This is a post I wrote last week for Family Devo, a rich source of gospel-centered info and help for husbands, wives and parents. Check it out, it’s amazing. They also started a project called Hymns of Selena, and proceeds from their online resources (included worship albums for kids) go toward their adoption! We love their heart for adoption, and pray God blesses them richly.
“I’m stressed” my wife said this morning on our drive to work. We share my Jeep now that her car has kicked the bucket. (That is one of her stressors). While I’m a morning person, my wife isn’t so I usually let her initiate discussions in the mornings. “Well, what are you stressed about?” I ask. “Stress.” She goes on to tell me about her trip to her doctor last week. Her doctor told her that her adrenaline levels were shot, which was stressing other organs and systems in her body. “I’m stressed about stress. Being stressed impacts my adrenal glands, which impacts my thyroid, which could be the reason why we are not able to conceive. My stress could be why we are not pregnant. I can’t stop stressing about it.” There it is. This is the biggest stressor in my wife’s live . . . and mine. We have been trying to conceive for 3 years now with no luck. None. We have been to several different doctors, tried different methods of treatment, changed our diet, changed our lifestyle, we work out more, eat only organic foods, make smoothies, drink a ton of water, track our progress, take vitamins and supplements, avoid certain types of foods while making sure to eat other types of food . . . but nothing has worked so far. No wonder we are stressed. “Well,” I ask, “how are you trying to cope with your stress?” I ask as somebody cuts me off in morning traffic. I’m trying not to get angry. My wife responds, “I try to pray about, talk to friends about it. I read my Bible. I watch funny shows to take my mind off of it. I workout. But that only lasts for a little bit. Eventually, the stress sneaks back in.” This is the part of talking with my wife when I usually blow it. Women, you know what I’m talking about – I usually say something stupid, like: “Well, try reading the Bible more” or “You know what I do? I take all my stress out when I workout” Or some version of “Just pray more.” Or my wife’s favorite, “Just stop stressing.” Yeah. I’ll do that. Thanks for the great advice. I’ll just stop stressing. I haven’t tried that yet. But this morning I catch myself. Praise Jesus. Often, though, I fail miserably. As a man, I love to solve problems. And stupidly, sometimes when my wife tells me how she is doing, I hear problems to solve instead of a person to listen to and love. All too often, what I hear from my wife are ways I can fix her and make her life better. Instead, what I should be hearing are opportunities to 1) Listen to her, 2) Love her, 3) and Press her (and us) closer to Jesus. My wife and her life are not problems to solve, issues to fix or things to manage. She is my wife. I am to love her, serve her, lay my life down for her . . . not try to get her back to an equilibrium so that she can be happy and I can get absorbed back into my life. If I’m going to be honest (and let’s be honest, I am), most of the time when I am trying to fix my wife’s problems, I am secretly trying to make my life easier. If she is okay, then I’m okay. It’s called selfishness. And it’s ugly. If you haven’t noticed by now, my wife and I are having our daily devotional time in my Jeep. We don’t always call it that, but that is what this is – a time when we talk about our lives, our hearts, our areas in life where something in us is not lining up with the Gospel. Ours is happening in my Jeep today. Notice we are not sitting around our dining room table with my Bible open, worship music playing, our house spotless and a gourmet meal on the table. Nope. It’s going down right here in my dirty Jeep in the middle of morning traffic. Don’t get me wrong, planning your devotional times is a good idea. It gives you a time, place and expectation to get into the Word together, pray together and encourage one another. But there is a tendency to have devotional time, then leave the Bible, the prayer, the encouragement and the “speaking the truth in love” at the dining room table and get on with everyday life. We tend to isolate and compartmentalize “Bible and Prayer Time” while the rest of our day is separate. I am a firm believer that the more the Gospel can penetrate my daily life, enter my routines, and interrupt my schedule, the better I am for it. So if you are having difficulty nailing down a devotional time: Try having your “devotional” in as many places and times as you can in your daily routines – in the morning, over breakfast, on the way to work, on your lunch break, on your way home, over cooking dinner, over eating dinner, while you brush your teeth, feed the dogs, get in bed, etc. LISTEN to your wife when she is talking. LISTEN for opportunities to talk about Jesus to her. Deuteronomy 6:4-15 says something similar. Basically, God tells Israel to talk about Him all the time, to their wives, children, friends, neighbors. Think about Him when you get up in the morning and go to bed in the evening. All the time. The more you talk about Him, the more you will want talk about Him. It’s strange, but true. The opposite is true as well – the less you talk about Him, the less you will want to talk about him. There’s kind of an