the biggest mind-transformation for me was when I “got” that Lisa is God’s daughter (1 John 3:1) and that as his daughter she is dearly loved (Ephesians 5:1). Any correction, any challenge, has to be done with the understanding that I am talking to God’s daughter. That calls me to more than respect; it calls me to reverence and divine gratitude. Her heavenly father has given me everything, and how I treat her says as much about how I view Him as it does about how I view her. If one of my children mess up, I know they need to be challenged, but I want it to be done with grace and understanding and good will, not hatred, malice, slander, or making them sound worse than they are.

It took me a little longer to extend this beyond my family to other believers. But this is why you won’t find me attacking books or people in this blog. I don’t know how to do it with reverence. I’ve seen my mentor J.I. Packer do it (just read Keep in Step with the Spirit). I’ve listened to another mentor, Dr. Klaus Bockmuehl, do the same with theological “opponents.” But it’s so difficult to do and it’s so easy to go from being right to being self-righteous, and that tiny gap is where you go from serving God to perhaps unwittingly furthering the cause of Satan who seeks to divide us by inciting us to bite and devour one another. “They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows” (Psalm 64:3).

The world’s hostility toward the words and people of Christ grows daily; how much must it grieve our heavenly Father when he sees his children adding to this hostility?

The Gospel is What we Receive and Share

Brooks says something shocking: “Does not God look more upon his people’s graces than upon their weaknesses?” Consider how God describes David as “a man after my own heart.” James reminds us to remember the “patience of Job” (5:11), ignoring the twenty chapters of Job’s impatient ranting. Rahab the prostitute isn’t remembered and condemned for sleeping with hundreds of men; she is celebrated for hiding two of God’s chosen. In some Christian quarters today, any individuals who did what these three did would be defined by their worst moments, cast out, and banned.

Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous is a hero to many who never met him but often felt like a train wreck waiting to happen to those who did. Wilson’s associates often lamented how such an unworthy man was the figurehead for such a worthy mission. Bill’s frustrated addiction to alcohol became arguably an addiction to sex, making him chronically unfaithful to his wife. The transfer from alcohol to sex addiction isn’t uncommon; in AA circles it’s derisively described as “thirteenth stepping,” and Wilson was one of the most prolific thirteenth steppers who ever lived. A long-term mistress, Helen Wynn, was actually a beneficiary in his will. And (this is particularly sad and heart-wrenching), in the last few weeks of his life, as Bill Wilson lay dying, nurses recorded three separate times that Bill demanded a drink and became furious when they didn’t comply.

Knowing all this, any fame-thirsty blogger could have written a good “take down” of Bill; his hypocrisy, his unworthiness to be a figure of renown. How could AA or its message be any good when its founder was so “bad”? But the program Bill launched—though imperfect—has benefitted tens of millions of people, helping them find the freedom that he never entirely did.

Can I be honest with you? If you get to know any of the people behind the headlines, they are all broken people with broken pasts. And broken people usually still have a limp. Some, like Beth Moore and Bob Goff, have bravely shared glimpses of their painful pasts. Others don’t have the strength or desire to share so freely (perhaps for some good reasons) but if you dug deeply enough, you wouldn’t find a single public face without some private shame.

We are all messed up, in some way. Stepping out of the sewer is a universal human condition. To step out in the public and be used by God, we might have washed our face but forgotten to wash behind our ears or still have something sticking in our hair. As a person saved by grace I want to extend grace myself and try to whisper to the person, “You’ve got grime on your neck” rather than laugh out loud, point it out to everyone, and make the person feel shame because even though they’ve left most of the sewer behind, a little stink is still sticking with them.

Here’s a warning: when God loves someone as a daughter or son and you tear that person apart, now you’ve got a problem with God. Read the book of Job; God was angry with Job for getting things wrong, but he grew even angrier with Job’s friends for the way they responded to Job’s errors.

