The great challenge in marriage is not to love our wives more but to love ourselves less, for it is self-love that generates so much of the strife we experience. To be successful husbands we must continually put to death within us whatever causes us to prioritize ourselves, our own interests, our own comfort, our own good. To do this successfully we need counsel, we need men who can make us aware of our self-love and who can provide examples of selflessness.
Robert Wolgemuth is just such a counselor. He has lots of experience of marriage—forty-five years to Bobbie and, following her death, just over a year to Nancy. He also has a deep sense of the character God calls husbands to pursue and the love he calls them to display. He has written Like the Shepherd to serve as a husband’s guide to “Leading Your Marriage with Love and Grace.”
You can’t miss the word “leading” right there in the subtitle, and Wolgemuth addresses it right away: “You may not see yourself as a man with leadership skills,” he says, “but you are still the head of your marriage and your home. That’s the message of this book,” for to love is to lead and to lead is to love. Yet God calls men to a particular kind of leadership—the kind that is displayed in that great biblical metaphor of the shepherd and his sheep. What could be seen as a demeaning word picture—after all, if the husband is the shepherd his wife must be the sheep—is transformed to a thing of beauty when we acknowledge that God is the great Shepherd of each of us and we are all the sheep of his flock. The husband is a shepherd who is himself a sheep; he is called to shepherd even as he himself is shepherded. “The model for us in our marriages is Jesus’ relationship to us. He is our Shepherd. He is our Leader.” This Shepherd led as a servant and so, too, must we.
The heart of the book is an extended unpacking of the shepherd motif as it pertains to husbands. Just as a shepherd knows his sheep, so, too, a husband must have a deep, intimate knowledge of his wife. “As husbands—shepherds—our job is to win the chance to gently lead, to fight for the chance to woo our sheep with humility and kindness.” Just as a shepherd learns to effectively communicate with his sheep, so a husband must learn to speak with love and patience and grace. “We are not wranglers. We are shepherds. Good shepherds.” Just as a shepherd leads his sheep, a husband must lead his wife, for “not every man is a natural-born leader, but every husband is called to ‘headship’.”
A shepherd also satisfies his sheep, he comforts it, feeds it, encourages it, and ensures its needs are met. “You are your wife’s shepherd. You lovingly know, speak to, satisfy, lead, protect, comfort, feed, encourage, meet the needs of, and pastor your lamb. And together, you and your wife prepare yourselves to be the Good Shepherd’s precious bride, looking forward to the wedding of all weddings, when our Bridegroom will come to claim us as His own.”
Like many husbands, I lament the ways I’ve too often loved myself and failed to love my wife. I lament how I’ve loved and led for my own good instead of hers. I long to grow in this, to love her in just the way God calls me to. I have had godly counselors in the past, men who have exemplified just such a love. But I am eager for more and for that reason I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its exploration of the notion of the husband as shepherd. It is a rich image that provides great fodder for meditation and great scope for imagination.
And I think Wolgemuth was just the man to write it, for the circumstances in his life prepared him for the task. There is something about having loved and lost that adds a poignancy and urgency to his words, and something about having loved again that adds a freshness and excitement. In the introduction he says, “My hope—my prayer—is that this book will help you on your way to a goal that you and I grasp in unison: that you’d grow to be more like Christ and that your marriage will be strengthened.” I’d like to think that has been the case with me.