Husbands, do you love your wife? What if that question is changed just a little: did you love your wife yesterday? Could you prove it?
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You come home from a long day’s work and sit down for a nice meal with your family. As dinner winds down, you’re already scrolling through your DVR’s recorded shows list in your mind, planning for some hard-earned relaxation with the wife for when the kids go to sleep. Life is good. You notice there is a mountain of dishes left over from dinner. No worries. Last night you got ALL the kids ready for bed by yourself. And your wife usually tackles the dishes on her own. So, as long as you split kid duty down the middle tonight, then the dishes are obviously not your problem.
You and the Mrs. start to get the kids ready for bed. You make sure to do exactly half the work. If you have an odd number of children, that means you get two dressed, but only help one of them brush their teeth. Another option is, you take the two easiest kids, which is roughly equivalent to handling the hardest kid solo. (At bedtime, I often feel like a sports team captain in the schoolyard. Our oldest is usually the top prospect. She is potty trained and generally obedient, which are important stats in the nightly bedtime draft. But certain variables can change their rankings, like when the scouting report shows my youngest has recently had his diaper changed. If so, all I need to do is run a toothbrush on his sparsely populated teeth, plop him in the crib, and belt out a verse of Amazing Grace, which can all be done in under 3 minutes.)
Did you love your wife yesterday? Could you prove it?
Ok, back to my “hypothetical.” Sixty (!) minutes later, you and your wife are downstairs, kids are asleep. You sit on the couch, figuring you have some time to invest in your fantasy football team picks. From the kitchen you hear clanking dishes and running water. You should probably help. But you specifically got 1.5 kids ready tonight so there would be no justification for deviating from the time-honored principle of the 50-50 split. Your fantasy team needs you and you have already done your fair share. She can’t expect more from you tonight. It’s not fair. It’s un-American.
You start to hear that inner voice that is so well-versed in the me-first “ethic” of our culture. It casually observes: “You did your part already.” And, a little louder this time, it insists: “You deserve a break.” (Quick tip: whenever that voice in your head says you deserve something, it’s probably best to stop listening.)
One of the many problems with the hypothetical husband in this case (we’ll call him David), is that he thought he was ahead of the game. He figured his overall involvement in household chores and evening childrearing were “fair.” And his wife had no complaints about his level of contribution. But does the Bible merely call us to be fair (whatever that might mean) to our spouse? To do “our share” and nothing more?
He figured his overall involvement in household chores and evening childrearing were “fair.” But does the Bible merely call us to be fair?
Our first instinct in combating the type of thoughts entertained by our hypothetical husband might be to observe that on any given day our wives often work harder than we do — outside the home or otherwise. In my case, this is almost always true and it is important to keep in mind. But this way of thinking misses the point. What if, one day, I unquestionably had it “harder” than she did? Am I off the hook for serving her that day? And if so, how do I perform the necessary calculations? Do I look at how hard our respective weeks were or do I consider each day anew? No, that’s not what it means to be “subject to” (Eph 5:21) someone else. In fact, it sounds like a not-so-distant cousin of keeping a “record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5b). When you place limitations on when and how much you serve your wife, the best you can hope for is to treat her as equally important to yourself. But the Bible calls us to “regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3.). If my wife is more important than I am, then I should serve her…always. Not only up to a point. Not only when it’s “fair.” Not only when she’s had a “harder” day.
God asks us to give ourselves up for our wives (Eph 5:25), so maybe it’s not a big deal if we end up doing the dishes a little more. Maybe we should jump at the opportunity to serve her (Besides, a bunch of those dishes are ours anyways).
Any particular division of labor should be an unplanned consequence of reciprocal servitude, not the result of limitations we place on how much we are willing to serve each other.
Admittedly, an apportionment of labor develops in every household. Sometimes it’s the result of unilateral decree, mutual consent, or just entropy. But I believe that any particular division of labor should be an unplanned consequence of reciprocal servitude, not the result of limitations we place on how much we are willing to serve each other. It may be that you have a Proverbs 31 super-wife, like I do. And when both spouses are intent on serving each other without limitation, the end result might actually look a lot like the 50-50 split our hypothetical husband obsessed over and hid behind. But it will be fundamentally different. When you are serving each other without limits, you stop updating those mental accounts of who did what when. Pretty soon the arguments about “chores” that seemed to repeat themselves once a month will be gone.
So next time you evaluate how you’re doing in the husband department (like maybe now?), remind yourself: “Love must be sincere…Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 12:9-10). The core of loving your wife biblically is not about saying certain words or even about having a particular emotion towards her. (I would call the first idea “romance” and the second “affection.” Both are important aspects of a marriage, but I don’t think they’re the core of what the Bible calls “love.”) Loving your wife biblically is about serving her and honoring her above yourself. So ask yourself, did you love your wife yesterday? Prove it. More importantly, will you commit to loving your wife more today and tomorrow?
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