We call it our “Damn Yes” Fight. It was a fight about a great many things, but at its core…it was fight about the question of the ages, the question that hangs in the air between every couple from here to Beijing… Do You Really Love Me?
The fight happened early on in our engagement, on a balmy night in Daytona Beach, right outside an ugly-green hotel called “The El Caribe.” (If you’re thinking of putting it on your Bucket List…no need.)
As pretty much all fights go, it was really about me asking, “Do you cherish me?” and him asking, “Do you respect me?” But for the sake of deduction…the fight was more specifically about “spiritual leadership.” I don’t remember how it began. I don’t even remember how it ended. All I remember is the crucial middle part. That point in the fight where you both snap, and finally say what you actually mean.
I remember saying that I wanted him to “lead me spiritually.” I wanted him to initiate quiet times together, and prayer times together, and to help encourage me in my walk with the Lord in really specific ways. It probably didn’t help that I had recently graduated from the Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Bible and Theology. Or that my “idea” of what a godly husband looked like, bore an awfully strong resemblance to the perfect blend of John Piper and Chuck Swindoll. I don’t even remember exactly how I explained my expectations for “spiritual leadership” in marriage, but I do remember the moment when he stopped right there in the middle of that dark street and yelled, “You mean you expect me to lead you in a Bible devotional every morning!?”
I also vividly remember my response.
I remember feeling angry. And frustrated. And disappointed.
And I clearly remember shouting back, “DAMN YES!”
And do you know what he did? My thoughtful, tender husband, who has more emotional awareness and emotional maturity at thirty-four than most men will acquire in a lifetime…HE LAUGHED AT ME.
Yep. Right there on the street. As I poured out my deepest frustration about not being “led better spiritually” to The Throne Room of the KING OF KINGS…he laughed at me.
“First,” he said, “We need to teach you how to swear. Because your first attempt just went so badly. And second, you’re crazy if you think THAT is what spiritual leadership is going to look like.”
“Fine!” I shouted back. “Teach me how to swear!”
Just kidding. What I actually said was, “Fine! What DOES it look like?”
And that my friends, is the million dollar question. What DOES it look like for a man to love and lead his family? We talk about a man “leading his family spiritually” All. Of. The. Time. And I’m sure many a book has been written on the subject. But I have yet to read one I truly like. Because they all seem vaguely out of touch with the reality I see all around me as we do ministry, and especially as we minister to couples who are at the very beginning of their marriage.
And as I think of the those couples, and of my friends and their marriages, I can honestly say…I don’t have a single friend who kicks off every married morning with a husband-initiated Quiet Time. They. Just. Don’t. And I’ve got some very godly friends.
Please hear me. I am not saying it is bad to spend time together in the Word, and it is certainly not bad for a husband to initiate time in the Word or prayer with his wife. Most wives I know would drop the laundry, the dirty dish, or the crying baby still in their arms at any moment…if their husband initiated such a thing. But I am saying that I don’t think that alone is the measure of a man, and whether or not he is truly leading his family spiritually.
So, what is?
Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and share what I have personally experienced spiritual leadership to be. One, because it’s Valentines week, and there’s a lot of red hearts flying around, and an equal number of expectations on love flying right along with them. And more importantly, because after a decade of ministry to college students, which has created an almost permanent revolving door of newly married or almost married people in our lives, I am convinced that when we say “leading someone spiritually” there are an awful lot of couples stuck in the “Damn Yes” Fight.
And deep down, I think that the Church is full of way too many wives who are discouraged and disappointed…and way too many husbands who are weary. Weary, and feeling like they are failing, no matter how hard they try.
And deep down, I think Satan likes it this way. I think he likes to keep things “vague,” so that we performance-oriented American Christians can feel beaten-up and battered over things we don’t even clearly define. I think he strokes his evil chin and says, “Yes, let’s keep ’em guessing. Let’s dangle the golden carrot of “leading spiritually” out there long enough to make them want it, but keep it vague enough that everyone will just feel pretty fed up with the whole thing.”
Which is pretty much exactly where we were at on that fateful night by the El Caribe. And it wasn’t the first time we were having that fight. We’d already had it many times, packaged up in different ways. But that was the best part about the “Damn Yes” night. We were both finally discouraged enough to begin asking people we trusted what they thought “spiritual leadership” looked like.
And let me tell you, the answers were both surprising and convicting.
