marriage

What I Didn't Learn in Seminary: How to Shepherd My Wife

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My wife, Charlotte, and I got married young. She was nineteen and I was twenty-one. I came from a good Christian home. My parents and grandparents were all Christians. Charlotte, in stark contrast, came out of a broken home. Both of her parents were alcoholics. They divorced when she was seven. At age nine she, her sister, and her brother were placed in the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home, where she lived until she was eighteen. During those years she almost never saw her parents. Her father did not attend our wedding, though he lived in the Atlanta area where we were married.

I say all this to point out that we came into our marriage with very different perspectives and expectations. I knew what a good home was and recognized that good was good. Perfection, though the ideal, would not be reached in this life since marriage is two sinners (saved by grace if they know Jesus!) living in close proximity.

Charlotte was absolutely determined not to follow in the footsteps of her parents. She was going to have the perfect marriage if it killed us both (and it nearly did on more than a few occasions)!

Add to this that we had no premarital counseling, for three reasons: (1) The year before we married, I attended Bible college in Dallas, and she was in Atlanta living with my parents. (2) The week before we married, our pastor—who married us—announced that he and his wife were getting a divorce. The one time we did meet with him, he apologized through tears, saying he really did not feel he could say anything to us. (3) In almost seven years of Bible college and seminary, I had exactly one class on marriage and family, which came outside my seminary education. I have no memory of a discussion on the home in seminary. None at all.

Given this background, you can imagine that our early days of marriage were quite challenging. Some were downright trying. Charlotte and I loved each other, and divorce was never an option, but all was not blissful, and the sailing was not smooth. We had some tough days.

I am writing this piece having just celebrated our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. I can honestly say that outside of Jesus, nothing has brought me more happiness and joy than being a husband, father, and grandfather. But it has been hard work, and no one in seminary ever told me it would be. I have learned through the years and in the school of “hard knocks” that there are things I could have done to shepherd my wife more effectively and lovingly. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn these things during my years in seminary.

I have had the joy of doing marriage and family conferences for several decades. You could say it is my spiritual hobby. Charlotte says I need to do at least one a month because I keep forgetting what I teach! Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of truth in those words.

When it comes to husbands, I first do an exposition of Ephesians 5:25–33. Then, I build on that foundation, draw from other relevant passages, and share seven practical ways to bless your wife day in and day out. I would argue that these ideas are true for every husband. I would also argue that they are especially needful for those who shepherd God’s flock. I wish I had been taught these things in seminary. But better later than never.

7 WAYS TO BLESS YOUR WIFE

A husband can be a blessing to his wife by loving her as Christ loved the church and giving her specific gifts of love. Here are seven:

1. Be a spiritual leader. Be a man of godly courage, conviction, commitment, compassion, and character. Take the initiative in cultivating a spiritual environment for your family. Become a capable and competent student of Scripture, and live all of life on the basis of God’s Word. Nurture your wife in her growth as a woman of God, and take the lead in training your children in the things of the Lord (Psalm 1; Eph. 5:23–27).

2. Give your wife personal affirmation and appreciation. Praise her personal attributes and qualities. Speak of her virtues as a wife, mother, and homemaker. Openly commend her in the hearing of others as a marvelous mate, friend, lover, and companion. Help her feel that no one in this world is more important to you (Prov. 31:28– 29; Song 4:1–7; 6:4–9; 7:1–9).

3. Show personal affection (romance). Shower her with timely and generous displays of affection. Tell her how much you care for her with a steady flow of words, cards, flowers, gifts, and common courtesies. Remember, affection is the environment in which sexual union is enjoyed more fully and a wonderful marriage is developed (Song 6:10, 13; Eph. 5:28–29, 33).

4. Initiate intimate conversation. Talk with her at the level of feelings (heart to heart). Listen to her thoughts (her heart) about the events of her day with sensitivity, interest, and concern. Let your conversations with her convey a desire to understand her—not to change her (Song 2:8–14; 8:13–14; 1 Pet. 3:7). Changing her is God’s job, not yours.

5. Always be honest and open. Look into her eyes and, in love, always tell her the truth (Eph. 4:15). Explain your plans and actions clearly and completely because you are responsible for her. Lead her to trust you and feel secure (Prov. 15:22–23).

6. Provide home support and stability. Shoulder the responsibility to house, feed, and clothe your family. Provide and protect, and resist feeling sorry for yourself when things get tough. Look for concrete ways to improve home life. Raise your marriage and family to a safer and more fulfilling level. Remember, the husband and father is the security hub of the family (1 Tim. 5:8).

7. Demonstrate family commitment. After the Lord Jesus, put your wife and family first. Commit time and energy to spiritual, moral, and intellectual development of your children. For example, pray with them (especially at night at bedside), read to them, engage in sports with them, and take them on other outings. Do not play the fool’s game of working long hours, trying to get ahead, while your spouse and children languish in neglect (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:19–20).[1]

These are things I did not learn in seminary. I had to learn them in life. And I’m grateful I learned them from expositing the Word of God!