Let me be clear: if my son or daughter was doing or saying something heinous, and another believer found a way, with grace, to confront and correct them, I’d be grateful for the person doing the correcting. My heart would be filled with love and gratitude for them. If they did it in a self-righteous way, however, destroying and attacking their person, even if I agreed with what they were saying I would hate what they were doing. Job’s accusers said many true things, but being against Job, even in his ranting, made God stand against them because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

God has one church—a very imperfect church. If we tear that one church apart, what’s left? An open playing field for Satan.

The Essential Ministry of Confrontation

 As a postscript, I want to make clear I don’t discount the sometimes necessary ministry of confrontation, otherwise you’d have to throw out the entire book of Jeremiah and the ministry of John the Baptist (but notice how both ended clarion calls of judgment with gracious invitations of healing). There has been some very necessary deep cleansing in the church. If men won’t treat women with respect out of reverence for God, perhaps at least they’ll now start doing so out of fear of the world’s shame and reprisal. The church is commanded to protect and stand up for the vulnerable and oppressed (Prov. 24:11) and to “gently” restore those who have sinned (Gal. 6:1). We have a very difficult time balancing these two charges, but we must find a way. We can fall off on either side.

Tim Challies’ sometimes negative reviews of books help me clarify my own thinking. Scot McKnight is someone I occasionally check out to help me think through controversial issues (I love the way he usually waits and reflects instead of commenting off the cuff). Sheila Gregoire offered some much-needed corrections to perhaps unforeseen horrendous implications behind the good intentions of the purity movement. Deb Fileta wrote True Love Dates to correct some faulty thinking on dating and was so successful, Josh Harris pulled his book from publication and ended up endorsing Deb’s. I may not always agree with Tim, Scot, Sheila or Deb, but I’m frequently listening.

It’s clear from the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:1-5) and Paul (1 Cor. 11:31; Romans 14:3, 10, 13) that we should spend the vast majority of our time judging ourselves first and encouraging others rather than attacking them (1 Thess. 5:11). That’s the practice that sets up a healthy foundation with which to confront the weaknesses of others, but it’s the first practice the self-righteous man or woman leaves behind. Pointing out the wrongs of others or the false-teaching of others doesn’t, in itself, absolve you from searching your own heart for evil and your own words for untruth. If you’re reading a blog or listening to a podcast or following someone on twitter that attacks more than it encourages, be careful. Seriously—if you’re in a tribe, online or otherwise, known more for what it opposes than what it is for, you are extremely vulnerable to being drowned in your own self-righteousness, and all the agreement you’re collecting will only push you further in that direction.

If someone actually takes glee in taking someone down, that may say more about their soul than the person they are attacking. Opposing someone who is wrong doesn’t make you right. There are two ways to miss a target.

This is why we need to be aware of the danger, even the demonic allure, of self-righteousness. “There are no souls in the world who are so fearful to judge others—as those who do most judge themselves; nor so careful to make a righteous judgment of men or things—as those who are most careful to judge themselves” (Brooks).

After reminding us that God looks more on our “graces” than “weaknesses,” Brooks writes, “Ah, saints, be like your heavenly Father!  By so doing, much sin would be prevented, the designs of wicked men frustrated, Satan outwitted, many wounds healed, many sad hearts cheered, and God more abundantly honored.”

God, please grant me the grace to correct others as you have corrected me—being for me even as you are against what I am doing; offering hope for the future more loudly than condemnation about the past; affirming me as a person even as you challenge my errors. Let me be so enamored with the perfect righteousness of Christ that I become dead to my own self-righteousness and treat others with the grace you have shown to me. Have mercy on us and please heal our broken and divided church with grace, humility, truth and compassion. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

January 23, 2019

No Spouse is Everything

Gary Thomas — 

Don’t you think it would be cruel to ask your spouse to hold down five jobs?

Let’s say your wife is a university professor, but you expect her to also serve as a detective in the police department, an investment advisor at a local bank, a case worker for child protective services, and sell new cars on the weekend.