First, we asked the pastor who was going to marry us. The man who had led us through an exegetical study on the book of Romans, which was then and probably always will be…the best Bible Study of our entire lives. The pastor of a large church whose own wife learned Greek and Hebrew too, just so they could study the Bible together in its original language. He wasn’t exactly a “spiritual slouch” and yet…his answer totally surprised me.
He didn’t even hesitate.
“You know, at the end of the day, I really believe that spiritual leadership is getting out of bed every morning and going to work to provide for your family. Day, after day. Because, it’s just…not…easy.”
I was shocked. I wanted it to be, “Lead your family in the Word.” “Pray for everyone at sunrise, noon, and midnight.” “Fast weekly.”
Go to work? How could that be?
Well, let me tell you, after the two hardest years of our lives…I now get it in ways I never did before. I now understand that it is no small thing that, in the midst of all of our suffering, Reid has loved our family by getting out of bed and going to work for our bread and butter and bacon EVERY DAY.
He does it because it’s his job…here in 21st century times. And he does it even more, because it’s his curse…from all the way back in Garden times. Adam sinned, so Reid goes to work. Tilling the soil of hard and broken hearts, just like farmers and bankers and candle-shop makers till the hard soil of this cursed earth in their own ways. And though simply “going to work” isn’t glamorous, or particularly “deep”,,,it is a deeply spiritual thing because God made it that way. And if your husband gets up morning after morning to painfully toil over the “soil” of this world, I truly encourage you to sit in the weight of that for a moment and bask in how amazing it actually is that you have been loved so extravagantly.
Reid works for our family. He also works for the glory of God, and the eternal impact his life’s labor will have on the lives of college students. But let’s get real here…at the end of the day, I have a pillow under my head and food in my fridge, because my husband fights against the curse every day and works with his hands FOR OUR family. It is a burden I don’t even fully comprehend as a wife. But one I am blessed by every single day.
Last night, my loving husband led our family so well by driving all the way home from campus to help me with the dreaded Bedtime, just to turn around and go back to campus for a leadership meeting he got home from at midnight. Right now Reid is doing his job, and because I’m so very sick…he is also doing so much of mine. He works the soil all day, and then does our laundry all night. And he does it, because he truly believes…
Spiritual leadership is providing for your family.
Please hear me, I know there are about as many unique situations as there are human beings, and if your husband cannot work, or if you both work, that does not mean that this is the only way to lead your family spiritually. But I am convinced that this is a very big, deeply underestimated reality that I think millions of godly men are under-appreciated in EVERY SINGLE DAY. And I’d bet if you polled a group of men, and asked them if it is a significant and weighty burden on their hearts to live in Adam’s dread curse, and to care for and provide for their family…most would probably give you a rather resounding, “Damn Yes.”
And it makes sense. Because Jesus also cares for and lovingly provides for His Bride. Every. Day. Despite our ingratitude.
But wait, there’s more.
Because even after we said “I Do,” and I really began to internalize the idea that Reid was loving me and leading me in ways “Beyond the Quiet Time”…I found myself with new expectations. (Read: we found ourselves in new fights.)
I truly believe that fighting is a VERY important, and healthy part of any good marriage. I hold to the old adage, “If you never fight..one of you is not representing.” And I really believe that the most cleansing, soul-bonding moments of our marriage have been in times of conflict, and the healing conversations that came after it. But…how you fight, and how you pursue one another towards resolution in a fight, is an equally crucial thing.
And to be honest, for the first few years of our marriage, I did most of the pursuing. Until one day I snapped. Actually, lots of days. We would have conflict and I would feel hurt, and vulnerable and misunderstood, and I would really want him to reach down into the mire of my ugly, wounded heart…and pursue me. And I would feel so angry that I was the one doing the pursuing.
For those of you who know Reid, you know that he is so gentle and compassionate, that you probably can’t even imagine him fighting with anybody. Well, he does. Me. Just me. And early on in our marriage I began to accept the fact that we would work through the conflict when I pursued him. I was discouraged about it, but certainly not willing to let the sun go down on my anger day after day…just to prove a point.
