Sometime in 2012, a group of young men invited me to fellowship with them over a ‘men only’ lunch. The lunch was in the home of one the young men and I was the oldest person with longest marriage experience among six others – all married young men.
When I inquired as to why their spouses were not present at the lunch, one of them responded as follows: – ‘……. we are searching for the means to becoming better husbands. And so there are things we cannot talk about openly to others regarding our marriages in the presence of wives.”
As expected therefore, the entire period was devoted to discussing challenges young men face in their marriages. One thing I noticed was that almost all of the six young men thought that they had made mistakes in their choice of life partners. The common complaint was that the wives they now have at home ‘for good’ are very different from the pretty damsels they courted with passion and married with great expectation. But I told them that their spouses were probably expressing the same opinion where ever they might be at the time of our meeting.
Whilst the discussion went on one young man intimated; “……Hear me out senior brother. I do not seem to know or understand my spouse of five years. I do not know how to please or satisfy her on any issue. We seem to be drifting away from each other by the day. Our desire for each other is gravitating towards ground zero. And you know what that entails? – The temptation to look through the window’’
In my bid to assuage the frustration of the young man, I remarked; ‘Don’t worry my nephew. It is the same with almost every marriage anywhere in the world – except for those who deliberately shy away from truth or reality. The problems you have enumerated can last throughout the marriage unless you take deliberate steps to right the wrongs.’’
“Is that so? Then tell us your experience. Tell us how you have kept the fire burning all these twenty three years. Look! This is the reason we invited you. We are told you are with your wife to work in the morning and back from work in the evening. Don’t you get tired of her presence? ” That was one other young man’s request.
I inquired whether we could spice the discussion with Bob Marley’s ‘One Love, One Heart – Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright’; and the ‘boy’ in us danced hilariously to the tune of the reggae music.
After the music, I told the young men that “To build a successful marriage, husband and wife ought to approach their relationship with one love and one heart. Husband must work on himself. Likewise; wife must work on herself independent of what the husband does. And no one party should attempt to change the other radically. Instead, if a husband expects a wife to change from her ’ways’; that husband must first change from his ‘ways’ and vice versa. The concerned party must first show the way.”
One of the young men shouted with some excitement saying: ‘Oh so the change must start with one person independent of what the other person does? What else?”
“Yes!” I responded and continued as follows: – “Two people cannot decide to change their ways all at the same time. One person must first take the lead and for the change to seen by the other person in a positive light, it be must to seen to be genuine without any pretenses. A genuine change will help break the iceberg of disaffection and indifference and with time – not too long a time – some positive changes will also be seen in the other person. This will come about without compulsion. In my case, I started working on myself by doing some positive things I did not do for nearly fifteen years – for instance; – coming home early from work, – putting taps on the anger valve though with great difficulty, trying to be jovial at home, showing genuine remorse when I have misbehaved by saying ‘I am sorry’, avoiding things that engenders irritation, etc. etc. etc. ……”
I went to on to tell the young men that every successful relationship – particularly marriage – requires a huge dosage of humility on the part of each partner. Humility can be discerned from the manner in which one endures humiliation. In marriage, the humiliation may be perpetuated by the other partner – sometimes unknowingly – other times deliberately. Family members of the other partner may also be the source of troubles and agonies in marriage – especially children from ex-spouses. But, the gracefulness with which we bear humiliation even when we are undeservedly humiliated – just as the Lord Jesus demonstrated during his arrest, trial and crucifixion – portrays the depth and genuineness of our humility. In reflecting on the words of Isaiah 53:1-12 we learn that humility is borne out of humiliation.
“What are your personal experiences?” Another young man inquired.
And so, I narrated to the young men some aspects of my marriage life which I thought – though very personal – could be useful to them.
During the first fifteen of the ‘brief’ years I have stayed with the daughter of my mother-in-law, I thought I made a mistake by saddling myself with what I termed ‘mileage’. Yes like many other individuals, I considered the noble institution of marriage as an unending journey of pain and trouble – a voluntary bondage. In fact my upbringing had a lot to do with that attitude.
Following an observation of the marriage life of some of my close friends who I thought had very wonderful relationship with their spouses, I came view that there was something radically wrong with me and so I decided to take an inventory of my life as a husband and father.
Whilst wondering how I could also enjoy my relationship with the woman I willingly chose as a better half, somehow the good Lord led me to one of Brother Paul’s masterpieces on relationships:-
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put way from you, along with malice. Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you"(Ephesians 4:32).
Following a more critical study of Paul’s admonition and further meditation on the Lord washing the feet of the disciples in John 13:4-17, I learned that if I want to be kind-hearted — to take up the towel to wash the dirt off the feet of Patricia – my wife; and restore and maintain cordiality with her, — I do not need to know the details of why and how her feet became dirty in the first instance. Indeed I do not need to know why she does the things I do not like. This is because through the study I became aware that Jesus did not ask His disciples, "Why and how did you get such filthy feet?" He only wanted to get the dust off of those feet. His love for them was unconditional.
After my study of Ephesians 54:31-32 and John 13:4-17, I came to the realisation that, those who desire to walk in the fullness of Jesus Christ must have this attitude of love toward those they perceive as having dirty feet. We are not to ask for details. Instead, we are to say, "Let me wash your feet."
This was exactly what I have been doing since I deliberately decided to change my ‘ways’ for the better. I decided not to be too critical at home again. Rather than always complaining and sitting in the judgment seat at home, I have tried to go by Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:31-32 and Jesus’s feet washing therapy in John 13:4-17.
Amazingly, there has been peace at home ever since. Both Patricia and I have seen our blood pressure normalised. The young adults at home have seen positive changes in my attitude towards their mother and vice versa and so they have also opened up more and more to us – their parents.
Too often we Christians want to delve into all the gory details of a situation. We come to a spouse, son, daughter, sibling or a friend who has dirty feet, saying, "I want to wash your feet. But tell me, what happened? How did you get these so dirty?"
As we keep probing the ‘whys and hows’ of the situation we usually come to a dead end saying, "Oh gosh!!! This is worse than I thought. I can't get involved in this." We judge the person as too evil, beyond help, and we drop our towels and go our way. Sometimes we choose separation or divorce in the case marriage.
Friend, in our relationship with our spouses and dear ones, we cannot wash feet in a judge's robes. We have to take off our self-righteous garments before we can do any cleansing. That was what Jesus did before washing the feet of his disciples.
Paul says we are to be gentle and patient with all people: He puts it this way – "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth" (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
My layman’s understanding of Paul’s admonition above is this – "At all times, we ought to be tender-hearted and patient with everyone – particularly those who annoy or hurt us because they are close to us. We must be willing to wash their feet with gentleness and patience in order to win them to our side and that of God.
Last week I had a call from one of the young men I interacted with. This young man was quiet throughout my time with him and his friends. He told me he wanted to host me and the ‘daughter of my mother-in-law’ together with his other friends – this time with their spouses sometime – during the course of this year.
When I inquired about the purpose for the invitation, the young man responded with laughter and said to me as follows:
“Uncle Philip, before our meeting in September 2012, I was on the verge of laying aside my wife of five years for various reasons including child birth. After the session with you, I tried the prescription you recommended – I mean the ‘feet washing’ therapy. Like you advised I made a deliberate decision to change my ‘ways’ for the better, practiced feet washing and stopped being critical and judgmental. My wife recognized the change in me and without any deliberate prompting on my part; she also started working on her ‘ways’ with the help of the ‘feet washing therapy. With time both of us changed our ways for the better. And we started discussing some of the most contentious marital issues with understanding. Through the use of the feet washing therapy, we agreed to see a common doctor with regard to our childlessness. And just last March 2014, the Lord blessed us with our first child after over six years of waiting. I just wanted you to come and witness what the Lord has done for me and my wife.”
Friend, you could just imagine my joy and excitement. All I said to the young man was to read a quote in the Psalms as follows:-
“All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant." (Psalm 25:10 NIV)