Long ago, we divided the year up into months, days, and such, for our own convenience. God did the same thing when he gave such divisions to Israel (starting in Exodus 12). There is a convenience about having such repetitions and divisions in our lives.
Americans have a tradition of making "New Year's Resolutions" at the start of a New Year, which we start on January 1. The insanity of starting a "new year" in the midst of winter seems to escape most of us, but so it is.
Now, we are a month into the year. WIthout buying into the whole "New Year's Resolution" idea, how are you doing? How was your month as a person, as a mother, and as a wife. These are, after all, rather different questions, aren't they?
As a person, you have certain hopes and ideas for your time. You would like to lose weight, perhaps, or learn a new language, or learn to make a perfect pot roast.
As a mother, you would like to be more patient or, perhaps, more stern. You would like to better discipline your children and have them learn something new and special (the piano, the violin, how to make their beds, etc.).
So, as a wife, what do you want? Have you set down and thought about being an Excellent Wife in the coming year? How did you do in January?
Were you kinder, more organized, more disciplined, more patient, more understanding toward your husband? Did you, in January, make your husband's life better day by day? Or did you have a few bad days?
Months have very little significance, to be honest. But maybe this could be a significance just for you. Weeks seem kind of short for any real thoughts about how you are doing. Years are much too long to actually condense into any one idea. But a month is pretty straightforward.
How was your month? If it was a good month for you as an Excellent Wife, then be glad and thankful and get ready for February. If it was not a good month, then put it aside and get ready for February.
After all, being an Excellent Wife has this nice feature -- every day is a new day and a new chance to do it right.
One of the traditional marriage vow designs says that we will remain faithful "in sickness and in health." Well, these last two weeks have been a real test of that at my house. I have been the sick one. I am beginning to get over it, I think, but I have been really sick for two weeks.
I realize (not being totally ignorant) that this has not been a pleasant two weeks for my wife either. I have been hacking and coughing my way through every day, taking a lot of naps, unable to sleep at night because of the coughing. I have been tired (worn out really) and have not felt like carrying on any conversation at all. I have not been a pleasant companion.
These kind of events (and greater ones with greater illnesses) are a real test of our commitment to our marriages. Too often, we have almost a daily barometer of our relationships and, if we feel bad about it one day, we are depressed about it. I think this is primarily true early in relationships, but have seen and heard of it much longer relationships.
The main thing is to remember that people are sometimes sick. And when a person is sick, that person is not going to be very thoughtful or loving. He (or she) is not going to be really patient or interested in listening to your various concerns. He (or she) is not going to do a lot of chores or share in a lot of conversations. It is going to be like being married to a bad husband or a bad wife, because all that makes him or her a good spouse is taken up in his or her illness.
Remember, at those times, your vows from long ago. You married him not because he would always be happy and healthy, but because you wanted to commit your life to his life. His illnesses are a real test of what kind of wife you are going to be. Will you fix meals for a sick man? Will you keep him to his medications and put up with nights racked by coughing? At what point will you demand your "own time" and just want to get away?
I sometimes look at these short illnesses as a preparation. I am in my 50's now. More serious health issues are around the corner for both my wife and me. Soon, perhaps, it will not be two weeks of a virus but many weeks of chemotherapy that we have to face. Instead of days of illness, it may be days of total misery. We may, one day, have to take one another through radiation treatments or major surgeries. We may, one day, have to sit beside a spouse with Alzheimer's, who no longer knows us.
How are you doing with the little illnesses that come along in this life? If two weeks of a bad cold or the flu is hard on you, what will you do with real illness?
It is a serious thought to be thought through seriously. Marriage is not just about support offered to you, but about support you offer to someone else.
I have been indulging my "hates" a little lately, so let's do a "love." I love blueberries.
"So what?" you may rightfully ask. Well, I will tell you.
