Well, it's Monday again and wisdom is probably not on the top of your list this morning. After all, the question of how to "speak with wisdom" doesn't normally occur to us while rushing children off to school. We think of discipline, maybe, and punishment, but not wisdom.
Speaking in wisdom (what Proverbs means by "opens her mouth with wisdom") means speaking what is appropriate and useful at the time. As James told us, wisdom manifests itself in many ways, including purity, peaceableness, reasonableness, and gentleness. It is sometimes hard to see how we can be such people while herding our children off to school on a Monday morning, but we can be such people. We can speak and act in wisdom. We can be direct without being unreasonable. We can be clear without being cruel.
Our homes often become so accustomed to our lack of wisdom that we think wisdom won't work at all. We think that the children will not move if we do not yell at them. And, in fact, we have usually created just that situation. If they are used to our yelling, they will actually wait for it before they move. We have created our own world of foolishness (the opposite of wisdom), in which our speech is negative and controlling and has nothing to do with wisdom at all.
Go back over your morning. Did you open your mouth with wisdom this morning? Did your children leave with yells ringing in their ears? Were your last words ones of encouragement? What about your husband? Did he leave with a reminder that you love him, or a reminder to get something on the way home at the store?
Did you open your mouth in wisdom this morning?
One of the really important points in this class is that there is no list of things to do. Why? Because the Bible does not give me a list to give to you. Any list is just the idea of the person who creates it and it is easily ignored and often wrong in your circumstances.
Your husband was not produced in an assembly line with all the other husbands. He may love Mexican food or hate it. He may love you in high heels or may prefer flats. He is an unique person with unique abilities, needs, and wants.
This is where most preaching on "being a good wife" fails us. It is not, ultimately, about being a "good wife" at all, but about being an "excellent wife." As we have seen, an excellent wife is not someone following a list at all, but someone who loves her husband.
And it is not all about "submission." If you could pick one word that women would like taken out of the Bible, it would be "submission." Year after year, they are told to submit to their husbands. But being an excellent wife is a lot more than submission. Even submission is a lot more than we often think it is.
What you have to learn is this: being an excellent wife requires you to be an excellent person. We have already looked at the need to be trustworthy, to do good for your husband, to be diligent in your life. How many people do you know of whom these things are true? And they are not enough to be an excellent wife.
Too many people think an "excellent wife" is a person who lives and dies by what happens in her home and doesn't really know or care about anything else. She doesn't "think too much." Women hear this attitude when we preach and they resent it, as they should.
God calls women to greatness. To be an excellent wife does not begin with him, but with you. You become a better person. You grow in grace and knowledge. You grow in love and wisdom. You grow in grace in the eyes of others. You bring glory to him because of who you are.
It is time to give up the theory of the "good wife" as a passive, uninformed, home-bound wife. It is time to embrace being an excellent wife, a woman of wisdom and honor and glory and beauty and love.
Sitting here at the computer, sometimes I just "go blank." What do you say to married women about being excellent wives? I have spent years in talking with men about marriage, but not nearly as much time talking to women. How do you explain to women how men feel about their marriages? Especially, how do you tell women how men feel without simply triggering a defense mechanism and getting bombarded with "reasons" for why things are the way they are and how men need to change.
Over the years, I have discussed this curriculum and class with many people. The universal response is (1) that sounds really great and (2) you can't teach it. Why not? Because, they say, the wives will not hear it. They will be angry with you (I am told), they will reject both it and you (they say). If you teach that, you will have to move churches. Why? Because our culture has almost entirely rejected the idea of the excellent wife.
Or, to put it more simply, we have decided that every wife is an excellent wife. That every wife ought to be appreciated and cared for and admired because she has "sacrificed so much" for her family. Women are taught to think this way of themselves. Whatever they do, they are told they are "right" and that men are "wrong" and that wives ought to all be proud of themselves and how hard they are working.
