Preparing Your Child to Leave Home

In a little over a year our youngest will leave for college.   After thirty-four years of raising seven children our house will be quiet, just Paula and me.   We will still see our children and our grandchildren, too, of course.   But it will be different; not bad, just different.

Paula and I have talked about it some, how our lives will change and some things we would like to do.   I’ll be sixty next year and Paula isn’t too far behind me.   We are looking forward to a new chapter in our lives.

How can we make sure the transition to the empty nest is successful?

Here’s a basic principle: what you do as you rear your child in the early years will determine how you feel when they leave your home.   When the time comes to release them, it’s too late to play catch up. 

Parenting is rewarding, but it is also hard work.    People that enjoy a happy marriage and have children that honor them and the Lord didn’t luck out; they have paid a price.

It’s a price worth paying, too.

The most important area of preparing your child concerns God’s purpose for their life.  If they get this right, most of the other areas come together and work out.

Mom and Dad never talked to me about becoming a preacher.   The focus was not on an occupation, but rather having a heart that loved Christ and walked with Him daily.   As I did this, God’s purpose in terms of occupation just worked out in my life.

I worry about parents who try to “direct” their children into a certain line of work.   Our task is to help equip them to discern God’s voice and to respond.   As long as they honor the Lord in their choices we ought to be proud of them and support them. 

God often uses pictures and metaphors in the Bible to help us understand His truth better. He does this with our role as parents.   Through these pictures we are able to understand our responsibility to train our children in their purpose.

  • CHILDREN ARE LIKE ARROWS

“As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.”  (Psalm 127:4)

An arrow’s purpose has a specific purpose; to be released toward a designated target. An arrow that always stays in the quiver has no function.  There comes a time when it is to be shot towards a clear objective.

The analogy is clear.   Parents have their children for a season and at the appropriate time they are to let them go.

As a father I wanted to be skilled like an expert archer in terms of my helping to propel my children toward God’s plan for their life.   I placed a high value on their spiritual development and gave them tools to help them walk with God.

The truth is, I wasn’t close to being an expert as a dad.   Somehow God’s grace worked in the hearts of my precious children in spite of my mistakes and sins.   But I did point them in the right direction and that was most important of all, for it is God that transforms a child’s heart.

Even though most of my kids are out of our home and are adults I still give them resources to help them in their spiritual life.   I want to bless and encourage them.   When I find songs, books, or quotes I pass them along.  Maybe it will help them as they prepare to release their own children one day.

What is God’s design, his target, for your children? It is your responsibility to point them that way. If they are going in that direction when you release them, the empty nest will not be as difficult.

  • CHILDREN ARE LIKE PLANTS

“…children (are) like olive plants round about thy table”.   (Psalm 128:3)

“That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth…”  (Psalm 144:12)

A garden must be tended and cultivated if it is to fulfill it’s purpose.   Tender plants ignored and left to nature will be an ugly sight to see, if they survive at all.     Such a garden is not a blessing, but a blight.

That’s what happens to our children when we fail to give them time and discipline.   It results in a mess.

Yes, children can be exposed to a healthy environment and taught well and still rebel, but we are to be diligent to put them in a place where they can hear God speak to them.

My second born, Jonathan, got his baby brother, Jake, interested in gardening.   Jon has a nice size garden in his back yard and so he helped Jake to grow some things in a small parcel by the side of our house.

I enjoyed watching Jake as he faithfully tended that little piece of ground.  He tilled it, planted seeds, watered it, and pulled weeds.   One day we enjoyed the benefit of tomatoes, watermelon and other fruits of his labor!

It’s easier to release your children when you have done the hard work up front.   I’m not condemning parents that have failed here.   We all have. to some degree.   I want to encourage younger parents to take seriously the work God has given to them when their children are tender and responsive.

  • CHILDREN ARE LIKE DECORATIVE STONES

“…that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace”. (Psalm 144:12)

Decorative stones in a king’s palace were beautiful and ornate.   They served more than just to provide protection and to support and secure the palace, but also to be attractive.    This required them to be cut and polished, which involved an incredible amount of work.

Stone masonry is not a job for a lazy person.

I remember a family friend building the chimney for a fireplace at my grandmother’s house.   I was fascinated at the level of skill and expertise he had.   Parenting requires both work and skill.

The corner stone is a metaphor for the entire foundation being established properly and securely.   One day the little one you are training will have her own family.   It is ours as parents to equip them for the task, while they are little.

All of these occupations – archery, gardening, and being a stone mason have something in common – they require preparation.   Each could only be successfully accomplished by specific tools and skills.    Objectives were clarified beforehand if they were to be successful.   It wasn’t a haphazard task.

Parenting my children was the most difficult work Paula and I have ever done, but also the most significant.   

After we’ve given them the tools and preparation, it is theirs to follow the path God has given to each of them.

Be intentional today, friend, as you parent your children.   When it comes time to release them you’ll be glad you did.

Truly, present actions determine future consequences.   And these consequences are too serious for us to not give our best.

Our Christmas picture from 2002. Taken on the steps of our altar at church.

Here are the previous articles on how parents can successfully navigate the transition to the empty nest years.

The Empty Nest

Preparing for an Empty Nest

 

Posted in Children, Equipping, familiy issues, family, Family Issues, guidance, Parenting, Will of God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for an Empty Nest

In a little over a year from now my wife and I will be empty-nesters.  My baby girl already has a college in mind and has visited the campus.    It’s about 350 miles away from home.   When that time comes, it will be bittersweet.    Paula, my wife, is already discovering ways and opportunities to visit.

