I have just received yet another announcement for yet another in a long and repetitive series of "community service awards." Strange how we love to give awards to people for doing what we consider to be "good things." These are always things "about others," which is to say, things that were done good for people other than themselves or their families.
How odd that we, as a culture, are so intent on rewarding such work, while we ignore and downgrade the work that really matters. We give awards to "teachers of the year," who are being paid, but nothing for moms and dads who do the same work all the time. We give awards to philanthropists who donate money to care for strangers, but nothing for the faithful parents who support their own families through daily, consistent labor.
On the one hand, this oddity is something for which we can be grateful. The fact that our services are not valued by the world merely confirms for us that the world does not judge as God judges. Parents who faithfully serve, husbands who faithfully serve, wives who faithfully serve, are taken for granted in the world, but not in the eyes of God.
On the other hand, it would be nice to celebrate, at least occasionally, our faithfulness to our own families. It would be nice to reward ourselves for not having left our children destitute. We should reward ourselves for not divorcing our spouse, for not "looking for excitement" at the expense of our families, for not abandoning those who depend on us in order to chase some dream that the world would admire.
As you plan the weekend, plan a Community Service Award night for you and your husband. Sit down and talk, sometime, about how much all the things of your life mean to you. Talk about your children and how much everything means to them.
You are, in fact, a community of your own. Mother, father, sons, and daughters. Each of you serves every day in more ways than most people can imagine.
So, celebrate each other this weekend.
I have mentioned this before, but we continue to deal with the attitude that husbands need "to appreciate what I gave up for him," or some such thought.
This is one of those oddities of the human mind. Not only do we want credit for what we actually do for other people, we also want credit for some imaginary other thing that we might have done but did not do. So, if a wife "gives up" going with her friends for coffee and chat in order to spend a day with her husband, he is supposed to not only enjoy and appreciate her company, but he is supposed to somehow "appreciate" that she could have done something else.
Likewise, wives often think back to who else they think they could have married or to their "career" that they "gave up" for "his sake." Sometimes, stay at home wives are especially guilty of this practice, imagining some great career they think they were on the verge of having as compared to the "drudgery" of raising children and taking care of a home.
First, it makes no sense to spend your life fretting (or wanting others to fret) over something imaginary. Things that aren't, aren't. Decisions you did not make were not made. You have no idea what else might have happened if you had chosen differently.
Do you really want your husband to sit down, stop thinking about the person he actually married, and start imagining another person whom he wanted to marry but who turned him down and went on to live some other life? Then, apparently, the idea is that he is supposed to feel guilty over having "ruined" that poor girl's life by offering to marry her. He is supposed to spend his day "appreciating" how much she gave up for him?
Is this focus on an imaginary life really important to you? You would have continued your focus on your career, but who knows what might have happened in that career? You would not have him or your children or your current life at all. How can you spend time feeling badly about what never happened? Why would you want him to feel that way?
Second, remember that you not only "gave things up" to marry him, he gave up a lot to marry you. Believe it or not, marriage is not, generally speaking, a man's goal in life. Men who marry also surrender a lot of things. He has kept working, but he does not keep the money. He has to take care of a house and cars and children. He has to love you and care for you. He cannot go where he wants to go. He cannot do what he would otherwise want to do. He, also, could spend his day focusing on an imaginary life and wonder about why you do not appreciate him.
All imaginary life is just that - imaginary. It has no meaning. To ask a man to live his life in guilt (which we call appreciation) over some life that you abandoned is foolishness.
The life you have is the life you have. Live it. Stop wasting it in wondering about whether you would be president or a great business leader or a world renowned singer. You almost certainly would not have been any of those things. You did not value that "other life" so much when you gave it up, why value it now?
Love the husband you have. Love the life you chose. Live freely. And let him do the same.
Perhaps the primary struggle in becoming an Excellent Wife is learning to put aside our own ideas and try to incorporate some understanding of not only God's commands but also our husband's point of view. This can be really hard to do. Our tendency, in regard to our husband's view, is to disregard much of what he says in favor of our own view.
