IN THE BEGINNING, were the words: promises exchanged during a dreamy candlelit wedding ceremony. But in the beginning, when we were crazy in love with our husband, the pledge to love and respect him was a painless promise to make. After all, he was our knight in shining armor, the man of our dreams and, by far, the easiest guy in the world to respect. Right?
But somewhere along the way, somewhere between our marriage vows and mortgage payments, somewhere between the magical and the mundane, we learned there is more to the words, “I promise to love and honor you,” than we had originally thought. Much, much more . . .
It wasn’t until Gray and Carol were airborne, forty thousand feet above the daily demands and routine of running a household, that an awkward silence finally fell over them.
“Gray,” Carol began in an attempt to break the silence between them, “I’m so glad we’re getting away together.”
Gray, nestled in seat 3B, nodded, and then returned to the book he was reading. Engrossed, it was obvious he didn’t wish to talk. Carol thought it somewhat strange, considering that Gray wasn’t much of a reader.
Bewildered and defeated, Carol abandoned her attempt to make conversation. Giant tears splashed onto the pages of the magazine lying across her lap. She wondered if the thud of her sinking heart was audible to her other seatmate as it dropped somewhere between disappointment and despair.
When was the last time Gray was in the mood for laughter, love, or a long conversation? What caused this “hollowness” in our marriage? What made him withdraw? Each thought brought about a new wave of heartache. She missed the days before financial success snatched happiness out from under them. The days when Gray had been the leader of their family.
Describing Gray as a combination of John Wayne, the Lone Ranger, and King David, she emphasized that, “Like John Wayne, he is a warrior. He even has the swagger that suggests: mess with my wife or kids and you’re going down! A man’s man, he is respected by most men, intimidating to others, and admired by women. Like the Lone Ranger, he single-handedly tackles any challenges presented to him.” Most important though, according to Carol, is that Gray, much like King David, has always had a heart after God.
Spiritually and emotionally, they had been blessed beyond measure. Amazingly, Gray’s business grew 400 percent over a three-year period. Then prosperity, lurking like a thief in the night, snuck into their home and seized her husband’s heart. Taking his eyes off God, his humble heart turned haughty and hard. It was on the flight to Scottsdale that Carol could no longer deny the inexplicable sadness that had infiltrated their ten-year-old marriage.
It is frightening how easy it becomes, when blinded by anger or pain, to stumble over our husband when he has fallen as a result of his failures. Especially when we get a really good “mad” brewing. The thought of lifting him in love and prayer is difficult, if not, at least in our mind, humanly impossible.
Falling into the above category, Carol’s respect for the man she once respected more than any man alive was all but nonexistent. Skeptically, she was convinced the only way she would regain respect for him would be if it was divinely resurrected. Little did she know that was precisely God’s plan.
The next morning, Gray attended the first of several conference meetings. Resting poolside at the resort, Carol thumbed through travel destinations she thought might be of interest to them. They had agreed that neither had the heart to participate in the “dog and pony show” that preceded these conferences. They had two days—and a rental car—to call their own.
Suddenly, Gray’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Have any ideas how you’d like to spend the next two days?”
Carol did, but had no idea why. You know that feeling you get when your heart is “nudged” and “thumped” with such persistence it’s impossible to ignore? It makes no sense and you feel silly following through with it, yet not following through is not an option. So off they drove.
Visiting the Grand Canyon the next day was God’s reminder to Gray and Carol of His magnificence and majesty. The beauty of the canyon left them breathless, knowing only God could create such a masterpiece from hard and jagged stone.
The following morning the “nudging” persisted while packing the car. Looking at the map, they noticed that the city of Sedona was on their return route to Scottsdale. A particular point of interest was the Sedona Chapel built on the bluffs of the famed red rock formations. Carol read no further. They were headed toward the bluffs, and three hours later they arrived.
Have you ever unknowingly wandered onto holy ground? Defenses disappear. False bravados fade. Well-constructed walls come tumbling down. And somehow you sense you are resting in His holiness.
That’s what happened to Gray and Carol. The instant they entered the vestibule of the tiny chapel, in front of God and strangers they began weeping. Carol had only seen her husband cry once when his father passed away. After all, everyone knows John Wayne types don’t cry. Fortunately, God sees things differently. He seized hold of their hearts and had no intention of releasing them until they allowed Him to create beauty from their jagged hearts of stone.
Making no attempt at false composure, they turned and walked downstairs to a gift shop. Neither spoke, but both purchased a small memento for each other and returned to the chapel.
How often has God tried to get you to voluntarily drop to your knees in prayer, particularly for your husband? But mixed emotions of the flesh prevented you from doing so. For months God had asked Carol to drop to her knees, but she had been more concerned that Gray do so. After all, he was the one with the problem. He was the one who’d made money his God. Not her. In her mind she was the loving wife.