What can parents do to maximize the time when a child leaves home?    Releasing a child confidently requires preparation long before they leave.   In the next several posts I’ll give some practical steps to make this occasion a mutual blessing.

This is Jordan, my third son, and middle child. He is our miracle child, born six weeks early and he had to stay in the hospital for several weeks before he could come home. Big sister and brother, Ashley and Jeremiah, are enjoying having another brother.

The first principle was the most helpful to us as parents in releasing them: to prepare for the empty nest you must recognize God’s ownership of your child.   

Our children do not belong to us ultimately, they are the Lord’s, and He has given us the privilege to train them for Him.

The Bible states this truth clearly, “… children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”   (Psalm 127:3)    The word “heritage” has the idea of an inheritance or possession.  A child is a precious gift from God to parents.   We are responsible to train, direct and love them as He would.

They are also referred to as “his reward”.    We are to see them as a priceless gift, a treasure from the Lord.   Children add value to our lives.   As His gift we are to always realize they are ultimately His.

Acknowledging your child is a gift from the Lord clears up a multitude of problems.

First, it influences the way you view your children.   God gives us children as a blessing.   They are not to be seen as burdens or intrusions in our lifestyle.

Your attitude will influence not only how you feel about them presently, but also what will happen when it’s time for them to leave the home.

Second, it influences the quality of leadership and involvement in your child’s life.    The biblical term for one that has a responsibility to care for the property of another is a steward.  He simply managed the resources that had been loaned to him.   He wasn’t an owner, but an overseer.

Years ago, I was at soccer practice with my boys and a father approached me.

He said, “Are all these kids yours?”  

I said, “Yes, sir.”

He responded with a chuckle and a raised eyebrow, “Well, I’m glad they’re yours and not mine”.

They weren’t misbehaving or being a nuisance; I think he was just reacting to the thought of having to care for that many kids.

I never forgot that exchange.

It is a common attitude of our society to see children as a burden, not a blessing.    Because I knew children are God’s gift and He loans them to us I saw them differently.

I stood in a hospital delivery room in Alexandria, Virginia the evening of March 29, 1984 and a doctor placed my firstborn son, Jeremiah David, in my arms.   The first thoughts I had while holding him were, “God, at this moment I give my son back to You and acknowledge that He is Yours.   Thank you for giving Him to us to love and train for Your kingdom”.

April and myself a short time before her wedding.

Believing they are gifts has kept us from wanting to hold on to what God loaned us when it was time to release them.    Yes, there were still tears as we let each one go, but it was easier knowing this was God’s plan.

Have you ever consciously acknowledged your children are God’s gifts to you and given them back to Him to care for them?    Trust Him to care for His own.   Even after they leave your home.

The lyric Steve Chapman wrote says it well.

“The Arrow and the Bow”

Here is wisdom for the moms and dads that time has proven true,
The day your children learn to walk they start to walk away from you.
For at first you hold all of them, cradled safely in your arms,
Then one day their hand is all you hold, and soon its just their heart.

And there’ll even come the time
If your love for them is true;
You’ll have to let their hearts go free
And let them love someone else not only you

Can the sparrow ever learn to fly if the nest is all it knows?
Can the arrow ever reach its mark by remaining in the bow?
You have to let it go.

 

Posted in Bitterness, Children, close family, Empty nest, familiy issues, family, Family Issues, God's ownership, Parenting, stewardship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Empty Nest

One summer I asked our congregation to turn in questions to which they wanted answers from the Bible.   One of the issues from the pile of questions was “How do we as parents deal with the empty nest?   Our last child will soon be gone from our home and we need some encouragement”.

As I write this, our baby girl is sixteen and will be a senior in high school next year.   Four of our children are married and have their own families; three of our kids live in other cities and we rarely see them.  Only two are with us in the house; it’s just a short while before Paula and I join our friends in having an empty nest.

So, how can one prepare for this moment?   Is it possible to be ready, to some degree, for this departure?

Our Christmas picture from 2002. Taken on the steps of our altar at church.

Here’s the key principle: a successful transition to a new lifestyle without children is largely determined by what you do before you have children and how you rear them in their formative years.  

The bulk of our work is done by the time our children leave the home.   We are preparing for when our children leave home in the years when we are not thinking about it.

Perhaps that is why it is such a great struggle.    We’re not sure we put enough in their hearts during those formative years.    Suddenly it’s their senior year and now the clock is ticking loudly and we hear it.   Each event takes on a greater meaning and our hearts even begin to grieve a bit.  

Ashley receiving her college degree.

My father had a stroke and was physically debilitated in his speech and ability to walk.   I watched him gradually decline over several years and it was difficult.

In the midst of this season a preacher friend and I were talking about it and he asked me a question that clarified my feelings.    “Rick”, he said, “Do you find yourself grieving the death of your father even before he has passed away?”  

I had never thought about it in those terms, but that is exactly what I was feeling.   The countdown was on in my mind even though I didn’t have a specific date, but I knew it was coming.

The same thing happens when our children, especially the last one, leave the nest.   The emotion will vary from person to person, but it will be there to some degree.

The Empty Nest is Inevitable

In the toddler or middle school years parents aren’t thinking of an empty nest much, if at all.  But the time is surely coming when we let go of our children – and it arrives faster than we realize.