Let's try something.
Somewhere in your house, your husband has a hat or a cap. I am willing to believe that virtually every man has ball caps or hats or something to cover his head, although he may never wear them. Get a hat or a cap of your husband's.
Now, go outside and imagine your husband is coming home. Put on the hat or cap, and come in the door. What do you see? Remember, you have on a different hat, so you are a different person. What do you see as you come into the house? What does it say to you?
Is the entrance room (however your house or apartment is set up) a good starting point? We often disregard such rooms and do nothing to keep them in proper condition. What does it say to him when he comes in this room? I can tell you that, when my wife has cleaned up the entry room, it is a great moment for me. Seriously. It tells me she has been working and active and she cares about things, because she could do many other things instead.
As you travel through the house, how does it all look to you, Mr. Husband? Is it warm and welcoming? Is it cold and formal? You have spent all day in a strange place (work) with strange people (co-workers), do you now have the feeling you are coming home? Or are you just exchanging order for chaos?
Do not be a phony here. You are not a butler's inspector, but a husband and father. You are not bothered by evidence of children (toys and books and such). You are not bothered by the things that serve and increase family happiness. But, you cannot be happy about the piles that have lain untouched for a week or so. You cannot be proud of the dust collecting on things or of the dirty dishes from two days ago.
Go through the whole house. Assume you have gotten home and the wife and children are out at a park or visiting someone. You have a few minutes alone in your home. How does it feel to you?
Then, take off your hat or cap and become a wife again. Think of what your husband sees and what it tells him about you. What do you think now?
When we have visitors, we all hustle and move things and hide things, so they will see what we want them to see, but your husband sees things as they really are. An Excellent Wife is not about appearances, but about reality. How is your reality this morning?
One of the great frustrations of dealing with marriage is that you have four very different women's groups to address. You have current younger wives, you have current older wives, you have divorced women thinking about remarriage. But you also have to think about young women who have not yet married. Younger wives need to know a lot about marriage and older wives have many things to repair and reconsider. Divorced women have to face very hard questions about their failed marriages and their hopes for any future relationship.
But young, single women simply do not know what marriage is all about. They may "want to be married," but they do not know what it means. Young wives and older women know the realities of marriage in a way that young single women do not know. Younger women too often are so overcome by "love" that they have no idea what they are committing to.
At a wedding, I sit and watch the couple take their vows. It is usually a big show. The bride has a beautiful dress that costs way too much. The men wear tuxedos (and look really uncomfortable in them). The bridesmaids wear the special bridesmaid dresses they bought and that can never be worn again because they are so unflattering. There are lots of candles and a high-priced photographer and the whole show is, well, kind of annoying. (If there is any more inane social practice than having the whole reception wait an hour or more in order to have pictures taken, I don't know what it is.) No one in that ceremony is thinking about marriage in any serious way.
In church weddings, we hear how marriage is "like God's relationship to His people" and we are told not to let "any man put asunder" the marriage. There is usually some shallow homily about family and marriage from the preacher, then the vows are taken. The entrance and exit (each person walking down the aisle slowly) and seating and taking out the mothers takes longer than the rest of the ceremony. Nothing in the ceremony prepares a young woman for marriage.
Does she want to be a wife? Really? Or does she just want a husband? Too many women want to have a husband more than they want to be a wife (too many men want to have a wife more than they want to be a husband). Does she know that the call for a wife is to be an excellent wife?
I sit in weddings and wonder what can be done. How can we prepare young women for the reality of what they will face in marriage? How can we tell them the burden of being an excellent wife?
Titus 2 remains the best hope, having older women teach younger women about the realities of marriage (good and bad). Not teaching in classes, not teaching with books, but teaching by being invested in their lives.
One of the current fixations of our culture is our love of photographs and videos. We have gone, in a short century or so, from never having any photographs or videos to believing that we must have them. We take photographs at every birthday party, every family get-together, every child's play. You almost cannot watch a school play for all the parents and their cameras.