But, the reality is that marriages are failing. Men who do counseling know that married men are not happy in their marriages. The divorce rate alone tells us that something is wrong. In Christian marriages, divorces also are far too frequent. The depth of marital unhappiness among men is stunning and would shock any Christian woman who spent a few weeks with a pastor in his meetings. Many men are so unhappy they have given up entirely on their relationships with their wives. It was years of dealing with men in marriages that drove me to create this curriculum in the first place.
Women have failed to adjust to the new world in a way that honors their marriages. The free time they have picked up from labor-saving devices has not been used for their marriages, but for their children and themselves. We have become an increasingly child-centered culture and our wives have become "mothers first, wives second." I have had women tell me that they do not worry about their husbands at all. "He's an adult, he can handle it, I have to take care of these children." If there is a problem, she thinks, it is his problem and he needs to "grow up."
Put simply - why is he married? What did he expect when he married? Did he expect a wife who pays him no attention? Did he expect a home that is in shambles? Did he expect to spend his nights alone while you focus on children and playdates and school activities and women's groups? He loved you. Remember? How often are you so tired at night that you just fall into bed and go to sleep, without a word or a kiss (or anything else) for the man who married you, who picked you of all the women in the world to be with forever? When I come home and my wife makes no effort to even come and greet me, then I know that whatever she is doing is more important than I am. How much of your life is now "more important" than he is?
"We build our lives around our children," we say. But why? And what will you do when they are gone? What will you do when there are no soccer games, no trumpet lessons, no band parent meetings? What will you do when it is just you and the man whom you rejected for years?
You should build in the proper order. First, Christ. Second, husband. Third, children. Your husband was, at one time, your darling and your dear. He was the man you loved and married. He was the center of your domestic life. You looked forward to seeing him, to being with him, to sitting by him. What happened?
Maybe there are things women do not want to hear anymore. Maybe there are truths women never wanted to hear. But they need to hear them. We need excellent wives. But an excellent wife, who can find? Her value is far above jewels.
Yes, I know, there is a time in every wife class where someone will, in all honesty and frustration, blurt out that wonderful line: "But he won't tell me what he wants." I know, believe me, I know. I don't tend to tell my own wife, either.
Why? Well, because that is not how men work, generally. Men, generally, do not like to speak a lot. In studies, the speech area of men's brains is small and compact and (oddly) entirely in the left side of the brain. When men speak, they pretty much use only their speech center. Women, on the other hand, use a lot of their brains when they speak (and both sides of their brain). Oral communication seems to come more easily and pleasantly to women than to men.
Think of the men and women you know. In my life, I have known many stutterers, all of whom were male (studies show the male-female ratio is about 4:1) . I have know a lot of people who use "uhhs" and who repeat themselves a lot, most of them were male. I have almost never met a woman who muttered in such a way that I could not hear her, but I meet such men all the time. There are just not as many speech problems among women as among men.
Men tend to "think things out" before they "talk things out." When a woman asks a man "what do you want me to do," he usually cannot really answer. Why? Because he was not thinking about that question. He was thinking about work or food or the things he needs to do, not about what he expects from you. When you ask him the question, his first thought is probably not "what do I want" but "why is she asking me this question?" His answer is more likely to be what he thinks will keep him in good status with you, not what he really wants to say.
Instead of looking for words, look for what he does. Look at how he responds to things you do. Watch his face and body motions as he goes through his day. Men tend to exhibit their feelings more through their behaviors than through their words. He is more likely to hug you than to pour out words of appreciation. He is more likely to act snarly than he is to snarl.
Men have learned, over the years, that there is very little positive that comes from many of their conversations with women. Telling women "what we want" usually ends up with us being accused of being insensitive or sexist or "pigs." We have learned to keep quiet in many cases. If your guy isn't telling you in words, though, he is telling you in other ways that you need to learn to read.
Women often want men to read "clues" and figure out what they want. So, let's try it the other way around, and figure out what he wants.