Adjusting to the empty nest always involves releasing our children.  Here are four times we must release our children.   All of them are difficult, some more than others.

Release Them to The Consequences of a Rebellious Heart

Most Christian parents work to train their children to serve the Lord; they have dreams for them to continue in the way which they were raised.

When they are little we can’t conceive of them rejecting the truths we have modeled and taught them.   But sadly, it happens.

When it does, at some point we must release them to God and to the consequences of their choices.

God loves your child more than you do and can work in their heart, even when they are in rebellion.   As hurtful as it is, there may come a time when you release them to that in which you never thought they might be involved.

The path of sin brings pleasures, but it also has a bitter end.   The Bible says, “…the way of transgressors is hard.”   (Proverbs 13:15)    It is this pain and sorrow that will cause them to consider their ways.

Remember, the prodigal son did return home (Luke 15), but the father also released him to experience the consequences of his sinful behavior.   The father didn’t enjoy it, but it was necessary.

It wasn’t until the prodigal was permitted to experience the pain of his rebellion that he learned lessons that caused him to become broken, mature and grateful (Luke 15:14-17).

Many parents continually “rescue” their children from consequences and only enable them to go on in their sin.   “Tough love” means letting your child experience the university of hard knocks.   

Release Them to Their Spouse

When our adult children are married they establish a new family unit of their own.   The Bible teaches that each person is to “leave” their parents and “cleave” to their spouse, above all others.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”   (Genesis 2:24)

When parents fail to release their child in marriage it strains the relationship between the couple and parents.  While it is wise for the young couple to involve their parents in advice and counsel, parents must accept that their time of primary influence has largely passed.

It’s impossible for our kids to understand how difficult it is to let them go until they have their own children and the wedding bells ring.

Paula and I were conversing about this subject and she surprised me by what she said.   “Rick, it’s more difficult for me to give up my sons to their wife than my daughters to their husband.  It’s because up until then I have been the only lady in their life and now I’m not; I’m in second place”.

Your child can’t have a great home with continual interference.     Let them go.

Release Them to God’s Will

Even the parents of the Lord Jesus were reluctant to release Him to His Father’s will.    After a holiday trip as they were returning home they discovered He wasn’t with them.  For several days they were separated before finally reuiniting.

“And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?  And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.”   (Luke 2:48-50)

Note the emotions his parents had, they were “sorrowing”.   It is a strong word that indicates they would never see Him again.   Jesus was only twelve years old but He already had a heart to do His Father’s will, to fulfill the “Father’s business”.

I believe success as a parent is helping your children to be obedient to the will of God. 

Sometimes that means they may not live nearby, follow in your occupation, or make as much money as you think is necessary.

When I went to college to study for the ministry I was eighteen years old.   I was excited about taking classes and learning how to be effective in serving the Lord.

The morning came for me to leave for Chattanooga, Tennessee and I dropped by my grandmother’s house to tell her good-bye.    I wasn’t prepared for it.

As we embraced she and my mom began to weep.   I was stunned and just stood there, not knowing how to alleviate their hurt.   I knew I wasn’t going to be around as much, but it wasn’t like a final good-bye.

What I didn’t realize is that they had played this scene through their mind for several weeks and now it was finally here.    I was going toward something for which I was excited and they were having to release something that they had loved for almost twenty years.  They knew it would never be the same, but I didn’t realize it.

It was a sobering event for me.

Twenty seven years later Paula and I would go through the same emotional  experience with our oldest.    As we left his dorm we cried all the way home, not because we weren’t happy for him, but because we knew we were going to a house filled with only memories of our son.

It never got easy to walk away from the dorm – later in Chattanooga and also in Jacksonville, Florida.   But we had to release them to God’s plan for their lives.

Release Them to Death

This is an occasion we never think about unless our child has a serious disease or illness.   All parents expect to outlive their children, but that isn’t always true.

When a child dies suddenly the sense of loss is profound; it marks a Dad and Mom for a lifetime.   Even when the cause is a chronic illness that has been over a long period it is still painful.

Years ago I was walking through a cemetery visiting the graves of friends and church members, remembering them and thanking God for their lives.   One area was solely dedicated to babies and two of our pastors had children buried there.

After pausing at each little grave, I walked around and read the headstones of other precious little ones.   I discovered that another family in our church had buried a child there.  It had happened before they came to our church.    I never knew.

We see the profound grief of a father over the unexpected death of his son when Jacob thought his son, Joseph, had died.

“And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.  And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.”   (Genesis 37:34-35)

One can’t miss the depth of his sorrow.

The saddest funeral I ever had was for a nine year old boy.  I didn’t know the family but had been contacted by one of their friends to help them with the service.  

The parents were inconsolable.   It was heart-rending to hear their cries and words to their child in the coffin.   I’ll never forget it.

A year after the funeral a lady walked into my office.  I didn’t recognize her.   I was shocked to learn it was the mother of this little boy.   Her grief had aged her.   She and her husband had divorced; they couldn’t deal with the incredible sadness in their hearts.

The terrible reality is that sometimes children do pass away before the parents.   Though you will never forget them, as time passes God will give you His grace to deal with the grief and hurt.    Part of that healing process is releasing them.    Failure to do so will affect  your marriage and other relationships in your family.

When my daughter, Ashley, was married the song “Arrow and the Bow” was sung as my wife and I and Brian’s parents lit the candle before the service.    This song tells the importance of releasing your child.

