Recently, I finished two short books about marriage relationships. The first, by Derek and Rosemary Thomas is called A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex, and Marriage. The second, by Joel Beeke, Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Compassionship and Intimacy in Marriage.
No, I didn't read them because I'm experiencing marriage trouble. I read them because I think it's always good to be learning about such things, and as someone moving into the "older woman" phase of life, I want to have good resources to recommend to young women should I ever be asked for reading advice. People at my church know I'm a bookworm; I get asked often for book suggestions. I also read them to comfort myself that I don't need to expose myself to lewd dialogue or suggestive writing in order to understand what "real" marriage is about. I was not disappointed in my pursuit.
Thomas's book is an exposition of Song of Solomon. It was one of the best explanations of the book I've ever read. Derek Thomas writes sensitively and eloquently, without crossing any lines, and communicates with precision. I really enjoy his writing.
Joel Beeke's book was a wonderful read, full of helpful encouragement, also sensitively written. This is the first of Beeke's books I've read. I will be reading more in the future, I am certain.
The issue of sex is a sensitive issue no matter how much the larger society tells us that it is not a big deal. It needs to be sensitively handled. If we want to understand why our young people have such distorted views, maybe it's because we as the older folks are not presenting it in the best way. When books on marriage and sex are written explicitly while at the same time being marketed for general readership, is it any wonder young men and women are obsessed with the subject? Explicit books about sex directed to young single adults gives them "permission" in a sense to become overly concerned with the subject. Leaving a veil over the issue of sexuality in marriage, and limiting the sex manual approach allows young people to learn without becoming obsessed. I'm definitely of the mind that healthy, biblical attitudes toward sex begin in the home and ought to be taught by the parents, but when I mention that to naysayers, I receive the comment, "Not all parents will talk about that with their kids and not all kids want to hear it from their parents." That is a sad situation and an entirely separate issue that actually demands a second thought.
In both books, one thing becomes very clear with regard to marriage, and it's something I already know, but it's something I always struggle with, as does every other married person: selflessness. Until I understand how very crucial being selfless is, I am going to struggle with marriage. All of the marriage books in the world, suggestive or discreetly written won't amount to anything if I cannot work at being selfless.
In Ephesians 5:22-30, the commands directed specificially to husbands and wife demand selflessness. I am a wife. Ephesians 5:22 commands me to submit. That means to place myself under the leadership and authority of my husband. That requires putting aside my wants and desires and following my husband even when I think he may be wrong. That isn't always easy. Likewise, my husband's command to love me as Christ loved the church demands that he be selfless. He is to love me in the same way as Christ loved the church, giving himself. That also demands my husband put aside his own wants. Over the course of our marriage, on both of our parts, we have been unsuccessful and successful at times in this behaviour. We both sin and we both seek forgiveness. It's just how it works. No matter how difficult, though, that is the goal.
When my husband was a young man, he liked skiing. I think he was probably pretty good. My first skiing trip was a very harrowing one, embarked upon after my engagement to him. It was a wonderful proposal, in the woods, with snow softly falling, and a St. Bernard looking on. We went skiing with some friends two days later. It was my first time. I wasn't very good. After brief instructions on how to snowplow, I encouraged my husband to go with his more experienced friends while I confined myself to the baby hills. That was a mistake. What was supposed to be skiing, for me, was falling down the Big Baby Hill all day long. I was going backward at one point and my skis came flying off. Those five year old kids whizzing past me skillfully became an object of scorn to me.
I don't have happy memories of skiing.
After that infamous exposure to skiing, I never went again, and my husband has not really, either. He has taken the kids on occasion, but it's something he gave up, and something I think he would not have given up if it wasn't for the fact that I really find the whole thing rather frightening. He willingly put aside pressuring me to do it. If he had made a big deal about it, I would have had to put aside my fears and press on. But he didn't.
He's getting rewarded for his effort this spring. I'm not a real bike rider. I like riding a bike, but riding in heavy traffic doesn't thrill me, and I've never had a bike that I felt comfortable riding. However, my husband loves to bike ride. I have decided I need to take this up not only for my health but for my husband, who willingly gave up skiing when I didn't like it.
These are just silly little examples. There have been more serious matters where we have had to sacrifice for the other person; I'm sure he's been much more selfless than I have. Biting one's tongue and mustering appropriate sympathy when your wife is bordering on apoplexy because someone was mucking about with things on her desk, is a demonstration of selflessness. There have probably been many times when he would have rather just had his say, but he remained quiet.
Selflessness is the key to any good relationship, whether our spouse, our children, or the people in the local church. Dying daily to ourselves is the best medicine for all relational harmony. It's a lesson I continue to learn, and I hope some day to look back and see that I've grown in that area. And if I'm going to recommend a book to a young married woman, it will emphasize selflessness.