One of the absolute FUNNEST things (I know that’s not a word but it should be) about doing the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge in 2015 has been to get to reach out to amazing Christian authors and have them actually answer your questions–and interact with them!
In January we looked at Gary Thomas’ book A Lifelong Love, and I invited you all to submit questions for Gary. I sent him four, and he’s sent me his replies! (We had a great chat with John and Staci Eldredge last month, too.)
1. What is the most important thing a wife can do to bless her husband?
Part of me truly wants to shout, “it depends on the husband!” Love needs to be particular to be truly felt, so to answer this question in a general way could mislead some wives about what truly is the best way to bless their individual, particular husbands.
But, having said that, my answer would be to build a devotional platform from which you are overflowing with God’s love, and to guard that platform like you’d guard a toddler walking through a crowded mall. 1 John 4:19 says we love because He first loved us. If you’re not experiencing God’s acceptance, affirmation, and encouragement at least daily, you’ll start demanding instead of serving. You’ll ask your husband to be more and more to you as God becomes less and less, which will increase your husband’s frustration and decrease your contentment.
There will be days when your husband doesn’t notice you as he should, or notices the wrong thing about you, and breaks your heart. How do I know? James 3:2 tells me your husband stumbles in many ways. On those days in particular, you need to receive from God. If you receive from him beforehand, it’s even better. In that case, you’re already prepped.
I know this sounds religious, but it’s so true. I am simply a much, much better spouse when the day starts by getting my mind right (through reading/study) and my heart right (through prayer and worship). Yes, you’re busy, but few things truly are more important. If we skip time with God, we’re saying we can love without God, and I, for one, have proven a thousand times that’s just not true.
2. How do you stay motivated to bless your spouse even in difficult times?
Some of you may be in a relationship that your spouse values about as much as I value our backyard (which is to say, not much—at least, not enough to do anything about it). If your marriage would just “happen,” they’d enjoy it. But they lack the will and the work ethic to make the relationship grow. There are other priorities that drive them.
Philippians 2:13 is an encouraging word for these marriages: “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (NRSV).
We often go to God for the “work” but forget to go to Him for the “will.” When things get difficult, before you can ask God what you should do, you may have to spend time asking God to help you care. “God, on my own, I’m so done with this! But please give me the will to make this marriage work, for Your good pleasure. Make me care again.”
Do you think God will hesitate before answering that prayer? Do you think He might pause and say, “Hmm, not sure I’m ready to offer that”?
If you feel one-sided in your marriage, it’s easy to lose the will. If you’ve been unsuccessful in bringing about change, it’s natural to lose the will. If you’ve tried every trick you can think of and your bookshelf is filled with every book on marriage published in the last ten years and yet your marriage is still subpar, it’s natural just to give up.
Have you prayed for God to give you the will? Christianity isn’t based solely on a bunch of beliefs; its heart and soul is based on a powerful and active God who can lift us above our apathy and limitations. God becomes the third partner, the uniting presence.
So let’s tap into this divine resource. We’re not alone in our marriages, even in our so-called solitary marriages. There may not be two engaged humans, but there can be—with your initiation alone—two engaged parties: you and God.
3. How can you figure out a common purpose, or common mission, with a spouse who is an agnostic?
Even if your spouse isn’t a believer, find something that pleases God that your spouse also believes in—raising “good” children (though he will define good differently than you, perhaps). There may be certain ministries—helping the poor—that he will share with you. Samaritan’s Purse is a great organization that is often a “first responder” to natural disasters. Maybe your spouse will help fill a children’s Christmas shoebox (given to underprivileged children) with you. In other words, find something that gets him excited, and let that become a joint ministry—even though you may not share a joint motivation (it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a non-believing husband to go on a mission trip to Haiti to help build a school for poor children, particularly if he’s into building things).
Secondly, the wives I’ve talked to who are married to non-believers and who did best figured out that they had to work to find common “non-spiritual” interests with their husbands. Relational intimacy is key to keeping your husband interested in future spiritual intimacy. For one wife, it was riding bikes with her husband (like, 100 mile rides!). For another wife, it was going hunting. You’ll never get anywhere by “punishing” your husband for not going to church with you by withdrawing from his favorite activities. Be the Christian—love on him, be a good, kind friend, and keep praying that God will use that friendship to open up his heart.
4. What are the first few steps in putting this into practice in a marriage where you’ve done the exact OPPOSITE for 20 years. How do you switch gears practically?
You serve no one by beating yourself up for what you haven’t done; take all that energy and instead pour it into loving your husband excellently now. All Christians live in grace, out of grace, and because of grace.
When it comes to treating your husband as God’s son, tape a copy of 1 John 3:1 to a mirror or inside your car—something to remind you of that precious biblical truth. And then start praying for your husband referring to him as God’s son. “Lord, help me love your son. Help me understand your son. You were there when he was little; help me figure out why he acts this way.” Just remind yourself as you’re praying that you’re talking to a very interested third partner. You then slowly pray your way into treating your husband like God’s son.
When it comes to living intentionally through the seasons of marriage, get together with a friend and describe what is most likely creating distance in your marriage right now, and then discuss how you can turn that around to build renewed intimacy. “Being so busy makes it so difficult for us to connect, so instead I’m going to think of ways I can help him be less busy.”
On the third part, that’s best met with a morning prayer. Simply wake up and ask yourself, “How can I bless my husband this morning?” Before he comes home from work, ask yourself, “How can I bless my husband this evening.” For me, I’ve had to mentally remind myself of this question over and over until it becomes second nature. It’s a choice to think this way.
I am so honored that Gary Thomas spent this long mulling over these answers and gave us something that is so practical but also uplifts Jesus. Love it! I was blessed, and I trust it blessed you, too.