 

April, on her wedding day.

These are four unique times that involve our children leaving home.   None of them are easy.   Some are much more painful.   Though there can be great joy in the result of doing so, it is still tough.   

Perhaps there is another situation that you are dealing with in your having an empty nest.   May God grant you His wisdom and peace as you experience this challenging time.

 

 

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A Christ-Centered Marriage

Before I was married I I wanted to be the best husband and father that I could be.   So I read lots of books on marriage and parenting.   I learned a lot and gleaned truths that have anchored our home to this day.

One of the those foundations is that a healthy marriage is to be Christ-centered.   But understanding that and making it happen can be challenging.    It’s possible to know and practice biblical principles and not be Christ-centered.

On our way to having a Christ-centered relationship we tend to make the means the end.  At some point the marriage becomes principle-centered rather than Christ-centered.   While being principle-centered has advantages, it is not the same as having a marriage built around a personal relationship with God.

Being principle-centered focuses on learning and applying specific content relative to a subject; being Christ-centered focuses on the dynamic of a personal relationship with God.

God gave us principles to guide us, but they are not to substitute for our personal walk with Him.    They protect and enhance our relationship with God; following them proves our love, but it is possible to follow them and not love Christ.

Most Christians begin their life as believers totally Christ-centered, but over time, if not guarded, the relationship becomes subservient to a lifestyle.   Being a Christian is then defined by following a prescribed lifestyle absent a dynamic personal communication with the Lord.   This is a dangerous place to be in our personal lives and in our marriage. 

Having a principle-centered marriage, even if they’re Bible principles, is not enough.  We are to love Christ and out of the overflow of that relationship comes motivation to follow the principles.   It is our love for Christ that is the fire in our heart to obey Him and follow His Word.

At the hub of every marriage should be the Lord Jesus Christ.   Some believers make Christ a part of their marriage, but He is not at the core.    It is Christ, through His Spirit, Who gives us the power to consistently and joyfully follow God’s commands and principles in our relationships.

Depending on which type of marriage you have, principle-centered or Christ-centered, will determine the quality of your marriage and environment of your home.

In my own life this is a struggle – drifting toward following principles without investing in my walk with Christ.   It’s easy to coast on a learned lifestyle.   I have to consciously surrender my heart to the Lord each day and rest in Him.  My natural tendency is to go back to auto pilot, living by principle and a memorized lifestyle.

One of the first evidences of drifting from God is when one becomes principle-centered and neglects a walk with Christ.   Living a moral lifestyle while not having Christ as the center is not what God intended.

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God spoke to a church that had drifted away from Him with their heart and He uses a marriage metaphor to confront them.    The church at Ephesus was one of the greatest churches in the world.  Yet, they had sound doctrine, knew the truth and practiced it, but something was missing.  If it can happen to them, it can happen to us. 

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4)

Though they were busy, committed and orthodox in their beliefs, they had left their heart out of it all.  They had “left (their) first love”. 

First love refers to that which is fresh, dynamic, and enthusiastic.  The relationship is given priority over all other things.  When actions take the place of heartfelt affection we lose the joy of living and serving.

The same thing happens to a family.   A husband or father can be faithful, committed and have integrity, but be absent love.   A wife can know her role and be consistent in fulfilling it, but if Christ is not at the center of her life she is empty, joyless – just going through the motions.

When we live this way over time we lose our sense of gratitude and wonder.    A relationship that used to be fresh and meaningful is now stale and indifferent.

Our love for each other is to be growing, not stagnant.   Principles alone don’t cause our love to develop and mature.   Only Christ can do that.

God never intended for a Christian’s life to be oriented around principles.   It won’t bring satisfaction to your heart.   It won’t work in your marriage either.   Here are some reasons why:

  • The purpose of our creation isn’t to live a life of dry obedience to God.   We were designed to know God and to walk with Him personally.   Until we discover that purpose and live that way daily we will live a restless life.    When a marriage is composed of a couple that is restless there is no joy or fulfillment.   No matter how “right” or principle-centered it is.
  • Principles don’t motivate over the long haul, only Christ can do that.   It’s easy to substitute knowing about God with knowing God.   God gave us truths in the Bible that show how the marriage relationship works, but alone they won’t provide the fuel to practice them.
  • Applying principles (and commandments) is not the ultimate pathway to express our love for the Lord.    We honor the Lord by obeying Him and walking in His ways, but knowing and implementing principles is not the objective, loving Christ is.   The Bible says of itself, “…the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart…”   (II Tim. 1:5)
  • Following principles can be a substitute for loving Christ.   Christ is truth incarnate (John 14:6; John 1:14); so to know the truth will help us to know Him better.  This doesn’t deny His personality, though, and reduce Him to an impersonal force.   God has mind (He knows), emotion (He feels), and will (He chooses) and is to be loved for His Person, Who He is.   Principles can be static.
  • We must learn God’s Word to discover Who He is.   My point is not that we are to abandon or minimize Bible reading or study.   Not at all.   We learn about God’s character and His actions from the book He has given to us, the Word of God.   I’m cautioning against the tendency to use it as a means to merely govern and direct behavior while neglecting a relationship with God.   The Pharisees did this and lacked love for God and people.   It’s easy to do.
  • Learning principles is attractive to those that enjoy learning.   People that are attracted to study and seek a deeper knowledge of God sometimes equate knowing about God with knowing God.   They aren’t the same.  Knowledge without application leads to pride (I Corinthians 8:1) which destroys relationships.   The application of truth is to prove our love for the Lord and help us to know Him better.

