As Long As We Both Shall Live - Part IIc (One in Purpose)
Some marriages seem to function like my favorite long distance bike event, the Popcorn Road Ride. The better known Hilly Hundred sends all 5000 riders out onto a given 100 mile route over two days. All riders travel the same roads, stop at the same sag spots for water, food, and live music, and all end up back at the same high school each afternoon. The much more sparsely attended Popcorn Road Ride instead offers riders a choice of three different loops, each from 25-30 miles, and encourages cyclists to ride one, two, or all three trails. Each route starts and ends at the same location but only occasionally criss-crosses the others. This works great for the solitary rider who wants quiet time to think, pray, and consider what to write on her next post, while still having enough sag support to (nearly) keep her husband from worrying. But it doesn’t work as well as a marriage model. I mean, in life you don’t really want to say, “Honey, you take Route 1, and I’ll take the Injun Joe loop. If we end up at the Community Center at the same time, we can have lunch together. Otherwise, see you at the car at 3!” This doesn’t exactly produce a marriage of growing intimacy!
In a marriage of increasing oneness, a husband and wife must be taking the same route, heading the same direction, moving toward one in purpose. And what is this purpose? We see the overarching outline of the purpose of a marriage from scripture. We learn in God’s Word that He instituted marriage so that man would not be alone, for the bearing and raising of a godly seed, as the proper and holy place for sexual relations. Marriage also provides a model of Christ and the church, and is a means of sanctification of both husband and wife. These things are true for all marriages between believers. But God also has particular, individual purposes for each family.
So what’s your family’s purpose? Guess what – it’s not up to you to determine it! I God will reveal this to your husband as he prays and seeks to follow the Lord. Sometimes this direction will be given in a grand vision, but often it is more in small steps of obedience. If Tim were writing to men, he could discuss this further, but since I am writing for women, I want to talk about a couple of dangers unique to women.
Danger #1: Having Separate Purposes
The first danger is the one I described in my bike analogy of a husband and wife setting out on two very different routes. At times this could be a dual-career situation, but is not in any way limited to that scenario. It is just as easy for a stay-at-home mom to have her own passion totally apart from her husband’s vision for the family. Sometimes these passions are excellent things in themselves, but they take on an importance and priority that supplant the other responsibilities the wife ought to be giving herself to in caring for her children and husband, and in serving as his helper.
Among couples who were our friends years ago at Columbia Bible College, Tim and I have seen this situation play out several times in this way. A young couple, delighted to find someone else as zealous to spread the gospel as he or she is, marries and head into full-time Christian work. Everything is fine for a while, but as children begin to come along, the fractures open up. She begins to resent her children and domestic responsibilities, finding them to be impediments to “her ministry.” The result can be very ugly and traumatic, both for their family and work. Sometimes it brings their work to a complete halt, destroying the very thing she was clinging on to as well as the overall family mission.
Missionaries aren’t the only ones who face the temptation to seek fulfillment in a way that requires neglecting their primary calling. And of course I am not saying that women should be housebound, limited to serving their children and husbands. But we need to evaluate everything we do, asking ourselves (and our husbands) if doing this or that is what we ought to be about at this time. Does it advance the calling God has given your family? Remember to live your life in chapters. If you are in a chapter that requires much home duty, there will be a day when your children are grown and you have more time to invest in serving others.
When Tim was interviewing for youth pastor jobs many years ago, I was asked by another young mom what my ministry would be. I responded that I would primarily be involved in helping Tim with the teens, especially by having them often at our home. She was unsatisfied with this answer, pressing me, “But what will YOUR ministry be?” I gave in and told her what she wanted to hear, that I would likely also be involved in teaching women and children in the church, which was true, but not my absolute first order priority. If I’d had more courage I would have responded that I would take great joy in teaching children and women as time allowed, but my first ministry was to be my husband’s helpmate, which in that case meant plenty of time with the youth.
Danger #2: Where are we heading?
Another threat comes when a husband doesn’t really know where he (and thus his wife and family) ought to be heading. Maybe he doesn’t care, maybe he hasn’t given the topic any thought, or maybe he is overwhelmed by the idea of leading his family. Typically when a husband is directionless, his wife steps in and takes over. “I know where we ought to be heading! Follow me!” we say by our actions. When a husband sees his wife taking the lead, he is usually content to let her, leaving her ultimately in charge, but frustrated at his lack of leadership at the same time.
What should you do if this is the situation in your home? First, go to your husband and ask his forgiveness for taking over this responsibility. Then back off. Yes, ask him what you can do to be a true helper to him, but also be patient and prayerfully wait for him to own up to his God given job as head of the home. This may take some time as he waits to see if you are serious about wanting him to lead.
Danger #3: Who is whose helper?
Finally, a further danger for women is that we forget that God created us to be our husband’s helper and want him to be ours! When God created woman he said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). As I Corinthians 11:8, 9 reminds us, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.”
My husband, who loves me so well, goes to great lengths to lighten my load, especially when he knows I am worn down by the cares of our large family. He regularly does the Aldi shopping, pitches in with laundry, and sees that the children all pull weight around the house. When I say that women are to be their husband’s helper and not the other way around, I am not saying that husbands should never be involved in domestic work because that is “women’s work.” No, indeed! Even Martin Luther, living 500 years ago, did not despise the physical work involved in caring for little children, including changing diapers.
Nonetheless, I have to continue to remind myself that I am created to be Tim’s helper and not the other way around. I need to be very quick to listen when he mentions something he would like me to do. Remembering my calling as his helper means I need to make a priority of handling his business accounts and responding to customers’ phone calls. I also need to do all I can to help him have room in his life for his work as an elder in our church. I need to pray regularly for him, asking God to guide him as Tim leads our family and to equip him for all the various things he does. Serving as his helper is not an insignificant role, either, but a real joy. Just think about this: the Holy Spirit is called the Helper!
Marriage is one of God's beautiful gifts to man! How glad I am that He decided it wasn't good for Adam to be alone and that He created Eve for Adam's helpmate. Like just about every other gift, though, our marriages needs caretaking and tending. We need to be zealous to recognize and root out sins, both new ones that crop up and old ones that may have been slowly taking hold for many years. Then, we can work at growing in oneness as we live by our vows, intentionally pursue one another, and walk together in one purpose.
Every day that a husband and wife walk hand in hand together upon this earth makes the twain more and more one flesh. The selfish element that at first formed so large a part of their attraction to each other disappears, and the union becomes so pure and beautiful as to form a fitting type of the union of Christ and His church. There is nothing else on earth like it.
- Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss