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Entries in Marriage/Family (43)


I made an idol  

A number of years ago, I found myself at a gathering of women where I sat next to a woman who was my age (at the time, 38) but who was unmarried. I had known her for a while, but not well.

It was clear in the course of the evening that she had a lot of bitterness toward another woman there; a woman who at 42 was a newlywed. The single woman was clearly very angry about her marital status, and was actually quite rude about it, but people were gracious. I knew at the time that I could not possibly understand her feelings. I have been married since the tender age of 22. I didn't really know what to say to her. 

Years later, when we were having some difficulties with our growing family, there was a series of very difficult events where God began to open my eyes to the fact that I had made an idol of my family. Having a happy family was very important to me. Having a godly family was very important to me.  As good as those things are, I had let them interfere with something more important: seeking Christ in all things. When things didn't pan out according to my expectations, I was restless and frustrated. I put expectations on people that ultimately backfired and caused a lot of pain. I won't go into details, but I will say that this behaviour manifested itself in my putting too much importance on my children for my own sense of worth, and looking to my husband to be what God is meant to be. I am quite certain I bordered on Pharisee-ism with my family-centered talk, and insistence that the only path to true godliness is through a perfect marriage and perfect children. I'm sure my friends tolerated these things while wishing I would just shut up.

Some of you are probably thinking, "Wow, was she ever stupid."

Before you think that, examine your own heart. Sometimes, we don't see when this is happening. It has taken me years to see it, and it has not been easy.  The only reason I can even say this now is because God has been gracious to reveal these things to me and given me the strength to confront them and see them for what they are. I'm still far from perfect, but as they say, admitting one has a problem is the beginning of dealing with it.

The danger of making family and marriage the only path to godliness, aside from the fact that it's not a biblical principle, is that God can bring about a change faster than you realize. Tomorrow, my husband and I will attend the funeral of his oldest friend. Tomorrow, his widow will watch them lay him to rest. Her three children, ranging from 16 to 18, will watch them put their father to rest. This woman is no longer someone's wife. I'm thankful that she knows the Lord, and I know she will trust in Him. I also know her heart is breaking. We are not meant to be married for eternity to our earthly husbands; they will be taken from us whether we are young or old. If we build our identities in them, instead of Christ, who is eternal, we are walking on a slippery slope, not to mention putting our husbands in a position that no human is meant to fill.

I built an idol, and it was revealed to me. Every now and then, I feel like I'm picking up those bricks and starting all over again. I need constant reminders not to do this. I need constant reminders that even good things can become idols. I need constant reminders that only Christ is sufficient for me, that only He is worthy of my worship.

I occasionally see that other woman, the single woman whom I sat beside on that night long ago, and she is not a friendly person. She doesn't smile at me when we pass each other, or wave. I wish I could tell her now what I didn't know then. I wish I could tell her that she is complete in Christ, single as she is. I wish I could remind her that marriage does not redeem us, nor does having children. I wish I could tell her what I have learned. I don't know her well enough to say such things, though, and I haven't really spoken to her since that evening.

Everywhere you look on the internet, someone is extolling the virtues of marriage and children, and they are right to do those things. My husband and my children are a blessing to me, and a gift to me for which I did nothing to deserve. But they are not the greatest gift. The greatest gift is the life in Christ that I have been granted, also not deserved. And that gift should be front and centre in every relationship. When we worship Him correctly, we can withstand the changes that come.


Encourage others; use words, if necessary

I was an early reader and a fairly good student when I began school. In 3rd grade, I met my Waterloo: math.

At that time, I attended an "alternative" school which tried to make education better by having open concept classes, not enough desks, and teachers who, when faced with an eight year old who didn't understand her math work, sent her to the library to keep the card catalogue tidy. So much for innovative education. 

This poor foundation followed me. When it came to other branches of math, my lack of foundation made more difficult areas impossible. I felt stupid.  It was hard enough being the "new kid" every few years without being the stupid new kid who never passed a math test. It has always been a particular embarrassment to me that I am no mathemetician. I would study for tests diligently only to confront gibberish the next day. I learned early that math is indeed a language, and it was one I could not master. It was my lack of math strength that was one of the major reasons our kids went into public high school; I just couldn't do it after 9th grade.

When I went to university, I got a strange notion to become a nurse. I see now God's hand of providence in not granting me that. I'm afraid I would have had more in common with Nurse Ratched than Florence Nightengale. Nonetheless, I applied. This meant taking a test involving math. I quickly switched my timetable around and took Calculus for Arts students, which is what math students and other science types might title "Calculus for Dummies." 