A strong marriage doesn’t confuse the difference in being principle-centered and Christ-centered.   It’s a subtle difference, but one that will keep you from enjoying the relationship with each other God intended.

Many years ago Paula and I were attending a pastor’s conference and were listening to Adrian Rogers speak.   At the close of his message he gave a short story that I have never forgotten.    Here’s what he shared.

A boy prince from India was visiting the Queen of England and at the conclusion of his visit he presented her with a beautiful and expensive diamond as a gift from his country.

Decades passed and he returned to visit the Queen again.  Before he left he asked her if she remembered the diamond he had given to her.   She replied that she had and he asked if he might see it.

She thought, He’s going to ask for it to be returned because he was so young when he presented it to me.   

Her assistants went and procured the diamond.   He looked at it carefully and slowly turned it, examining it’s incredible beauty.

When he finished he looked at the Queen, still holding the diamond, and said, “I gave this stone to you when I was but a boy.   Today I realize it’s value and I want to give it to you again as a man”.    And he returned it to her. 

Adrian Rogers concluded his message, “Many of you have given your life to the Lord when you were young, but you ought to give it to Him again as an adult, as you understand how precious it is, to honor the Lord even more”.

My heart was deeply touched.   I had been saved as a boy when I was nine years old and surrendered my life to do whatever He wanted me to do when I was seventeen.   Now, I was forty-two and with tears streaming down my face, Paula and I knelt in the altar that night and surrendered our lives fresh to Him again.    I was mindful of His faithfulness and how good He had been to my family and me.

I have remembered that story through the years and bowed my head again and yielded my heart afresh to the Lord.   I love the Lord more than anything in the world.

That’s what it means to be Christ-centered.   It isn’t about living a formulaic life solely based on obeying principles and commands.

Certainly we are to obey God and to practice the principles He has given in His Word – many of which apply to marriage and the home.  However, one can do those things and still not be Christ-centered.

The most simple meaning of having a marriage with Christ at the hub is loving Him with all of our hearts.

 

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Making Your Husband Feel Loved

There are differences in the way that men and women perceive and express love.   Understanding them will strengthen your marriage as you communicate love to your spouse in a way they best understand.

One of the key ways a man shows his wife he loves her is by his attention.   (The post on “Making Your Wife Feel Loved” deals with that in detail.   You can read it here).   God has put it in the heart of a woman to enjoy meaningful conversation.    When a man does this his wife feels he loves her. 

A man is different.   God has created a man to enjoy, even crave, respect.    When a wife voices her admiration for her husband he feels that she cares for him.

Perhaps a lady might think this is vain.   But it isn’t.   This is one of the primary ways a man interprets love.   This isn’t a principle borrowed from psychology.   It is given clearly in the Bible.

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”   (Ephesians 5:33)

God succinctly summarizes the basic needs of men and women in marriage in the above text.  A man is to love his wife; a wife is to reverence her husband.   The word “reverence” means “to have respect for”. 

This doesn’t mean that a wife doesn’t want or not need to be respected.  Those we love we are respectful toward.   But it is a greater need for a man to feel respect from his wife.

I told Paula one day, “I don’t just want you to love me, I want you to like me”.

A lady knows someone is her friend when they are able to have small talk, sharing details, listening without a bias to action.   A man knows someone is his friend when there is a mutual respect and appreciation for each other.

Paula and I at Robert E. Lee's home in Arlington, Virginia overlooking D.C.

Paula and I at Robert E. Lee’s home in Arlington, Virginia overlooking D.C.

I’ve had men say to me, “I know my wife cares about me, but I don’t think she likes me”.   Perhaps they mean there is no question that love is there, but the friendship component is missing.   In a man’s language that is admiration.

This is where it gets sticky.   What if a man has glaring flaws in his life?   What is a wife to do when her husband has some work to do in his character?   What if it’s difficult to respect him?

No wife would think her husband truly loved her if he loved her conditionally.   We even use the phrase “unconditional love” to describe genuine love.   True love pursues a person in spite of flaws.

Is it right for a wife to put qualifications on admiring her husband before she will do so?   Is is possible to have “unconditional respect”?    Will true love seek areas to respect in spite of flaws?

I don’t have time in a blog post to cover this idea thoroughly, but here’s my thesis: you can give unconditional respect toward someone, even when there are inconsistencies in their life. 

We are commanded from the Bible to do this with governmental authorities, even when we disagree with them (I Peter 2:18).  The same is true of a wife’s attitude toward her husband.

When a wife shows sincere admiration and respect for her husband it resonates deeply within his heart, especially when he knows he could be and do better.

Don’t brush this off by saying, “Well, that’s just vanity.   I’m not going to feed his ego.  It’s already too much now.   If anything, he needs to be taken down a notch or two.   He has a lot of issues he needs to be working on and when he makes some progress, then I’ll show some verbal appreciation”.

A wife has to learn to do so even when there is imperfection – and there always will be.

What are some practical ways you can do this?

  • Look for areas where he does some things well.   It may be that he is diligent in his work.   Tell him so – and give concrete examples.    He may be a good friend, a good father, or honest.   What does he do in your marriage that is positive?  Focus on that area and share it with him.

I’m a pastor and speak twice to our church each Sunday.   It’s nice to hear people acknowledge my work in the pulpit, but the most important person to hear it from is my wife.   When she tells me I did a good job it means something extra special.    If she doesn’t say anything, sometimes I wonder if I hit the ball or not.