We take all these images and, in the old days, we put them in boxes. Now, we put them on our computers. The goal was to one day put them in photo albums (or print them) but almost no one ever actually does that. We have boxes and boxes of photographs that we never look at. Now, we also have videos, Betamax videos and VCR videos. Eventually, we are told, we will have to pay someone to transfer all of these (at a fee of course) onto DVDs, which we are told will be out of date pretty soon and we can move them to something else. Then, we will have shelves of videos and boxes of photographs. Why?
Well, we are told that these things are "memories." When there is a fire and these things are destroyed, the news reports are always about the family "losing all their memories," which sounds a little extreme. A friend and church member, some years ago, took a trip to Europe. When he and his wife returned, I asked him about the trip. He said it was wonderful, except that their film had been lost on the return trip. He was very upset about what he called "coming back without any memories."
I told him that he had not lost any memories. He lost only photographs. Memories are things inside you, thoughts and ideas and images of what happened before. Photographs are not memories.
As the years pass in your family, in your marriage, be very careful about the memory game. Photographs are not memories. You have real memories of everything memorable that ever happened to you (that's why we call these things "memorable"). The other things are not important. It is not important for you to have a video of your child's third-grade Christmas show. It is not important for you to have photographs of your child's first birthday party. For all the years of human history, people lived without such trappings, being satisfied with the memories they had of their lives.
When you and your husband are old together, you will not sit around looking at pictures, but you will spend your time making new memories. You will talk about your daughter's youth and your son's childhood, but each day will still be a new day.
The goal for today is not to make photographs or videos or to create more stuff to put in your closet somewhere. The goal is to live today as a day of glory and love and service. The goal is not to create some record you can look at in some future time, but to live today as a godly wife, loving her husband, loving her children, and loving her God.
When I see the boxes of photographs that we have, I have two thoughts. One is a thought of how much money we spent on these things that we never look at. But the other is the pleasure of knowing that our real lives, the lives we live each day, have been so full that we have never been able to put these things in albums at all.
My photographs are in boxes. My memories are real and vibrant and part of my life. It is a difference worth remembering.
One of our most common errors in relationships is our language. We say things in ways that have very negative results, without even thinking about it. We see this in the mom who comes in to find her son has cleaned his room without being told, and immediately says "see, this is really nice, you should keep it this way all the time." He does something really nice, that takes real effort, and his reward is a lecture and insult, as she reminds him of his prior failures rather than praising his current success. She thinks she was being nice and "mom-like," but she was being wrong.
I heard another one the other night. A local high school band was performing a show they called "Letters Home." In the show, they played a recording of actors who were supposed to be a mother and a son, reading from letters written to and from Marine boot camp. One repeated phrase in the mother's letters caught me. She kept telling him "come home safe." This was the whole theme of her letters: "Come home safe."
Do you see how wrong her language is? Her son is preparing to be a warrior, a marine. His purpose in his job is to serve bravely, to fight bravely, to serve his fellow Marines and his country, even at the risk of his life. Her words to him are "Come home safe."
She does not urge him to bravery or honor or service. She does not call on him to be proud or wise or holy. She only cares that he "come home safe."
But he cannot do this. He has no power to make himself "come home safe." She is telling him to be responsible for something he cannot control. She is making him responsible for her happiness, because she wants him to "come home safe." The only way he can accomplish this goal is by cowardice, by hiding, by refusing to obey orders. The only way he can make his mother's wish come true is to fail of his purpose, to fail in his duty, to fail at the task he has been given.
But it sounds nice, doesn't it? Asking him to "come how safe" sounds so sweet and kind, but it is cruel and selfish. She is making him responsible for her desires. What if he is hurt? Is she going to condemn him when he comes home? What if he dies, has he failed her? That is certainly how it sounds. If he does not come home safe, she will be disappointed in him for failing her.
Why can't she wish him well without tying it to her feelings? She should want him to be a good Marine. She should love and support him in his mission, not harangue him about protecting himself as the greatest end she can imagine. She should help him get through his service, not focus him on its hoped-for end.