“Finally God brought me to my knees, but, because I had not done so willingly, the result of my actions proved painful,” Carol admitted. “Apparently,” she continued, “this was not only about Gray’s failures—the ones I’d been pointing out for months. This was about mine as well.”
In that chapel, strangers must have watched them with embarrassed curiosity, yet Carol only recalls both of them dropping to their knees, facing each other on the step of the altar. And they, without previous notion, renewed their wedding vows.
But God was not yet finished with Carol’s heart. Still kneeling, hands interlocked, Gray whispered, “I took my eyes off God. Power and prosperity became my gods. You and the children fell to a distant second. I’ve been selfish, shortsighted, and undeserving of your respect. For that I am sorry. But before God and all that is holy in this chapel, I love you and know where I went wrong. The book I was reading on the plane is Go the Distance by John Trent. He asks men if we’re equipped to cross the finish line faithful to the promises we made. Boy, has God jerked me by the neck. I give you my word, I will be a man who goes the distance. But I need your love and respect to do it.”
In an instant, the hollowness that echoed throughout their marriage of late made sense. Suddenly, Carol remembered when she had withdrawn her respect from Gray.
Several months earlier, she questioned (and judged rather harshly) his capability and worth as a businessman, husband, and father. That was the day the tide shifted in their marriage, and that was the day he instinctively withdrew.
Through their tears, they asked forgiveness for the ways they had failed each other.
They asked for the chance to renew their once-tender love and to see Christ in the face of the other, as God had intended.
Surely you can recall the days when your own romance was bright and brand-new. Your love was close to perfect. You tenderly lavished honor on your husband. A mere glimpse of him made your heart beat faster. His whispered words took your breath away. He was witty, wise, and brilliant.
You blinked and, without warning, you were buried beneath a burden of bills, babies, and business deadlines. Soon, the mundane overshadowed the magical. And you discovered your knight in shining armor suddenly seemed rusty and dull.
Now his way of doing things causes you to poke and pounce on him—from the way he changes the baby’s diaper to how he disciplines the older children to how he fails to pick up his dirty socks. Then you really hit him where it hurts: you secondguess his business decisions. You question his capabilities. Honor is withdrawn. An unspoken war is waged.
Sadly, we sometimes become so preoccupied with our own issues, we don’t even notice when our husband has silently retreated from us. Perhaps remaining benignly polite, he stops sharing with us.
We tell ourselves that life has just gotten busy. The truth is, he doesn’t feel “safe” with us anymore. It is then, for fear of being further rejected and disrespected by us, he withdraws his affections. A once-vibrant house slowly turns into a lifeless, if functional, dormitory.
How easily hollowness can replace happiness. Oh, the irony. We wives wanted these real men and married these real men, then forgot they are real men! Which of course means they are not perfect. But we react to their imperfections by withholding honor. Or we launch a verbal assault before they know they’re even standing in the line of fire. And we wonder why a swagger turns into a stagger?
What happened to the vow to love and honor our husbands all the days of our lives, in good times and in bad? Yes, well, that was romance, this is reality, we may attempt to justify. At last check, there was no rider clause releasing us from that promise just because we don’t particularly approve of our husband’s attitude. Think about how you feel when you are being judged. Don’t you automatically retreat—protecting yourself from the wrath of judgment? Your husband is no different. In fact, to a man, our failure to love and respect him is like dropping a weapon of mass destruction on him.
In most instances within a healthy marriage, our failure to respect our husband is not because we don’t love him, though that’s exactly what it says to him. Perhaps we’ve permitted ourselves to grow careless. Do we allow disappointment to develop into disparaging remarks? Let’s be honest, when our eyes become critical and our tongue turns sharp, there isn’t a man alive who stands a chance of survival. Hence we learn a painful lesson, where praise and admiration enrich love, criticism and condemnation erode it.
Could our struggle with marital respect be the consequence of taking our eyes off God and the beautiful love He ordains in marriage? In the echoes of he-did-she-did, he-said-she-said scenarios, have we simply forgotten how to champion our husband’s causes? Have the sounds of life in the fast lane drowned out the cries of our husband’s heart?
Perhaps we should back up a bit and ask ourselves, Just how does the concept of respecting our husband resonate? When a group of us wives were asked recently if we “almost always” showed honor and respect toward our husbands, most answered with an emphatic “Yes!”
“Take caution then,” counseled our wise friend, “because most of you would be surprised to note that your body language and tone of voice might suggest otherwise.”
My own emphatic “yes” was quickly canceled out by some not-so-pleasant truths. Hadn’t I (even as I worked on this very book!) been cross and short-tempered with my husband? I shuddered recalling the times my responses to his questions were marked with scowls, heavy sighs, or even rolling eyes. It’s just as Jesus warns us in Matthew 12:34, the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.
When we attempt to respect our husband with our own imperfect, sometimes wounded or angry heart, it’s no wonder we bristle! And, as women in this society, is it any wonder that the feminist notion that respect equates with weakness, subservience, and subjugation has affected us? Pay close attention to the next four or five articles you read in popular women’s periodicals. How is the woman who is thoughtful, nurturing, and honoring of her husband portrayed?
