"Wives submit to you own husbands, as to the Lord..
Now as the church submits to Christ,
so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love you wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her...
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself."
I was recently sitting in a meeting with a group of people discussing things our church could do to foster healthy marriages. I pointed out that our men's ministry was doing a Bible study for men on marriage. I was very excited about this because this is the first time I have ever heard of the men doing this kind of study on their own. Usually it is the women in the church who buy books on marriage, who discuss it with their friends, or who drag their husbands to marriage conferences, hoping to learn how to have better marriage. One of the men jokingly said that maybe they would get a better turn out if they didn't advertise that the study was on marriage as he held up his hand in a feminine gesture. I know the guy was joking, but I was so irritated by the gesture and by his statement. Later I realized I was really irritated because there is probably truth to his statement.
As I have done research for different writing projects I've come across articles casting blame on the issue of men not rising to be spiritual leaders. Some articles indicated it was the women's lib movement that removed men from leadership. Some have said it is due to the harsh criticisms spouted by hurting, angry wives that left men too fearful to step up to their God-given role. Some have said it is technology and higher education that replaced the apprenticeships in which young teenaged boys learned a trade from grown men, which also allowed them to learn what it meant to be a man. Some have suggested it's the business of our culture and the long work hours preventing men from teaching sons how to be men. Some have suggested that it is the educational system that used methods of education that doesn't help young men to be strong men. Some have suggested it is due to the breakdown of the family unit that leaves dads less involved. Probably all of those things have played a part in the break down of male leadership, but I believe there is a whole lot more to it. Regardless of the reasons, we need to understand a profound truth--marriage isn't for sissies!
There are five reasons that marriage isn't for sissies. I believe our culture (including the church) has lost sight of the sacredness of marriage. Marriage wasn't invented by man, it was designed by God to reflect His love for the church and His relationship to her. Marriage was also designed to reflect the truth that God is a relational God and He created us to be relational beings. He designed marriage to be the most intimate relationship we have. It is to be what we call a "oneness" relationship, picturing the relationship between the members of the Trinity. This kind of intimacy isn't for the faint hearted, it requires hard work. It requires each person to give100%. everyday Men are called to love as Christ loved the church. That isn't a sissy thing! His love is a love that initiates. It is bold. It is radical in its expressions. It is hard because man from the time of the fall has been a selfish, prideful being. Because of this, to love as Jesus loves requires great amounts of strength, humility, courage, self-sacrifice, restraint, and faith. It is a love that stands firm in the face of hardship, relational difficulties, sin, hurt, and misunderstanding. It is a love that seeks to serve when ever thing in him wants to be served. It is a love that stands firm when everything in him wants to leave physically and/or emotionally. The gospels show Jesus modeling this love. Loving like this will be the hardest thing a man ever does because everything in him will want to demand his rights, demand respect, and to do his own thing his own way in his own time. Everything in him will want to give up, walk away, withdraw, and disregard his wife out of anger, disappointment, frustration, or maybe even out of lust. But the staying, the moment by moment choices to love, that is where really masculinity is born. Masculinity is men rising up and consistently doing what God has called them to do.
Conversely if men think women have the easier role, they are wrong. God has called us to submit and to respect our own husbands. We have the same flesh problems men do. We have to deal with our own selfish hearts that want what we want when we want it. We have to live down insecurities that tell us we are too much and not enough at the same times. Believe it or not, we have to deal with lust as well. We have to choose to be godly with all sorts of crazy hormonal fluctuations and relational demands that our families put on us. We have the crazy calling of being like Sarah who showed godly respect to her lying, fearful husband who cared more about his life than her sexual integrity. It takes as much strength, courage, self-sacrifice, and faith for a woman to submit to a very human spouse as it does for a man to fully love his wife as Jesus loved the church.
The second reason marriage isn't for sissies is because God has called us to covenant marriages, not contract ones. We live in a society that is contract oriented and we carry this orientation over to marriage. Sadly, there is a huge difference in contracts and covenants. Contracts are first written and then relationships flow from the keeping of the contracts and relationships end when contracts are broken. Contract marriages evoke a fear of abandonment which leads to two things. First, they lead to perfectionism and self-contempt. Second, they lead to a strong tendency towards legalism and self-protection and we end up looking out for ourselves above the other person. We watch his or her every move to be sure the contract is upheld. Contempt for others flows out of this.