One of the common risks of a "wife class" is the attempt to come up with lists of "things to do." We can talk about all kinds of things about the excellent wife, but many people want (and most teachers will give) lists of things the excellent wife is supposed to do. The students will either (1) ignore the list or (2) rush out to do the stuff on the lists. One website has a list of 100 things wives ought to do.
What you see immediately is that making a list is not the answer, not if the answer is 100. I don't want my wife looking at a list of 100 things and deciding what she ought to do that day.
In our faith, we are also often given lists of things by preachers (Ten Steps to the Holy Spirit, 12 Keys to a Happy Family, 20 Ways to Share Your Faith). These lists are just variations on our human tendency toward Law. We all assume that rules (laws and lists) are necessary and good for everything.
But scripture tells us that no one is justified by law. Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16, 3:11. Likewise, no one's love is proved by doing things on a list.
Love is a dynamic duty, one that changes and requires constant attention and care. Husbands are not all alike nor do they stay the same year after year. What a man likes or needs when he is 25 may not be what he likes and needs when he is 35, 45, 55, or 65. You love him only by knowing him and understanding what he needs and what he wants, not through lists.
Lists are useful as sources of ideas, of things that "can be done" or "should be considered." A list might tell you something about food you did not know or suggest a quiet place for dinner or a walk.
But love is not a function of lists. Love is a spiritual duty offered in obedience to a spiritual God, whose joy it is to see His children living in that love.
Don't do a hundred things or worry about a hundred things, do one thing. Today. Then do another tomorrow. What thing should you do? Your knowledge of your husband will tell you.
If diligence is the theme for our week, then what is the other thing, the "non-diligence" that we are to avoid. It's kind of hard to identify, isn't it? We know what diligence is, but what is "non-diligence"?
Diligence, we are told, is the "persevering application" of effort. Great. But what have I got? Diligence means busy, careful, attentive, disciplined. But what is the opposite of diligence?
Maybe the opposite is procrastination. How many things do I have that "need to be done" but that I do not, in fact, do at all? I remember hearing the old joke that "nothing is really that important, if you wait long enough, it will go away." Which is true, but when it goes the opportunity goes with it. Letters that I should have written, reports I should have read, purchases I should have made, pile up over the years. Maybe the opposite of diligence is procrastination, the tendency to put everything off.
Or maybe the opposite is carelessness. A diligent person takes care of the details of things, but that's not really me, either. I tend to "cut corners" in the things I set out to do. It is so easy to sweep up a room and leave the sweepings in a corner "for later." It is easy to decide to vacuum a room, but not move anything to get under it.
Idleness also comes to mind, and is quite a bit more negative than procrastination (which sounds funny) and carelessness (which sounds kind of innocent and childish). Am I idle? How often have I sat down with something to drink and turned on the television and gotten "caught up" in a show? Amazing how quickly half-an-hour can pass in such idleness. The internet, of course, has made this even easier, as I can sit at my computer and type and everyone will think I am doing something important, not just playing and reading and send messages to people about things that aren't really important.
There are other terms, as well. Slack. Lazy. Indolent. But we don't really want to go there, do we?
Why am I not diligent? Why do I sit at my computer and watch videos when there is so much to be done in my home, in my life, in my work, in my relationships? Why do I think to myself that something needs to be done and put off doing it? Why am I not diligent in the things God has given me?
Scripture urges us to diligence in our spiritual lives. "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace." 2 Peter 3:14. I fear most of us are not at all diligent in either our spiritual or our domestic lives. We need to be up and about, doing and serving, going about "doing good," as did Our Lord before us.
As Vance Havner, the old evangelist, once put it: "Who am I to remain in my bed, when the farmers are already about their work and I am so far behind in my sanctification?"
Monday comes again, with children back in school and people back to work and everything getting back to normal. Mondays can be hard days and not, perhaps, the best time to talk about diligence. So, let's talk about Rebekah.