It was grueling. Day in and day out of being reminded just how dense I was. This was my first year, and I was full-time at this point, and had four other courses with a lot of reading. The class was at 8:30 in the morning, and my next class was at 12:30, so I would return to my room and attempt to understand.

The other act of providence in my life at the time was the fact that my husband (then my fiance) was majoring in math. And he was the most patient math tutor anyone could ever ask for. He knew how to explain things in terms of analogies. He spotted what no other helper had spotted yet: my problems in high school math lay in the fact that my algebra skills were bad. Not being able to simply things was a huge problem for me. He would see the error where I would not. I would leave our tutoring sessions still feeling stupid, but knowing that I might understand enough to pass. 

And pass I did. The lowest mark on my university transcript and the one I'm most proud of: a C.

We talk a lot about encouraging others and what that means. Sometimes, we think encouragement is just telling someone something nice about themselves, or providing affirmation. It's much more than that. The word is in two parts: there is a prefix, "en" and then "courage." It comes from a Middle English word which was derived from a French word. The word coeur in French means "heart." The prefix means "in" or "into"  So, "into the heart;" that's what is at the root of encouragement.

The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines it this way:

1. To give courage, confidence, or hope to. 2. (followed by to + the infinitve) urge, advise. 3. stimulate by help, reward, etc.

My husband did all three of these things. He didn't write me off as a hopeless case, he kept helping me and giving me hope that I could do this thing.  His encouragement involved instruction and guidance as well as gentle correction. When I think of the apostle Paul, instructing Timothy in the pastoral epistles, I know he understood what true encouragement is. 

I started university late; I was 20 when I went, because I didn't graduate on time and then proceeded to work for a while. When I went to university, someone said to me that he doubted whether I would finish my education, and someone else, when I suggested I might like to be a writer said, "Better get a day job." That is antithesis of encouragement. In the back of my mind, in that first hard year, I heard those voices. Discouragement can be really powerful in a student's life.

All that to say this: encourage people around you. Use words, if necessary. I think, at times, in an effort not to foster pride in others, we don't encourage. However, sometimes, it's needed to give someone confidence. Occasionally, the difference between giving up and pressing on can lie in the lack or presence of encouragement.

Yes, God gives us the ultimate strength, but Paul didn't leave Timothy all by himself: he spoke words into his heart. I'm thankful that my husband knew what that meant when I needed it.


A husband's influence

This past year, one of the studies the young wives at my church did was the book Sacred Influence, by Gary Thomas. I have yet to find out from the participants how it went. I've heard a few rumblings about it, but I haven't read it myself.

I was thinking about influence in marriage, and I asked my husband if he thought I had influenced him. He said yes immediately, but he didn't have an explanation of the specifics, because he's never sat down to evaluate that reality.

I tend to be more obsessive analytical about such things, so I've thought about it on and off lately. Here are some ways. Maybe they are similar to what other women have experienced.

Put a lid on those emotions. My husband has always encouraged me to resist the temptation to react with emotion. I tend to do that. Most women do. Of course, it has not always been a smooth ride.  There are times when I believe my emotions are truth, doggone it!  But he has always worked hard to remind me that truth and emotion are not necessarily synonymous, and I must be guided by truth. God has granted me success in that department, although it has come slowly.

Cease venting. Women like to vent. Men like to "fix" things. That occasionally creates conflict. While I have spent a long time helping him to understand that there are times when I just need to vent, he has taught me, that, ultimately, a solution must be sought. The analysis, agonizing, and worrying has to stop along with the venting, and a decision must be made. He is good at letting things go, whereas I am not. He has taught me that the venting often gets us nowhere, and it has to stop at some point. He's right about that.

Pressure-free friendships. Through my husband's friendships with men, I have learned a lot about how to conduct female friendships. I have always struggled with them, likely because of some great flaw in my womanly character. My husband has never let his friendships control him. Often, women let that happen to their friendships. Female friendships often have way too many expectations and pressures. If you ever want to know what a man feels like, get involved with a demanding friend, and you may get a glimpse.

Men have easier friendships. They don't get their knickers in a knot when their friend doesn't call or notice their new hairdo. I have learned from my husband the value in expecting less from my friends and not feeling pressured by them. I have also seen that having female friendship that are too intimate can actually interfere with the friendship with my husband, and that ought not to be. 

Be a big kid. My husband is a big kid at heart. Some day, he's going to be an excellent grandfather. My dad used to do the silliest, goofiest things for my kids; things my mother would never do (like wear diapers on his head), and my children loved him for it. Now, when my youngst son was 15, and I frequently could not tell who was leading whom, his being a big kid at heart was frustrating, but by and large, it's a good thing. It reminds me not to turn into more of a curmudgeon than I already am. I'm afraid I am by nature a more serious person than is necessary; sometimes, his willingness to remain 15 at heart is good for me.

