This wise practical advice from C. J. Mahaney served me well:
It’s the final message from a one-day conference that occurred on August 23, 2012 at Southern Seminary: “Strengthening Your Marriage in Ministry.”
CJ’s message is so helpful that I’ve listened to it three times and watched it once with my wife.
Here are some notes I took:
- CJ tells how he met his wife, Carolyn. They’ve been married for 37 years. It’s all of grace.
- And it’s been 37 years of effort or work. The effort is grace-motivated and rooted in the gospel. But it’s effort. This kind of intentional effort can make all the difference.
- This is not a sermon; it doesn’t explain a text of Scripture. It’s entirely about application. CJ’s assignment was to draw from his experience and share certain practices that have served him well over the decades in his marriage. “This is about some of what I would say to you if I met with you at Starbucks.”
- CJ is speaking primarily to husbands, especially young ones.
- Here are three ways that husbands can nourish and cherish their wives (particularly in the context of ministry). But first:
- Qualification 1: There are many other ways to do this. CJ is not implying that you must conform to his practices. You should custom-design your own. But you should have some practices.
- Qualification 2: CJ doesn’t want to overwhelm you. He is drawing from 37 years of marriage.
- Qualification 3: We do this in the shadow of the cross. We have hope in our hearts because of the gospel.
1. Care for her soul.
George Müller wrote, “I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.” How can you be a means for helping your wife’s soul be “happy in the Lord,” particularly when you have small children?
- CJ cared for the children in the morning for a period of time so that Carolyn could have an unhurried devotional time and get ready for the day. This service at the outset of her day made all the difference in the rest of her day.
- CJ sought to help Carolyn with her spiritual diet. When the children were young, he shared books that emphasized objective spiritual truth. He wanted her to look outside her soul at Calvary and preach the gospel to herself. He didn’t want her to engage in unnecessary endless introspection. Nor did he want her to read books that simply reminded her of what she wasn’t able to do during that season of life and paralyze her with guilt each day.
- CJ sought to weekly give half of his day off to Carolyn. They tweaked this over the years given their seasons of life. When their children were small, CJ gave Carolyn three to five hours of unhurried time to read, reflect, shop, whatever; but it was a fixed time that she anticipated and benefited from on a weekly basis.
- CJ wanted Carolyn to have a monthly time with her girlfriends.
- CJ arranged for Carolyn to have a 24-to-36-hour retreat twice a year. These served her soul big-time. And when you plan in advance, the event can work itself back from the future and affect your soul in the present; you not only benefit from the event when it arrives, but in advance as well. And if you execute it well, you benefit after the event, too. One of Carolyn’s retreats typically occurred after Christmas; that was serving her soul in October as she anticipated it. And this made a difference in CJ’s soul as well because it was at least a twice-yearly reminder of how difficult her role and responsibility was! His kids would say, “Dad, we don’t normally go to bed at 4:30!” CJ learned that Carolyn’s role was not only more important but more difficult. A husband should not whine about how difficult his job is. “Our wives should be the object of our affection and appreciation on a daily basis for the way they sacrifice and heroically serve.”
- CJ protected Carolyn re her involvement in the church. Your wife is not the associate pastor. Help her identify her gifts and her capacity, and protect her from discouragement when her responsibilities in the home (e.g., when you have multiple small children) mean that she can be only minimally involved in the church. She is vulnerable to discouragement, so protect her. She can easily feel that what she is doing is insignificant compared to all that’s happening in the church. Be aware of her world. Encourage her that what she is doing is more important and difficult. “The most effective way you serve this church is by your personal example as my wife and the mother of our children.” There are limitations on her because of this season of life, but the most effective way she can serve the church is to flourish as a wife and mother.
2. Cultivate consistent communication.
- Your wife wants to talk. Your wife needs to talk. Your wife wants to talk to you. Are you making time for talking? If you don’t set aside time for talking, it normally doesn’t happen spontaneously.
- I am an advocate of a weekly date night, and this is informed by 37 years of rarely missing our weekly date night. Over the years we have derived a disproportional benefit from that weekly investment of time. Setting aside one evening a week has made a massive difference in cultivating our relationship and romance.
- Carolyn says, “I can wait to talk if I know there will be a time to talk.” So it serves her to know that there will be a consistent time to communicate in an unhurried, distraction-free way when the husband is fully present. Our wives need this.
- What’s your plan? What’s your practice? You don’t have to emulate my example of a date night. What’s your alternative? Is there a weekly block of time when this kind of unhurried and undistracted communication can take place?
- I know there are challenges involved (e.g., finding someone to care for the kids), but they are not insurmountable.
- You need to take an interest in her world and draw her out about her world.
