I don't know whether this is true in your part of the country, but in Southern California where I live, bagel shops and cell phone stores (and almost any business) will hire a guy to stand on the sidewalk and hold a sign advertising the store. Most signs arc painted in garish red and shaped like an arrow, figuratively pointing you toward the best deal on a dozen bagels or a minutes-per-month cellular plan.
When it conies to traversing the sidewalks of life, most married guys should take turns pounding the pavement while wearing a sandwich board that says, "Work in Progress Here." I know that's been the case for me, and my cowriter of this book, Fred Stoeker, would agree in a heartbeat. No matter whether you're unpacking after the honeymoon or packing up to retire from a lifetime career, becoming the husband that your wife always desired you to be is a constant work in progress.
That's been true ever since I became a young adult. When I was a single man in my late twenties, I embarked on a new career in the counseling arena after years of rebellion, doubt, and mistakes. I finally felt that I was getting my Christian act together. My spiritual resume looked great on paper: I was active in my church, I participated in missions work, and I sang in (lie choir. I thought I would make someone a nice husband.
One Sunday evening after our church service, I traveled to a nearby restaurant to cat dinner. I was alone, but that was okay. Although the restaurant was nearly deserted, a young couple was seated at the table next to me. The young woman, Sandy, recognized me from church and, from her table, commented on how much she enjoyed my solo effort that morning.
I swelled with pride for being noticed. "Thank you," I said in my best aw-shucks Texan manner (I was born in Ranger, Texas). I continued to grin as I made small talk with the couple. After a few minutes, however, even I realized that two was a party and three was a crowd, so I asked for the check and quietly excused myself.
As I walked to the car, I admitted to myself that I was attracted to Sandy. When I later learned that she was "just friends" with her date, I asked Sandy out for a date on Mother's Day. I knew what would impress her. "I'm leaving soon on the upcoming missions trip to the Marshall Islands," I mentioned as die waitress handed us our menus.
"Oh, really?" replied Sandy. "I'm going on the same trip!"
Amazing grace! Who wouldn't be convinced that we weren't a match made in heaven after a coincidence like that? To ensure that the match stuck, however, I couldn't divulge the secret compartments of my life. My continuing feelings for my old girlfriend. My various and sundry sexual experiences. The abortion. The thousands of dollars of debt fueled by maxed-out credit cards.
I rushed the relationship because I was acting out of fear that I would go through life unmarried, unloved, and an outcast in the Christian community. I only divulged the existence of my first marriage and subsequent divorce when I thought Sandy could handle that news, but I never let on regarding the desperation I felt to marry again. Sandy was a "catch" - bright, attractive, talented, and gracious - and I didn't want to mess up this courtship. I would hide who I really was.
We married and immediately had problems. We didn't know it at the time, but the brick wall we ran into was named Intimacy. My secret compartments and my resistance to letting her forge her own identity kept us on opposite sides of the wall. And our inability to conceive a child added more bricks to its height.
Communication was one-sided; it flowed from my direction only, in the form of impulsive comments on topics ranging from her cooking skills to her choice of clothes. I insisted that she wear conservative plaid outfits with bows under the neck - like a Texan belle - although no one in Southern California dressed that way. The constant harping and my dominating presence suffocated Sandy. Our marriage Licked intimacy, and we were starting to live like married singles.
But was I so different from most men? Rather than connect with women and understand them, most men seem to want to command them. Many husbands use 1 Peter 3 as their official standard, for it instructs women married to nonbelievers to keep silent and win their husbands over with loving words and actions. This Scripture passage has given many men free rein in their behavior as leaders, often shattering marital oneness and intimacy to smithereens.
I know of these things because I became one of the worst offenders after I married my first wife, a fellow student at Baylor. Amazingly, I thought everything was going well until the day she said she was leaving me.
Rather than humble myself to ask what I kid done to be so hurtful, I pulled out the Bible to prove to her that it was not right for her to go. I just knew that this "scriptural club" would knock some sense into her. I preached Ephesians 5 at her so often that I had it memorized. In my narrow view, this passage said that she should submit to me and that God was going to be very upset with her if she did not get in line with what He wanted for His boy Steve. But my arrogant reaction to her announcement simply proved that she was right: I was an insensitive, egotistical, self-obsessed, uncaring jerk of a husband who had no idea how to win the heart of a woman.
She left my house for the courthouse and filed for divorce. She never screamed, yelled, or asked me to change. (She probably thought change was impossible!) And although she left, I felt quite content that I had done the right thing to prove to her that I was the good guy in all this.
As I look back now, I had it ironic chat I picked the fifth chapter of Ephesians to prove to her that she needed to stay. Although the passage does focus on a woman's need to respond to the leadership of her husband, it contains many more instructions on how a man should lead. I conveniently missed the part about dying to myself and sacrificing my life and rights as Christ did for the church.
I know what it is to be ignorant of truth and to do stupid things in the name of Jesus. I know how good it feels to be always correcting from the pinnacle rather than connecting from the pavement. I enjoyed pointing my finger more than opening up my arms. I was no husband; I was a judge. Everything in marriage had to reflect me, and God was left way behind.
So now here I was married again and doing the very same things to Sandy. My schtick wasn't playing any better this time around. How would I see our ship, the USS Matrimony, turned in the right direction? Or, to use another analogy we follow in the rest of this book, How would I resurrect a relationship that had grown cold and lifeless?