Our As He Leads Us discussions began with emphasizing the role of the marriage relationship in the family and continued last week with briefly touching on how parenthood can strengthen the communication in marriage. This week we continue in our discussions on how parenting can enrich our marriages by examining the idea of increased opportunity to serve one another once the little ones come along.
In early 2008, I read a book that has had a life-changing impact on how I view the marriage relationship. Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage explores how the covenant of marriage and living out an active love for our spouse can teach us how to experience God and grow to be more like Christ. It is a profound and insightful writing that I find myself returning to again and again.
For me, the most pivotal chapter of the book is the one titled, “Make Me a Servant: Marriage Can Build in Us A Servant’s Heart.” Throughout the chapter, Thomas reminds us “to be a Christian is to be a self-volunteering servant.” He speaks to the fact that marriage with the intent of servanthood in mind runs completely contradictory to our cultural expectations, to say nothing of its opposition to human nature in general. Included in the chapter is a selection from Gary and Betsy Ricucci’s book Love that Lasts in which they observe that the homemaker tending to the laundry and washing a sinkful of dirty dishes may wonder about the significance of her work. They remind us that “in God’s eyes, nothing is more significant than servanthood. The path to genuine greatness lies in serving.”
Throughout the chapter, Thomas looks at how marriage confronts us in our selfishness and affords us the chance to become more like Christ in our choice to serve our spouses. He writes, “To fully sanctify the marriage relationship, we must live it together as Jesus lived his life – embracing the discipline of sacrifice and service as a daily practice. In the same way that Jesus gave his body for us, we are to lay down our energy, our bodies, and our lives for others.” These are challenging, convicting words, yet undeniable in the accurate picture of service modeled by Christ.
Before we had children, it was actually fairly easy to serve my husband. Yes, I was a high school teacher with responsibilities to tend to at school, but outside of the classroom, nothing else really tugged at my time. Of course I hung out with friends, was involved in church, participated in two book clubs, did volunteer work . . . but in our home and family life, I had the luxury and the freedom to focus my time and energy on my husband. The true meaning of sacrifice in the context of service didn’t become real to me until after I became a mother and had unceasing demands on my time, thoughts, and energy.
What I’ve noticed, however, is that parenting from inside a framework of gently meeting the needs of our babies has allowed me to be keenly aware of my spouse’s needs as well. In choosing a mindset of servanthood as I mother my children, it is imperative to call on Christ and ask Him to empower me in my daily tasks. As He fills me with his Spirit, I become sensitive to the needs of others besides my children; most notably, I am sensitive to the needs of my husband.
Kyle has risen to the task of serving me on so many occasions. When Dacey was a newborn and I was perpetually tense with worries, he would massage my feet with lotion each night so I could relax and drift off to sleep. When she was four months old and my body ached from days and nights of holding and rocking her, he sent me off for a ninety-minute message that felt like heaven. There have been countless evenings when the work of the day has taken its toll on me and I don’t have it within in to prepare dinner and he has forgone “real food” and picked up take-out on his way home from work.
For my part, I’ve chosen to iron his work shirts when I would have rather have lost myself in a new book. I’ve stayed up to give him a shoulder rub when I would have rather slipped off to bed. I’ve learned to plan my day so I can get a start on a healthy dinner before the chaos and meltdowns of the dinner hour hit.
Choosing to serve another when you are well-rested and have your wits about you is noble. Choosing the path of servanthood when you are sleep-deprived and suffering from Mommy or Daddy Brain is miraculous. We cannot truly serve anyone without inviting the power of the Supreme Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ. When I feel that I have nothing left with which to serve my husband, I’ve learned I must turn to Scripture for encouragement and prayer for empowerment. For example, I might turn to Romans 5:5 and be reminded “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” And then I might pray something like, “Father God, please fill my heart with your love, a love that is not selfish or self-seeking, but a love that esteems and serves others. Please fill me with your Spirit that I might serve you by serving Kyle today.”
I can say without a doubt that having children has enriched our marriage in boundless ways because parenthood has spurred me on towards service in ways I never knew possible before.
Before I spur you on to share your feedback, I have to make a confession. I wrote this entry as part of our chapter on marriage, and I was in much more wholly rested and serene place. Kyle was out of town last week, and so of course I didn't sleep well. And now AJ is cutting all four cuspids at once which means she is clingy and cranky during the day and is up for long stretches at night. I don't really feel like serving anyone today; all I really want to do is stumble zombie-like back to my bed and hide from everyone under the covers. So what I've shared above is definitely the ideal in my life . . . the reality is that this is so much easier to write about than to live out.
Having said that, what is your take on the the notion of serving one another within the context of marriage? Can you tell about a time when your spouse has served you in a way that made a significant impact on your life? How have you been able to answer Christ's call to service for your spouse? Has parenthood enriched or stifled your ability to serve your spouse? All viewpoints and feedback welcome!