The main story about Rebekah, wife of Isaac, is found later, but the story of which I speak is found in Genesis 24. We all know the story. Abraham sends his faithful servant to find a wife for Isaac. The servant finds Rebekah and brings her back with him. The scriptures tell us "and the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her." Nice story.
But think about this a minute. She, a young woman, had left her family and traveled quite a long way to meet a man she did not know. What happens next? Well, she becomes his wife. She does not know him. She has never met him or his family. They have not sat at night under the stars and talked about what it will be like when they are married. They have not discussed family planning or finances or cooking or "sharing duties in the household" or sex or anything.
What an evening that must have been (because that is all the wedding there is in the old days, just taking her into the tent). They learned who each other was in the coolness (or warmth) of the evening. When they woke up, they started a life together about which they knew nothing. And the story ends well. He loved her.
We often picture the text in a different way. We will say that "he loved her and took her into the tent," but that is not the order of events. She became his wife first. Love came after.
You began with a great head start over Rebekah. You knew and picked your husband. You and he talked about lots of things, including marriage itself. You planned a wedding (probably) and knew where you would live and discussed "the role of women" and may have gone to church together for some time. You were sure that you "loved" him already and he "loved" you, or you would not have married him.
But there is one thing about Rebekah's story that all women know. No matter how much you talk or go to counseling before you marry, there is something different and special about waking up as a wife. No matter how much you are sure you "love" someone on the wedding day, there is no assurance that it will remain. The number of men and women who will say they no longer love their spouse is frightening. The number who say "if only I had known" is even higher.
When someone asks "do you love your husband," they are not asking for history, but for reality. Do you love him, now that you know him? If I watched your interaction with your husband today, what would it tell me?
Do you love him?
Fridays are interesting days for a lot of people. It is the end of school week (for those with children in school) and, somehow, everyone feels like something special "ought to happen" on Friday. People who stay home all week want to go out.
People who work all week away from home, on the other hand, often just want to rest. Friday night becomes a time when they (usually husbands) have to "take their wife out to dinner." "Date your wife" they are told by every pastor and every counselor and every TV show. Now, they like having dinner with their wives, but doing the same thing over and over is not really very exciting. Besides, why doesn't their wife date them?
Think about it. Why not date him? I do not mean simply to go out with him, but to actually prepare an evening with him in mind.
So, in doing him good this Friday, think a little. Maybe going out is important to him. If it is, you take him out. You pay for the meal (yes, I know all the money belongs to both of you, but still, it makes a difference who signs). Do not talk about where the budget money comes from or to who it is billed. Go see some "guy flick" (or at least a real man's movie) with him. Go get some ice cream after the movie and just let him talk (if he will). Maybe go somewhere and walk around a bit in the cooler air. Get to know him a little.
And if he doesn't like going out (or you can't afford it), then stay home. Fix a nice meal that he will like. Get the children out of the way early and watch something he would like to watch with you (men love to watch movies with their wives).
In other words, spend an evening on him. Not an evening where he is dating you, but an evening where you are dating him. This wonderful man whom you married and who seems to be hard to catch sometimes, comes in your door sometime this evening. He may think he is coming home to the job of entertaining you, but he will find out that he is the guest tonight, not the host.
It's not every night, but some nights a man needs to be a guest and to enjoy his wife's attention and love, the same attention and love you gave him when you first married.
Okay, so you've been a good wife this week, trying to "do him good" every day. You have done something every day specifically in view of him being your husband. You have thanked or helped or offered or prepared or done something that you did not have to do, just because it was good for him. And he hasn't said a word to you about it.
What about thanks?
There comes a time when we want people to thank us. We do something good for them and they just sit there and enjoy it. We made something they would like to eat and, well, they just eat it. They enjoy it, of course, but no thank you. We really wanted that thank you.
Maybe you did something to clear up a room or arrange some stuff. Maybe you just did your normal job a little better. Maybe you dressed up and looked really nice when he got home. All great ideas, but no thank you from him at all.