unspoken secret among husbands and wives that you may or may not know: If you don’t start off your marriage with reading the Bible together, praying together, speaking the Gospel into each other’s lives . . . after a while, it kind of becomes embarrassing to try it. Do you know what I’m talking about? There is guilt and shame involved, and you are embarrassed to try to lead your wife, or speak truth into your husband’s life . . . because you haven’t been doing it for months or years! You know you should have been doing a better job, but rather than start now, maybe it’s just easier to give up on it or ignore it. We hate that guilty feeling. Or maybe you just don’t know HOW to lovingly lead and are afraid of making mistakes. This guilt, shame, laziness and lie must be fought and overcome. Jesus is your spouse’s greatest good, so get over the embarrassment or the feelings of inadequacy. You need Jesus and so does your spouse. I want you to notice something – My wife and I don’t have kids. We don’t do devotions “for the kids.” Jesus, the Bible and prayer are not just for the kids – they are for us! Don’t wait until you have kids to start pursuing Jesus. Also, husbands and wives, marriage is your first ministry – not your kids, not how or where your serve in church, not your job, not your buddy who needs help . . . your spouse is where ministry has to begin. Genesis 2:24 says that: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” One flesh. Becoming one with your wife is an incredible calling and ministry, and it is going to take a lot of prayer and help from Jesus. Mark 10:6-9 reinforces that point. When it comes to loving and serving your family, your wife comes first. Period. This is why Elders have to be the “husband of one wife” and above reproach. Whenever you go into career ministry, are elected to be an elder, or are up for a leadership position in most churches, they speak to your wife first. Why? Because she knows who you really are. You can’t hide from her. She knows what your ministry looks like. Whenever the Bible talks to couples, it starts with the wives, then the husbands. Ephesians 5:22-33 commands women to love and respect their husbands, submitting to them. Then it commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church – sanctify her, cleanse her, wash her in Scripture, nourish her, cherish her, love her and take care of her as he loves and takes care of himself. I love this passage of Scripture. It is so weighty and beautiful. After all of this instruction for husbands and wives, THEN comes instruction on children and parents. You see, marriage comes first. Your spouse comes first. The minute your children begin to take priority over your spouse, the minute you begin investing in your children more than your spouse, the minute you begin preferring spending time with your kids more than you prefer spending time with your spouse, you have distorted God’s intention for you, your spouse and your children. This is why so many marriages end in divorce after the last child leaves the home for college – eventually the husband stopped pursuing his wife’s heart because it was easier to pursue his child’s heart. Eventually, the wife stopped loving and respecting her husband because it was easier to get love and respect from her children. After many years, there is no more relationship, no more investment. Husband and wife have become strangers and only relate to each other through their children. Don’t fall into this trap. The last thing to notice – I’m not giving you practical tips, encouraging phrases or 5 steps to a better devotional time. I can give you practical advice and steps later, but right now this is what you need to hear: You need Jesus. You can’t love your wife on your own strength, in your own wisdom, on your own agenda or with your own skills. You need Jesus to love your wife unconditionally, to lay your life down for her, to wash her with the water of the Word. You can’t do it! You’ve tried and failed. You need the Gospel at work in your heart DAILY. Otherwise, you are bringing a knife to a gun fight. You are unprepared. You don’t have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you. Nothing I’m telling you today will make any difference if you do not know, love and actively pursue a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ to the glory of God. Your motivation MUST be to honor and glorify God in your marriage first, NOT to have a better marriage, NOT to be a better husband, NOT to “do what you know you should be doing,” NOT to keep your wife from complaining, and certainly NOT to avoid counseling or the help you know you need. Your vision and goals for your marriage should be so high and lofty that they could only happen with God’s intervention. So pray. Ask God to change your heart, convict you of your sins of laziness, pride, negligence, lack of leadership, or others. Your ability to love and lead your wife comes from God’s love and leading of you first. If you are not reading the Word, not praying, not actively pursuing biblical disciplines, not consistently being convicted of sin, confessing, repenting, and pursuing holiness, stop reading this and go do what you know you should be doing. Loving and leading your wife begins with a change in your heart, not your actions. Otherwise, you will absolutely cause more harm and damage in the long run because you are doing all of this out of your own strength.