Marriage is often painfully hard. After all, marriage is the joining of two sinners, preferably if they are Christians (so saint-sinners) together in covenant before God. Marriage according to the Genesis 3 world is not perfect. In the New Jerusalem, there will not only be no more marriage, there will also be no more sin. In between Genesis and the New Jerusalem, there is difficulty, pain, hardship, difficult choices, and hard financial decisions. In a covenant marriage, one man and one woman vow before God, the pastor, and those gathered, that they will love, care, and cherish one another. And that’s a deadly serious vow, but it’s also a deeply rewarding one.
The early years of our marriage from my perspective were often difficult. I was unforgiving, unloving, and harsh at times. I had a lot of room to grow. The Lord has done excellent work in my life in over ten years of marriage. He has addressed, and continues to address, sinful patterns of thought and behavior in my life. The Holy Spirit is very good at convicting those who are His own. In fact, that is one of the means of assurance faithful Christians have that they are Christ’s and He is theirs. In this article, I want to sketch out something that I am still very much learning, so I will share openly and honestly; I don’t have all this figured out, and I don’t think I ever will. Even so, I am growing in these things. So with that said, here we go.
Friendship with the Lord is made possible because of Christ. Christ Himself says we are His friends now through His finished and sufficient work (John 15). And as friends, no longer enemies of the Cross, we enjoy union with Christ, and all the benefits of Christ Himself—including communion with Him. And such friendship is essential to a healthy friendship with our spouse and with everyone else. If we are not enjoying our friendship with God, we will not enjoy being friends with others, and we will also have little to no chance of maintaining healthy friendships with others.
In the past year since I stepped aside from local church ministry, when we moved from Boise, Idaho to the Mojave Desert in California, near Edwards Air Force Base, I’ve been learning about friendship more with my wife. I’ve been learning to pursue my wife better not just saying the right words with others, but doing them. However, I also need to say that I was already doing that, so please don’t take this statement as me not practicing what I preach. I only mean to say that I’m rediscovering afresh the importance of these truths for me, and applying them to my marriage more consistently.
My office in our new house is about two steps away from the garage. When Sarah comes in from working at the base for the day, I try hard to greet her. Or once she is inside, I come from wherever I am in the house to say, “Welcome home, I love you.” That is a tiny thing, but one that means a lot also. When on the phone, I actively try hard to listen to her so that she knows that I’m paying attention. I’m working harder to ensure that she knows I love her, treasure her, and what she says to me is precious and vital to me. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing these things before, to be clear, it was that I’m much more intentional about them now.
Men, friendship with our wives is not hard. We say we love them. We say we love the Lord. Great, now let’s combine what Jesus says about the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) here. Jesus tells us to love the Lord and love one another, especially our neighbor, as ourselves. If we love God, we will love our neighbor. Our neighbor is the “bor” (or body) that is “neigh” (or nearest) to us. This is our wife. Yes, we are in a covenant relationship with our wives. Yes, we are to honor, cherish, protect, and provide for them. But even more so, if we truly love our wives, as we say we do, how are we doing at pursuing her heart, loving her, as we say we love Christ?
I know that’s a tough question to ask, but it’s still a vital one. It’s one thing to say, “Well we are going to have theological dialogue.” Or, “We are going to have family worship time” (or whatever you want to call it). Even more so, it’s harder to sit and listen as someone talks about a topic (especially one we are not 100% interested in), including theology. I mean truly, genuinely listen, and be present. And we should delight to do this, as men, with our wives. But I have to wonder have we lost the wonder of conversation with our wives, as we first had when we first got married?
In some ways since moving I am rediscovering the glory of my wife again, and she knows it. When we first met over ten years ago, we would have extensive conversations about every sort of topic. We would listen to one another and chat; we would enjoy one another. We fell in love very quickly because of this. We enjoyed each other. But over time I’ve seen, not just in my marriage but in others marriages as well, that sometimes there is drift from these things. It may not appear right away. However, as I said earlier, it takes intentionality to stay focused on one another, and a lack of intentionality will mean your friendship with your wife will grow cold.
When your friendship with your wife goes cold, it is a reflection of a cold heart towards the Lord, make no mistake about it. As men, we are commanded to love our wives (Ephesians 5:13-33). We are taught in Ephesians 5 to love our wives as Christ has loved the church. Whether you take your wife on a date night, or every night you sit and talk, you should make time for your wife. Part of your God-given task is to shepherd your wife. How are you doing with that?
Even more so, your shepherding of your wife is a reflection of what you think of Christ. If you think so little of Christ, that you are apathetic about your friendship with your wife, and your shepherding of her, I have to ask the question, “Why are you, if you are in fact in ministry, doing ministry of any kind at all?” Those are hard and sharp words for a reason. I have seen men who are in ministry, who are only interested in the title and responsibility of ministry, and not interested in their wives and/or children. And yet, nowhere in the Bible are we told that we are to prioritize our wives and children after our ministry. Instead, we are taught that we should prioritize our family before ministry, the Lord before family, and the Cross before everything else. Jesus is either Lord over all, including our ministries, or He isn’t. It’s that simple.
And it’s especially important to say these things, because of our cultural moment in time. We are living in a time when marriages are crumbling under the weight of busyness. I get it; my wife gets it. Also, we are all so swamped. But, the things said in this article about marriage are to be the norm, not the exception to the rule. Every Christian is to have a sound and healthy marriage because they believe the Bible and the truths therein. If we say we believe these biblical truths and don’t practice them in our lives, we are saying by our lives that what we believe doesn’t matter.
