Most marriages today are simply partnerships of convenience, instead of covenants in service. We focus on treating each other as equals instead of treating each other as Christ. Consequently, marriages are much less fruitful, less exciting and less fulfilling.
And with everyone else around us treating their spouses as only equals, it’s easy to forget the profound nature of what we’ve been called to and the magnitude of the promises we’ve made in Marriage (which, by the way, is fundamentally and radically different than what the modern State defines as a “marriage”).
We are to love our wives as Christ loved the Church. He didn’t love the Church as just an equal. Or as two friends who conveniently meet each other’s needs. Christ wasn’t just best friends with the Church. They weren’t just two individual entities who happened to be able to enjoy each other’s company as they each pursued their own individual ambitions.
And Christ gave his life without requiring anything in return. He doesn’t ever give up on us even though there are plenty of reasons to. He doesn’t get impatient with us despite our persistent shortcomings. And he never complains even though there is plenty to complain about. Imagine how amazing our marriages would be if men loved their spouses as Christ loved the Church.
Christ also took it upon himself to make sure the Church “might be holy and without blemish.” Do you take that responsibility for your wife? For her soul?
Yes, wives have responsibilities, too. But they are not your concern here, especially if you aren’t even taking care of your own responsibilities. Your vows you made to your wife were not conditional upon how your wife lived up to her end of the deal. Christ gave his life for the Church without reservation, condition or hesitation. And he did so despite the flaws of her human members and the inevitability that they would fall short time and time again. He loved the Church completely anyway.
And let’s be clear about something else. Many of us, when considering the idea of giving our life for our spouse, think about jumping in front of a bullet for them. Or we envision some hypothetical situation where we sacrifice ourselves to save them. That’s good, but we often miss the much more common – and more difficult – way we are called to give our lives for them. It isn’t in some hypothetical situation that we find in action movies. It’s what we are faced with every single morning when we wake up. It’s the everyday, ordinary ways we serve them. It’s always having them at the center of your thoughts and intentions. It’s waking up in the morning and thinking about your wife before you think about yourself. Serving her in every little thing you do before serving yourself. It’s radical – just like the vows you made.
So why do we so often fall short of this? Of course, living up to the ideal of Christ’s example is quite the task. And surely impossible without His grace. But I think many of us don’t even aspire to it. Here are at least three reasons:
- We forget. I know, for me, I forget that I’m called (and I’ve pledged myself) to a much higher standard than the cultural standard we’re immersed in.
- It’s hard. There’s no doubt about it. Don’t complain. Be a man and get over it. You’re not expected to be perfect. But you are expected to keep trying. If you fall short (and you will), try again. Christ fell carrying his own cross to his own death. He didn’t complain. He got back up again and kept going.
- We’re insecure. We are afraid of what others will think when we truly treat our wives the way we should. We’re afraid of what our wives might think when we do something a bit uncharacteristic of the man we’ve become – when we open up a car door for her, start praying with her, give up watching a big game to help her with something, bring her breakfast, apologize instead of argue, get her flowers for no reason or get up to take care of the baby (again) so she can sleep. We’re afraid of what the guys will think when they see you bending over backwards to make your wife happy. Do it anyway.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”— Ephesians 5:25-28