The piece I was originally writing this afternoon was titled “Worst Wife Award.”
This article was, originally, a pity party about my inadequacies and shortcomings as a Christian wife. Lately, I’ve been overly sensitive to the plethora of Proverbs 31 “motivational” merchandise, articles, ladies groups, Bible studies, etc. which have become quite the trend in our Christian society.
Brandon and I are well into our second year of marriage; I suppose we’d still consider ourselves newlyweds. But, let’s face it… My zeal to surpass my husband’s expectations in all facets of our marriage began to diminish around the time we started leaving the bathroom door open and throwing laundry on the floor.
It’s not that the passion is dying. On the contrary, I love Brandon more, now, than I did on our wedding day. I suspect (and pray) that the pattern will continue.
I think the real issue stems from my perfection complex when it comes to our relationship. Prior to our wedding, I spent hours upon hours poring over Proverbs 31, studying Old Testament women, and reading every book and blog on marriage that I could find. I observed older Christian couples; I looked for common qualities among Christian wives. And while there is nothing innately wrong with any of those things, all the while I was thinking, “I’m going to learn to be the very best, Godly wife out there.”
Vanity of vanities.
As if filling my head with all of that information would make the application of it a walk in the park. Fresh out of the gate, I was strong and determined. I worked hard to ensure that my husband was happy and comfortable at all times. I went out of my way to do extra nice things and surprise him with my thoughtfulness. As the months flew by, I grew tired and found myself sacrificing my personal time and still having to choose between a tidy apartment and quality time with Brandon. I felt guilty every time I got behind on laundry or didn’t make dinner. I began to resent the Biblical standards which ardently drove me in the beginning. I started to resent myself.
There, looming over me was the unattainable image of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31. “Who am I kidding?” I thought. “I can never be like her. Why try?”
It didn’t take Brandon long to hone in on my negativity regarding anything Proverbs 31 related. Today, as I began angrily typing my thoughts on the topic, he asked what I was writing. I reluctantly, yet vehemently, opened up and exposed my jealousy, embarrassment, and self-loathing.
“As Christians, we all should strive for perfection,” Brandon reminded me. “We imitate Christ, who actually was perfect.” This high standard doesn’t just apply to Christian wives and it isn’t just in reference to marriages. We are to live our whole lives in such a way as to mimic Christ. This lifestyle is all about self-sacrifice and loving one another deeply. Brandon reassured me that I was not alone in feeling discouraged by the daunting expectations laid out for me. We aren’t perfect, after all, which is why we need a savior.
He, then, opened up Proverbs 31 and read it aloud.
“Her husband can trust her and she will greatly enrich his life.” He paused, looked up at me and said, “Check!”
“She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” He smiled. “Check!”
“She is energetic and strong. . . Check!”
He laughed when he read “Her lamp burns late into the night.” In a scolding tone he said, “definitely a check!”
He went through the entire passage like that until I felt like my heart could explode and I was fighting tears. When he was finished, he sighed and grinned, “It’s obvious to me now that you can’t read.”
I laughed at how overwhelmingly I love the man. And it was then that the root of the problem was exposed.
Had I been holding myself to the standard of the Proverbs 31 women out of love for my Lord and for my husband? Or, had I been striving for excellence because of society’s expectations and so that I could boast in my accomplishments? Had I been comparing myself to Christ or our culture?
I thought that if I met the all of the criteria to be a virtuous woman, then my husband would know (along with everyone else) how much I love him. But when I attempt to obtain these qualities out of duty and obligation, it leads to exhaustion and despair. Love, however, will produce these characteristics on its own (1 Corinthians 13).
Brandon often jokes that marriage is a competition: “A competition to see who can out love the other.” When I love the Lord first, and my husband second, being a virtuous wife isn’t a chore or an obligation. It’s simply a lifestyle of love.
So, now my personal goal is to rewire my thinking on this subject and unclutter my emotional compartment by pitching the self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy as a wife. Who am I trying to impress, ultimately? The wives who claim to have it all figured out? The older Christian couples I admire? I should simply strive to be a good servant of Christ and good wife to Brandon. Love should be the driving force as I strive for virtuosity.
Life is messy. Marriage is messy. Sometimes the house is going to be messy. I don’t believe that perfect wives exist. I do believe, however, that God calls imperfect people to greatness and uses them in ways, unimagined. Many very imperfect women throughout history were also virtuous, industrious, and Godly wives. The same goes for husbands. And who ever said that a virtuous wife won’t occasionally fall behind on chores or say, “Honey, we’re eating out tonight!”
Being a virtuous wife is definitely something worth striving toward, but it doesn’t ensure a successful marriage as some seem to think.
If a marriage is firmly rooted in the foundation of Christ Jesus, it will be like a tree near a stream (Psalms 1:3) or a house on a rock (Matthew 7:24). It will stand firm and endure . . . whether or not the laundry is done, the house is clean, and dinner is prepared.
It’s my prayer that I, as well as other Christian wives who feel this way, can reach a point where we are not burdened by our culture’s idea of a good wife. I pray that we will do away with the guilt and self-loathing; these feelings do nothing to benefit our marriages. Instead, let us fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2) who taught us how to live in love and peace with one another, bearing fruits of the spirit. And may we all be God fearing women, for “a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (Proverbs 31:30).