Content taken from 15 Things Seminary Couldn't Teach Me edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr., ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

[1] For related discussion, see also Daniel L. Akin, “Pastor as Husband and Father,” in Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader, ed. Jason K. Allen (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017), and Akin, Exalting Jesus in Song of Songs (Nashville: B&H, 2015).

Daniel L. Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and is a council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Marriage Is Different—Not Better Than Singleness

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The idol of marriage weighs most heavily in my heart when I am overwhelmed with life,stressed with work, or feeling lonely in my community, because in those moments it’s easy for me to believe that a husband would fix so many of my problems, that he would lighten the load I’m struggling to carry. And while there’s some sprinkling of truth in this belief because there’s a line between believing things would be different and believing it would be better. And this distinction, of marriage being a better option than singleness, harms the health of the church. “People who are married might feel like they have to view marriage as superior to singleness, not just different from singleness, because they feel like they have to justify their marriages,” my friend Morgan says. “But what if they rushed into their marriages? What if there were impure motives or they were responding to family pressure and now regret it? Or they have doubts regarding their own marriage?”

If I’m doubting I made the right choice, it’s easier for me to make peace with myself if I can find the weaknesses in the other options I didn’t take. When I was at Liberty University my first year, I wondered if I chose the wrong college (because when you shove three eighteen-year-olds into a small dorm room and make them share a sink, one is forced to cling to the cross). There was a smaller school in my home state that I was constantly drawn back to when things at LU weren’t going well. In order to soothe my discontent, I would look up the other school online and criticize it in my mind: Look how small that gymnasium is. Can you imagine showering in there? I bet that girl is being paid to smile.

But here’s the thing—we don’t have to keep playing these roles. You don’t have to break down singleness in order to feel good about marriage. I don’t have to diminish the value of marriage in order to accept my single state. My happiness does not mitigate, or lessen, your happiness. And your identity is not a threat to my identity.

We don’t have to keep parading around marriages as the ultimate good in order to justify our undue emphasis on them. And for all of our efforts here, marriages are still falling apart. Abuse is still occurring within Christian homes, and divorces are still taking place. It seems that our idolization of marriages has done little to actually help them.

I want to share an e-mail with you from a male friend of mine who is married. He wrote it to provide a glimpse into the struggles of married life, to cut out the marriage PR. I hope that by reading it you’ll see what I see: that marriage comes with its own struggles. That marriage, like singleness, is different. It’s not better or worse; it’s a choice that can be made, a path that can be chosen, that has its own bumps and knocks along the way. And once all the flash is stripped away, it can be filled with suffering too.

The simple fact is, many, many Christians are unhappy and frustrated and even despairing in their marriages. But because of hang-ups or fear of how they’ll be viewed or financial reasons or just plain lying to themselves, they feel unable to do anything about it or get help for it. This makes it very difficult for them to create deeper relationships with single people, because it’s hard for a single person to understand that specific type of despair.

Marriage can be very ugly because it can make you feel like it takes some of the best parts of yourself and stomps all over them. It can turn perfectly good days into terrible ones because of stresses that have nothing to do with you and make no sense to you. It swallows your time and energy and effort. It can block you from things you’d like to pursue, ideas you’d like to try, risks you’d like to take.

I share this with you because it’s easy for singles to feel that they are on the outside looking in . . . lonely creatures peeking through the window into the warm, cozy lives of families. And that feeling is perfectly legitimate, because being intimately loved is certainly a wonderful thing, and it kills me that wonderful people like you aren’t having that experience.

But I think the other side is that sometimes (often!) married people feel as if they are the ones inside looking out: at freedom, and at opportunities for a loving relationship, and at a much more actualized life. They feel trapped in constant arguments, incredibly boring routines, financial inflexibility, constant judgment, and little to no hope that things will change. When they meet an attractive member of the opposite sex, they can’t spend time getting to know that person. When the opportunity for an adventure with friends comes up, it’s very difficult to make it happen because of the needs of the family. When the church needs money or help or volunteers, often one spouse is willing but the other is not.

I share these things because too many singles I know are hung up on the idea that marriage will somehow be better. And for some people, it is. But for some it is not. For me it is significantly harder. I wish I had known more.

Not all marriages are rosy bright, and I so appreciated my friend’s honesty in sharing this insight. As C. S. Lewis says, idols always break the hearts of their worshipers.[i] I’m not implying my friend is in this position because he worshiped his wife, but I am saying that marriage is hard enough already—why put even more pressure on that situation by setting it up for failure?

Perhaps the greatest rebuke to the idol of marriage is found in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We all appreciate the support of family, and those who are married love theirs very much, but we must comparatively hate them. We must love them less than we love Christ. Our joy in these relationships must pale in comparison to, must be completely consumed in, our love of God. That’s what we’re called to here.

When dedication to one’s family is being praised from the pulpit as the highest virtue, we’ve missed something. And if we continue to emphasize saving and restoring marriages at the cost of ignoring or diminishing singleness, there will be very few marriages left to save.


[i] C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” Verber, http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf.

Excerpt from Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness. Used with permission.

 

Joy Beth Smith is the author of Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness (Thomas Nelson). Find her on Twitter @JBsTwoCents