Cynicism can be good. I'm afraid my husband is very cynical. Two of his more frequent cynicisms are "people don't change," and "everybody lies." Yes. Dr. House says those things, too, but my husband said them long before that television doctor came to be. He is very cautious; so cautious that he almost missed out in having me for his girlfriend, and eventually his wife. His cautious behaviour has been one of the most influential things in our marriage. There are times when I have seen that I am not cynical enough, that I am too quick to open up, and ultimately end up feeling exposed and vulnerable. Lately, I have found myself thinking that I need to be more like him in this area.

I know that there are a lot of women who would squirm and object to thinking that their husbands influenced them in any way. Does his mean I am a door mat? Or a fool? Or that I don't have my own mind? Just ask my husband if he thinks I have my own mind; he'll give you the straight story.

It is inevitable that married people will influence each other. We are, after all, one flesh:

Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Ephesians 5:31)

This is about more than the physical union.  The physical union is part of a deeper reality.  One flesh means that one affects the other. The question is not whether we're an influence to our spouses, but rather, what kind.


Walking in a husband's shoes can be good

Here's a little scenario that many women may be familiar with.

Your husband does something that upsets or angers you. In your indignation, you decide to take the moral high road and say nothing. You don't entirely forget it, but as a good wife you let it drop.

A few days later, another incident crops up and this time, not only do you object to this one, but you bring up that other thing, that thing you were going to keep quiet about. You tell him, "Honey, not only am I upset about today, but you remember when you .... " and proceed to bring up the old business.

How do you suppose he feels? I can tell you he's ticked. I've done this enough in 25+ years of wedded bliss, and I know it annoys my husband.  It's frustrating to a husband to be completely unaware he's done something, only to have it thrown upon him days later. 

I didn't fully understand that until I had someone do something similar to me; and no, it wasn't my husband. But I found out what it was like to be in my husband's position. Yes, it was frustrating. 

The lesson learned is that if we're going to choose to remain silent about something and move on, we ought to do just that. Fortunately, this approach works with more than just marriage relationships. It works with children, parents, friends, and co-workers alike.

Sometimes, being in the husband's shoes is a really good thing, even if it does sting a little. 


Love isn't blind

Picture this.  You've had a struggle with a friend, or a co-worker, or maybe your own child.  You seek the counsel of your husband.  Mostly, at first, you want his listening ear.  If so, in order to prevent any misunderstanding, you say, "Honey, I want to talk to you, but I want you to just listen first."  He listens, and you tell him your burden. After providing the sufficient amount of sympathy and maybe a hug, he tells you calmly that he doesn't agree with why you are upset.  In fact, when he gives his counsel, it's mostly directed at how you were possibly in the wrong.

What do you do?

Well, if you're a young married woman like I was, you pout, get angry, and tell him he's not a good husband for taking the other person's side against you.  If you're older and wiser (I'm getting there) you listen and realize that love isn't blind.  Infatuation may be blind, but I don't think love is.  We may want to see the best in the ones we love, but it isn't helping them if we refuse to see the bad, either.

I Corinthians 13:6 reminds me that love "does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth."  Simply put, if my husband loves me, he will not rejoice in my wrongdoing.  If I am wrong, he must point it out for me. The hard part, of course, is hearing it.

I respect and admire my husband.  I want to think that he thinks well of me.  It hurts when he points out that I'm wrong. Despite that, if he loves me - which he does - he will not rejoice in my wrongdoing, but point it out and direct me to the path of what is right.  Often, that means he counsels me to be willing to be wronged or to see my own sin in the matter.  

If there is a case where someone has wronged me (especially if it's a male person, including our sons), he is willing and ready to defend my honour.  He has done that before, and on occasion, when he sees a situation where a man is overstepping the boundaries, he may say to me "Do I need to step in?"  And I have asked him to on occasion.

The flip side of that, though, is how often do I squirm and writhe in indignation when he says something else, like "I think you need to just be willing to be wronged," or "I don't think you have a reason to be upset; could you be over reacting?"  Ouch.  Those aren't easy times.

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.  Love rejoices with the truth.  That can be applied to every relationship, not just marriage.  When our children want us to ignore their wrongdoing because they think we're disloyal if we correct them, that's not a good thing.  We definitely need to show mercy, but ultimately, turning a blind eye to the sin of a loved one isn't doing them any favours.  If my husband is afraid to tell me when he thinks I'm in the wrong, perhaps he is doing it to keep the peace, and avoid my emotional outburst.  What a hollow victory for me. A wife who exerts control over her husband like that is the ultimate loser in the end, even if she doesn't know it.

I'd rather feel the sting and know he loves me.

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