I’m aware that some ladies have husbands that contribute very little to the spiritual or emotional health of your home.   It’s so important that you not become cynical, but ask God to give you something for which you can be grateful.

The Bible teaches that an unbelieving husband will be influenced by the godly example and lifestyle of his wife.   One of the chief attitudes that draws his heart to yours is your respect for him.

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”   (I Peter 3:1-2)

  • Praise him more than you correct him.   The Bible talks about receiving constructive criticism and growing from it.   However, it also talks about affirmation and encouragement.    Both are important, but when criticism outweighs praise the relationship begins to wither.

One of the most common expressions I say or write to my children is, “I’m proud of you”.    I do so because I know how important it is that they know I believe in them.   I like to hear my wife say it to me, also.     Call it ego, if you will, but God put it in the heart of a man to want to be admired.

Years ago I was speaking at a men’s conference in another state.   After one of the sessions one of the men came to me and shared with me that he hadn’t planned on attending the conference.

He said, “I really didn’t want to come to the conference.   I know I’m a lousy husband and a bad father and I didn’t want to come to hear someone tell me what I already knew about myself.   But you encouraged me and told me how I could do better and I’m glad I was here tonight”. 

Most men are aware of their shortcomings and already feel guilty.   Don’t be his Holy Spirit.  Pray for God to change him in the areas where he is weak.    Sure, there’s a time to talk to him about it, but above all, be his cheerleader and primary encourager.

  • Express sincere appreciation to him.    All of us like to know we have made a contribution; a man hungers to hear words of gratitude from his wife.

If a man senses that people have lost respect for him in an area he will not want to return to that area.   That’s why he doesn’t respond well to nagging.   It reminds him of his failure.

When respect is absent so is gratitude.   That is a dangerous place to be.   When gratefulness is gone, contempt will fill the vacuum.   When contempt is one’s attitude, nothing a person can do will please them.

I have known men that were married to an attractive lady and left her for another woman.   Later people saw the woman he ran off with and noted that she wasn’t as beautiful as his wife, even very ordinary in appearance.   Why would he do that?

Here’s my thought – it wasn’t because of the way the new woman looked that won his heart, but her attitude toward him and the way she talked to him.   She praised him and was grateful for little things.   (Please know I am not justifying this behavior, only making a general observation). 

Respect is a powerful issue to a man.    Gratitude is, too.     Where one is present you will find the other.

Here is what typically happens in a marriage over time: the things that initially attracted us to each other now get on our nerves.   What was once a strength has become a weakness.   (A strength to an extreme becomes a weakness).

The longer we are married we drift toward this type of thinking.

He was funny then, but now he doesn’t know when to stop.

She was serious then, but now she is a stick in the mud.

He was a strong leader then, but now he makes decisions too quickly.

She was spontaneous then, but now she doesn’t clean up after herself.

He was careful and thoughtful then, but now he takes too long to make a decision.

She was quiet and a good listener then, but now she hardly talks to me.

He was fun and the life of the party then, but now he talks too much.

When we lose appreciation for the very quality that was responsible for drawing us to that person it will be replaced by aggravation and then contempt.

On most week nights Paula and I watch reruns of the Andy Griffith show at 10 p.m. before we go to sleep.   Recently she went on a trip out of town with her childhood friend to spend some time together.

When I came home that afternoon there was a post it note on the night stand by the bed.   It read: “I will miss you tonight when Andy Griffith comes on.   I love you, Paula”.  

That little post it note hasn’t moved from that spot since she put it there.   It’s a reminder every time I see it that my wife enjoys my company and that she not only loves me, but she likes me.    I like her, too.

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Making Your Wife Feel Loved

I was sincere when I got married, but made a lot of mistakes.  One of those areas was in communicating to Paula that I cared for her….in a way that meant something to her.

As I write this we’ve been married over 37 years, but I feel like I’m just now learning what genuine love is.   The most basic responsibility of a husband is to love his wife.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”.  (Ephesians 5:25)

The sad thing is that love is what a woman wants most from her husband, but what he struggles with the most.   It isn’t in a lack of his trying to show love, but in knowing how to express it in practical ways.

Love at it’s most basic level is expressed by giving.   Christ, our standard, modeled this for us when He died for us; sacrificial giving that was costly.

This post will focus on one way to show your wife that you care about her.  It’s one I still battle with, not because I don’t care for Paula, but it is not as intuitive to a man as it is a woman.

Paula and I in Washington D.C. (You can see the top of the Jefferson Memorial over our heads). What a great lady. I am so privileged to call her my wife.

Paula and I in Washington D.C. (You can see the top of the Jefferson Memorial over our heads). What a great lady. I am so privileged to call her my wife.

A woman interprets love through the lens of attention.    She wants to feel that she is heard and that her husband is genuinely interested in the details of her life.  There’s the rub for a man.   Most men aren’t interested in minutia, but the big picture, the bottom line.

Giving time and careful attention is a more precious gift than money to a woman.     When a husband listens and focuses on his wife’s words she knows he genuinely cares for her.

Here are two ways I violated this God-given need with Paula.    Perhaps you can identify.

  • I would become impatient with her when she was giving me the details of a situation.  I wanted the bottom line.   Rather than hearing the whole story I wanted a summary; even better was when she just got right to the core issue.   It saved me time, but it cost me respect and closeness with my wife.   Every time I did this I rushed through a conversation I was communicating that I didn’t value her.

