It is probably not a huge secret that years ten and eleven were the toughest Vanessa and I have faced in our marriage. And I have learned a lot about myself and my marriage through it. Now that we are into year twelve, I thought I would share with you some of the things I have learned.
First, stay the hell away from Lady Folly. Drink water from your own cistern. May the breasts of the wife of your youth satisfy you always. Seriously. Don't let yourself become enamored with someone (or something) else that ends up meaning more to you than your wife. Don't have a mistress.
And realize that mistresses come in all shapes and sizes. For some of us, our churches are our mistresses. For some, its our jobs or our hobbies or our porn or our whatever else it may be.
About a year ago, I had to make a very serious decision in my own mind - would I give up Vintage for Vanessa? I was really upset with Vanessa for even putting me in the position to make that choice. But the fact that I felt that way revealed that I had come to value Vintage too much and Vanessa too little. So one day I told her the truth - that I hope it never comes to this, but if it did, I would choose her over church. I meant it and still do. If I had to crunch numbers in my cubicle all day and never again prepare a sermon for the sake of my marriage, I would do it.
The commitment we make to our wives supersedes all others, except to Jesus alone. It might sound strange, but I tell my kids that I love Jesus more than them and I love their mom more than them. They know that they tie for third place - just ahead of the Browns (just kidding ... kind of) - but they know who are in first and second place. Hopefully I am teaching Calvin to love his wife ahead of all others. And hopefully I am teaching Mattie and Charleigh not to settle for any guy who doesn't love them above all others. I know it's cliche, but she's got to come first.
How about you? Would you give up your dream for your wife? Would you give up your job for your life? Would you give up fantasy football for your wife? (I had to make that pledge too a few years ago.) Would you give up your computer, your car, your toys, your favorite things in the world for her? Would you give up your life for your wife?
And ... if you would, how does that change the way you act today? Seriously.
Here's the other big thing that I have learned, and I can sum it up in one word - engage. I have always hated that "the man is the spiritual leader" talk we got in Bible college. (I tend to be very egalitarian in my approach to things.) But I guess there is some truth to it. It's the whole "head of the home thing." But to me, to be the head of the home doesn't mean to be a dictator or to always get your way - I sure don't. It means to be involved, to be active, to be engaged.
One of the most meaningful books I have ever read on manhood is Larry Crabb's The Silence of Adam. In it, he describes how Adam was with Eve when she disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. Why didn't he say something? Why didn't he involve himself? Why didn't he engage?
Whether it is money or decision-making or time-management or parenting or anything, we have got to be involved, engaged. We have to take an interest in the things that are going on in our home. We have to be involved in them. I fear that too often we swoop in in superhero mode to yell and scream and fix things once they get out of hand. I know I do that sometimes when my kids are acting up. But maybe things wouldn't have gotten out of hand in the first place if we had been engaged all along, not as superheroes but as men.
For me, this has meant that I have taken a much more active role in our finances. For too long, I let Vanessa carry the burden by herself, costing her sleep and sanity. I was content to keep my head in the sand, hoping that if I ignored it, it would go away. But this was not very loving thing to do. So, I engaged. Now, I keep a very detailed budget on my computer. And every Tuesday, Vanessa and I have lunch together and go through our money. We're still poor, but at least we're poor together.
What keeps you from being engaged? Fear? Sack up. Work? Go home - it will be there tomorrow. Your computer? Close it. TV? Turn it off. That overwhelmed feeling? Once again, I say, be a man and sack up.
And stop waiting for her to change. Most women are naturally responders. Once you begin to change, changes in her will come as a natural response. But even if they don't, it doesn't matter. Let your duty as a man motivate you. Let your hopeless romantic heart motivate you. Whatever it takes to motivate you, stop making excuses, and just do what you are supposed to do.
Guys, I know some of you are struggling. I know that some of your marriages are hanging by a thread. I know that if there are some of you in this boat out there, there are probably a lot of you in this boat out there. So that's why I'm writing this open letter.
And I know that marriage is tough - excruciatingly difficult at times. But I want you to know that I believe in you. I believe you can be the men God has called you to be. I believe you can love your wife like Jesus loved the church and give yourself up for her. I believe you can rise to the occasion and transform your homes. Do it.
And let me know if I can be of any help.