Just about a week ago Aileen and I celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. The Lord has been kind to us and, though in many ways we feel like we’re just getting started, at the same time we can look back on an ever-lengthening legacy of God’s faithfulness to us. Last week I paused a few times to think about the last eleven years and began to wonder what I would say if I could go back and talk to that young twenty-one year-old
man guy as he stood at the front of the church, awaiting the arrival of his bride. I thought about some of the lessons I’ve learned in eleven years of marriage—some of the things I wish I could have known earlier. And then I jotted them down. Here they are, the things I would offer as counsel to myself, eleven years ago:
Be a Leader!. Leadership is not an easy task and, while God calls a husband to lead his family, at the same time the man has to learn how to lead and to prove himself worthy of the position. While it is a position he is given by God, it is a position he also has to earn. When I married I was young and totally unsuited for any kind of leadership. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that God wanted me to lead my family as the husband and father and a few years more to realize that Aileen really wanted me to lead as well. I was greatly encouraged when, just a few weeks ago, she shared with me how she has seen me grow as a leader, and especially as a spiritual leader. Anything I’ve learned in this area has come with difficulty and has come by God’s grace.
If I could go back, I would counsel myself to be a better and more confident head of the household and to take this position earlier in our marriage. For too many years I led too little.
Invest Early, Invest Often!. This may apply to finances, but I am thinking of it here in terms of spiritual matters. As a poor leader, I invested far too little time, early in our marriage, to building a spiritual foundation. It has taken us years to feel truly comfortable with one another in sharing spiritual struggles and even in spending time reading the Bible and praying together (as just a couple—family devotions have come much more naturally). Like many men I’ve spoken to, it often seems that it’s easier to pray with a complete stranger than with my wife. If I look back in another eleven years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are still learning here,
If I could do it all again, I would ensure that we learned very early on to spend time together before the Lord. I would be a better leader in investing early and investing often.
Prepare to Hurt and Be Hurt!. One of the greatest ironies and the greatest tragedies of marriage is that a husband and wife have more opportunities to sin against one another than against anyone else in all the world. Over the course of eleven years of marriage, I have hurt Aileen more than anyone else and have sinned against her more than I’ve sinned again anyone else. I suppose this means that marriage also offers unparalleled opportunities to extend forgiveness and to choose to overlook sin. While Aileen and I have had our share of struggles over the years, I truly believe that we carry no bitterness toward one another. Through God’s grace we have offered and received forgiveness time and time again. And through his grace we have overlooked many an offense. Yet there have been many occasions when we have hurt one another and when we have let this wounds fester for just a little too long.
If I could go back, I would prepare myself to be hurt and, even more, would seek to emphasize kindness and forbearance and grace so that I could hurt my wife far less often.
Be an Encourager! I can be such a jerk. As Dave Harvey said so well in When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, “the more you get to know me, the more you’ll admire my wife.” I find it so much easier to criticize than to encourage, to tear down rather than build up. For so many years of my marriage I spent far more time telling Aileen what she hadn’t done or who she hadn’t become instead of encouraging her for all the evidences of God’s grace I saw in her. Even today it remains a struggle as my mind always tends toward the negative (and because, somehow, all my nagging to this point has not produced the perfection I seem to expect). It has taken me a long time to become an encourager and even now I am prone to see evil sooner than I see good.
If I were to go back, I would counsel myself to seek to build encouragement as more of a foundation in our marriage. I would seek to learn more about encouragement and would seek to learn it much sooner.
Be Realistic! You knew that sex had to come into the discussion sooner or later. There is no doubt that sex is one of God’s greatest gifts within marriage and, probably for that very reason, it is also one of the greatest struggles. Having spoken to many others about this, I think it is safe to say that for a lot of couples, and perhaps even most couples, the majority of their fights or arguments or disagreements, especially during certain stages of life, will revolve around sex. The vulnerability of sex, the joy of sex, the uniqueness of sex, give endless opportunities for both joy and hurt. Anyone who approaches marriage thinking that sex will be all joy will be sorely disappointed.
If I could go back, I would counsel myself to be realistic and to learn this lesson sooner. And I would counsel myself to learn patience and kindness in this area.
Learn Her Language!. I’ve never read that book about “love languages,” but I do like the phrase it revolves around. Each of us have certain ways we tend to express love and certain ways we like to have love expressed to us. It took me far too long to learn that many of the ways I expressed love for Aileen were ways that she did not understand; often she did not even understand them to be expressions of my love. I loved her in ways I wanted to be loved rather than in ways she needed to be loved. In one sense this was my own naivete, but in another sense it was a kind of deliberate ignorance. I simply refused to find out how she needed me to express love to her.
Were I to go back, I would counsel myself to spend more time seeking to understand how I could express to her my love and affection; I would learn to speak her language sooner and I would learn to speak it better.
I guess there is a lot more I would say than all of this. I would reassure myself that in standing there, waiting to receive my bride, I was doing the right thing (not that I ever had any doubt) and that God truly was going to bless this union. Maybe I would whisper that all those things we had heard from the elderly couples in our church were actually true: that after a decade of marriage we would love one another more than even on our wedding day and that marriage truly is a great gift of God and that we truly would find great joy in it and that God would use this marriage to mold and shape us into his image.
And yet I know that even if I told myself all of these things, there would still be lessons I would have to learn a decade later. I suppose this is how God helps us grow; he teaches us a little bit at a time as we are prepared to receive and apply the lessons. And some lessons can only be learned by first-hand experience.
I’d love to know, what are some of the lessons you’d try to get through to yourself if you could go back and counsel yourself on the day of your wedding?