It is when we look into our “God heart” that we are able to see our husband with the value, attributes, and potential our Father sees in him. Even looking at our husband through the hearts of others can reinforce how wonderful he is. When I visit our family-owned insurance agency, at times, I am reminded of my husband’s many wonderful qualities when I see the amount of respect and appreciation his staff shows him. Sometimes when I visit I am complacent and take him for granted. At other times, I’m annoyed with him because of something he has or has not done. But by the time I walk out the door, I “see” him through the staff’s eyes and am reminded of his value as a man.
Romance is easy to espouse when love is fresh and new. The success of a lasting love, however, is dependent on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our heart. With His indwelling, we are better equipped to see goodness in our husband and speak blessings to him even when our flesh doesn’t particularly feel like it.
Does making a conscious choice to treat our husband with honor make us a doormat? Within the context of healthy boundaries, absolutely not! Consider the book of Proverbs and Solomon’s desire to impart wisdom for godly living. What a timeless reminder that “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov. 16:23–24). Imagine the power of speaking blessings to your husband!
Interestingly, the word proverb comes from a Hebrew word that means to govern or rule. Thus, our simply having knowledge of honor and respect is not enough. It is when we take the knowledge from the Word and live out what we learn, that it becomes the wisdom that governs or rules our heart. What governs your heart?
Just for a moment, listen. If we listen with our “God heart” rather than our hurried, wounded, or indignant heart, perhaps we will hear our husband whispering the longings of his heart to us:
“I need for you to respect me. It makes me feel important. Please, fortify me with frequent words of encouragement and praise. Don’t beat me down with a steady stream of criticism and correction.”
“Though I am far from perfect, please love me the way you did the day you said you would love me forever.”
“With your respect—with you believing in me—I can be the man God calls me to be. Without it, I am only half that man.”
Respecting our husband is a choice, albeit a difficult one at times. It is a choice that can take an ordinary marriage and turn it into something sweet and new. Respect can heal the broken parts of our husband’s spirit and transform the depth of his very being.
Respecting a man can cause a transformation so dramatic it rewrites a family’s heritage for generations to come. Tom Nguyen understands the power of respect. One moment of undeserved honor completely changed his life.
Tom Nguyen was one of thousands in his small South Vietnamese village who survived the war, fall of Saigon, and heinous cruelties inflicted by the North Vietnamese soldiers. The little boy who loved the Lord with his whole heart had become a drug addict and thief. Disgraced, his family sent him to live with a distant relative.
As the train pulled into the village he would call home, Tom was sure this was where his life would end. After stepping off the train, he walked aimlessly along the tracks. Soon, a small boy approached him and, smiling, looked up at Tom and said, “Good morning, sir!”
“No one had ever called me ‘sir,’ a term of extreme honor in Vietnam,” explained Tom. “I had only been called terrible names—names I deserved. Yet when this little boy called me ‘sir,’ I knew I must live up to the standard of ‘sir.’ That was the day my life changed. After that, I made every choice in my life as a man of honor.”
Today Tom Nguyen, central Florida husband and father of four, is a beloved leader in business, ministry, and community. He is living proof that we become precisely who we believe ourselves to be.
It is not by chance that in John 15:12 God commands, rather than suggests, that we love each other as He has loved us.
He knew long before He finished flinging the stars across the sky how murky modern-day mass media would make His original design of respect. He knew how fickle and fainthearted we would be—after all He created us! He knew our feelings would fluctuate and our emotions would vacillate and that if we “gave” love only when the mood struck, marriages would be doomed before they began.
Fortunately for us, with God we have a forever love—a love given freely, with no strings attached. His love is not given only when “that loving feeling” happens to strike His fancy or when He thinks we deserve it. Nor is it given only when all business matters in heaven are A-OK and there are no areas of concern entered in His Palm Pilot.
As modern women in a contemporary world, are we listening to Him? Or are we guilty of gathering feel-good truths that are easier to live by? Just as Paul warned in his second letter to Timothy, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
Ironically, God answered the desire of our hearts: He blessed us with those “real” men for which we prayed. The “real” men we couldn’t live without. And now we come running to Him crying, “Hey, God, this marriage thing with these ‘real’ men is a lot harder than we thought. Help!”
Perhaps God wants us to see that He created each of our “real” men with a precarious, but precious, place in their hearts for us. A place well disguised under the false bravado and swagger of John Wayne prototypes. But know this: To honor our husband is the purest form of love. And it makes all the difference in both the man and the marriage.
Respect, simply translated, is to hold in high regard and esteem and is at the top of your husband’s list of needs. How will you respond to your husband’s need for honor and respect? Will you love him with your “God heart” rather than your own?
Feelings fluctuate. Emotions vacillate. But when we love our husband—truly love our husband as God asks of us—we can transform the depth of his being.