That would be insane, right?

Or say your husband operates a Chick-Fil-A, but you expect him to also coach the high school football team, be a plumber on the weekend, serve as head librarian at the local seminary, and inspect houses during his “free time.”

Hopefully, no one would ask their spouse to hold down five jobs, but many of us ask our spouses to be five different people.

And that’s just as cruel as asking them to hold down five jobs.

Can we accept that given the human condition, no spouse is the “total package?”

Louis of Granada (a sixteenth century Dominican Friar) paints a beautiful portrait of how we must learn to honor God as creator by pointing to the variety we find in nature. God doesn’t use a cookie-cutter to shape his world. Every creature has certain weaknesses and strengths. We honor God when we learn to celebrate the beauty of one creature without asking it to have the strengths of other creatures. Those worship God the most who celebrate the frailty of a hummingbird and the bulk of a rhinoceros.

Here’s how Louis describes it:

“We find beautiful variety in the works of nature, where the Sovereign Creator wisely apportions all gifts or qualities so that the lack of one perfection is compensated by the possession of another. The peacock, which has a harsh and displeasing voice, possesses a beautiful plumage; the nightingale delights the ear, but has no charms for the eye; the horse bears us where we will and is valuable in camp and field, but is rarely used for food; the ox is useful for farm and table, but has scarcely any other qualities to recommend him; fruit trees give us food, but have little value for building; forest trees yield no fruit, but afford us the necessary material for erecting our dwellings. Thus we do not find all qualities or all perfections united in one creature, but that variety among them which constitutes the beauty of nature and binds them to one another by a mutual and necessary dependence.”

So what’s “better”—a nightingale or a peacock? There’s no objective “correct” answer to that question. Should you celebrate fruit trees or forest trees?  That depends. Dogs, of course, are superior to cats in every instance, but other than that comparison, God’s brilliance as Creator is seen in the variety of his creating. There are four seasons, seven continents, and eight planets in our solar system and none of them are exactly the same.

God’s creative variety is perhaps most marked by the vast differences among people, and that means spouses, too. Physically, emotionally, and intellectually, God comes up with countless combinations, and for a spouse you get to choose just one. Is an extrovert “superior” to an introvert? Is IQ more important than EQ (emotional awareness)? Is an engineer a better spouse than an artist? Is a mechanic a better spouse than a poet?

Maybe you married a “peacock:” he or she looks great, but they couldn’t pitch a tent if their life depended on it. Maybe you married an ox; he or she gets a whole lot of work done but can’t carry a conversation. Maybe your spouse couldn’t hit a nail with a hammer but he or she makes a good enough living to pay someone else to swing that hammer.  Rejoice in who they are instead of pining after what they’re not.

Wanting your spouse to be an ox, peacock, horse and nightingale all wrapped up into one amazing person isn’t just cruel, it’s insane and actually a bit freakish.

If you’ve read Cherish then you know that a cherishing marriage is based on viewing your husband and wife as “Adam” or “Eve,” the only man or woman in the world. When we choose to marry someone, we choose to cherish someone (“I promise to love and to cherish until death do us part”) and cherishing necessitates training our minds and hearts to be satisfied and even enthralled with our choice. A $10,000 two carat diamond seems beautiful, but if you’re a castaway on a deserted island, you might prefer a butane lighter that costs $2.99. Value can be relative to the person who holds it, so once the marriage vows are said, we don’t expect our spouse to be anything other than what they are. Who they are must also become what we need.

There is an entirely new satisfaction in marriage when you learn to enjoy your spouse as they are instead of forever plotting to change them into someone else.

This isn’t just about your own satisfaction in marriage, however. It’s also about worshipping the God who created your spouse. If He has given you an ox, thank Him for the ox! If He’s given you a peacock, become the world’s number one fan of peacocks. You’ll be happier, your spouse will feel cherished, and your God will feel worshipped. Everyone wins.

Hopefully, you’d never ask your spouse to hold down five jobs. In the same way, don’t ask him or her to become five different people.

Single women, take note: every married Christian woman I’ve ever met who married a non-believing man has said, emphatically, they would tell every other woman not to do it. They wouldn’t wish away the children they’ve had, but as a general rule, I’ve yet to find a woman who thinks it’s worth the risk going in.

Catherine found that out the hard way, and spent over two decades gradually wooing and praying her husband into the kingdom. As we finish off our series focusing on the content from my book, Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband, we’re going to explore the “takeaway” principles Catherine found helpful in being married to an unbelieving man (men, the same principles apply if you’re married to an unbelieving wife).

I hope you’ll check out the entire book, as this chapter in particular has a very touching story behind the teaching that makes it come alive even more. These lessons follow that story and include insights from John given after he was converted.

Building Bridges

Catherine often wondered how two people who shared so little in common could ever make it. Sometimes she even asked John, “Are we going to make it? We have so little in common. My faith is so important to me, but you don’t even share it!”

John would say, “Catherine, where our relationship is good, it’s very good. Let’s concentrate on that.” John wanted Catherine to concentrate on the good places in her marriage rather than become consumed by her disappointments.

Catherine honestly admits she endured a trying and difficult season that went on for decades. “Being unequally yoked is extremely lonely,” she says. “You’re guiding your children by yourself. You try to stave off resentment and build a good marriage— it’s just very, very difficult.”

Most women in such a situation will, like Catherine, find themselves tempted by self- pity. Philippians 2:14 gives some help here: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” The word everything includes marriage, even marriage to a nonbeliever. Resentment and bitterness will only keep us from being spiritually productive in that relationship.

Catherine realized that since she and her husband didn’t share a faith in Christ, she would have to work extra hard to find other things to share. Unfortunately, John was most excited about things in which Catherine had little or no interest— like riding bikes, for example.

“I had to make the decision,” she says. “Would I start riding bikes with him, or would I sit home by myself and let the gap between us widen?”

Catherine’s initial attempts didn’t encourage her. She says, “It was ridiculous. I was so out of shape. But you know what, a year and a half later, I loved it more than he did! We did ‘Ride the Rockies’ together— that was four hundred miles through the Rocky Mountains, a seven-day bike ride with two thousand other people. It was a blast, and we spent hundreds of hours together training for the ride.”

Catherine just kept focusing on the positive. “We didn’t have a family together at church,” she admits, “but we did have a family together on bicycles.”

Some wives might be tempted to punish their non-Christian husband by becoming even less accommodating, thinking, If you won’t share my faith, I won’t share any of your interests. But such pettiness, while understandable, does nothing except widen the gap. Catherine adamantly counsels other women married to nonbelievers, “You must find out what he loves doing and learn to do it with him.”

That’s not a bad lesson for spouses in general.

Being Realistic

Catherine warns, “Wives can be so dominated by thoughts of ‘This won’t work; we’re too different. We have different ideologies, different passions, even different ways of looking at things.’ Ultimately, we have to learn that we’ll never have some of the things we’ve yearned for, but God will give us ways to develop strengths already there—strengths we may not be recognizing. Along the way, we slowly mature and figure out that Jesus is the one we delight in. My greatest pleasure is my relationship with God.”

Catherine had to realize that God never intended John to meet all of her needs. Even if John had been a Christian for their entire marriage, some needs would still go unmet. No husband, Christian or not, is God.

How will you face disappointment with your husband? Will you allow bitterness, resentment, and anger to slowly poison your home, or will you learn to delight in what you already have? Consider this. As a Christian married to a non-Christian, you are much better off than being a non- Christian married to a Christian. You have your faith, the Holy Spirit, the hope of salvation, God’s grace, your ability to worship, and a love of Scripture to fill your soul and season your mind. Realizing how rich you are spiritually can help ease the frustration you’re enduring relationally.

