Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. Ephesians 5:33 (NRVS)
What I am going to share with you is very personal, but both my wife and I believe that there are some couples that need to hear these marriage lessons we learned the hard way. By the way, this applies if your husband is a pastor, a plumber, or unemployed.
About twenty-five years ago I asked my wife if I was her favorite preacher. She didn’t even pause but said, “No, Andy is.” Sadness played across my heart but only lasted as long as a bird’s shadow flying across a sidewalk. Her choice didn’t hurt very much. The reason? I agreed with her.
Sometime after that I was waiting for the light to change at the intersection of Florida and Kipling in a town we once lived and was thinking about my sermon for the coming Sunday when I realized something that shook me to my core. As far as my art of preaching was concerned, I was at that moment, age 34 or so, as good as I was ever going to be. Oh, I could improve my craft incrementally, but it became crystal clear to me that I was nearing the end of my potential as a preacher. That realization made me sad.
I continued to work hard on my craft, but the growth came slow as winter thaw. Then life happened. Then sin happened. Then I was invited to preach after a long time away from the pulpit. When the service was over, my wife leaned over to me and said that she had forgotten how good of a preacher I was and that she really enjoyed hearing me. Tears came to my eyes.
Then lots of wilderness wanderings happened, vocationally. Then restoration happened. Then I was preaching every week again in the town in which I now live. One evening we were hosting a small group from our church and the curriculum were we using was a set of DVDs about marriage. I don’t remember the speaker or much of anything about those videos save one paradigm-shifting evening.
The speaker was talking about how men need to be respected for what they do. That so much of their sense of worth is derived from how well they perform professionally. God’s design is that we strive for excellence in what we do to provide for our families. Everything good so far.
“And wives make sure you speak words of admiration to your man when he comes home. He needs to hear from you that you think what he does is wonderful. He needs to hear from your lips that you admire and respect him professionally. Never neglect this, ladies. I promise you there is an attractive person at work who is going to tell him. And if you haven’t said it and they won’t stop saying it, you increase your odds of losing him to her.”
I glanced over at my wife and noticed tears brimming in her eyes. Later, after everyone had left, I asked her what moved her so much about that clip. And she said something that was so insightful for both of us. She said, “For years people would tell you how good of a preacher you were, but you had such a big head in those days that I didn’t want to make your head grow even larger so I never told you how good of a leader and preacher you were. I should have told you. Maybe it would have helped save us a lot of pain.”
My heart was pierced.
We both felt the weight of that insight. I felt it in the stupidity of falling for the bait, and she felt the weight of not satisfying my hunger for strange fruit.
In recent months my role as a preacher has been fluid since our church merged with another church. I am not preaching every Sunday anymore. But last Sunday I was asked to preach at a friend’s church and when I was finished and we were walking out of the building, my wife grabbed my lapel and pulled me close to her and said in a whisper for my ears only, “God told me something and I want to tell you something.”
She said, “That was the best sermon you’ve preached in years. I needed to learn about trust. It really helped me. And God still wants you to preach and pastor.”
She has been listening to me preach for 34 years and even still the person who touches me the most with her words is the bride of my youth. I cannot put into words how deeply those words went into my soul—more valuable than gold.
Affirmation is by far and away the most desired ache for most men. They desperately want to be admired and respected. Of course they can turn that into an obsession and an idol. But I want to suggest to you that God has hardwired us to crave the respect of our wives. I am not sure why it is there. Someone smarter than me will tell you. But I know that it is in me and that the craving is still present lo these many years.
Would you allow my wife and I to suggest a method to give your man the admiration he craves?
Do your best to be sincere with your words of admiration. We men are idiots but we can tell when you are lying to us about what we do professionally. Better to not say anything than to lie when it’s bad. If you struggle finding something to affirm, keep looking and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. If you still can’t find anything worthy of praise, go see a counselor. You have other problems.
Also, be very specific about what you admire. Just saying “Good sermon” is nice but not as helpful as sharing where exactly God spoke to you through the sermon. And share the words as soon as you can. Be your husband’s biggest fan and groupie during the sermon. We pastors are vulnerable right after the sermon and on Mondays when we have to start thinking about the next sermon. One last quality that helps to Velcro your words to his soul is when you personalize it. When you specifically tell us what the sermon means to you as wife, lover and friend. Frequency is not as important as depth.
Ladies, I promise you no matter what everyone else may say, the person we want to hear from the most is you. Your words are balm for our souls and they may just save you a ton of pain. There are no guarantees that words of admiration will protect your marriage, but I can testify from experience that the absence of them weakens the bond.
Respect, you can’t give too much of it to the man God gave you. You might be surprised at how much love will flow your way when you tell your man how much you admire him.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11 (NKJV)