Now, I get it, I really do. You’ll read that sentence and think, “Gessh, I have to be perfect!” And that’s precisely the point I want you to see right now. I want you to see that you can’t do this on your own, and your desire for perfection is part of the problem. By beginning to see and feel your insufficiency you can see the problem and also the solution. In marriage, you will face difficulties. How you deal with that difficulty says everything about your character at that moment. And yet, there is hope—there is the gospel which reconciles husband and wife to one another through Christ. So, how do we fight for friendship in marriage?
First, put away your phone. When talking to one another, hopefully during dinner each night (I know this is going to be harder for husbands and wives with kids), be determined and consistent to put away the phone and talk to one another. Find your wife in the house to say hi or chat for no reason. I was told by Sarah’s family members, to search her out and tell her how special she is. And that applies to not just around the house, but at the dinner table as well.
What better example, Men, can you give for your children, than telling your wife that you love her. You are showing your children that you love their mother (or step-mother) in such a moment, which will have an impact on them at a worldview level. What better example than finding your wife and telling her, perhaps when she made a nice dinner, etc., that you appreciate her. You are showing your children that you value the contributions your wife makes to the home. In an argument, instead of getting heated, you treat your wife with respect and value her words. You are also telling and teaching your children, that you cherish your wife, and desire to love her, not only in word, but deed. Putting away your phone underlies the principle of intentionality and of purposefulness in loving our spouse and giving her our full attention.
Second, take your family to church each week. Part of our responsibility as men is to love our families. And part of loving God is to go to church. While the church is a place, it is also a people, the people of God redeemed through the finished and sufficient work of Jesus. If you want to fight for friendship with your spouse, it begins with regularly attending church, sitting every week under quality, expository preaching taught by qualified biblical men.
Third, prioritize your own devotional life. There is no way to have a healthy marriage and friendship with your spouse, or anyone else, if you don’t spend time with God. We can say all we want about Bible reading being a delight or duty, and the whole host of spiritual disciplines, but if we are only making excuses for not engaging those, then we will not grow in Christ, and our marriages will suffer. Our friendships will also suffer, along with our local churches. We need to be in the Word, in prayer, and enjoying the Lord ourselves.
Fourth, find the time each week during which you can take time out with your wife to go out somewhere and enjoy one another. I know some people will say, “But, I don’t have the money for that.” That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It could be something as simple as a walk. It could be sitting on the back patio talking with one another, or watching a movie in your own living room. If we are going to grow in friendship with our spouses, it is going to take time. It takes time to work out issues and talk about financial issues, and to discuss theological matters. Such conversations are not one-offs, they are lifetime talks. Growing together requires intentionality.
Lastly—and this is indeed the most important thing—you are going to need to overlook offenses that you will commit against one another. With that said, you are also going to need to keep short accounts with one another. Wait, which one? Do I keep short accounts, or overlook offenses? It’s both and let me explain.
Let’s say, Sarah, says something to me that I don’t like. She offends me with the way she says it, but her words cut me to the heart and lead me to repentance. At the moment, I may not like those words, but she is saying them because she loves me. Instead of responding to the way she says whatever she says, I may say something such as, “I’d like to pray about what you’ve said and talk to you about it later.” That shows that I take seriously what she says, but would like to resume the conversation later, after my hurt or anger has cooled. That also indicates genuine care. If I walk away and say nothing to Sarah, I’m communicating something to her too: that I don’t care at all what she said, and I’m just walking away, not thinking or praying about what she said.
You see, I can choose to overlook the offense in the moment of her not talking to me in the best way (which may even be in a straightforward manner) that offended me, while also acknowledging that I will think about what she says. Or, let’s say, I say something dumb (No! Say it isn’t so!). I need to ask for forgiveness from Sarah. Within an hour or two, let’s say, I will go to Sarah and say, “I’m sorry for the thing that I did [or said], will you please forgive me for what I said and did?” She can say yes, or she needs more time and wants to talk about it later. This is but one an example of repentance and also of keeping short accounts and keeping the lines of communication open.
Marriage is hard, but it’s also worth it. Perhaps today you are in a loveless marriage where you don’t feel cared about at all. Before I learned to apologize and ask my wife for forgiveness, I can remember the first time, where I did ask for forgiveness of Sarah. I would ask her, and she would tell me (my perspective of this) to give her time and space, that she forgave me, but she needed space to process things. Now many years later, she can forgive me and say she needs space, and I’m okay with that (and the same with me, if she offends me—I forgive her and sometimes say I need space). Then we can talk later. Why? Because we know we love the Lord and one another. Over time, we’ve demonstrated that we can work out issues and build up trust with one another. We are friends with one another and care for one another.
I don’t know where you are at today in friendship with the Lord or with your spouse. I do know that some of this advice and counsel I’ve given will be hard for some of you to read, for a wide variety of reasons. My intent in sharing this is not to say that you have to do all that is suggested here. It’s to say, here is what has worked for me. I am still growing, as I said, in these things. Even so, friendship with your Lord Jesus and your wife requires intentionality and purposefulness. Such an effort is worth it all, in the end, to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. Additionally, it will help you to go from an elementary school education to getting your Ph.D. in your spouse, which should be the goal for husband and wife, in marriage, before the face of God.