Dave Simmons taught me the different ways men and women communicate by using the metaphor of a spider web and a rope.

A spider web has many connection points, but is anchored by a central core.   Everything can ultimately be related to that beginning place.  A rope is linear and not as complex.

Women typically think like a spider web; men process information like a rope.

Sometimes I’ll ask Paula if we are having chili for dinner.   To me, that’s a yes or no question.   She might say, “Well, when I went to the store today it was raining and I forgot the umbrella.  So I had to run and left the list in the car.  I had to start a new list and then Beth walked up and we started talking.   By then I had forgotten everything I needed to buy and…..”

Eventually she will tell me, though there are times when I’m still left wondering about the menu.

When men gather they tend to communicate like a rope.   One story will begin and when it is completed a “knot” is tied.  Then a new line of thought starts and when it is over another “knot” is tied.   You get the picture.

My problem was I was selfish (and ignorant).   I wanted Paula to share information with me that required the least effort for me to follow.   Even after I learned the spider web/rope analogy and knew better I would get impatient and ask her to get to the bottom line.

I noticed that over time she began to change the way she communicated to accommodate me.   Her responses weren’t rude, but they were short and she didn’t expand as much as she had before.  Rather than loving my wife and sacrificing for her I had made my life more comfortable.

God convicted me about my lack of love and I began to change, rather than requiring her to change.   I’m better at accepting her now, but still need grace to be the man she deserves and that I want to be.   I want to keep changing and getting better at being patient and just listening.

(Paula understands the spider web and rope analogy when I speak on communicating in marriage.   Sometimes when I need some information quick I’ll say, “Paula, you’re spider webbing on me and I need a fast answer”.   I’ve grown and don’t use this often!)

  • Another way I violated this need in her life is advising her when she just needed a listening ear.   To her, this must have felt like a lecture.   Nobody likes being lectured to.   Paula wanted to know I was paying attention to her heart, not so much that I had answers.

I learned this in a comical way.   One evening Paula was in the kitchen and I noticed that she was troubled.   I asked what was wrong and she began to pour her heart out to me.   As she talked I was looking for related themes so that I could come up with some practical ideas on how to help her solve her problem.

When I saw an opening in the conversation I began to share my pearls of wisdom that would help alleviate this burden in her life.    I was barely into my second point of logic when I noticed that she had an incredulous look on her face.

She said, “Rick, I just want you to hug me”.   And so I did.

We stood embracing and I was thinking, “Well, I like hugging, but we aren’t making any progress in solving the problem”.

I had enough sense just to be quiet and let her know she was loved.   That was a turning point for me in how I communicated with Paula.   I began to listen more and say less.

At that moment she didn’t want me to solve her problem; she wanted to be assured that I had compassion for her.  She needed my attention and awareness that I understood her stress and cared enough to just listen.

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”    (Alfred Brendel)

(Ladies reading this, please be patient with us.   We mean well, but it is intuitively alien to a man to listen without trying to find a solution.  We are wired to fix a problem as quickly as possible – and that means as little conversation as possible).

Steven Covey wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”     I suppose when we are preparing a response we really aren’t listening at all. 

Today, if I’m confused as to whether or not I ought to give input or just listen I will kindly ask, “Do you just want me to listen or do you want advice?”   And she will tell me.   Sometimes she does want direction and I provide that. 

George Eliot wrote, “Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away”.

I want to be like this.   Most of all, with my family.   I want them to feel safe with me, able to pour out their heart without fear of being misunderstood.

To a woman a listening ear is romantic.   She responds to her husband, emotionally and physically, when he does this.  Wicked men use this as a tactic to gain the affections of a woman – paying attention to the details in her life, listening without interrupting.   And later, he follows up on what he heard to let her know he “cares”, only to get what he wants.

Remember, sir, if you aren’t winning the heart of your wife, someone else is trying to do so.  And they will do it by being quiet and paying careful attention, however bad their motives.

Both of my problems above were rooted in selfishness and failing to listen with a heart to simply understand and empathize.   I was a poor husband in our early years.  I hope you can gain wisdom from my mistakes and do better.

General George C. Marshall had wise words for dealing successfully with people.   Here is a powerful statement that can apply to your marriage and improve it.   Both men and women need to do this consistently.

Substitute the words “my spouse” for the phrase “the other person’s”.   Write it down and put it in a well-traveled place to remind you of it’s importance.

Marshall said concerning successful relationships one has to, “1. Listen to the other person’s story. 2. Listen to the other person’s full story. 3. Listen to the other person’s full story first.”

 

Posted in Admiration, Affirmation, Attention, close family, communication, conversation, differences in men and women, familiy issues, family, Husband, Love, Loyalty, Marriage, Men, perspective, quality time, Respect, Wife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Priority of Your Marriage

One of the non-negotiables to a strong marriage is to make that relationship the highest of all human relationships.   God designed marriage and part of that design is that it be the priority of earthly relationships.

A priority is known by what is given precedence.   Priorities are easy to write down, but sometimes difficult to implement.    One way to practice what is essential is to be aware of what competes with it.

There are four common themes that sometimes supplant one’s mate.  None of them are wrong and each have an important place in our lives, but they are not to be given priority above the marriage.

  • Parents. Of course, we are to honor our parents even after we are married, but our commitment is to be to our spouse when making decisions of how we use our time and money.

