What's Wrong With Me?
There I was. Standing at the reception desk at the doctor's office, I was locked up. Stumped. I couldn't answer her simple question.
I hadn't seen it coming, this current dilemma. Thirty minutes earlier, my wife had asked me to call the doctor and schedule an appointment for her. Having placed the call, I found myself wrestling with their computerized call routing system, frustrated by having to listen to a long list of options, then make a selection. All I wanted to do was tell a human, "I'd like to schedule an appointment." So in a sudden surge of manliness, I simply hung up the phone and told my wife, "I'm just gonna drive over there and do this thing. I'll be back."
But I had failed to consider just how this thing would play out, and thus my manly executive decision-making process now ground to a sudden, jarring halt.
"Dr. Smith is out today, "said the receptionist, "but your wife can see Dr. Jones at 11:00, or Dr. Brown at 1:00. Which would you like to schedule?"
Silence, and a blank stare. That's all I had.
As the feet of the people in line behind me shuffled, their body language shouting the same impatience that had brought me in there to begin with, the permutative thoughts raced through my head like a bunch of '67 Buicks in a demolition derby.
Which time is better for her? Which doctor would she rather see? I'm gonna go home and tell her what I set up, and what if she says, "Couldn't you have scheduled it a little later?" What would I tell her? Would I basically lie and say, "No. This is the only slot available," or would I basically lie and say, "I don't know. I didn't ask," (thus admitting my own lack of consideration)?
And what if she says, "You scheduled me to see Dr. Brown? You know I don't like Dr. Brown. Weren't there any other doctors available?" Right now I have no idea which doctor she'd rather see, but I probably should! We've probably had that conversation. Of course I could basically lie and tell her there were no other doctors available, but I don't like lying, and I would probably get busted anyway, so that's not an option.
The receptionist politely focused her gaze. "What seems to be the problem, sir?" she asked. The feet behind me reshuffled once again. And now I'm faced with another question that I cannot, due to an array of personal fears, answer honestly: "What seems to be the problem?"
- I'm afraid of my wife.
- I'm too concerned with accommodating the needs or desires of others, to be a man.
I am incapable of making a decision that affects others, without checking if it's okay with them first.
As much as I'd like to think I'm a leader, I think I'm a poor one at best. I simply never learned how to lead, and to this day I struggle madly to find the right balance between compassion and determination, acquiescence and drive, consideration of others and diligence in the task at hand.
I'd like to blame others for my problem. In fact I blame society for much of what plagues me and many of my contemporaries, but I know better, really. I know I make my own choices. Though I've listened to other voices and allowed them to influence my decisions, the choices are my own, are they not? Yes, and therein lies the conundrum.
Marriage: The Filter of True Manliness
Every decent man knows he is not an island. Even a man who is able to say, "I don't need anyone else," if he's honest with himself, knows that this is wrong, and that he at least needs to need someone at some time. A real man knows he needs God, for instance, else he deludes himself. But can a man say, "I need God, but no one else."? Is this possible? Can this man be whole? Can he be healthy? And if so, then what would his interpersonal relationships look like? If he is married, does he need his wife? Should he need her, or should he properly be able to tell her, "I don't need you."? And should he give any regard to how such a statement would affect her, or how it would make her feel? Am I the only man who struggles with these things? Am I as alone in this as I feel I am?
But it just keeps getting thicker... I know that God doesn't need me; and I'm okay with that. I simply appreciate the fact that God has considered me, included me, and loved me. But can I extend that logic to my relationship with my wife? Should she be okay with the fact that I don't need her, being simply appreciative of the fact that I have considered her, included her, and loved her? Do you see where this is going? Shall a man compare himself to God in this way? And were he to do so, would his wife be wrong to raise the same question in hypothetical objection?
In my quest for godliness—in my attempts to become more like God—I have cocluded that one difference between God and myself is that God remains true to Himself, apart from my response to Him, whereas I am constantly changing my course in response to those around me whom I love. But, of course, God's plans are already perfect, whereas mine are not, and thus mine must never be closed to modification—including at the behest of those whom I love.
So perhaps the salient question for a man is this: "Who is telling you to change your course?" Is it God, or is it one of the myriad voices that will invariably desire to impose their own will upon yours, simply due to human nature? And can God speak to a man through his wife? Of course he can. But who decides whether her words are or are not God's words—him or her? The wife who thinks leading is easy and submitting is hard should think about this for a while.