I used to hate blueberries. I am not sure where this came from, but I used to hate blueberries. I was not raised to try a lot of odd foods and blueberries were not frequent in my home when I was young. When I first tasted them, I was singularly unimpressed. I did not like them at all. They were small, rather bland, and not at all as interesting as, say, an orange or an apple or a strawberry or a blackberry (all of which I loved).
Over the years, I gradually become more tolerant. I could eat blueberry muffins, for example, but not really anything else.
Then, a few years ago, I started eating oatmeal at breakfast (another childhood "don't like" food). I found that oatmeal was pretty boring and tried putting things into the oatmeal, leading me back to blueberries. I found that blueberries in oatmeal were fabulous. Then, I found that blueberries were pretty good in pancakes and donuts and ice cream and, frankly, just about anywhere you put them. I love blueberries.
You see, things change. I changed. Blueberries did not change. I changed. I got older. I tried new things. I tried things I was not sure I liked. Then I tried things I did not like in things I was not sure I liked. Eventually, ta-da, I love blueberries.
So, how are things going on the wifely duty front? Have you thought about it much lately? There are lots of things that almost all of you "are supposed to do" that you probably don't really enjoy. You probably don't like doing dishes or vacuuming floors or taking care of laundry. You probably really do enjoy Facebooking and watching certain televisions shows and spending time playing with your children.
The temptation is to do what we want to do and leave the rest for "later," by which we mean "hopefully for someone else." If we wait long enough, our husband will clean up the mess we don't want to clean up, right? Or, if he doesn't, then, when he complains about it, we can remark on his failure to clean it up as well, and dump a little guilt on him. I do not think "she plans to make her husband feel guilty" is one of the Excellent Wife categories we studied.
At some point, we have to learn to do the things we don't currently like doing. I do not like doing a lot of things that I do every day (we call it "my job"). But I do them because it is necessary.
Being an Excellent Wife is a decision you have to make. It is, to put it simply, "your job." It is not about enjoying everything or having fun, it is your duty to get things done in a way that benefits your family and, therefore, benefits you.
Eventually, you may learn to enjoy living in a clean house rather than a messy one. You may learn to like having your children look like decent children rather than homeless waifs from somewhere without good laundry facilities. You may learn that, even if the event itself is not so wonderful, the results are marvelous.
I love blueberries. I almost never eat one on its own, however. I put them in things and the result is marvelous. Kind of like doing dishes, or vacuuming, or ironing, or cleaning up the bird mess around the cage. The result is worth all the work.
Well, they have Valentine's Day candy in the stores. I have two confessions to make regarding Valentine's Day.
First, I love Brach's Conversation Hearts. Not any other kind, mind you, just theirs. When I see the Valentine's Day stuff on display, I start looking for those Hearts. They are a favorite candy for me and, thankfully, are not sold all year.
Second, I hate Valentine's Day. Yes, I know, we are not supposed to say "hate" this way, but there is no really adequate substitute.
The reason I dislike (how's that) Valentine's Day is that I love my wife all year. Every day that I get up and go to work, I prove how much I love her. Every day that I spend with her, I love her. My love is not toys or trinkets or paper or sparkles, it is something deep within me that colors my entire existence.
This is true of most husbands. We love our wives and we try to live that love everyday. We live it by doing things we would never do for anyone else. We go to work and we fix faucets and we play with children and we call repairmen and we change oil in cars. We take all the money we are paid for our work and give it to our families for food and clothes and pleasures and all the things that keep their lives going. We do this every day, every week, every month.
But, then we are told that we do not do "enough." Spending my life working to make a living is not "enough" to tell her I love her. Spending my weekends working on our home and spending time with our children are not enough to show her I love her. Helping her every day, for the whole year, is not enough to tell her I love her. No, I need to buy her a present for Valentine's Day.
I do not believe in St. Valentine or know who he supposedly was. I know he was not at my wedding and has nothing to do with my marriage. I have no idea who the day was for before it was for him, but I understand it was for some pagan thing. I don't really care. I hate Valentine's Day because, despite Conversation Hearts, it is nonsense. If I do not spend money on something meaningless and expensive on that day, then I am a bad husband, no matter how much work I do the rest of the year.
As a wife, ask yourself how demeaning it is to be told, once every year, that what you are doing is not enough. There is no equivalent for wives, of course. A wife who gets her husband nothing for Valentine's Day is not attacked or blamed. The day is just for women to receive presents from their husbands, whose entire lives have been presents and proofs of love. But they are then told that it is not enough. If their lives are not enough, how does a present of candy make it better?
But, there the display sits, in my local grocery, and it will be there every day until February 15. Eventually, I will give in and buy something my wife does not need in order to avoid having her think I do not love her. Do you see why I hate this day?
Women put far too much stock in days, or, at least, too many of them do. If your husband supports the family at his job, if he spends time with you, if he takes you places and enjoys being with you, why do you need something on February 14 to prove that he loves you?
Isn't his life proof enough? He gave you that at your wedding all those years ago. Isn't that better than chocolate candy on February 14?
That is the real Valentine's Day question. Where do you find his love? If you are looking in a box, you are looking in the wrong place.
This seems easy enough, to me. I buy a gallon of milk at the local store. They put it in a plastic bag. I take it home. Upon lifting the bag from my car, the bag rips and the milk carton falls to the ground, springing a leak. I end up transferring what remains of the milk into home containers and wash off the now-freezing spilt milk.
This is the sort of silly thing that happens all the time. Someone does something foolish (putting a gallon of milk into a weak plastic bag) and we suffer for their foolishness. Now, what?
I have had times when something like this would really set me off. There is something about such things that just make us so mad sometimes. Perhaps we were just a little on edge and this set us off the edge, or maybe we were just in a bad mood, or maybe we just don't handle things very well. For whatever reason, we overreact.
Today, I did not overreact. I just did what I had to do. I explained it to my wife when she came in so she knows why the milk is in plastic containers that belong to us, rather than in a store carton. We laughed about how our children will react to milk in a strange container.
But I could have overreacted. I could have gotten angry (I had cause, after all). I could have stormed back to the store to throw a fit. I could have been angry while pouring it up and while explaining it to my wife. I could have passed my anger to her. We could have both started our day with anger over what was, let's face it, a pretty foolish situation.
I can remember days when I have made bad decisions in these situations. Ultimately, we each live with the results we create, don't we? Why should I be angry over such a foolish thing?
As you walk today, be ready for the bag to break, the milk to drop, and the carton to break. Be ready for spilled milk. Be ready to accept that these things happen and that we have the choice of how to react.
"Crying over spilt milk" is the old phrase. We are told that there is no use in crying over spilt milk, but people do it every day.
So, for today, be ready for the milk being spilled. Laugh over the foolish things that happen. Build a home where a little milk problem does not become a big family problem.
Someone wrote me with a pretty good question. How should a wife pray for her husband? This is a good question because it is one with which many people struggle.
Of course, it really comes down to what you believe about prayer, and the range of beliefs on prayer is very broad. One can easily find oneself praying all the time for everything, while getting nothing done. One can just as easily excuse all prayer. It is hard to know where to stop.
Also, it is not really my place to say someone "should not" pray for any particular thing. Prayer is a personal, private issue. It arises not only from what we are told but from what we feel. Prayer is not a repeating of things we are told, but is to be a conscious expression of our hearts. We will sometimes pray for things others find foolish, but so what? Prayer is not about the person for whom you are praying. Prayer is your communication with God.
This is important because we are sometimes accused of saying people "should not pray" for certain things, when our real focus is on what they "should pray for." If we emphasize praying for someone's spiritual health, we are accused of saying no one should pray for their physical health. On the contrary, we just want prayers to be serious and scriptural. There is nothing wrong with praying for someone's physical health, but it is clear that their spiritual health is much more important. You should pray for what matters in your understanding of the situation.
