August 5, 2014

Desperate Spouses and Generous Saints

Gary Thomas — 

Desperate Spouses

What would you think of a spouse who held something in their hand that their spouse desperately wanted, and that the spouse holding it didn’t even really need, but out of carelessness, malice or apathy the spouse holding it refused to hand it over? Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Is it possible that we’re that spouse?

Good Withheld is Love Poured Out on the Ground

Older readers will remember the iconic scene from the movie The Three Amigos when Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short are trudging through the desert.  Steve Martin opens his canteen and desperately sucks down about a tablespoon of water.  Martin Short gets a mouthful of dirt from his canteen.  Chevy Chase has a full canteen and drunks lustily, water running down his mouth; he spits some out (not once, but twice) and then tosses the canteen to the ground, as his two parched companions look at the precious water dribbling onto the desert floor.

Having played a lot of sports, particularly running, I’ve spit a river of water out of my mouth in my lifetime, and watched others do the same.  What makes The Three Amigos scene so funny though is not just spitting out the water or wasting it on the desert floor—it’s Chevy’s amazing cluelessness to his companions’ desperate thirst.

There are a lot of “thirsty” spouses out there and many are married to husbands and wives who share Chevy’s cluelessness, just spitting out onto the ground something that which their spouse feels that they desperately need.

One of the great Christian traps in marriage is to define our excellence as spouses by what we don’t do: I don’t get rough with my spouse, I don’t gossip about my spouse, I don’t yell at my spouse, I don’t cheat on my spouse…

Proverbs 3:27 takes love to a whole new level, telling us that excellence is found in what we do do, not what we avoid.

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

When you think about what the Bible says a spouse is “due”—wives are due a husband who loves them like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), and husbands are due a wife who literally studies how to better love them (Titus 2:4)—this is a high bar indeed.

According to Proverbs 3:27:

  • If my wife needs to talk and I have the power to talk but fail to do it, that’s a problem.
  • If I know my spouse needs to be encouraged but I’m too busy to notice or too apathetic to find a creative way to build her up, that’s a problem.
  • If my spouse thinks our sexual relationship is running on fumes and I can’t marshal the energy to revitalize it, that’s an offense.
  • If our finances are causing my spouse tremendous stress and I don’t step in to better manage it (increasing income and/or curtailing expenses), I’m going against Scripture.

Instead of saying, “I’m an excellent spouse because I don’t do x, y, or z,” how about going a step further and saying, “because I want to be an excellent spouse today, I’m going to do a, b, and c”?

What good are you withholding?

What good is in your power to do for your spouse (or your kids) but you aren’t doing, for whatever reason?  It doesn’t have to be something that would necessarily qualify as a sin of omission if you didn’t do it, but think a little deeper about things that you know would bless your spouse or family, that you have in your power to do, but for whatever reason—laziness, apathy, busyness—you’re not doing it. All of us, in one sense, have desperate spouses, so let’s be generous saints.

Some children are desperate for a single father/daughter or mother/son date.  It would make their month and we intend to do it, someday, it’s just that the actual day of doing it never arrives.  Why not make it happen today?

Some spouses pine for their spouse to finally initiate physical intimacy, just once.  The other spouse knows of this desire and is waiting for the right moment to make up for a lack of attention when they’ll “really do it right,” but the right moment never seems to arrive and the good withheld creates a desperate thirst. Tonight is the best night to make a change.

A good withheld is love poured onto the ground.  It is just like Chevy Chase seeing his parched friends try to eke out a swallow of water, while he callously wastes what he could so easily provide.

Make it happen in your marriage

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone reading this could come up with a “good withheld” in their marriage in less than ten minutes.  Will you sit with God, just for a moment, and let Him bring it to your mind?

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7 responses to Desperate Spouses and Generous Saints

  1. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Good post, but in my case, my spouse isn’t saved. Neither of us was when we married, but I got saved. So I am in the place where. I desperately want something from him, he realizes it, knows how much it would mean, but still does nothing, because what I crave, he doesn’t. So I try to stay strong, not retaliate, distance myself, etc., but it gets really lonely. Jesus and a move of His Spirit is all I need, but when, …and sometimes it would be nice to receive something, if only a tidbit, of something physically tangible.

    • I’ve talked to a lot of spouses in this situation. My hope is that spouses would read this in terms of what THEY”RE withholding, not what their spouses are. Of course it’s heart-breaking when your spouse doesn’t share your faith, but Paul says Christians are to be the strong ones–we should be focused on giving, especially if our spouses are less mature or not even believers. One wife (who I wrote about in Sacred Influence) applied this by taking up bicycle riding with her non-Christian husband. Her initial response was “If he won’t go to church with me, why should I ride bikes with him?” but then realized that wasn’t a redemptive way to look at it. Though her road was a long one, her husband eventually became a believer (after 22 years of marriage).

  3. Gary,

    Great post! Thanks for engaging both genders. May we also use our power to create rather than destroy: (Aug 5, 2014)

  4. Excellent once again! And truth. And so very sad. Lived it toooooooo long……Thank God He restores the years the locust have eaten.

  5. I agree, its so easy to mark out what I do right and what my spouse does not do right! Self centred spouse in me which keeps popping up in many different ways `I should allow God to deal with on a daily basis.

  6. Great msg once again n great insight..
    #it dint take me 10 mins to search n c wat I selfishly withhold……
    thnx again.
    God surely bless u.