nourished and cherished {& other thoughts on male headship}

posted in: on being a wife | 1

I read an article shortly after getting married about a husband’s role to nourish and cherish his wife. He described a wife who is “nourished and cherished” by her husband, using words like glowing, flourishing, satisfied, content. She really sounded quite wonderful. So did her husband. But I, on the other hand, felt off. A little depressed, worn out and lost in the shuffle of needy children and my duties at home. I loved my husband and being married but it was far from flawless as we struggled through bad communication and unmet expectations.

So, naturally, I concluded that it was all my husband’s fault.

He’s not nourishing and cherishing me, I would secretly lament. I would count down the moments until he arrived home from work, waiting for him to burst in the door and rescue me from my failures and frustrations. When he didn’t live up to my demands, I quickly gave into despair. Tagged him “in” and checked myself “out.”

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We chose Ephesians 5:22-33 for our wedding. Headship and submission were new for me, both in belief and experience, and I wanted to be all in. This passage on marriage radically challenged my views on men and women and their roles within the family, and I wanted to live out the beautiful picture painted in Paul’s words. The passage, properly used (as at our wedding), challenges men and women to live out their unique callings within the marriage relationship.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

(Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)

As Kathy Keller writes, everyone gets to play the Jesus role–men as they lay their lives down as Christ for the church, women as they humbly submit as Christ to His Father’s will. I affirm this is true. I am a complementarian. I believe in the equal value and dignity of men and women as image-bearers of God, as well as the diverse callings of men and women within the church and the home. Just for the record.

However.

I think there is potential for misunderstanding.

In my limited experience, it seems that complementarity has a tendency to “go after the men”–to call them to step up, to initiate, to lead the way. They are to be the spiritual leaders for the wives and children. They set the pace for the home as the family runs after Jesus. This is well and good. The problem comes when we (wives) hear this teaching for our husbands and become critical and grumbly. Words from Ephesians ring in our ears — is my husband loving me? Nourishing and cherishing me? Sanctifying me? Washing me with the water of the word?

Suddenly we realize we don’t feel so nourished, cherished, washed, sanctified.

Suddenly we find ourselves staring at this sinner we married wondering why he isn’t making us all bright and shiny holy.

Perhaps that article was onto something in saying that a wife who is “nourished and cherished” by her husband tends to have a security and confidence that is lacking elsewhere. But here’s my problem with that: Should my husband be the source of my security and confidence?

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When we went to the Liberate conference last February, there was a marriage seminar one morning. The speaker (Scotty Smith) told of a time his wife came to him and said,

“I want to get healthy with you, but I will get healthy without you.”

It stopped me in my tracks. We went to Florida in a funk. I was living day-by-day internally pleading: Be my everything. Fix me. Make me happy. Nourish and cherish me.

The words felt so anti-complementarian. At least as far as my perception goes. A wife getting healthy without her husband? Isn’t that unsubmissive? Isn’t she supposed to sit back quietly and wait for him to lead the way? If she initiates without him, isn’t she damaging his ability to lead?

Smith said it had the opposite effect, actually. As his wife moved towards freedom, so did he. And they arrived there together.

Ephesians 5 is prescriptive for marriage. There are direct statements to husbands and wives that ought to shape how we (husbands and wives) view our roles and relationships to one another. But it’s about something far greater than marriage! Look at what Paul writes: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Christ is the head of His bride, the Church. He is her Savior. He loves her and gave himself up for her, sanctifying her and cleansing her, presenting her to Himself holy, without spot or blemish. Christ loves His bride, the Church, as His own body, nourishing and cherishing her because she is a member of Him. There is no longer two, but one, as the Church is united to Christ.

There is a beautiful way in which a husband’s love for his wife pictures this, but it will never be this. Even the most wonderful husband cannot accomplish in his bride what Christ accomplishes in His Church.

And when I look to my husband to be these things for me, and even if he rises to the occasion and I feel all nourished and cherished, if I am not first nourished and cherished by Jesus, there is only one word for our relationship: idolatry.

A woman who is nourished and cherished only by her husband may thrive for awhile, but she will eventually wither. If she does not know her God, she cannot know herself. Her marriage may be happy, but her life will be shallow. There is fruit from the love of a husband. But unless it is fruit from the love of The Husband, it will not last.

The sweet thing is that as I look to Jesus to nourish and cherish me, as I embrace His love for me and my union with Him, I am free to love my husband instead of demanding his love.

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My husband wrote our wedding vows. And in them he prayed that he would lead me to an ever-deepening satisfaction not in him, but in Jesus.

I think this is male headship. Not striving to be Jesus to your wife, but striving to point your wife to Jesus.

My husband is not Jesus to me. He’s not perfect. And sometimes that’s really disappointing. But mostly I’m thankful. I’m thankful that he wants to grow in grace and challenges me to that end. I’m thankful that in our imperfections we have the opportunity to celebrate God’s great love for us in Christ.

I’m thankful for a man who doesn’t stand up tall trying to be my Savior, but rather bends low and stands with me before the cross.

I’m thankful for an imperfect marriage and a perfect Savior.

I have an alarm that goes off every day at 5:25 before Jordan gets home from work. As the ringer blares, the words flash across my screen: “Nourished and cherished by Jesus.” I don’t always read it. It doesn’t always keep me from hoping Jordan will walk in the door and rescue me. But it does serve as a simple reminder to lift my eyes to the One who does nourish and cherish me. So that this imperfect, failing wife can take the hand of my imperfect, failing husband and we can find rest together in the arms of a sweet Savior.

One Response

  1. Kendra- I always love hearing/reading your thoughts. This though… stumbling ‘randomly’ on your blog after not being here a long while and reading this…you can just about guess how many tears are flowing. (many. manymany) I have been struggling with allll of this. Thank you. thank you.

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