Getting no thank you has killed more good motivations than any other problem. Deep down, we want to be appreciated. Even though we know (in our minds) that this is what God wants us to do, we also, deep down, want our husband to acknowledge us and our effort. It is very hard to minister or serve day after day with no thank you.
I have two thoughts on this for today.
First, what can you do? If you asked for a thank you, you would get one (probably), but so what? It would have no real meaning. Anyone can be thankful when asked to be. Consider how the conversation would go and realize that you cannot ask for thanks that way. You can, perhaps, mention it in general at some time in the future, but it is really hard to think of how to do that in the moment and be satisfied with the result.
Second, what does it say about your motivations? If a person seeks thanks from the person being served, then that service is directed only at that person. If you "do him good" just to get something from him (a thank you), then this is just a manipulation and not service at all. Deep down, you are acting for a wrong reason.
Ultimately, we "do him good" because it is our responsibility to do so. Because you are an excellent wife (or would like to be), you do the things an excellent wife does. You do them because it is your service to God, through which you serve your husband. If he thanks you, then that is wonderful. If he does not thank you, then God does, and that is more wonderful.
The trick, in the end, is understanding that he deserves your kindness because he is your husband. Not because he is perfect (he isn't) or thankful (he may not be), but because you intend to be an excellent wife in order to honor and obey God.
And that, my sisters, is the purpose of all our service.
It's another Wednesday, middle of the week, "over the hump" day, whatever you may call it. Sunday seems like a long time ago, way beyond the meals and cleaning and children crying and appointments and all the "things" that consume our days. I think that, often, we decide things on Sundays and then forget them by Wednesdays, buried by other things that are more insistent.
Perhaps there was a time in your life when you tried to get out of an actual "rut" in a road. You are driving (or walking or biking) down a dirt road with ruts in it. You, for whatever reason, don't want to go in the rut, so you pull a little left or a little right and try to navigate without the rut. Somehow, though, you always seem to end up back in it. Everything on the road tends toward the rut and if you go along awhile without paying attention, you suddenly find yourself back in it again.
It is the same in marriage. If you have been married more than a year or so, then you have "ruts" in your marriage. Now, ruts are not bad things. The rut in a road is a safe place for the wheels. Riding along where everyone else rides is comfortable and cautious. In our marriage, the "ruts" allow us to know certain things and accomplish certain things. I "know" it is my job to do certain things because that is the "rut" we are in.
The trouble with ruts is that they are sometimes traps. We get in a rut and suddenly everything loses value. You do certain tasks every week and soon no one thanks you, because that is the "rut" you have created. Things that need to be done are not done because no one has a place for them along the path of her "rut" or his "rut."
In preparing to do him good, I want to challenge you in regard to one rut, the "go to work" rut. Many of our class members are "stay at home" moms whose husbands go off every day to work while they stay home and live their lives. Each day, you spend money he made at that job, to buy groceries or diapers or a double espresso, without a thought about what he did to make that money. Each day he goes and comes without a thank you, without a comment, except (perhaps) an occasional dig about how little he makes or how much you "wish we could take a vacation" or have a new car. Or another complaint about how many hours he works and how much time he is missing from home.
On the list of things men do that are seldom acknowledged, none ranks higher than his daily job. In studies, it has been found that most wives give almost no value to the husband's work, to the 40 (or more) hours a week he spends making money for the family. They think that is "just his job."
Well, it is his job, but not "just his job." It is the source of your income and your food and your shelter. It is the hope of health and security. It is eight to twelve hours a day that he gives to the family, doing what he would rather not do for the sake of money.
One thing to do that would be "good for him" would be to appreciate, and to express appreciation for, the work that he does every day. In some way to let him know that your love for him is increased by his act of love, every day, in going somewhere to work and bring home what your family needs. To let him know that his work is known and valued by the most important person in his life -- you.