I have a son in the Army. He is in training but, one day, may be sent to a war zone. If so, I will not tell him to "come home safe," but to be brave, to trust God, and to serve his fellow soldiers. If he dies in faithful service, I will be proud of his service and proud that he would now be with Christ. He is a man and must act as a man.
Think about what you say to your husband and your children and your friends and even your enemies. This woman's language betrayed the ultimate selfishness many of us feel. The fact that they would put it in a show as something to emulate shows how much we have accepted selfishness by parents and have abandoned the idea of service.
What did you say this morning? Did you encourage your husband and children to live their lives in ways that would glorify God? Or just in ways that worked for you?
"Come home safe" is not the language of someone who thinks about what they say and about how it will affect others. But, then, how often do most of us think about what we say at all?
So, we know that he has changed and we know that you are changing also, so what are we to do? We usually have some idea of "what our marriage ought to be" and if we thought we were there once, we don't want any change. Or, sometimes, we only want the other partner to change. Now that we know we are both changing, what do we do?
Well, we can try not to change. Trouble is, trying not to change is a change in itself, so this is kind of a self-defeating idea. Trying to stay the same while your children are aging is simply nonsense. You change as things change around you. You learn that some of your ideas don't work and you have to change. Your children change and you have to change. Your life situation changes and you have to change. You cannot stop change.
This is why we never talk about having "a perfect marriage" or being "a perfect wife" or "a perfect husband." It's not happening. There is no "perfect." There are just two people who have strengths and weaknesses and habits and ideas and a constant source of change.
That is why the goal is to be an Excellent Wife. "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones." Pro. 12:4. An Excellent Wife is a living, breathing, exciting person who deals with a real world. She copes with her own changes and with the changes in others. She knows that her husband at 50 is not the same man he was when he was 25, and she still loves him. She knows that she, at 50, is not the same as she was when she was 25 and she embraces that reality.
Fighting against change is simply nonsense. Embracing change is wisdom. Recognize and rejoice in your husband's growing maturity (and your growing maturity). When you see things getting out of control, take control and correct them. Lead your family not by telling them "no" but by teaching and modeling a godly life. Make your faith (and your faithfulness) obvious to everyone.
I do not know where (or when) we got the idea of what a "perfect family" was supposed to be, but it is a terrible foolishness. We try to make our children do what they do not want to do (and cannot do well) because we think they all need music lessons and tennis lessons and all manner of things that demand our time. But we do not embrace who they are. We fill our days with projects and ideas and games and goals, leaving no room for fellowship and training in godliness.
There is no perfect wife. There is no perfect husband. There are no perfect children. There is no perfect family.
Rather, there is an Excellent Wife, whose life is far more precious than jewels, because she loves her husband, loves her children, and loves her God. This Excellent Wife does not try to make her family something they cannot be, but makes their lives glorious as who they are.
Be an Excellent Wife and the changes will not dismay you.
We have talked some about changes to him, what about changes to you? One of the things in the letter I mentioned last week was the wife's conviction that her husband had changed dramatically but that she was still the wonderful, loving, fascinating person she had been 13 years and four children ago. There is no way that is possible.
Yes, he has changed. If you have been married for even a year, he has changed. He is alive, he is living, he is having experiences, he is learning, he is failing, he is succeeding. He is growing up. So are you.
Sometime today, stop and think back to when you married. If you have them, pull out some photographs of when you were first married. Remember how you looked and how you felt. Remember what you thought at the time about yourself and about your new husband. You had dreams you had never told him and there were things you expected that you never said either.
Think back to your first night together, how you treated one another, and your first few weeks together as man and wife. You began to learn more about him pretty quickly, didn't you? You found out what he did when he was at home (something you had never known). You learned about what you each liked to read or watch on television. You found out about all kinds of things that you agreed on and things you disagreed about.
You may have argued about food (it is amazing how differently families prepare the same food). You may have had some arguments even about sex or public displays of affection. You learned that he also had expectations he had never told you.