Life truly is a battleground, isn't it? And it's a landscape of loneliness for some. How lonely Jesus must have always felt! For He was surely the most misunderstood man in all human history! Clearly, what sustained Him was His relationship with His heavenly father. Was He arrogant to acknowledge to Himself that His disciples were simpletons with regard to their understanding of God's plans, or of His own plans? Is a man arrogant to acknowledge to himself that his own wife is beneath him in her understanding of God's will for their lives? For if he never makes this internal acknowledgement, I don't see how he can ever act as leader.
It's a conundrum, for we all know how the narcissistic husband behaves, belittling his wife and children in order to maintain his own elevated position of control and domination. And if a man is at all conscientious, he will at all costs avoid any appearance of narcissism. He must therefore keep secrets, if he is to be a leader. Do you see the conflict?
God "escapes narcissism" by our willing assent to the fact that He knows better than us, for unless we are willing to agree with this fact, He is nothing better than a self-centered, egomaniacal control freak in our minds. Think about it: if we know as well as He does what is best, then God surely is a narcissist.
But a good and effective leader does not have a habit of continually reminding his followers of their inferior knowledge and vision to his own, though he knows this at times to be the reality of the situation. He therefore keeps secrets. He holds truth in his heart and mind that he does not share unilaterally or completely.
Wives naturally hate this. And when they discover its existence, they will commonly raise accusations such as,
"If you loved me, you wouldn't hold this attitude toward me."
"Marriage is supposed to be about equality. You obviously don't consider me your equal."
Maybe—just maybe—this is why wives are called to submit themselves to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24)… so that their husbands can lead.
This whole concept cuts madly and aggressively across the grain of modern societal thinking, and this brings me back to the start, where I blame society for my inability to be a leader.
But the ongoing mystery for me is this: Why am I the only guy who seems to be troubled by all this? Why do these issues apparently fall on the minds of so many men as being nothing more than a collection of passing curiosities, not worthy of deep or thorough consideration?
Is it because these men are not, in fact, very considerate of others, so they simply cannot identify with my dilemma? Perhaps when society was drilling into us, as children, the absolute importance of being considerate and sensitive to the wants and needs of women, these men just didn't listen. Maybe there's a piece of manhood that I was born without—some kind of self protection mechanism that kicks in to preserve a boy's manhood when it comes under attack by feminist thinking—by ignoring it.
Or is it because these men are actually less manly than they appear, and the introduction of my dilemma sets in motion an escalating line of reasoning that concludes in a place where they simply choose not to go? Perhaps most marriages maintain peace simply by calling a truce in the battle of wills. Perhaps most husbands and wives are content with maintaining something that merely has the outward appearance of marriage the way God designed it. Perhaps most men simply don't want to upset the apple cart by getting into the real issues of leadership.
Sometimes I wonder if I don't know how Martin Luther felt, faced with what he considered undeniable truths that those around him could not bring themselves to acknowledge. I'm sure that he wondered, at times, "What's wrong with me?"
And what am I:—some kind of prophet? Shall I think so highly of myself? No. I am no better, intrinsically, than the next. But I think I see something; I think God has shown me something that not everyone sees, or that many are reluctant to acknowledge. You decide.
The wife who thinks leading is easy and submitting is hard should think about this for a while.
Leading is easier than submitting for the wife because
She is not accountable for the outcome.
God has not charged her with the responsibilty to lead her husband and family, therefore God will not call her to account for the outcomes. Those are the husband's responsibilty. So leading is easy for her: she expresses her will, and she is happy if she gets her way, or alternatively despondent if she does not. It's just that simple. Leading is easier than submission, which requires setting aside her own will—often without even expressing it. Submitting is hard.
But for the husband leading is an entirely different ball game. A thousand times a month, a hundred times a week, ten times a day it would be so much easier just to go whichever direction pleases his wife. Submitting to his wife is just so much easier than taking the lead. Is it any wonder that so many men have fallen for this trap—bolstered and encouraged by society's feminist mindset? The real tragedy is that society will applaud him for his sensitive consideration of his wife, whereas God's divine judgement will nonetheless call him to account for every single time he forsook what he knew to be God's will in acquiescence to the immediate desires of his wife. Yet this is the norm for most Christian marriages today.
