I read a very wise old man’s superb treatise on marriage. He said we all go into marriage thinking we will get our needs met by the other, only to discover that the other person went into marriage hoping to get their needs met by us. We went into marriage to be takers, only to discover that God’s total design was to be made like Christ via the marriage. He designed and uses the marriage as the slow fire that burns away our dross. In other words, God put us into the supreme object lesson of how to be consummate givers, expecting nothing in return.
Benjamin Franklin, not known for having particularly excelled in this area, nonetheless wrote the following lyrics ca. 1746 extolling the virtues of his wife Debbie (discreetly named "My Plain Country Joan" in his poem):
Of their Chloes and Phyllises poets may prate;
I sing my plain country Joan.
Now twelve years my wife, still the joy of my life:
Blest day that I made her my own.
Not a word of her face, her shape or her eyes,
Of flames or of darts shall you hear.
Though I beauty admire, 'tis virtue I prize,
That fades not in seventy years. ...
Some faults we have all, and so may my Joan
But then they're exceedingly small.
And now I'm used to 'em, they're just like my own,
I scarcely can see 'em at all."
[source: H. W. Brands, The First American (NY: Anchor Books, 2000), p. 175]
Ephesians 5:25 doesn’t read “Husbands, tolerate your wives” or “Wives, bear with your husbands.” That would be relatively easy. It says, instead, to love them, to be devoted to them, praying for them, demonstrating Christ’s nature to them, exposing them to His likeness day in and day out, no matter how ornery they chose to be. Could it be that this is, in fact, why God added that additional obstacle of making a man and woman’s very wiring different—that women are more relational, and men are more career oriented—to force the issue? Will we even strive to “leap the mystery” because we desire Christ’s nature to be formed in us so desperately, hungering and thirsting for His righteousness, to be made like Him, whatever the route He designed to get us there?
Let us study our mates, apply to God for how to love them, to grow in flexibility, magnanimity, willing to die to self over and over, to be slighted, forgiving being treated badly because of what it makes of us, to even be willing to be stripped of preferences and inclinations. (Our spouse is God’s problem.) God after all designed marriage. We have found Him to be wise in His other designs, so why not in this? If we determine to pick up the cross daily we shall be rewarded with the crown forever and ever without end. Not a bad exchange: a finite denial for an infinite glory. Let us apply ourselves to pass the test, incident by incident, day by day (not just on Valentine’s Day).
For a lively, practical book for wives, by a wife (yours truly), read Wise Womanly Ways to Grow Your Marriage.