- You need to tell her about your world. You may want to forget about your world, but your wife wants to be informed about your world. She is praying for you and can counsel you. It is a form of selfishness not to tell her about your world.
- You need to tell her not just about your world but about your heart.
- This doesn’t mean that you can’t have spontaneous communication. But CJ has found that if there are not fixed times for communication, the spontaneous times are a rarity.
- Carolyn said in passing to CJ, “A woman is more eager to make love to a husband who is eager to communicate.”
- You can’t deepen your relationship with your wife without this time.
- Guys are built differently. They think that closeness is the result of just doing something together. That’s how we roll. I can go to a game with someone and come back and say to someone, “Yeah, we’re close.” Well, if you examined a transcript of the conversation that took place prior to the game, during the game, and after the game, it’d be clear that nothing substantive took place. That was an evening of completely superficial interaction—when there was interaction (there were long periods of no interaction). “Yet you are going to argue that you are close friends?” “Oh, yeah. One of my closest.” That’s not how your wife rolls. Your wife actually believes that you do need to communicate in order to be close and that it isn’t sufficient just to do something together; it’s critical that you communicate with each other.
- You need to relate to each other, not just relax together. There is a place for relaxing together. But if your times together are primarily about relaxing and not relating, then you should be concerned.
3. Create romantic memories.
- Husbands, it is our privilege and responsibility to romance our wives.
- Too often romance becomes a casualty of pastoral ministry. But it does not have to be. With the husband’s intentional, informed leadership, romance can be a deepening and growing reality and not a distant memory.
- I would include a weekly date night in the romance category as well.
- Date night is not something we don’t plan. We don’t go out with no forethought or preparation. No, it is my privilege and responsibility to create a memory with my wife.
- This is informed by studying your wife. You need to know by studying her what would be romantic for her. I can assume that what I think of as romance she thinks of as romance, that what I think of as a surprise she thinks of as a surprise. Carolyn has no athletic background or interest in sports whatsoever, so if I say, “Surprise! Two tickets to the Redskins game!” that’s not going to land on her soul like it would on mine. Too often early in our marriage, I tried to bring her into my world instead of studying her. But I discovered what she likes about restaurants and the diversity of food she enjoys eating; she loves the city of Washington D.C.; she loves musicals (I grew up in a blue-collar family where it was about sports; I don’t recall anyone ever referencing a musical, and they probably would have been ridiculed had they referenced a musical). What joy it brings me to plan these dates, inform Carolyn of them, and experience the effect of them on her soul. I’m reluctant to share those examples because your wife may be completely different. She might not prefer a musical, or she may enjoy sports. The point is that you need to study your wife and know how she defines romance so that you can craft a date that serves you in the realms of both communication and romance.
- I’m sharing from 37 years of experience. I don’t want any husbands to be paralyzed by guilt. But I do want you to be inspired to do something. When is the last time you planned and executed a romantic memory for your wife? If it’s been longer than a month or two, it’s been too long. You’ve got work to do. You’ve got something to look forward to.
- If you don’t know what to do, study her and ask her.
Here is a simple weekly practice that makes quite a difference in our marriage. I’ve been doing this for many years, normally on Monday morning at a Starbucks:
- I think about my roles as husband, father, grandfather, and how I serve in Sovereign Grace.
- I think about these categories in relation to those roles: (1) How can I serve? (2) How can I surprise?
- What are the most important ways I can serve Carolyn this week?
- How can I surprise Carolyn this week? I always like Carolyn living aware that I am planning a surprise.
- This is a simple practice that takes 15-30 minutes. That little time has birthed so many ideas that have made a significant difference in our marriage, and it has protected us from being overextended in ministry. It helps me devote my life to what is most important. If I don’t prioritize and plan, the urgent will overwhelm and overtake the important every day of my life. Every day there will be more demands made on my life then I can possibly fulfill; I must so No to a certain number of people each day. It’s inevitable that I will disappoint certain people. And if I don’t enter each day clear on what is most important, understanding my theologically informed roles and goals, then I am vulnerable to all manner of urgent requests. But I can say, for example, “Will that be taking place on Wednesday night? No, I can’t do that because Wednesday night is date night.” Unless it’s an emergency, I protect that time. I fight for that time. And because it’s preplanned, it’s less difficult to say No.
- So what do you do? You don’t have to do what I do. But you need to be doing something.
- Husbands, without exception there was a time when it was obvious to everyone whom you were uniquely passionate about. You couldn’t stop thinking about her or stop talking about her and with her. You were always spending time with her and spent serious money on her. Is it still obvious? Ask her, “Do you feel more like a mother than a wife?” The most effective mothers are the most cared-for and romanced wives.
- C. J. Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004).
- Mike Bullmore, “Watch Your Planning: The Strategic Role of Personal Retreats”
- An Edifying Vision of Marriage