Add to this the fact that it is up to the husband to discover whether or not his wife's admonishment is a word from God Himself, and we should quickly understand that his faithful execution of God's charge to lead his household is no mean feat! Congregations pray for faithful and clear leadership in the government, in the church, and in the family. But do they pause to understand their own implicit call to submission in this prayer? Probably not.
Leadership and submission
When we are called to submit, we think leading is easier than submitting.
When we are called to lead, we find that submission would just be easier than leading.
Consequently, wives fail to submit, and husbands fail to lead. The end result: God's plan is frustrated, thwarted, neglected. We go our own way. We take the easy route, which in the end turns out to be much harder, if not devastating.
I have seen marriages dissolve. We have all seen marriages dissolve. In how many of those now-dissolved marriages did we first observe a clear picture of godly leadership and godly submission? Few, I would say. Specifically, I have observed the following cases:
- The wife is submitted but the husband is a tyrant.
- The husband is doing his best to make her happy, but the wife cannot be pleased.
- Both the husband and wife seek satisfaction in the pleasure of the other, but they just can't seem to make it work.
Notice that all three scenarios fall short of reflecting God's design, wherein the husband leads in love, and the wife submits to his loving leadership. See, God's design for marriage is a reflection of Christ's relationship to the church, His people, His bride! And what is the glue that sustains our relationship with Christ? Is it not the love of God? "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee," God has said (Hebrews 13:5)—though we routinely leave Him and forsake Him.
Therefore, I cannot escape the factuality (or at least the probability) that what is the glue that sustains the marriage, is the love—the decided, undying, immutable love—of the husband for his wife. I think few husbands understand the intrinsic power of their own decided, undying, immutable love for their wives, as it reflects, mimics, and conforms to the example of God's love for His people.
Do you see how this contrasts with the husband's ability to please his wife, or to make her happy? For those things are clearly dependent upon her own response. They are her choice, not his. See, God does not make us love Him. A loving response is our choice. Thus the husband must abandon any attempt to make his wife love him. Within this context, his is to love, as God has loved; hers is to respond.
Left to ourselves, we become tyrants
When the wife decides to ignore her Savior's admonition to submit to her husband, she automatically tyranizes her husband. Unless she gets her way, she will not be happy. She fails to realize that his happiness naturally is dependent upon hers. She is now his puppet master. She is a tyrant, and he is not a man. He is her slave. We men all know this man, and we call him "whipped." We chuckle, but we know it's not really funny, as we secretly acknowledge our own "whipped-ness."
When the husband fails to acknowledge the awesome depths of responsibility associated with his call to leadership, he readily tyranizes his wife. He fails to recognize his wife's need for validation as a co-equal counterpart to his own ego. He fails to understand that she is his perfect complement, whom God has hand-crafted to complete him. He thinks of her as an independent entity, who is there to meet his own needs. He fails to recognize that the question of needs is no longer a matter of his needs. Needs are now their needs, not his alone.
When a man takes a wife he is doing something immeasurably deeper—something of far greater import—than just finding a solution to his dilemma of loneliness and lack of physical intimacy with a woman. I think it will do every prospective husband well to consider that he is (or should be) doing more for his bride than she is doing for him—and then to always behave in accordance with that conviction. By this I mean not that he should over-value his contribution (that would simply be arrogance), but that he should always keep his actions and motives in check, seeking God's approval, in accordance with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, in all his interactions with her.
So where does this leave us men who see clearly that we have misbehaved? I think it's safe to assume that we all have misbehaved in light of God's charge to "love our wives, as Christ loved the church, laying down His life for her." (Ephesians 5:25)
I want to sound a call to husbands everywhere, in whatever circumstance they may find themselves and their marriage. Men, love your wife, as Christ loved the church, laying down His life for her! Your love, as it reflects God's love, is more powerful than you know!
But if your own happiness is most important to you, then your marriage might well be doomed. Your pursuit of personal happiness will easily lead you to thoughts such as, "Once this is over with, I can get on with my life," or "This is an impossible situation, and I just need to let go and move on." These sentiments are designed to facilitate your own immediate happiness, as prescribed by human thinking, but I implore you, if you aspire to godliness, to consider an alternate perspective.
