Family life often calls us to deny ourselves, to put others’ needs above our own.
If we cherish our spouse, however, we’ll work hard to make the denial a season instead of a lifelong sacrifice.
When Donnie and Jaclyn lived in Nashville, they had so little money they depended on food stamps. Jaclyn was pursuing a career in photography, which can take a long time to launch, and she started to feel guilty about not contributing more to the family budget. In fact, it was negative revenue—photographic equipment is expensive.
One of her good friends worked as a waitress at a restaurant, and Jaclyn thought maybe she should start doing that as well.
“No, you’re not doing that,” Donnie said, with uncharacteristic force. “Keep pursuing your photography. One day, it’s going to become lucrative. I just know it.”
Donnie explains his thinking: “I grew up hearing women talk about how they gave up their dreams once they got married, and that’s not what I wanted to have happen with Jaclyn. I didn’t care what her dream was, to be honest. If she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, if she wanted to get a master’s degree, or if she wanted to pursue a career in photography, I was determined to help make it happen.”
This commitment came at great cost to Donnie. He had to work two jobs to make up for the lack of Jaclyn’s income. He did his regular job during the day, ate dinner with the family, then started his second job in the evening.
When Jaclyn finally got her first “bite” at a commercial photography job, she didn’t have the right equipment and was planning to pass it up, but Donnie went out and spent $2,000 on a camera lens so Jaclyn would have the tools she needed.
“And this was when we really didn’t have $20 to buy groceries.”
Today, Jaclyn does have a lucrative photography business. Billboards all over Houston feature some of her work. In fact, she has a lot of other photographers working for her now. “I pay them to do most of the shooting and I do a lot of the editing now.”
Even more than what this sacrificial attitude did for Donnie and Jaclyn’s bank account, however, is what it did for their marriage. Jaclyn feels cherished. She even told me, “Sometimes I feel guilty that we have it so good.” She feels she will be forever in Donnie’s debt for his commitment to make her dream come true.
But what if, unlike Donnie, you didn’t make such a sacrifice on behalf of your spouse, or such a sacrifice wasn’t possible? What if, looking back, your spouse gave up a favored dream to serve your family? Maybe the husband stayed in a job he hated; maybe the wife took partial instead of full employment or passed up a promotion that required travel.
Here’s where the empty nest (or the kids getting older) gives you another chance. When my friends Dennis and Barbara Rainey had a private marriage retreat shortly after they became empty nesters, they planned to spend time discussing what this season of life meant for Barbara and what it meant for Dennis. They never got to Dennis but instead spent three days planning out the implications for Barbara’s new ministry opportunities.
Dennis is a busy man, the “top shepherd” at Family Life Today, a ministry with a budget in the tens of millions. But this man showed his integrity by agreeing to focus all their time on what his wife could do, discussing the support she would need in this new season of life. Dennis doesn’t just talk about marriage and family; he lives it.
What if the two of you took a similar retreat and you focused on the one who “swallowed” their dreams? In some cases, it could be the husband; in others, perhaps it was the wife. Do your new circumstances give you a little more flexibility to revisit that dream, or perhaps to create a new one?
Would you be willing to sacrifice something now—more time off, a little financial security so close to retirement, an easier schedule—to give your spouse a second chance?
In my book Sacred Marriage, I quote a pastor who offers a very practical application of Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” This pastor suggests that in order for us to comply with Ephesians 5, we should be able to point to something we have sacrificed on behalf of our wives: a hobby has suffered, our bank account has suffered, or maybe a promotion was delayed. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I loving my wife in such a way that it’s costing me something?”
If the answer is “No,” then we’re not loving our wives as Christ loved the church.
What does it mean, men, at this point in our lives, to sacrifice for our wives? Maybe it means retiring a little sooner so we can travel with them. Maybe it means postponing retirement so that our wives can pursue a different career, with more energy, more resources, and a freer schedule.
And wives, what might you be able to sacrifice for your husband? What hobby or avocation or job did he pass over to serve your family? Is there some way you can give him a second chance?
A cherishing marriage is built on honoring our spouse, and that includes honoring their passions, dreams, and goals. Family life sometimes insists that those dreams and goals get delayed, but is it possible now is the time to pick them back up, dust them off, and see if they can be realized?
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.