Changing with John

Catherine eventually realized that, as she puts it, “this waiting period for John to become a Christian was about me too.” She wasn’t waiting just for John. “The whole process was as integral to my growth in Jesus as it was for him. God made it very clear that I was not to consider myself a spectator or a martyr or someone who was just waiting. God had lessons for me to learn too.”

Even if you’re further along than your husband, spiritually speaking, you still haven’t fully arrived. None of us have. Your own character and maturity must continue to grow. Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15, emphasis added). Perfection lies beyond us in this world, but every maturing believer should be showing some positive spiritual movement.

God used Catherine’s marriage to teach her how to better handle fear— in her case, the fear of a failed marriage— and how to be less controlling. As Catherine grew in these areas, God did something wonderful not only in her life but in her family as well.

When your husband isn’t a believer, one of the biggest spiritual traps you will face is being more concerned about his conversion than your maturity. Why is that a trap? Because your increasing spiritual maturity can help foster his conversion (1 Peter 3:1)! Whenever you find yourself obsessing over your husband’s spiritual state, say a prayer for him but then pivot into this: “And Lord, please show me where I need to grow to be the kind of person who makes faith attractive to her husband.”

Being Honest

Catherine found it extremely difficult to learn how to, in her words, “live two lives”: “You have two things that are passionately important to you— your relationship with God and your deep desire that your marriage be viable and strong. It’s very difficult when you can’t merge the two. You feel divided.”

Financial giving to the church presented a particularly thorny issue. Catherine wanted to give money to her church, but she didn’t work outside the home, and initially she feared what John might say. So she began saving the change from the grocery money and giving that as a contribution— something she now regrets.

“Finally, I just had to tell John how important giving was for me,” she says. “I’d tell young wives to be honest about the things that are important to you instead of hiding them.” Once Catherine explained why she wanted to give and how much it meant to her to be able to do so, he agreed that she could donate a hundred dollars a month. Catherine wishes she had been more up- front all along.

Being Patient

Some foolish women greatly wounded Catherine when they told her, “Your husband should have been saved long ago. What are you doing wrong?”

Yet when you talk to John, he keeps coming back to how much he appreciates Catherine’s patient spirit. If she had tried too hard, if she had kept pushing, she most likely would have moved John further away from the faith rather than closer to it.

Keep in mind that a cosmic spiritual battle rages inside your husband. Eternity is at stake. In the light of eternity, one or two decades aren’t all that long (even though twenty years can seem like forever). John remembers times when he saw Catherine and the kids getting ready for church and then pulling out of the driveway, and something inside of him would be saying, Go after them— but he didn’t know how. It took time. If Catherine had tried to force the issue, she would have made things worse, not better. Jesus tells us in Luke 8:15 that “by persevering [we] produce a crop.”

The Ultimate Surrender

Few things present more difficulty for a bride of Christ than being the wife of a man who is outside the faith. Catherine admits to feeling pulled hard in two directions. She loved her husband and wanted her marriage to work, but she also loved God and wanted to put him first. It hurt deeply when she couldn’t immediately bring the two together.

The reality is, no easy answers exist. I can’t give you an ironclad recipe that will guarantee your husband’s conversion— and anybody who tells you differently, frankly, is lying. But a gentle and quiet heart— mixed with a patient spirit and a growing, flourishing soul fixed on worship and emboldened by the Holy Spirit, resulting in a woman who keeps praying and who finds ways to connect with her husband— greatly increases the possibility that she will one day pray to the God of her dreams with the man of her dreams.

I can tell you this: The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God does not desire anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and 1 Timothy 2:4 declares that our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When you combine the favor of God, the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the persevering love of a believing wife, I like that man’s chances.

God bless you in this glorious task! The most important place you can ever move your husband toward is God. When you consider the eternal benefits and your husband’s spiritual health, nothing else comes close. It’s not an easy battle, nor is there a guaranteed victory— but in the end, it’s a fight worth fighting.