God's own example, as He considered the destruction of His chosen people: He told Moses, "Step aside as I destroy these people and start over with someone new, who is more likely to reciprocate my love for them." (a paraphrase of Exodus 32:9). But Moses intervened (prophetically echoing God's own sentiment) and God relented, upholding His own promise of love toward a stiff-necked people.
So to the husband of a wife bent on leaving, I can only offer one example of how to respond: God, Himself. He is our example, is He not? What is the best love? What is true love? Is it not the love of God? How, then, should we love?
I personally am convicted that, should my wife ever decide to tell me, "I no longer desire nor value your love," my response shall be, "I'm sorry, but my love for you is not dependent upon your response, and it, having been instantiated and put in force at a particular time as permanent, exclusive, and immutable, is therefore irrevocable, and thus shall persist until death parts us." It's just that simple, and I am powerless to change it.
But since I am not God, I find the need to repent of sin. I find the need to ask forgiveness of my wife for tyrannizing her. Aside from the factuality of my conviction of love for her, I nonetheless need to humbly ask her forgiveness for my many transgressions against her. And "humbly" means "without expectation." Do I expect her to suddenly realize that I am actually God's gift to her, and that she should suddenly admire me and immediately extol my virtues? Pffft. We know that's not realistic.
But this I know: when a child of God gets honest before his maker, seeking His guidance for godliness, expecting only His promises in return, God honors that pursuit. Please quote me in this, and get on with it.
Life is not a State
Life is a process. The goal is a state, but in this life we are bound in a process, leading to a state: a state of happiness, joy, contentedness. Our marriage is part of the process, not the state, for we know that we will not be married in heaven. Mankind's error is in thinking that marriage is, or should be, a state. It's not. It's part of the process. I once thought that my marriage was the most important thing in life, but God has shown me that, actually, my relationship with Himself is more important than my marriage. This has brought me to the conclusion that my highest charge is to reflect and express God's love for others, especially my wife. It's somewhat counter-intuitive, but as I prioritize my relationship with Christ above my relationship with my wife, my marriage improves. I think God has designed it this way.
So to the man who feels he is losing his wife, I can only say this: Christ honors marriage. Therefore, seek Christ first. Hear His voice. What have you done wrong? Repent and make it right. You already know that asking your wife what to fix won't work! So ask God. Hear His voice. And let me give you a hint:
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, laying down His life for her." (Ephesians 5:25) Seek God's love, and impart it unto your wife. Infuse your marriage with God's love, not your traditional notion of love. Honor God, and let Him honor your marriage. In all things, act in accordance with your conviction of the Holy Spirit. Give up your own preconceived notions, yielding them to God's ideas. Seek the Lord, and cast your lot into His lap. God is faithful.
Sadly, There is a Point of No Return
Now with all that being said... I believe there exists a point at which God concedes that dissolution of marriage through divorce is, in fact, an acceptable course. We know that God hates divorce. He also hates sin, even as He finds no pleasure in the destruction of any soul. (2Peter 3:9) Yet we also know that some will nonetheless go to eternal torment and destruction in hell simply because they will forever refuse to repent and find salvation in Christ's sacrifice.
I therefore would not say that divorce is never an acceptable course of action, either in the case of extreme and conclusive rebellion of a wife, or extreme and conclusive abdication of responsibility of a husband. It is possible that God will absolve an innocent person of the responsibility of terminating his or her marriage, especially in the case that they were deceived, believing the best about this person whom they married, who turned out to be a deceiver, now renouncing the vows which they once openly professed.
It is one thing when a husband says, "I'm trying to do well, but I just can't seem to get things right." It is something different if he says, "Hey, I am who I am, and she's just gonna have to live with the choice she made." Likewise, a wife might obviously struggle with the whole concept of "submission to her husband," but when she says, "I don't like you, I'm tired of being married to you, you add nothing to my life, I find no benefit in being attached to you even though you provide for all my material needs. I want a divorce." Clearly, this is something different. A man can buck against this tide for only so long before he wonders why he even tries.
There is a point of no return—the point at which a wife or husband must accede to the objective reality that reconciliation is impossible. Don't look to your counselor or your attorney for this point. Only God can guide you in this, for your vows were made before Him. You may receive guidance from the former, but ultimately you need approval from the latter. Seek God; seek God's approval in all that you do. He will give you peace.
Go forward in faith.
Love your wives, as Christ loved the church, laying down His life for her.