The record of the first marriage is given to us in the first book of the Bible and there we’re given a clue as to the importance of the marriage relationship.

“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:21-24)

The Bible says to “leave” our parents and “cleave” unto our spouse after marriage.   This is crucial to having a strong marriage.

Four of my children are married.   I had a private conversation with my sons and my sons-in-law before the wedding and shared that I wouldn’t interfere with their marriage, but would respect their spiritual leadership.   If they wanted counsel I would gladly offer it, but they are responsible for their family.

That’s not easy to do, but it is essential if they are to have a healthy relationship.    I must do my part to help them “cleave” to their spouse.

This is one reason it’s not good to live with your parents after you’re married.   There may be times when this is necessary because of a move or other challenges, but it ought to be the exception and not the rule.

(There are seasons in life when our aged parents need us and it’s right to care for them.   I’m speaking of making sure your spouse knows they are first).

  • Children.    We mistakenly think that a couple is not a family until they have a child, but that isn’t true. You are a family when you are married.   Children extend your family, but they don’t create it; marriage does.

Early on our children need us more, especially Mom.    In these days a husband and wife must make special efforts to be alone to share, rest and enjoy life.

Your marriage is more important than your being parents.   If you know me you know that I believe in intentional parenting, loving and training your children.    However, my beloved children must not take the place of my wife.   The best thing a parent can do for their child is to have a good marriage.

This is our legacy. Paula and I have laid our lives down for our children to know and serve the Lord. Now, we have another son and daughter through marriage into our family and two grandchildren. The window of opportunity is small to make a difference. God has been good to us in spite of our mistakes.

This is our legacy. Paula and I have laid our lives down for our children to know and serve the Lord. Now, we have grandchildren. God has been good to us in spite of our mistakes.

Perhaps you might push back on this idea, not because it isn’t true, but because you think it’s not possible.   You have several children and it’s difficult to find time (or money) to spend with each other.   I understand.  

We had seven children (I’m 58 at this writing and have a 16 year old) and though we never neglected them, Paula and I didn’t put them before us.    When you have nine people in a family it stretches both your time budget and your financial budget.   Yet, we still found some ways to invest in each other.

Sometimes we would go away for a couple of days in Gatlinburg to be refreshed – without the children.    My parents and some trusted friends would help care for them while we were gone.   It was a value to us and I hope that same value transmitted to our children that they would do the same when they are married.

My kids are the greatest joys of my life, but my wife comes before them.

  • Job. Your marriage is more important than your job.    Men tend to struggle with this more than women.   Men have a desire to conquer and achieve.

After he “catches” his wife the thrill of the game is gone so he transfers his interest in his work.   This is a grave mistake.   If you aren’t constantly working to win the heart of your wife by your words and affection, someone else will.   And this happens where she works more than any other place.

At work people see you at your best – creative, dressed nicely, guarded in your reactions., kind.   At home our family gets the leftovers of our time, energy, and thoughtfulness if we aren’t careful.

If the lady that is flirting with you saw the same person you are at home she might not be as interested in you.   Likewise, for a woman that is being pursued by another man at her job.

I made a commitment after I was married to practice three principles that would help me not get entangled in a wrong relationship at work.

(1) I wouldn’t go out to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex.   (2) I purposed not to talk about any personal problems or stresses in my marriage with someone of the opposite sex.   (3) I have been careful not to become too familiar or overly friendly with someone of the opposite sex.

By the grace of God I have been able to keep those promises.   I don’t want my job to compete with my wife in the way I behave there or in my time relative to what I give to Paula.

Friend, live for the people that will come to your funeral.   They will miss you most.    I’m married to my wife, not my job.

I give my job my best and I hope those that I serve would agree with that.   But I can always get another church; I can’t get another wife.

  • Hobbies. Hobbies are good servants, but poor masters.  It is good to have some type of diversion in your life, but sometimes our hobbies become priorities in our time and finances.

I’ve known men that spent more time and money on golf and accessories than their wife.   It could be fishing, hunting, camping, attending sporting events.

Your hobby should be something that enables you to be a better husband (or wife) and not to cause her (or him) to be jealous or insecure.

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About ten years ago I was working at home on some things for church and was distracted while Paula was talking to me.    She called me on it and said sadly, “Rick, you’re always working”.

She left the room, but her words didn’t leave my mind.   She was right.

All occupations have their hazards, but the ministry is one that is especially challenging with this issue of bringing work home.    Sermons and lessons always need attention.    Problems of people for whom you pastor and love are constantly on your heart.   Emergencies in the congregation come and you’re pulled away from a night at home.

I’m not complaining; it’s just a fact of life for me.   My work life still bleeds over in my home life sometimes, but I’m better about it.   I don’t want Paula (or my kids) to feel like I have given them my second-best.

One day, if the norm of life is true, I will die first.    My wife and children will walk into a room in a funeral home, stand by an open casket and look at my body.   What will they say?

“Dad sure did love his job”.

“He really excelled in his hobbies”.

“Dad spent a lot of time with other people helping them”.

They will say something.   I want my children to be able to say with integrity that I loved their mother (and them) with all I had.    I want Paula to be able to say that there was no other human relationship or activity that competed with her.

If this happens, it won’t be an accident.   May God help us to keep priorities that would please the Lord and bless our family.

Posted in close family, familiy issues, family, Husband, Love, Marriage, quality time, Time alone, Wife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments