For my second-to-last act of love, I gave you a back massage because you love them so. (It’s my second-to-last act, but I’m doing a final post, “day 366,” after day 365.) This was a great reminder of several things. (1) Loving you isn’t about me. I still don’t like giving massages, though I can now tolerate them after so much practice. Still, you love getting massages, and that should be enough for me. (2) Doing something for you, even if it’s something I don’t like to do, is much more enjoyable for me when I know that you’re enjoying it. That motivates me to do such things for you. (3) Massages don’t take that long, they’re not that difficult to give, and you get so much out of them. I should just man up and give you them. Anyway, you enjoyed your massage. There are many more where that one came from.
For this act of love, I read this article from Focus on the Family on friendship in marriage. How important for a marriage is friendship and how important for a friendship is spending time together. Through 365 Acts of Love, we’ve developed the habit of spending our evenings together. Whether we’re watching something or reading or talking or cleaning, we’re intentional about being together and enjoying each other. I’m sure that this habit will pay great dividends in the years to come. It already has. Like C. S. Lewis said, “It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up – painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, and fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction.”
The article warned against not nourishing and nurturing your friendship with your spouse. When people let the busyness of their lives get in the way of their relationship with their spouse, their friendship with their spouse can wane and the relationship becomes more like a business partnership. For us, I remember thinking of us as roommates. It’s in a situation like that that infidelity is apt to occur.
I’m glad that I’ve seen the importance of maintaining our friendship. It’s been beneficial for our family and relationship and it’s been a lot of fun.
You have a lot of relationships in your life that you need to foster—your relationship with me, God, our children, our church, your friends, and your family and mine. Some of these relationships have priority over others and maintaining that proper balance can be tough!
For act 329, I read and prayed through the chapter on priorities in The Power of a Praying Husband. Omartian talked about the importance of living a balanced life, giving appropriate attention to your relationships, your spiritual life, your responsibilities, yourself, etc. I prayed that you would be able maintain a good balance in your life, but I focused on praying that you would maintain a good balance in and give appropriate priority to the various relationships in your life.
I prayed that you would give your relationship with God priority over every other relationship. I prayed that you would put me next and the kids after that. From there, I prayed that you would have time to foster good relationships with other people in your life. I can help with that by providing opportunities for you to be with others.
I think you do a great job in this area. I pray that you would grow even more.
For my 312th act of love, I prayed through the chapter on submission in The Power of a Praying Husband. According to the Scriptures, wives should submit to their husbands (whatever that means). Here’s the passage:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
I’m going to be perfectly honest here: I’m uncomfortable with this biblical command. I’m just not sure what to think of it. I’ve read stuff defending the claim that a marriage works best when a husband loves his wife as Christ loved us and a wife submits to her husband. But this command still doesn’t sit well with me. Because of that, I’ve never really talked with you about submission. Perhaps that’s had a negative impact on our marriage. I don’t know.
I’ve given much, much thought to so many of the other claims of Christianity and have come to the conclusion that they’re true. It’s probably time that I put some thought into this claim, especially since it affects something so close to home as our marriage.
At any rate, two initial considerations soften the doctrine for me. One, in the verse preceding the above passage, Paul calls everyone in the Church to submit to everyone else in the Church (what does that look like in practice?). So, in the Church, it’s not just that wives need to submit to their husbands, but that everyone must submit to everyone.
Two, Paul calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Christ came into the world to serve, not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many. If I served you and gave myself up for you, would you have much trouble submitting to me? It seems you’d have less trouble than if I were authoritarian. In fact, the situation in which I serve you and you submit to me seems a bit like mutual submission and I’m very comfortable with that. Furthermore, I wanna say that husbands have the tougher calling. We aren’t called to submit to our wives, sure, but we are called to give up our very lives.
At any rate, I’d like to wrestle through this issue more, for the sake of our marriage if anything.
PS: I need to keep in mind that something doesn’t need to sit well with me for it to be true.
I don’t think I ever committed in this blog to doing something on a weekly basis to educate myself about marriage. Still, I’ve been reading up on marriage every week for a while now. I think I’m committed to doing so until the blog’s done. So then, one act of week will be prayer for our marriage and one act of week will be educating myself on marriage.
A while back I wrote a post claiming that prayer and the gaining of truth about the nature of marriage are necessary for a successful marriage. Such is my reason for making these commitments.
Anyway, let’s talk about sex. For my 296th act of love, I read the chapter on sex and marriage from Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. What an excellent chapter! Keller claimed that it’s a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband whenever he desires it. I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Actually, he claimed that even sex is an act of service and not primarily about pleasing oneself. That is, sex should be used to please one’s spouse as an act of love for one’s spouse, not (primarily) to gratify one’s own desires (I say “primarily” because being personally gratified by sex is a good thing, not bad). I really struggle with this. When it comes to sex, I am very selfish and typically think only about what I can get out of it. But Keller says that
sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less.
I think my emphasis for 365 Acts of Love has been to change from being a person who is self-focused to being a person who is others-focused. This others-focus needs to permeate all aspects of my life, including my sex life (though that life should only be you-focused!).
For act 292, we attended a marriage seminar at our church centered around Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. How is this an act of love by me? Well, I took the initiative to sign us up, put it on our calendar, and find a babysitter.
The seminar was good. We first listened to our pastors talk about the book, then broke out into small groups for discussion, the latter of which was the most helpful. We talked about our strengths and weaknesses, communication and fighting, the purpose of marriage, the importance of romance for marriage, etc. Two of the couples had been married for over 30 years, so they offered good advice on each of these areas.
When they asked us questions about romance in our relationship, it was fun to tell them that we make a good effort to foster that. We told them about some of the dinner dates we’ve had in our home and everyone thought such dates were a great idea.
But, not everything we said about our relationship was rosy. We told them about some of our struggles as a couple, which wasn’t very fun to discuss.
I’m looking forward to the next and final seminar at our church based on Keller’s book. I know we can benefit greatly from hearing other couples share their advice and even their struggles.
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.
For several weeks, I’ve been reading about marriage for one of my acts of love each week. This has really helped me to go deeper in my understanding of marriage.
This time, I read an article about listening and communicating from Focus on the Family. I really want to become a better listener because conversations like this are commonplace in our marriage:
YOU: Okay, I’m leaving for my meeting. The kids are all yours.
ME: What? You have a meeting tonight? Why didn’t you tell me? I have lots of work to do.
YOU: We talked about it on Tuesday night. You said you would watch the kids.
ME: No, I didn’t. I would remember agreeing to something like that.
YOU: Well . . . you said you would do it.
ME: Fine. Go to your meeting. But I do not remember agreeing to this.
As much as I hate to admit it, I think the problem lies with me. How could you distinctly remember that I agreed to watch the kids if I didn’t actually do it? I think that I zone out when you talk to me and I’m really not sure how to change that. But I’ll start by trying to be more conscientious about listening to you when you talk.