An Encouragement to Young Husbands

A good friend recently got married and I was invited to his bachelor party, which in true Kentucky style consisted of shooting clay pigeons with shotguns (“shootin’ skeet”), grilling meat, and a very large bonfire. While eating our steak and porkchops, the rest of us there – all married – were asked to share some marital wisdom with the groom-to-be.

Now in my second decade of marriage, I thought back to my days as a newlywed, a sweet time which was also full of a lot of youthful idealism and pressure. As a young husband, I wanted to do this Christian marriage thing right. As a couple who felt called to missions among the unreached, I wanted us to discipline and focus everything about our lifestyle toward that end. I desired for us to be an example of a sacrificial, Jesus-centered marriage. These desires were not bad. In fact, I would say they were God-given. However, they were also paired with a rushed time-line, anxiety, and pressure. During this newlywed period I was missing what should have been a major emphasis of that time – helping my new bride to simply rest securely in my love for her.

Like many young believing husbands, I felt that shepherding my wife meant noticing weaknesses, projecting their supposed impact on our future, and offering correction and leadership accordingly. What I didn’t realize was just how much pressure on herself and anxiety my bride had brought into the marriage on her own – questions deep down in her soul such as, “Am I really a good enough wife?”, “Is he going to keep on loving me even when he knows my quirks and weaknesses?”, and “Does he enjoy ministry more than he enjoys spending time with me?”

Meanwhile, I was over here shooting down my wife’s desires to get some more clarity on her health issues by cutting bread out of her diet because I was worried about how that would impact our ability to show or receive hospitality from Muslims. Or concerned that her disappointment that most nights were spent on ministry relationships meant that we might not be very effective missionaries someday. I very much felt that we needed to get things like this right – and pronto – so that we could effectively minister together in the path to which God had called us.

I remember getting counsel from one of our pastors during our second year of marriage, talking about our frequent disagreements about how many nights per week should be reserved to simply spend time together vs. ministering to others. “It’s been like this our whole marriage,” I lamented at one point. “Brother,” he responded, “you’ve been married for a year and a half. Don’t say whole marriage like that. You’re still very much in the early days.” This comment began to wake me up to the arbitrary timeline for achieving “optimal marriage” that I was operating by.

Another moment of clarity took place that same year during a work trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The organization I worked for had put us up in a grungy extended stay hotel. We didn’t know a soul in Chattanooga. So, for the next two weeks when I wasn’t out canvassing the city, my wife, myself, and our newborn son were in the hotel room together, hanging out, eating snacks, and watching Downton Abbey. I was caught off guard at the end of the two weeks when my wife expressed her surprise at how happy I had seemed to just spend time with her and our son. “Of course,” I responded, “I’d always rather spend time with you than with anyone else.” “You really mean that, don’t you?” was her earnest, hopeful response. Though I thought I’d expressed this to her before, I realized that she had not really felt that this was true until we were cooped up together for those weeks in that small and gnarly hotel room.

Situations like these made me progressively more aware of shepherding emphasis I should have been embracing as a new husband – that of helping my wife simply rest securely in my love for her. There were deep fears and anxieties that she was wrestling with as a new wife, wondering if my love for her was works-oriented, dependent on her performance. Instead, I needed to model covenant love for her, the kind that not only told her but also showed her that my love was steady and not going anywhere – regardless of performance, conflict, or weakness.

In this season I began to visualize a beautiful, though small, flowering plant. The wrong kind of focused messing with the plant would eventually kill it. Instead, it needed stability, dependable sunlight, regular watering, and it would blossom. My nit-picking and projecting on the future were preventing the kind of relational safety that would actually lead to growth. The gospel logic of “accepted, therefore free to grow” was beginning to work its way into how I sought to shepherd my wife.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). I knew these words well, and swore by them. Yet my approach early on was overly focused on “fixing” my wife, rather than letting her bask in the warmth and rest of covenant love. I was skipping over the foundation of true covenant, the kind of steadfast love that constitutes Christ-like shepherding and eventually makes for the deepest change and unity.

All of this, in summarized form, is what I shared with my friend during his bachelor party. For any soon-to-be or new husbands out there, this would be my counsel to you as well. Take it slow when it comes to attempting to lead your wife by addressing sins and weaknesses. You have lots of time. And it takes time to wisely discern which things are worth addressing and which concerns are actually a reflection of your own immaturities. Release the pressure you are both likely feeling and instead lead by helping your wife to simply rest in Christ’s love and your love for her. Help her to know in her very bones that this love for her is steadfast, no matter what. As Christ has welcomed you into his rest, so welcome her. Do this, trusting God with your futures – and then sit back and watch her bloom.

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

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