Through the course of my project to commit an act of love for my wife every day for a year, I’ve learned much about my marriage, my wife, and about life in general. (I still have a lot to learn.) For starters, I learned that taking my wife to Chuck E. Cheese for Mother’s Day is not a hot idea, nor is climbing a tree filled with poison oak. But here are a handful of my more substantive lessons:
1) My marriage is not about me. It’s not about my wife, either. The primary purpose of my marriage and my blog is to glorify God.
At one point during 365 Acts of Love, I stopped focusing on my relationship with God in order to focus on the blog. I knew that if I kept that up, it would’ve undermined one of my purposes for the blog, that is, to better my marriage. How do I figure that? Well, anything that is not built for God and his glory—whether a business, a life, a marriage, or a blog—is built in vain. And nothing built in vain is successful. Even a seemingly good marriage is a failure if it’s not built on bringing glory to the only one worthy of receiving glory.
So, early on in 365 Acts of Love, I committed to doing my project with the aim of glorifying God by loving my wife in a way that pleases him.
2) Loving my wife best requires putting my relationship with God before my marriage. When I put God first, when my soul is anchored in him and his faithfulness, I won’t be shaken by the ups and downs of life and I can focus on loving my wife through it. Additionally, I’ll be able to love my wife when she seems unlovable (though that doesn’t happen often).
3) I can’t make my marriage successful on my own, but need God’s grace for that. This is the case because nothing good that I have or do comes from me. It’s all from God.
This realization has driven me to prayer over and over in the past year since prayer is a means by which God grants grace. I’m learning to daily and persistently plead with God that he would give me the grace I need to live with my wife in a way that pleases him.
4) Putting my wife’s needs and desires above my own is one of the best ways for me to express and increase my love for her. Love is often portrayed as something glamorous and exciting. But typically it’s unglamorous and pedestrian. It involves everyday, nitty-gritty stuff like laundry and dirty dishes and screaming kids, not just flowers and chocolates and surprise dates. It involves giving her the comfortable side of the bed, carrying stuff into the house for her, letting her pick what to watch on TV, pumping gas for her because she hates to do it, giving her the last of the chocolate, running errands for her, cleaning the bathroom when it’s her turn, etc. Though it’s fun to do the romantic stuff, most of the loving that goes on in a marriage involves the everyday stuff. And in fact, my wife just might appreciate the latter as much as (more than?) the former.
Additionally, self-sacrificial love is tough. It’s a battle, something you fight for, not something you fall in to. Consider what Christ endured to love the world:
[Christ] . . . being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2)
That’s pretty serious love, but God calls husbands to love their wives in the same way—by giving up their interests for those of their spouses. I want to apply this in my own marriage. As the apostle Paul says in the context of the above passage, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
5) With all this giving of myself that I’m supposed to do, what’s in my marriage for me? Well, for one, if my wife takes Paul’s advice above (which she usually does), there’s a whole lot in it for me. In fact, when we both consistently live out the scriptural commands for relationships, our marriage is pretty great.
But what if my wife doesn’t put my needs and desires above her own? Well, I’ll still get a lot out of our marriage because I’ll find much joy in serving her if I sincerely and consistently devote myself to it. At first, it can be painful and annoying, but with practice, it becomes more natural and carries great satisfaction with it. More importantly, though, I’ll be doing what God requires of me even if I don’t get anything out of it.
6) Consistent loving acts, not romantic feelings, keep a marriage together for the long term. Consider these words from Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage regarding the relationship between acts and feelings of love:
Our culture says that feelings of love are the basis for actions of love. And of course that can be true. But it is truer to say that actions of love can lead consistently to feelings of love. Love between two people must not, in the end, be identified simply with emotion or merely with dutiful action. Married love is a symbiotic, complex mixture of both. Having said this, it is important to observe that of the two—emotion and action—it is the latter that we have the most control over. It is the action of love that we can promise to maintain every day (103).
7) I’ve relearned how fun marriage can be when I make it a priority. Through this year, my wife and I have gotten a lot more lighthearted with each other and the little things that used to annoy us about each other don’t do so as easily. This relates to the joy that I talked about above.
8) Some of the smallest things can make my wife very happy. Little acts, done consistently, are very meaningful and important for our marriage, even though my wife does enjoy my grandiose, romantic gestures. For one of my acts of love, I spent three hours at a coffee shop memorizing a soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet. I then came home and performed it for my wife. I thought she would be very impressed. Instead, she said, “I’m glad you did that for me, but why did you spend three hours at a coffee shop memorizing that when you could’ve just hung out with me?”
9) If I give my relationship with my wife priority over my relationship with my kids, I’ll do the whole family a favor. By putting her first, I’m making sure that our relationship is solid. This shows our kids what a loving and committed relationship looks like and they’ll likely copy our example when they get older. In addition, I’m giving my kids a stable family life, making them feel safe and secure.
10) It’s a lot easier to serve people outside our home if our marriage is good. If we’re constantly fighting or trying to work things out, we won’t have as much energy to love and serve others. But if things are going well at home, we’ll likely be united as we minister outside our home.
11) Through 365 Acts of Love, I’ve learned a little more about the value of determination, perseverance, and commitment. This project has been very difficult and has consumed so much of my time and energy. Every day, I have to plan, implement, and write about an act of love as well as keep up with school, work, family, and church. At times, I’ve simply wanted to escape or quit or fast forward to the end of the project or anything to get out of continuing it. But, I’m seeing it through one day at a time and growing because of it. At the end of this year, I’ll be glad I persevered.