And then…enter outside counsel via podcast. I don’t remember the name of the talk, probably because I never even heard it. But I distinctly remember the night Reid came home and said to me, “Hey, I was listening to a sermon today from John Piper. And he said that when a husband and a wife are in a fight and it is the husband’s fault…it is the HUSBAND’S job to pursue the wife. And when you are in a fight and it’s the wife’s fault…it is the HUSBAND’S job to pursue the wife. And I am so sorry that it has not been that way in our marriage.”
And that was it. One of those classic moments in life when someone hears something from the person they needed to hear it from…and it sticks. And it changes your life. And quite honestly…it changed our marriage. To know that Reid would pursue me and fight for me no matter what, and no matter when…even in the ugliest fights…was an enormous comfort to me.
It doesn’t mean that I never pursue Reid when we are in conflict, but the idea that Jesus pursued His bride when she as far off and it was ALL HER FAULT…and that He keeps on relentlessly fighting for us in all our wretched ugly…has changed what conflict looks like in our marriage. It has meant the world to me that Reid truly believes and lives out the wisdom of Piper’s admonition that…
Spiritual leadership is being the pursuer in every fight.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. And I could go on forever, about the ways that Reid has loved and led me spiritually in ways that do not show up in classic “Spiritual Leadership” books.
But, this last one is most precious to me.
When we were engaged we heard the story of a pastor who officiated his son’s wedding. Mid-wedding, he made his son turn to his bride and said to him, “Now, repeat after me: “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…leave you.” And then he made the bride do the same.
On our wedding day, after we said our vows and exchanged rings, we moved to the “Candle Lighting Ceremony.” I know it’s symbolic and all, but that’s an awfully long time to just sit there and stare at a candle, while everyone’s staring at your backsides, so Reid and I planned on sharing something special during that time. And in that moment he turned to me and said, “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…leave you.”
I am crying even as I type.
Not so much because of the promise. But because he’s kept it.
Through hell, he has kept it.
I don’t even have to give you the “statistics” for couples who’ve buried a child, or lost all their worldly possessions, or suffered complete financial decimation, or live daily with debilitating chronic pain. And in the last two years, we’ve experienced all of these. It was a year ago this Valentine’s, when our doctor called us with the news that we had indeed been exposed to toxic mold, and we would have to get rid of literally everything. These are absolutely the moments that destroy marriages. When the crushing pressure of death and loss and suffering and hardship bear down until you can no longer breathe, let alone treasure and love and care for another rather sinful and equally devastated human being.
And he did not leave.
And though my body is broken, and I can’t feel my legs or arms when I go to sleep, and he has to give me a back-rub every night and I’m too weak to ever give one back…
He does not leave.
And though my soul is broken, and I scream horrible things at the sky, and sound dangerously similar to Job’s wife because I am so completely sick of being the people who people think of when they read the book of Job for their Quiet Times…
He does not leave.
He does not lead me in our “Morning Devos.” He might not even pray for me every night. But he loves me. He fights for me. He pursues me. He speaks the truth of God’s love for me and care for us in the midst of these endless storms every day as he speaks the Word of God into my life.
And as this boat rocks on and on and on, and we are pounded by endless wave after wave of suffering…
He does not leave.
Because spiritual leadership is never, ever leaving.
Just like the One who once promised us, “I will never forsake you, I will never leave.”
And spiritual leadership is more than just not leaving…it’s loving in a way that shows them that the real you…is there to love the real them…until your dying day.
He has seen me, the real me. And he has accepted and held unto the real me. He has held me by our babies graves. He has held me after every fight. He has held me when I screamed in anger over the absolute misery of our lives. He has stayed.
And as we prepare to celebrate another Valentine’s day, and I see junior high boys scrambling around the grocery story trying to buy flowers for the girls they “love,” I can only smile.
Because love…is not about flowers, or chocolate, or words on heart-shaped Valentines…and it’s not even about how well you “lead” someone through truly optional, albeit wonderful spiritually-healthy routines…love is staying.
Love is being, what is simple, and yet so incredibly hard to be. A provider. A pursuer. And someone who stays. And every man who is and does those things…has given his wife a far greater gift than anything that could ever be packaged on an arbitrary day.
If your husband has been these things you are the luckiest woman in the world. Because while you may not have been through all that we’ve been through- the curse is over all the earth, and as I look around at this broken world…none of this is easy. We are all knee-deep in this cursed soil, struggling desperately to believe that we are loved in a world so broken and still breaking.
But is this broken heart…deeply grateful for the equally broken man who is beside me?