Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chapter 2 - Loving my Husband

I love reading anything by Alexander McCall Smith. He's not a Christian, but he often weaves questions of ethics and morality through his books. Some of his observations I don't agree with, but he comes up with some real gems too. One that got my attention recently was in a book called 44 Scotland St. One of the characters is lamenting that she 'can't help' being in love with a man who is not the sort of person she should be with. She says: "You can't stop yourself feeling for somebody else. You just can't." Luckily, she has an older, wiser friend with her who says this:
Of course you can change the way you feel about something or somebody. But it requires an effort of the will - a conscious decision to recognise what you have missed.
Carolyn Mahaney suggests something similar in this first chapter of Feminine Appeal. Loving our husbands includes (though it doesn't stop with) how we feel about them, and this kind of love (including the feelings involved in it) is something that Paul assumes you can 'train' someone to practise (v.4). (We depend, of course, on the Holy Spirit to give us the love God wants us to have for our husbands, but the Holy Spirit's involvement doesn't eliminate our own responsibility in the process.)

What does it mean to 'love' your husband? Carolyn Mahaney argues that 'love' in this verse means, or at least includes, genuine and tender affection, and bases her argument on the particular Greek word for love that Paul uses in this verse (phileo rather than agapao). My husband Dave knows a little more Greek than me, and I ran this argument past him; he was a bit dubious, saying that the two words are actually used almost interchangeably in the New Testament and in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and that there is a lot of overlap between their meanings (cf. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, pp.52-53). Having said that, though, Dave went on to suggest that the way that both words are used in the New Testament suggest that an element of real emotion (not just actions of sacrificial service) is involved in love - take 1 Cor 13:3, for example, where Paul says that it is possible to perform the most extreme acts of self-sacrifice for another person without real love. (You can read more about this in Matthew Elliot's book, Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament, ch.4)

So, I am to love my husband in a genuine, tender and heartfelt way. As Carolyn Mahaney points out, though, this is not always something that comes naturally to us after the wedding day. I thought her advice for how to maintain a tender love towards our husbands was very wise - especially her thoughts about being aware of your own sin and not focusing on your husband's faults.

This week, maybe I can start by making a list of things about my husband that are delightful, honourable, admirable, magnificent - "a conscious decision to recognise" some of the things that I might otherwise have missed, or forgotten, or taken for granted. And then maybe I can think of something to do for him to show him that I cherish him.

Pics from


Anonymous said...

The log in my own eye has caused me to miss out on a lot of my husbands good points. This part of the book really made me concious of adding up small hurts. I found this helpful... now I just have to pray that I adopt this new thinking for the long term, thats the hardest bit! How quickly we can fall back to bad habits. I am going to get a pen and write that list now! Thanks :-)

Justin said...

Are blokes allowed to comment here?

At the risk of using C.S.Lewis, who had a strong hand in popularizing the distinctions between the loves, may I share this quote?

William Morris wrote a poem called 'Love is Enough' and someone is said to have reviewed it briefly in the words 'It isn't'.... The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else, at first vaguely described as 'decency and common sense', but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation, must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet.

To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns. A garden is a good thing but that is not the sort of goodness it has. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it. Its real glory is of quite a different kind. The very fact that it needs constant weeding and pruning bears witness to that glory. It teems with life.

It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined.

(It is, in fact, from 'The Four Loves'.)

'It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself...'


Same is true, of course, in a husband loving his wife.

bee said...


I like what you said about really feeling the love for your husband. My husband Matthew wrote Faithful Feelings. His new book called Feel the Power of Listening to your Heart from Tyndale might be a great book for you. It really delves into a lot of the things you are thinking about in a new and challenging way.
To great marriages and really feeling love,
Laura Elliott

Jean said...

And can I add: when my husband and I were going through a difficult time after 3 years of marriage, the most helpful thing I did was follow the advice of a book to write a list of his wonderful qualities and be thankful for them.

It's a truly valuable exercise, and I do it mentally whenever I'm feeling disgruntled.

I guess it's just another aspect of being grateful to God for all that he has given us.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the book at hand to verify, but doesn't it say something about the kind of love required being less the sacrificial kind, and more of a fun and frolicking love? I believe Caroline warned women that we are a little too good at being good verging on martyrish, ala Martha, and not so good at enjoying our husbands.This goes some way too, to helping us girls 'submit', without gritting our teeth!
Here's to proper fences and weeding and cultivation as well.
After many years of striving to be a 'goodish' wife under fairly controlling conditions, I have thrown off my cloak of martyrdom, and am truly trying to orient myself to my husband and his needs,like a sunflower to its beloved and sustaining sun, whilst enjoying his and my long forgotten senses of humour. For the first time in many years, good things are starting to come of this. A little of our old joy is coming back. I also have clearer direction as to how God might want me to spend my day, practically, and to my husband's benefit.

Here's a question to throw out to all you theologians: can a garden still flourish with barbed wire fences? Christian ladies do suffer emotional and other forms of abuse, just like their secular friends, with the sort of insidious forms of control merely hinted at in Gen. 3. How does she go about life in such a marriage?

Nicole said...

Thanks everyone for the great comments (and yes, Justin it's fine for the occasional bloke to comment!).

Your questions were really thought provoking and helpful, Anon. I've had no first hand experience of a difficult or controlling marriage (and my parents' marriage was a very happy one too), so I may not be the best person to comment.

I do think that:

1. We can (and should) cultivate warm and affectionate love for our husbands (not just teeth-gritting martyr-love) even in a less than perfect marriage.

2. If the 'abuse' is the sort of behaviour that makes the house an unsafe place to live in, we need to get out for a time at least (1 Cor 7:11 style) not to find a better man, but to protect ourselves and the kids and to help our husbands realise how urgent the need to change is. (Even in that situation, though - and I've never been in it - I suspect we would still need to work on thinking lovingly about our husbands rather than giving in to bitterness and hate).

Others I'm sure will have given much more thought to this, personally and pastorally. So if you have comments to share, please don't hold back!