The great 19th century evangelist Charles Finney mourned long and hard when his wife died. She had been weak and ill for some time; Finney knew her passing was coming, and he labored long hours in prayer to surrender her to God, but when the day finally came that she went home to be with the Lord, Finney found himself passing through “seasons of sorrow…that were almost overwhelming.”
Eventually, during a time of deep prayer, God challenged Finney with the words, “You loved your wife?”
“Well, did you love her for her own sake, or for your sake? Did you love her, or yourself? If you loved her for her own sake, why do you sorrow that she is with Me? Should not her happiness with Me, make you rejoice instead of mourn, if you loved her for her own sake?
“Why do you think of your loss instead of thinking of her gain? Can you be sorrowful, when she is so joyful and happy?”
Of course, one could say it’s possible to be both happy and sad; sad for the lost years, sad that your children no longer have their mother, while happy for her blessed relief and sweet communion with God.
But it strikes me that death is the moment that tests just how “sacred” our marriages really are and just how real heaven is to us. Can we be truly happy that our spouses are enjoying their eternal reward, while we suffer without them? And won’t that be the true test of how selfless our love is?
I’m certain, should I ever enter that season, that I will fail. My love will never be perfect; I see its selfishness every day, and I have so far to grow that should I live to be a thousand years old there will still be many selfish weeds to pull.
But I find this to be an inspiring, helpful reminder: do I truly love my wife for my sake, or her sake? Are my daily actions confronting or confirming my selfishness?
It’s not like I have to wait until either one of us dies to ask this; indeed, the most spiritual benefit will come from waking up with this thought every living day, while there is still time to offer up my selfish heart to God and let Him replace it with the others-centered heart of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
Do I love my spouse for her sake, or my sake?
[photo: Creative Commons, Robb North]