Anyway, let's begin (for this note) with John's promise that we know we are heard if we pray in accordance with God's will. "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." 1 John 5:14-15. So, we begin with needing to consider what God wants in your husband's life. Praying for what you know to be God's will is the best prayer of all.
God's desires are pretty well known to us. He has said that He wants us to be holy and sanctified in our sexual lives. 1 Thess. 4:2-8. You can certainly pray for your husband's sanctification in that regard. Of course, you also have to make sure that you are not contributing to any failure on his part through denying him sexual satisfaction in his marriage. I am afraid there are a lot of women who pray for their husband's sexual purity while they create the conditions for sin by their denial of their husbands. 1 Cor. 7:1-5. A wife who rejects her husband on Monday and prays for his sexual purity on Tuesday is acting foolishly, like a man leaping from a cliff and then praying that God will grant him a safe landing.
You can pray for the development of the fruit of the Spirit in his life. Galatians 5:22-23 gives you a list. Be aware, of course, that many of these characteristics may be developed by God through suffering and hard times. However, we know that God wants these things to develop in your husband and can pray for them with confidence.
You can look to the prayers of Paul for guidance. Colossians 1:8-10 is a good place to start. Ephesians 1:18-23 is another good source.
Pray for the faithfulness of his witness as he works out in the evil of the world. Pray for his maturity and patience and understanding of others. Pray that he will manifest his love for God and for his neighbor in all that he does.
And pray that he will always know and be certain of his wife's love. You cannot know how important this is in the life of any man working out in the evil of the world.
The big thing among young parents today is their reliance on systems of parenting. This is kind of a new thing. We have "Peaceful Parenting" for people who do not want to spank children (as if what parents wished were true mattered). We have "Growing Kids God's Way" which promises small group lessons to teach us "How to help children internalize virtues and values and practically live out the character of God in their life." Yeah, that is exactly how my parents thought when I was small. Not.
We have "Nurturing God's Way," which is apparently different from "Growing Kids God's Way." We have, as well, lots of suggestions from books galore, almost as bad as diet books in how quickly they spring up and die out. We are told to schedule and not to schedule, to punish and not to punish (Peaceful Parenting apparently likes to discuss their sins with them in a logical fashion). We are told to be tough and not to be tough. We are told dozens of things by dozens of people, all of whom want our money and none of whom know our children.
Settle down and take a breath.
Parenting is not about conferences or seminars or books. My parents never attended a conference or read a book on parenting (as far as I know), they just raised their children. Your grandparents did not read books on how to be parents, they were parents by the fact that they had children to raise. Your great-grandparents never read books on parenting. In the entire history of the world, no one had a theory of parenting until it became cheap to publish books.
Parenting is a natural thing that people have always done and, frankly, have always done pretty well. It is our fear that makes us subject to the whims of people like the Ezzo's, leading to them becoming wealthy and us becoming automatons applying rules to our family lives that someone else made up.
We live in a world of fear. We are afraid of being parents. We are afraid of making mistakes. We do not trust God or His Word, we want the Ezzo's or Bill Gothard or Jim Dobson to tell us what to do.
Reading books about marriage never gave anyone a happy marriage. Reading books about parenting never made anyone a good parent. Parenting is an act of love, toward God and toward your children, and it can be done without timelines and checklists and rules made by people who do not know you or your children.
Parenting ought to be a pleasure (sometimes), not a duty obeyed by following a book of rules.
One of the oddities of this website is that it is about being an Excellent Wife, not about being a good mother. There are dozens of websites about being a good mother and, frankly, scripture does not give us a whole lot to think about in that regard. You cannot construct a long course on how to be a mother, at least not based on scripture.
But, the reality is that most wives, at some point, are also mothers. Somehow, these two complementary relationships often end up in conflict. Think, for a minute, about all the possibilities.
You may be the mother to children you and your husband made together (whether by sex or adoption). In this case, you are both equal parents and, we hope, work together.