Think about the first time you wondered whether you had made a mistake. Remember? Do you remember wondering how you would ever be able to put up with him the rest of your life? If you never felt such a thing, then you are a very unusually blessed wife.
Think about your first child and how much you had to learn. Think about getting up in the middle of the night, about feedings and colic and diapers. Remember how it changed your relationship to your husband? Think about your other children, how each was different and how each changed your life.
If you think you are the same as the young woman who stood there and took the marriage vow, you are wrong. You have learned so many things and each thing has changed you. You may not be as patient or as interesting as you were, because so much of your life is tied up with children, who do not tend to promote either patience or interesting thinking.
You have changed. I can say that with absolute certainty because no one can stay the same, even if they are dead. Time changes all things. Think about how you have changed. Embrace the reality that you have changed.
Now, think about how those changes have impacted your husband. Are you as patient as you were? Are you as kind? Does he get as much of your attention as he did before the children came? Of course not, there is no way he could get as much attention. How do you think he feels about that?
How much did you do for him this week? Not for them (the children), but for him. Do you do as much for him as you used to do? Do you love him as much as you used to love him? Do you show love to him?
We all change. If you think you have not changed, then there is one more thing to convince you. Look at a picture of you from the time you married and then look at a picture taken today. Do you look the same? No? Why do you think nothing has changed but your appearance?
You have changed. He has changed. That is what marriage is all about, after all, two people who are constantly changing, but changing together.
Have you ever thought much about change in your marriage. I think change presents a real problem for a lot of people. The letter we talked about last week focused on how she claimed her husband had changed. He had once been warm and friendly and funny and a great listener. Now, she claims, he has become cold and condescending. She, you recall, was convinced there was no good reason for him to have changed because she was a perfect wife. Why would a man change in this way?
Before they were married, we are told that he was a "great listener." This is a common complaint of wives. "He never listens to me anymore" or "he used to listen more" is frequently a complaint of wives. Think about it.
When you were dating and first married, he "listened well" because he did not know anything. Your life was a mystery to him and, because he loved you, he loved hearing about your life. He learned about you and who you were and he was interested because you were interesting.
Then you married and began to live together. You have lived together for many years. What do you talk about now? No, seriously, if you complain about his lack of interest in your conversation, then ask yourself about your conversation.
What do you talk about? When you were young, and he was an interested listener, you talked about all kinds of things. You talked about your hobbies and your friends and your family and all manner of things. What do you talk about now?
For too many wives, especially stay at home wives, this is a real problem. What do you have to say to him? What is the substance of your conversation? You no longer live "in the world" as he does. You do not meet new people regularly. You have no boss about whom to complain. You do not deal with customers. You are not involved in major work issues. You are home all day. You watch children and you watch TV and you surf the internet. What do you have to say that is interesting? Usually, you spend your time with children (who are not interesting conversationally) or with other stay at home wives. This is not the source of interesting conversation.
Are you talking just about the children? If your conversation is all about children's teachers and children's activities, he is not interested because these are not interesting subjects. They don't change much and they have no inherent interest. If, every day, he has to hear about the same children doing the same things, why should he care?
If he works at any kind of a decent job, his work is much more interesting than your conversation, if all you talk about is domestic stuff. He deals with problems and challenges and issues and people all day. Of course he is less interested in domestic stuff when he gets home. He is also probably really tired when he gets home.
How much of your conversation is complaining? Wives complain a lot, without even knowing it. They want to talk about what their children aren't doing ("we need more music lessons") or what other children are doing ("how lucky they are"). They are worried about their children and want to talk about how they feel. Husbands are often expected to spend the whole evening "building up" their wife out of her worries and fears. This is wearing on a husband.
If the husband tries to talk about his work or his life outside the family, then the wife is often uninterested. She may even be actually negative. If he talks about trouble with his boss. she worries that he will be fired. If he talks about uninteresting work, she worries about their future. He learns to keep quiet to keep her from worrying or over-reacting.