A covenant marriage is different in that a relationship is first initiated and then laws, limits, and boundaries are established to confirm and protect both the relationship and those in it. We feel more secure in this type of relationship because the driving force behind it is love. The mindset of this would be for each person in the covenant to choose to act and react in such a way that the relationship and those in it are continuously protected. I know spiritual abusers can use the idea of the covenant marriage to act abusively and/or negligently, knowing the other won't leave because of the covenant and that kind of spiritual abuse needs to be strongly confronted. At the end of the day, covenant people wisely reflect on how they' themselves have affirmed and protected their covenant--their sacred marriage--and when failure occurs, they take ownership of the failure and quickly make amends.
Third, marriage isn't for sissies because it is a sacred ground for growth. Because of this it is a relationship that requires enormous amounts of transparency and vulnerability. It's a relationship in which old wounds and old messages get triggered. Due to the fall, when this happens, we have a tendency to blame our emotions and reactions on the one who triggers them. Out of unresolved hurts flow defensiveness, anger, hurtful words, and wounding actions. Think of people standing in lines in a department store at Christmas time. Some people wait patiently. They smile at others, send up arrow prayers for the overworked cashiers, let someone with less items go ahead of them, and play peep eye with the toddler sitting in the basket ahead of them. Then there are the people who sigh loudly, impatiently shift from one foot to the other, try to crowd the line, and make rude comments about the competency of those working. Every one standing in line is subject to the same trigger--the "wait." However, they respond differently because the trigger exposes what was in their hearts. Those with impatient hearts believe they are entitled and shouldn't have to wait. Their actions expose the selfishness inside. (I'm thankful for a few long lines that exposed the selfish heart in me.) Because marriage is the most intimate of all relationships, it tends to trigger our "stuff" the most. It exposes past unhealed wounds, selfish attitudes, defensive responses, and insecurities based on lies. Because of this it is the relationship that has the most potential to help us become more like Christ. And that isn't for sissies, because the exposure of those things hurts. and requires courage, humility, and plain old gumption to put down fleshly tendencies that cause us to want to control or hide from someone who exposes the messiness in our heart. It takes courage to not run from the exposure. Quite frankly sissies don't qualify for intimate relationships that foster growth.
The fourth reason marriage isn't for sissies is because when we marry we enter a very real battle with a very cunning enemy who seeks to destroy marriages because they were designed to picture the relationship Christ has to His church. Even though Satan was defeated at the cross, many of us give him power by believing his lies and his half truths--those lies that tells us we are unloved and unloveable, that we are too much and/or too little, that we are called to entitlement instead of servanthood, and that old wounds don't need healing. We also give him power when we listen to his cunning voice and allow it to draw us into sick bondages like eating disorders that rob us of life, joy, healthy, and human relationships, addictions that kill both the body and the soul, or into pornography which isolates, increases selfishness, and destroys the potential for the real intimacy that can satisfy the human heart.
Finally the fifth reason that marriage isn't for sissies is because it is the home base for raising the next generation of believers. There is no place better for sons to learn to be spiritual leaders who love radically, nurture gently, serve humbly, and fight the enemy aggressively to protect the covenant bond. There is also no better place for daughters to learn what is to be loved with godly love that values and protects their personhood, beauty, and integrity so she has the courage to wait for God's best. It is the best place for her to learn how to walk with God in such a way that submission and respect flow out of a deep abiding trust in God who is good and who radically loves her.
Could it be that it is time for us to change how we view marriage and what it takes to be men and women of God? We aren't just called to be "nice" people. We are called to be warriors and warrior princesses who are wise, recognizing the schemes of the enemy who seeks to destroy all that emulates God and His great love. Maybe men need to accept the fact that they are called to a radical love that takes more courage than anything else that they will ever be called to do. Maybe, women need to rise up and realize they have been called to respect their husbands as Sarah did which takes greater courage and grace than we can muster up without the Lord. Maybe it is time for men to live courageously and become passionate about marriage and women to realize shaming won't give courage. Maybe both men and women need to quit viewing their spouses as the enemy and quit being sissies so that we can fight together to defeat the real enemy. Joy comes from being the warrior spouses that walk in victory loving as He loves.