You may be a stepmother to children your husband made somewhere else. This is a very different situation, no matter how much you try to be a good mother to those children.
You may be a mother to a child who is your husband's stepchild. That is, you may have made the child somewhere else and now your husband has the stepparent role.
You may even be in a family with all kinds of mixes of these situations. Some people, marrying after multiple divorces, may have all kinds of different situations to address and care for.
Children, in short, are a very complex issue not only because they are small, sinful people with very little knowledge, but because of the things we have done in our lives.
My brother and I are beginning a class on Wednesday about being a parent. My brother is a pediatrician and a believer and is a good speaker on this topic, with years of experience.
We will be addressing practical issues (what do you do with a child who cries all the time) and spiritual issues (how do you teach a child about Christ). We will try to address a lot of things that churches often do not address.
But, thinking about it makes me remember how many issues there are that we each face. It is not possible to list all that we have to consider, but we have to consider a lot of things. Take some time today to think about your children (whether biological, adopted, step, or anything else). Think about how you and your husband have worked together (or not) in raising them. Has this been a source of comfort in your marriage, or of dispute? Have you kept him in mind in all your dealings with them?
Children are a blessing from the Lord, but not always a blessing in every way. They are kind and cruel, honest and dishonest, guileless and tricky, helpful and wicked.
They are a lot like us, in fact, which makes rearing them such a challenge.
As I noted elsewhere today, we have become overly fond of the idea of "enjoying" ourselves. I mentioned in another blog that my Army son and college daughter, home for Christmas, were regularly asked if they were "enjoying" the Army or college.
I think a lot of young wives, especially, ask themselves if they are really "enjoying" being a wife. This is too bad, because it is a bad question.
Actually, they usually are not thinking so broadly. They think about whether they "enjoy" the various things involved in being a wife. If you are a homemaker, you probably do not "enjoy" laundry and cooking and cleaning. Many wives, today, simply don't do those things as much as they ought to, because they do not enjoy them. It isn't fun to fold clothes, it is much more fun to Facebook, so clothes can wait while we Facebook. It isn't fun to prepare a meal, but it is fun to go to a restaurant, so we will eat out. The result is messy homes, wrinkled clothing, and high restaurant bills. Are you happy now?
For some reason, "being a homemaker" has come to be seen as different from a "real job." This is a shame, because the woman who stays home while her husband "goes to work" has very important work to do. She is to do laundry, to fold clothes, to care for children, to keep the house clean, to do all those little things that we know a wife is supposed to do. But those things are not fun. Facebook is fun. Telephoning friends is fun. Television is fun.
At a "real job," of course, you could not do this. At a real job, there would be a real boss there to push you back to work. Someone would tell you to clean the laundry or wash the bathtubs or dust the dressers, but there is no one at home to do so. And, well, you live there. You do not think of it as work, just as "keeping house" and you do not really care how well you do it, because you can live happily with piles of junk everywhere.
I think being a wife is much harder than other jobs because the temptations are so strong. There are so many things you could do other than clean, other than cook, other than work with your children, that you do not want to cook or clean or work with your children at all. You want to do what you want to do.
The Excellent Wife, on the other hand, knows that what she does is very important. It is important that your husband not wear wrinkled clothes to work and that your children have clean clothes to play in or wear to school, so you have to do laundry and do it well. It is important that the family not spend all its money on restaurants or eat Macaroni & Cheese every night, so you have to cook. Not because you love cooking, but because it is your job.
A person with a job does not enjoy everything about his job, either. And the only satisfaction he gets from doing his job well is a paycheck. As a wife, you will not enjoy everything you have to do, but, if you do it, you will enjoy much more than merely a paycheck. You will enjoy a clean, pleasant home. You will have children who are happy and who look well kept and clean. You will have meals to share. You will have a home that makes everyone's life more pleasant and enjoyable.
Or you can choose to have a dump. You have the choice. People can live in a dump, but they will not enjoy living there.