James and his wife Debra just recently entered the empty nest years. Happily, they’re finding these months to be among the most delightful of their marriage. I believe James’ attitude has a lot to do with that.
James is a big fan of craft beers; it’s become a middle-aged hobby for him. He travels on a weekly basis and could easily indulge his hobby by checking out the myriad of local breweries he comes across in the course of his business, but he doesn’t, because he has promised his wife: “I won’t drink when I’m not with you.”
Drinking, of course, makes you vulnerable when you’re alone on the road. I don’t know if there was a “close call” in James’ life that elicited this policy, but he holds to his commitment, and guess what? It shapes his heart. Whereas drinking might make him forget who he is, not drinking (even though he wants to) makes him remember his wife. It helps him to cherish her as it brings her to his mind. He looks forward to returning home to her, as he not only gets to see her, but engage in a favorite activity that he will do only when she is by his side.
James gains more by sacrificing than he would by indulging. He enjoys a relationally connected marriage in the empty nest years. Some men might say, “You mean I have to give something like that up?” but James would respond, “You don’t get it; I’m receiving something even better in return.”
There’s something about sacrifice that makes whatever it is we’re sacrificing for more precious to us. Consider this: among the most patriotic of citizens are active and retired soldiers. When you have fought for a flag, even risked your life for the country it represents, that flag is more than just a symbol; it’s a passion.
The same principle holds true in marriage. The more you invest in your spouse—your time, your emotions, your service, even your welfare—the more you will cherish him or her. Why? Sacrifice shapes your heart.
If you wonder how sacrifice leads to cherish, consider this: who cherishes that first car more—the teenager who has one given to him or the young man who worked evenings and weekends and saved up two years to purchase it on his own?
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.
Of course, this same call—sacrifice—will shape a wife’s heart toward her husband as well. Resenting an act of sacrifice will completely undercut this heart transformation, but viewing occasional sacrifice as a necessary step to grow our marriage will foster a change of heart.
The way that God designed our souls, sacrifice lays the groundwork for a cherishing mindset. Instead of resenting such sacrifices, embrace them with expectation and hope.
Try it, and you’ll see the results.