There is an old truism in preaching and teaching: If the class is not interested, the problem is you. If I am the one speaking, it is my job to be interesting. It is not the listener's job to "be interested." I am the one speaking, so I am the one whose actions determine whether something is interesting.
If your husband seems bored when you talk to him, ask yourself why. Maybe you are boring. Maybe he is tired. Maybe you should find a better time to talk to him. Maybe you should do something to make your conversation more interesting. Too often, women think he is obligated to be interested, that his lack of interest is his problem. It isn't. It's your problem. Telling him to be more interested is nonsense. You should be more interesting.
Am I surprised to hear that a man is less interested in his wife's conversation after 13 years? No. I would be more surprised to hear the opposite.
If he is bored with you, then ask yourself when you became boring. Have you stopped growing intellectually (a lot of women do stop growing intellectually)? What do you have to tell him that is interesting? Are you reading anything interesting (or just junk)? Are you doing anything interesting?
If he is not listening, it is probably because you are not interesting. Maybe the problem is you.
Yesterday, we looked at a wife's letter in which she made the comment, regarding her husband, that "all he has done is go to work." I mentioned how common this dismissive attitude is among women who do not work outside the home. Let's think about this.
This is a problem primarily with wives who do not work outside the home, because women who have jobs understand that "going to work" is not for fun.
When you speak to older women (women in their 70's or older), they understand this. They were raised understanding that making a living is a job. They understood that going to work was not fun but was, well, work. They knew that working meant working and that a man who keeps a job and supports his family deserves a lot of credit for doing so.
But when you speak to women in the 50's or younger, you almost never hear the same view. Why? Well, I think it has to do with the whole feminist idea from the 1950's and since that time. For some reason, in order to get women out of their homes, it became popular to suggest that men who "got to go to work" were lucky and that women, who "had to" stay home with their children, were suffering. Even women who rejected feminist ideas seem to have incorporated this attitude. They really think their husbands "go to work" and spend the day just having fun. They don't. That's why it's called work.
So, think about what going to work means for your husband. What is his job? Do you even know what he does? If I told you I am an attorney, what does that communicate to you? What if I told you I am a bus driver or a welder or a human resources manager? Surprisingly, most stay at home wives have no real understanding of what their husband does.
So find out. Don't ask him (he won't tell you), just research it. You are online, so spend some time researching your husband's job. Find out what it is like to be whatever your husband is. Have you ever worked in an industrial environment? Find a video or audio about the noise in the workplace. Find a video or an article about what it means to do what he does.
Think about other issues. Who is his boss? Is his boss a nice guy or a jerk? Are his co-workers great people or, more likely, normal people who are sometimes really annoying? You think he spends his day "talking to adults," but you have no idea who those people are. Most workers do not spend their day standing around talking to nice people about interesting things. They work. And they work with people chosen by their bosses, not by them.
Women were told to believe that staying home with their children (whom they control and train) is somehow "worse" than spending all day with a bunch of people you did not choose to hire in a high-pressure setting where everyone is trying to keep their job. You think he works with great people? Really? Not if he works in any commercial setting I know. He works with normal people. You spend your day with children you love and can command. He spends his day with people he cannot control, who are often first-class jerks, who do not do their jobs, and who want his job.
He worries about his job and the future. He makes mistakes and gets chewed out. He does everything right but is fired anyway. He is threatened. His best friend is laid off. His office is taken away and he is put into an open area for no reason other than costs. Every day, his life (and your livelihood) is in the hands of people he barely knows.
If you think "going to work" is nothing, then you are wrong. If you do not appreciate, every day, what he does for you by going to work, then you are wrong. Men who "go to work" and make enough to let their wives stay home to take care of the family ought to be heroes. People in the family ought to thank God for such a steady, faithful man.
The same is true for wives who go to work, who have to deal with the same world. Maybe what we need in our churches is a class for stay at home moms, taught by working moms, about what it means that their husbands "go to work" every day.
Or, maybe, we need to have some profit-driven boss come to her home and boss her around all day. Doesn't sound like fun, does it? It's not. It's work.