A month before Melissa and I were to be married, we were sitting in a church. The setting sun fragmented by the ornate stained glass had held me in a distracted daze until the priest said something that made my ears perk up:
“From this day forward, your life has changed. Your life now revolves around her.”
We weren’t in a premarital counseling session or at a wedding. We were at a baptism. And as beautiful as the ceremony was, that one phrase stuck with me.
“Your life now revolves around her.”
This represents the driving philosophy for many parents: They want to give their child everything they need so they can grow into healthy and productive adults. They do everything in their power to make sure their child is happy, fed, educated, and well-balanced. The intention is usually great, but their lives literally revolve around their children and often their own well-being is neglected.
A month after the baptism, Melissa and I were standing in a church in front of our friends and family, saying these promises to each other:
If the Lord blesses us with children, I promise to join with you in being dedicated to doing everything in our power to see them become disciples of Christ.
If we have children, I promise to prioritize my role as ‘husband’ ahead of my role as ‘father,’ still treasuring you more than any other person on this Earth.”
We wrote our vows as promises which we could hold on to when things in marriage get hard and we are weak. Our vows are framed around the reality of Ephesians 5:25— “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (ESV). In every phase of life, in every circumstance, the way I treat Melissa is to reflect the perfect, selfless, and unconditional love of Christ.
Leading up to our wedding, we sat down with married couples in our church and picked their brains. “What unexpected challenges did you experience in the first year or so of marriage?” “How do you deal with your own personal relationship with Christ within marriage?” “What were some of the expectations that you brought into marriage that weren’t met, and how did you deal with that?”
Many of our vows came from simply listening to our married friends tell stories of joy and stories of regret. Of success and failure. Woven through all the stories was the common thread of grace—each husband had to learn how to both extend grace to his spouse when she failed and also how to humbly accept grace from his wife when he had failed her. No area of life was immune from failure and brokenness: finances, unrealistic expectations, poor communication, intimacy, parenting.
One father opened our eyes to how easy it is to let the role of parent dominate the role of spouse. With children, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being “mom and dad” first, and “husband and wife” only if time allows.
To fight this, once his kids could comprehend it, this father began communicating to his children that his wife, their mother, always comes first. Then he backs it up by loving and serving his wife around his children.
This incredibly countercultural practice is not only a demonstration of his love and dedication for his wife, but it also functions as a means of discipleship. These children grow up seeing the love of Christ on display every day as their father elevates his marriage to its rightful place. In every kind and forgiving word, in every voluntary act of service, the children see the Gospel on display as their mother and father consistently try to love each other with the same love that Christ loved the church.
I am not a father. I am not qualified to give parenting advice, and I am not trying to do so here. However, I do know that anything—good or bad—has the potential of becoming an idol and distracting from the glory and goodness of God in your life.
Just as dangerous to the individual, and thus to a marriage, is the potential for parents to base their own identity around their parenting. Wherever you find your primary identity also is where you find your self-worth and value. If your identity is solely based upon being a father or a mother, then what happens when the children move out after 18 years, and you are no longer needed by your kids?
Melissa and I continuously struggle with resting in our true identity as “unconditionally loved and valued child of God.” However, when this is our natural resting point, all of our interactions seem to point back to the purpose with which God created marriage. Loving Melissa with the same selfless love that Christ loved the church becomes simpler and more rewarding. It makes it easier to elevate my role as “Melissa’s divinely appointed helpmate” to its proper place and treasure her as my most important earthly relationship.
Do you struggle with prioritizing your children over your spouse? Start a conversation with your friends by sharing one of these photos: