Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cherishing Your Marriage

Virginia’s note: This is a slightly abridged version of the chapter “Cherishing Your Marriage” from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which I revised in 2007 Please understand that we don’t have it all together. I’m just sharing from my experience, hoping to spare you from hitting some of the “potholes” on the road we have traveled these past 25 years.

Cherishing Your Marriage
by Virginia Knowles

A loving, Christ-filled marriage lays such an essential foundation for a successful home school lifestyle. Does that statement fill you with hope or with a sense of despair? Perhaps you feel like your marriage has failed. Maybe you are already divorced and you don’t think this chapter applies to you. Or maybe your husband is not a believer in Jesus, so a Christ-filled marriage sounds impossible. Please keep reading, because I think you will find something helpful here anyway.

I just have to recommend a stellar book on marriage that I didn’t discover until after 20 years of marriage: Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy. Gary Thomas is one of my all-time favorite authors. This particular book has totally changed my perspective on marriage, just when I needed it most. I was initially resistant toward reading it, but the more I read, the more I wept and repented for my sinful attitudes. This is not a “how to” marriage book, but a deeper look into how marriage challenges us to grow. While it should be required reading for all couples, I think it will be an especially vital encouragement to those who are struggling with less than ideal relationships. More than any book on the topic, it has helped me to adjust my thinking to the firm foundation of Christian maturity in marriage.

Strong and godly marriages never just happen. Certainly no marriage is perfect. We all have room to grow. A healthy, enduring marriage requires much hard work and commitment, as well as continual repentance and forgiveness. It is tempting to coast along taking marriage for granted because, after all, we are home schooling, and of course home school families have it all together; if we don’t happen to have it together yet, well, we’ll just have to “fake it until we make it.” But what happens when the edges of our sanity become frayed at home? What happens when we are tempted to settle for mediocrity? What happens when we let the guard down?

Home schooling doesn't automatically immunize our marriages against conflict or even divorce. I know plenty of home school marriages that have already broken up, and even more that are on the rocks. If you are home schooling to build family unity, you can expect to come under constant attack from Satan. He does not want husbands and wives to love each other or bear and raise godly children. He will do whatever he can to break us apart, even in subtle ways. If we think we stand firm, we had better watch out lest we fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12) Some people assume that Satan only goes after the weaklings because they are an easy target that he can pick off easily. Some say that he only bothers to attack the strong folks, because he knows what damage they can do to his evil plans by extending the Kingdom of God. Let’s not be naïve. He will go after anyone for any reason! I hate to seem so pessimistic, but this is the truth. However, we do not have to be victims. God has called us to be overcomers, “more than conquerors” through our faith in Christ. But to conquer, we must realize we are in a battle.

When I first published this book in 2000, I organized this chapter around five dangers that war against a marriage in a home school family. In this new version, I’d like to take a more positive approach, and focus on these seven safeguards to protect our marriages instead. (Like a mama sneaking vegetables into casserole, I’ll still cover those dangers!)

  • Safeguard #1: Focus on Your Foundation
  • Safeguard #2: Make Your Marriage the Priority Over Every Other Earthly Pursuit
  • Safeguard #3: Respect Each Other
  • Safeguard #4: Forgive Each Other
  • Safeguard #5: Communicate with Grace and Purpose
  • Safeguard #6: Guard Your Purity
  • Safeguard #7: Steward Your Resources
Safeguard #1: Focus on Your Foundation

At least you have a common foundation in Christ,” my friend encouraged me. There was a hint of sadness in her voice, because she has what is euphemistically called an “inter-faith marriage” but which for her is a constant struggle. What keeps her going is her own strong faith in the Lord, which she had renewed after her wedding. I took her gentle admonition to heart. While Thad and I didn’t (and don’t) have the perfect marriage, we at least have Jesus together. That’s huge for me.

So does that mean you are doomed to failure in home schooling if your husband is not a believer, or is spiritually immature, or has glaring flaws that are adversely affecting your family? Not at all! But you are going to have to work all the harder at pursuing God for yourself, at training your children in God’s ways, and at building your marriage despite the hindrances. Even if you know the Lord and your husband doesn’t, your faith is still a foundation. Remember these words in 1 Peter 3:1-2? "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives— when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”

The passage in 1 Peter 3 goes on to extol the beautiful and quiet spirit that we all need as wives. Why? Not just because it makes for a happier marriage, but because it pleases the Lord!

At our wedding, the soloist sang a song I had written. One line of the chorus went like this: “Show us your purposes for our union, that we may glorify you, Lord.” Did we even know what that would entail? After more than two decades, the most important question for me as I look at my relationship with my husband is still, “What are God’s purposes for me in my marriage?” One purpose is to use the very challenges of daily life with my husband to shape me into his own image, to prepare me as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33) and not just the bride of Thad. And that’s a good thing! That’s where my eyes need to be: on Jesus, not on my circumstances. If my expectations are resting on the Lord’s grace and mercy, then I will be less likely to place an impossible burden of expectation on my husband. Likewise, my commitment needs to be on pleasing first the Lord and then my husband, not on pleasing myself. As I focus on the Christ’s faithfulness, it becomes my own, and I learn how to be faithful to my husband. As I contemplate God’s unconditional love, I become willing to receive it and give it to my husband. My foundation is secure.

One of the benefits of life in the Lord is that we are part of his earthly body. Our church family has played such a vital role in strengthening our marriage. First, there are the solid Sunday morning sermons that set our hearts on Christ’s way of love and peace. Then there are the weekly small groups where we can discuss how to apply Scripture in our daily lives and relationships. In our church, the couples in each small group meet together once a month to talk about marriage, often by discussing a book such as Sacred Marriage. It is through our conversations here that I realize how much we are not alone, that other husbands are much like my husband, and that other wives are much like me. This has been so liberating. At a recent couples’ night, a newlywed husband shared how when he and his wife have a conflict, it helps to pray together. This verse (Matthew 18:20) came to mind: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” If we want the best marriage counselor present, all we have to do is pray, and God shows up! I’m grateful that this young man brought up the idea of prayer to encourage the rest of us old fogies who have been married much longer. I am also thankful for our pastors, who have so graciously counseled us when we have hit bumps in our relationship. They are real human beings who have had struggles in their own marriages. So they do not see it as a sign of weakness when a couple asks for pastoral help, but as a sign of strength and humility. I think every marriage needs this kind of boost somewhere along the way! Our church also hosts family-building workshops and ladies’ retreats that have benefited my marriage. And finally, there are the friendships I have with other women who have encouraged me in fulfilling the good plans that God has for me as a wife and home school mom. What a treasure our church is in helping us focus on our mutual foundation in Christ!

Safeguard #2: Make Your Marriage the Priority Over Every Other Earthly Pursuit

Moms, you are certainly to be commended for all you do in home schooling your kids. But in all honesty, that’s not the very best thing you can do for them. Yes, I still think it’s the best educational option, but there is something you can do at the same time that is even more important: CHERISH YOUR MARRIAGE! I know you’ve heard it said, “The best thing that parents can do for their children is to love each other.” That is so true. Your marriage is the foundation for a healthy nurturing home. A strong marriage will facilitate a home school, but a weak one will destroy it. Unfortunately, moms can be so devoted to home schooling and dads so consumed in their careers that they become apathetic to each other and place the marriage relationship to the back burner. We think our mates will understand that we are too stressed out now for an intimate conversation or more. We think this will be temporary and that soon we will be “back on track” but it drags on and on. This leads to resentment, alienation, and loss of productivity. You will be worse than when you started, because now you need to take more time and emotional energy to restore the relationship and heal the hurts.

If your husband senses that the home school, hobbies, or ministries are replacing him as the love of your life (after God), he will resist you in your efforts. If you place him as the rightful priority, he can be inspired to lift some of your burdens and energize you to accomplish even more! We all need to carve out prime time for our marriages, even if it means laying aside other activities.

As you make your marriage a top priority, you will start to think about the very best ways to add zest to your relationship. You won’t be content to get away with the bare minimum anymore. You will want to invest fully into bringing joy to your husband’s life and building the kind of intimacy that is God’s design for marriage. Be creative! Here is a list to get you started, inspired by ideas given at a workshop at our church:

  • Find out what he likes you to have finished around the house when he comes home from work, and then make it a regular practice to please him by doing this. Or do one of his chores for him as a surprise.
  • Go for a walk and hold hands. Or lie on a blanket in the backyard and look at the stars. Or take a picnic to the park.
  • Don’t give up on date nights just because you have young children. Have a friend keep the children at their house and fix his favorite dinner, served by candle light. If your children are home, you can always put them to bed and then enjoy dinner at a card table in your bedroom. Dress it up with a fancy tablecloth, candles and flowers from the garden, put on some romantic music, and enjoy a gourmet meal or dessert. This doesn’t have to be elaborate; it could be just a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of graham crackers.
  • You may need to use some of your date night time to plan your schedule and budget or to sort through your family dynamics, but try to focus on the blessing of your “just the two of us” relationship.
  • Try to get away for an occasional weekend without the children! We like to go to historic St. Augustine (where we honeymooned) and stroll through art galleries, living history museums, and antique shops.
  • Keep your bedroom tidy, smelling fresh, and tastefully decorated. It should be a haven of rest for him. If you can, set up two comfortable chairs so the two of you can sit and talk in privacy whenever you want.
  • Give him backrubs! Oh, this is a daily thing at our house for both of us. Not only does it relieve stress, but it gives us a chance to touch one another lovingly and show our affection in practical ways. After all these years of marriage, we know exactly where to press by feeling around for the tense muscle ripples. Or you can wash and massage his feet after a long day on them.
  • Ask if you can plan Valentine’s Day this year, and let him plan your anniversary.
  • Buy a special treat for him at the grocery store, and make sure your kids don’t break into it! Keep a secret stash of his favorite candies, and bring one out once in a while! (Thad hands me a chocolate truffle every now and then when I’ve done a great job at something or when I look like I need a little lift. I don’t know where he hides them!)
  • Take time to write him a letter specifically telling him what you love and respect about him. You could cut out lots of hearts and pink and red construction paper. Write a reason you love him on each one and tape them all over the house. (The kids can do this too!)
  • Always have your “romantic feelers” out and pay attention to special events happening in the community, such as free concerts, art festivals, etc.
  • Hide a small cooler in his car with his favorite drink and snack to enjoy on his ride home. (Just remember to tell him it is there sometime during the day!)
  • Burn a CD with some of his favorite songs, or ones that are special to you as a couple. Put it in his car’s CD player. Or buy him a little MP3 player and load it with his favorite music so he can take it wherever he goes. We did this for my husband for Father’s Day, and since he doesn’t have a CD player in his car, I bought a speaker for it.
  • Pray for ideas – God will answer you!
A marriage relationship is for a lifetime, long beyond this short period of active motherhood. If you don't invest intensely in this intimate relationship, you may not have much in common when your children leave home. The couples who are still gazing lovingly into each others’ eyes at age 93 are the ones who either kept the fires brightly burning or who lit them up again after they fizzled out. If you think it’s too late because the apathy has already set in and the spark has already gone out, DON’T GIVE UP! You can start all over again, with the same guy. Rekindle, renew, repent, refresh, and rely fully on God. There is hope.

Safeguard #3: Respect Each Other!

“Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:33 (ESV)

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” We all know how to spell it, but defining it is another thing altogether. What does it mean? Is it something that someone has to earn, or something that we grant another person based on their position in life? Well, both. But really, the best kind of respect is what is freely given out of our own hearts, not necessarily because someone is divine enough to deserve it or dominant enough to demand it. The sad truth is, respect between husbands and wives is sorely lacking in even Christian home school households. I think a lot of it has to do with pride. I know this has been the case in my heart. It is easy for me to develop a superior attitude toward my husband, thinking I know much more than he does because I read more about parenting, or because I spend more time with the kids, or because I have a more intuitive personality, or even because I know how to use the computer better than he does, or because I have written books, as if any of that proves anything. At the same time, even when I am not dishing out the respect that my husband needs, I can hypocritically resent it when I don’t feel waves of admiration and appreciation flowing in my direction from him. So, I guess I have to admit that I’m selfish, too!

Yes, wives should be respected! We deserve credit for all of our smart ideas and hard work. We don’t want “this guy” coming home and asking what we did all day! A home school mom can feel that her creative talents and nurturing care are unappreciated since they are hidden away amidst the drudgery of paperwork, laundry, dishes, and PBJ sandwiches. We can whip out all of the lists on what a housewife would be worth monetarily if you had to hire someone to do all of that domestic stuff. So I’m not letting the husbands off the hook here. But, on the other side, how many of us wives are really making a concerted effort to pour on the respect for our husbands and their masculine leadership? When did he become “this guy” and cease to be the hunk we were gushing over on our wedding day? Your husband wants to be more than just a breadwinner, and God’s blessing flows through a home where he is honored by all. You want to be more than just a housewife, and what bliss in the family when your husband and children rise up and call you blessed!

So why is it so hard to respect each other? Part of it is burnout. Look, I know you’re tired. I really do! I have 10 kids – need I say more? Like me, you’re at very close quarters with active, curious children all day. To make it worse, your hubby probably faces the unrelenting drain of office politics, meetings, and phone calls. After trying to be patient with other people all day, it is easy to get irritable in the evening. It’s easy to tune each other out. Moms, please don't get so “peopled out” that your husband, your precious partner, feels unwelcome and disrespected in his own home. If you need a little buffer time in order to be civil, arrange to lie down alone in a dark room and relax for a few minutes before Dad comes home. Try to make his home coming pleasant with a fresh appearance, a warm greeting, and a tidy house. Give him a chance to take his shoes off and peek at the mail before he gets bombarded with the burdens of the day. Get the children to tidy up and practice their best behavior, too. We can learn to treat each other royally.

Some wives struggle with disrespect because they do not understand the inherent differences between masculinity and femininity. Men are different! We should not expect them to be always soft, sensitive, tender, creative, and intuitive. I can get irritated with my husband for being so logical and meticulous in his thinking or for “coming on strong” when he thinks something needs to change in our home, but in all honesty, I need to appreciate how he balances me out. This is part of God’s design for our family. We would be in huge trouble if he was just like me or if I was just like him.

Another thing that can hinder respect is that many of us did not have strong role models in this area while we were growing up. If you didn’t have Christian parents, or even if you did, this might be a generational sin issue that’s tripping you up. You’re just relating the way that you saw your folks relate, because healthy or not, that’s all you know! If this is true, acknowledge it, and then move on. You can do better than this. Don’t use it as an excuse any more. It’s got to stop sometime, so why not now, in your generation, before your kids starting using it as an excuse in their own marriages?

OK, so what do you do if this respect thing just isn’t happening in your marriage? I’m not saying you should start gushing praise for your husband if the well has been running dry for quite some time. He’d probably get suspicious and wonder what kind of “nutritional supplements” you’ve been popping all day. You can start small. The first step is to at least get yourself up to the zero line, if you’ve dipped below. In other words, zap the disrespect! All of it! Cut the criticism, nix the nagging, and wipe out the whining. Or, as Francis de Sales said in the 17th century, “Have contempt for contempt.” Expanding on this, Gary Thomas writes in Sacred Marriage, “Contempt is born when we fixate on our spouse’s weaknesses. Every spouse has these sore points. If you want to find them, without a doubt you will. If you want to obsess about them, they’ll grow, but you won’t!”

You will also need to stop undermining him in front of the children. “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” I’ll tell you, that wretched garden grows weeds of disrespect, because whatever we do, our children will imitate. And if they disrespect him because of your disrespect, then they will invariably end up disrespecting you, too.

The way you speak to your friends about your husband also reveals your own character as a wife. If you are grumbling and complaining to whomever will listen, it is likely that at least some of these folks will commiserate with you and agree with how bad you’ve got it. They might add in their own poisonous comments about “MEN!” that will not help your attitude or her attitude at all. Long after you have either forgotten the offense or learned to interpret it rightly, your friend might still remember your disparaging comments. This would not build the reputation of your husband among those who know him, and it might come back to bite you later. I find that I must train my tongue to be charitable when I am frustrated with something in my marriage. This doesn’t mean that I pretend everything is perfect when it isn’t, but that I want to be discrete and respectful to my husband, which in turn honors the Lord who gave him to me as my life partner.

As you start clearing away the clutter of disrespect that has trapped you in the negative realm, then you will be more motivated to move things on up to the positive side. Start simple with noticing and appreciating your husband for the way he already is – and tell him so! Pay attention! Nobody wants to be ignored. Even the little things really matter. He takes out the trash. He pays the bills. He locks the doors at night. He prays with the kids at bedtime. Whatever! Don’t take it for granted!

When you are ready to bump things up a notch from there, you will want to start soliciting his advice and assistance more regularly. Many moms consider the home school as their own private domain of expertise. Without intending to, they can easily shut Dad out of his leadership in this important area of family life. Moms sometimes jokingly refer to their husbands as the “principal” of the home school, but few actually treat him as that. Dad often has perspective to guide you through a sticky problem if you are willing to listen. Even if he doesn't seem as “spiritual” as you, don't ignore his counsel (see 1 Peter 3). He is responsible as leader of the family, so let him lead. There are some really practical ways that you can cultivate respect for your husband in a home school setting. You can ask him for observations as you are trying to discern each child’s preferred learning style. You can involve him in curriculum choice, and not brush him off if he objects to what you are already planning. Listen to him! If you are going to rearrange a room or the whole house to accommodate home schooling, seek his logistical input and his physical brawn. If he wants to tackle teaching math or science or history, let him! If he can take off time to chaperone field trips, glory be! Dad needs a sense of ownership in the home school. Now don't go and nag him if he doesn't want to do anything, but he should feel welcome to participate when he is able.

And finally, at the pinnacle of respect, learn to respond to your husband with your whole heart, beyond what he says or does. Start seeing him as the gift from God that he is, and treat him that way!

Safeguard #4: Forgive Each Other!

Let me say this right up front: You married a sinner and so did he! That means that forgiveness will be a daily necessity, so you may as well get used to it! I know this seems like a negative section of the chapter. But I want to give us a vision for something precious. Forgiveness is such a gift for our marriages! It allows each of us a way back after we’ve blown it in our relationships. It gives us a way to be like Jesus, who sacrificed himself that we may be forgiven and come into fellowship with our Heavenly Father.

“…and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:5-8

What a way to be like Jesus! What a way to restore fellowship with the ones whom we dearly love, even when they have been weak and offended us, or when we have been the guilty party and they forgive us! I hope that you are as excited about forgiveness as I am!

Let’s get back to that concept of “You married a sinner and so did he.” This is such a key to humble restoration in marriage. Elisabeth Elliot says:

“The consciousness that we are alike in our need of redemption is a liberating one. For there will be times when you find yourself accusing, criticizing, resenting… But you will find yourself disarmed utterly, and your accusing spirit transformed into loving forgiveness the moment you remember that you did, in fact, marry only a sinner, and so did he. It’s grace you both need… you love, accept, and forgive that sinner as you yourself expect to be loved, accepted and forgiven. You know that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and this includes your husband who comes short, also, of some of the glories you expected to find in him. Come to terms with this once and for all and then walk beside him as “heirs together of the grace of life.”

Gary Thomas, in Sacred Marriage, heartily concurs:

“The key to the discipline of fellowship is understanding this fundamental reality: All of us face struggles, and each one of us is currently facing a struggle that we’re having less than one hundred percent success overcoming. If we’re married, the fact is we’re also married to someone who is failing in some way. We can respond to this “bitter juice” by becoming bitter people, or we can use it as a spiritual discipline and transform its exercise into the honey of a holy life. In this fallen world, struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness are a given. The only question is whether our response to these struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness will draw us closer to God – or whether it will estrange us from ourselves, our Creator, and each other. Will we fall forward, or will we fall away?”

I personally want to move toward my husband. I’ve had enough of closing myself off, of hiding behind a stiff barrier of pride because I didn’t feel like dealing with how he could possibly hurt my feelings if I opened up to him. I found that bitterness and an unforgiving spirit tended to quench my affection for my husband. Bitterness will take you where you do not want to go and keep you there far longer than you think you can bear to stay. It will defile your children, too.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…” Hebrews 12:15 (ESV)

Bitterness is a prison, but the door latch is on the inside of the cell. You can walk out whenever you choose to forgive from the heart. No, this isn’t easy, but the alternative is far more arduous. Which would you rather have, a life set free to rebuild your marriage, or a life chained and corroded by the acid of an unforgiving spirit?

Forgiving your husband does not mean that you ignore his sin. If you sweep the issues under the carpet, they won’t go away. They will just make your walk very lumpy! Yes, there are offenses that we can just choose to overlook, especially as we remember that all of us have bad moods once in a while, and that we don’t have to take every misunderstanding as a personal attack. However, if your husband has sinned against you and this continues to affect your relationship adversely, you may still need to confront him with gentleness and respect.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 7:3b-4

Of course, before you speak to your husband about his faults, you must remove the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck from his, as Matthew 7:1-5 admonishes us.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

And when you do bring up an observation about his behavior and appeal for him to change, you need to guard against a tendency to keep nagging him about it. You are not his personal Holy Spirit. Intercessory prayer is much more effective than nagging! If there is an unresolved issue that hinders your family's unity, ask God to help you find specific ways to break it down in love. Then follow through!

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15

And do you know what I am thankful for? The ability to do just those very things – be patient, be humble, be meek, be kind, bear with my husband’s foibles, and forgive him! What a privilege! Praise the Lord!

Safeguard #5: Communicate with Grace and Purpose!

Communication is another precious gift from God. Being able to share our thoughts, our ideas, and even our deepest feelings with someone we love is one of the main reasons we get married in the first place. It was probably so easy for you to talk with your darling before you got married, but you’ve probably found that it is not so easy after the honeymoon! Yes, communicating wisely and graciously with your husband will take work, time, and patience. We have to think about what we are going to say, and how it will benefit the other person. We can’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to our lips. The goal of communication is to build our marriages, so manipulation needs to be banned from our conversations!

Miscommunication is a very common problem in Christian marriages. I know what I am thinking in my head, but my words do not always communicate my assumptions. The problem is that I think they do, and I get frustrated if he doesn’t “get it” the way I meant it. And if my husband doesn’t understand me, it’s his own fault, isn’t it? That sounds laughable, but that’s how so many of us operate. We don’t realize how differently we process information, either because of our own background, or our personality style, or whatever else may be affecting how we think.

Clarifying your expectations for one another will also help build your marriage. What do you and your husband expect from each other and the children? Are your expectations reasonable and suited to your own situation? Have you communicated them clearly and tactfully and given them ample time? (Whatever our expectations are, we must put them in the hands of God, who is the only one perfectly able to meet our needs as husbands and wives.) Periodically ask your husband to be specific about what he wants from you. What is most important to him? This will vary from husband to husband. You can't please your own man by assuming he is just like your friend's husband. Ask your honey to make a list of things that he thinks are important for you or your family to do or be. Beside each item, ask him to mark “A” for very important, “B” for moderately important or “C” for less important. If something is vague, prompt him to add descriptive detail. When he says that he likes an attractive wife, is he talking about a calm spirit or a new hair-do? If he wants a clean house, does he want you to scrub nooks and crannies or just keep the clutter at bay? What kind of home school does he envision? For fellowship, does he want to have another family over for dinner every month or go to a midweek class at church? What kinds of food does he like? Give him the freedom to share his heart! To paraphrase Shakespeare, “How shall I love thee? Please list for me the ways!”

So many of our communication problems arise because we aren’t clear in what we say, and we get frustrated at not being understood. But then there are times when we actually intend to be harsh because we are angry. Oh, we’re speaking “the truth” as we see it, but there is no love in either words or tone of voice. But there needs to be, no matter how we feel. I often tell my bickering children, “No matter what he says or does or how you feel about it, you must be kind!” Those are good words for our marriages as well! How many problems could be avoided if we would just heed the wise words of Scripture?

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

So what do you do when there is a serious breakdown in your communication? I’ve been there, so I am not writing from the ivory tower. There was a time in our marriage when I realized that something needed to drastically change in the way Thad and I related to each other. Wishing wasn’t going to make it better, and reacting in anger only made it worse. I had to do something positive, something redemptive. (Gary Thomas later confirmed this for me in his book Sacred Influence: What a Man Needs from His Wife to Be the Husband She Wants, but at the time I just knew that the Holy Spirit was leading me, and that was enough.) Anyway, back to my story. Thad and I each had unhealthy patterns in the way we thought about each other and talked to each other. These made me vulnerable to bitterness, disrespect, and feelings of estrangement. I knew these concerns needed to be addressed for us to make any lasting progress. Yes, I could have survived a while longer, but I didn’t want to settle for the bare minimum when I knew that the Lord had called us to so much more. I wanted a fulfilling friendship with my husband, not petty tolerance. So I prayed hard and sought counsel from a wise friend. Then I wrote a long letter to my husband, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to say it in a conversation. I confessed the many areas where I had gone wrong, and I asked for his help as sweetly as I could, with suggestions for specific changes for both of us. Then I sealed it up and asked him to take a walk with me around a local lake where we often stroll. As we sat under the gazebo, he read it silently, looking up at me now and then. To my relief, he responded graciously to me with expressions of forgiveness and commitment. This was the start of working together to rebuild what we had let crumble. I am so grateful for my husband, and for the gift of communication!

Safeguard #6: Guard Your Purity!

Christ has called us to be a pure people, having sacrificed himself on the cross to make this possible. This is not an abstract or “other worldly” concept. It meets us right where we are. Purity is not a natural thing at all, which is why precious metals must be refined. Our souls must be continually refined, too! As Christians, we must guard what God has taken the effort to purify. Please do not think that your commitment to Christian marriage (somehow implicit in the fact that you home school) will protect you from temptation. It is foolish to assume we will never feel like compromising the sanctity of our marriage vows. Any savored thoughts about “someone else” need to be taken captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). And it is not just about “cheating” on our husbands physically. Desires for extra-marital emotional intimacy can be just subtly devastating, even if they don’t lead to blatant sexual sin. If you are justifying your thought life or indulging in fantasy day dreams, imagine how you would feel if your husband were thinking about another woman like that. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-28):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The book of Proverbs is replete with exhortations about guarding marital purity:

“Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Proverbs 5:15-18 (See also verses 19-20, as well as Proverbs 7 & 8.)

And again in Hebrews 13:4: "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."

Why am I making such a big deal about this? I have seen the havoc that can result when Christian husbands and wives don’t guard their hearts. Because of indwelling sin, our hearts are still incredibly self-deceptive. We can justify just about anything that we want to do, and then still try to blame the bitter fruit on someone else. Dear friends, temptation can sneak up so unsuspected, even at Christian gatherings. Please be careful about your speech, actions, and appearance in the presence of others. You may not even realize that you are flirting with someone until it is too late. And if someone is flirting with you, even in subtle ways, it can be easy to just enjoy the attention rather than see it for the danger that it is. An emotional bond, even from a seemingly casual conversation, can be a powerful thing that could potentially diminish from the rightful bond you are supposed to have with your husband. Guard your heart! And if you have already given away a piece of your emotions to someone else, repent before the Lord and ask him to restore your full affection toward your husband.

Stay-at-home moms have the blessing of shelter from sexual harassment that women experience in the workplace. I am grateful for that, because I had more than one coworker make a pass or an innuendo during my earlier career years. However, our husbands may still be exposed to temptation at the office. Other men can put on the peer pressure with their jokes, pictures, and off-color comments. Women can be seductive, either through naiveté or downright brazenness. It's a totally different mind set out there! While we don't need to be consumed with jealous suspicion, we do need to stand by our men. Pray for your husband in his daily battle for integrity and purity. Make your presence known at his office with occasional visits or a family picture on his desk. Stay attractive for your husband and fulfill his physical and emotional needs within the sanctuary of your marriage so that he will be less tempted. Let me make it clear that it is not your fault if your husband does give in to temptation. However, it will serve your husband well and please the Lord if you make it easier for him to stay faithful to your marriage.

“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5

Or, to put it in a more positive light:

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice! Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue.” Song of Songs 4:9-11a

Now that is the kind of romantic passion which the Lord has designed for our lives! What a gift!

Safeguard #7: Steward Your Resources!

Finances can be a major stress on marriages. Most of us live on one income and some still have debts, which can easily cause heated conflict. Perhaps your husband thinks his hard work isn't appreciated, or worries that you will blow the meager budget on the home school. As the family grows or orthodontist bills loom on the horizon, he feels the increased pressure of financial responsibility. You might wish your husband understood the needs for quality curriculum, magazines, and workshops. Maybe you are tired of accounting for every penny and wish you had some money to spend on yourself.

Money is an especially volatile issue when one spouse does something really foolish. Several times in the past two decades or so, my husband and I have each made mistakes which cost us big bucks. The first temptation is to fume and fuss at the guilty party, but then we remember that though we are all human and prone to error, God is still in control. Our marriage is too precious to hold grudges.

If stewardship is an issue in your marriage, I encourage you to sit down with your husband and talk. Crunch your numbers, research your options, and be willing to cooperate with one another! You can find creative ways to cut your expenses, increase your income, and be content with what you have.

Cutting Expenses

Budgeting: Wise wives stay involved with the family financial situation and are aware of the cash flow. With their husbands, they use a monthly budget, and review it together often. Try to be united and “on the same page” with money issues. While my husband is mostly in charge of the finances, he likes me to transfer my checks and debit card transactions into his checkbook and specify categories of expenses. We talk often about finances. As a side note, in case one of us dies unexpectedly, we have an organized summary file of all of our assets, expenses, and insurance policies. This doesn’t contain all of our financial documents, but it does have accounts, contact information, web sites, on-line passwords. I know where the rest of the information can be found if necessary. We also made a point to update our wills together a couple of years ago. We have seen the chaos that can result when these details are not taken care of.)

Debt: Are you in debt? If credit cards are problem, yet you need the convenience of ordering by phone, use a debit card which takes money from your checking account. Set up some family rules to curtail spending. Some couples agree not to spend more than a certain amount of money (like $20) without checking with the other spouse, and to never spend more than another amount (say $200) without a 48 hour waiting period, even if they are together. Just think of all the purchases you have regretted, or other times when you waited and found out you didn't need an item after all.

Health insurance: Is health insurance killing your budget? In our case, since my husband is self-employed and we have a large family, there is no way we could afford commercial insurance. Instead, we are blessed to be members of the Samaritan Ministries health cost sharing plan. For about $250 a month (as of summer 2007) our family of 12 gets basic health coverage for any illness or injury over $300. We pay our bills, and then send documentation to Samaritan Ministries. Within a few months, other members (who are assigned to our case) send their monthly fee directly to us, adding up to the covered amount. We have added an optional program for injuries resulting from car accidents, and another for expenses over the already high cap. We have been with this program for over three years, and wouldn’t switch to anything else. You can check it out at www.SamaritanMinistries.org.

Miscellaneous stuff: Whatever your expenses are, you can put your stewardship, diligence, wisdom, and creativity to work! Grandma always said, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!”

♥ Avoid eating out or using expensive convenience foods very often.
♥ When running errands, bring food and drinks with you in an insulated bag.
♥ Cancel subscriptions which encourage a materialistic lifestyle.
♥ Make your own gifts, greeting cards, decorations, and entertainment.
♥ Cut your children's hair and learn how to repair clothing and household items.
♥ To save on labor costs, ask friends to help with big projects or barter your skills.
♥ Use garage sales and consignment stores to buy and sell.
♥ Organize your home to avoid replacing lost items.
♥ Borrow seldom used items.
♥ Shop around! If you take your time, you can usually find the best deal.
♥ Alert friends to your upcoming purchases so they can keep an eye out.
♥ Choose items which are versatile enough for many purposes and seasons.

Curriculum: When you are planning for what educational resources you will need, try these money-saving strategies:

♥ Shop carefully, concentrating on the basics first.
♥ Borrow, trade, or buy used materials as appropriate.
♥ Look for reusable or reproducible materials.
♥ Try to see products or get personal recommendations before you buy them.
♥ Consolidate mail orders with friends to save on shipping charges.
♥ Consider making some of your own teaching aids.
♥ Use the public library!

One year, a few days before Christmas, I was in a local warehouse store buying bulk foods. As usual, I was also drawn to the book aisle, where I ogled over the beautiful sale-priced Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia. I really wanted to get it (who knows if it would be there the next time?) but my husband was upset that morning because I had already blown the budget for children's gifts and home school. I needed to honor my husband, so the purchase would have to wait. A few hours later, my neighbor Marie knocked on the door and handed me a wrapped Christmas present for the children. You know what it was! God provided! This sort of thing has happened so many times that it’s like a game to see God’s hand at work in meeting our needs – finding an unexpected but much needed bargain on clearance or discovering a perfectly good recliner chair at someone’s curb with a free sign on it or being able to trade math books with a friend. God is good!

Making Extra Income

What about making extra income? If you must work for pay (at home or elsewhere) you probably battle extra stress and fatigue. On the other hand, the stay-at-home mom may feel guilty that she isn't working for a second income to pay off debts or have extra money for fun stuff. She might feel pressured to start a home business on zilch time and energy. Please let me warn you about taking any job -- at home or away -- which requires you to routinely shove your wife-Mommy-teacher-house duties aside to meet deadlines. Any job will divert a portion of your energies, so you may have to drop other activities. Balance is the key. I have had several years experience as an at-home working mom doing computer programming and bookkeeping for vastly different organizations: a Navy contractor, a church denomination, a mid-size company, and a few family businesses. I know now that it is imperative to avoid employers or clients who would try to compromise your integrity or usurp the authority of your husband. Further, it is best to retain the right to either turn down work or fit it into your own schedule. It is unprofessional to accept a project for which you lack sufficient time or qualifications. Yes, part-time work can be worthwhile if your husband is supportive, you can still attend to your family duties, and the extra income allows you to make ends meet so you don't have to pursue a full-time career. On the other hand, it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back!

Being Content

The most important key to financial success is to be content and thankful with what God has already graciously provided, knowing that we are his stewards and channels of his blessings! For encouragement in this area, here is a small sample of Scriptures from the English Standard Version. Let these Scriptures help you to be content with your husband’s provision for your family!

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart… Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance… I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.” Psalm 37:3-6, 16, 18-19, 25-26

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me… And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:11-13, 19

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs… As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:6-9, 17-19

Stewardship is not just a matter of money, but all our resources. As homemakers, we need to work hard taking care of our homes, as we talked about in the Busy at Home chapter. The more you take care of your possessions, the longer they will last, and the more you will be able to enjoy them.

“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1


Marriage is a priority, a privilege, and a prize. We need to protect it, nurture it, sanctify it, and commit it to God. A strong marriage is a legacy of love to our children and, in the Lord, is the foundation for building our family team. When children see Mom and Dad deeply in love, isn't this one of the most vital lessons they can learn in this school called home?

"Grow old with me! The best is yet to be,
the last of life for which the first was made.”
Robert Browning (1812-1889)

“Come live with me, and be my love,
and we will some new pleasures prove,
0f golden sands, and crystal brooks,
with silken lines and silver hooks.”
John Donne (1572-1631)


For more information on Gary Thomas's marriage books, click these links:

Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy by Gary Thomas

Devotions for a Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

Sacred Influence: What a Man Needs from His Wife to Be the Husband She Wants by Gary Thomas

Blessings, Virginia Knowles

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