Here’s a thesis topic for an M.Div. candidate with a mental block: the relationship between a husband’s body and the health of his marriage.
Whew–I was slammed this morning as I was reading Wayne Grudem’s BIBLE DOCTRINE. At the beginning of his chapter dealing with manhood and womanhood, he cites Ephesians 5.28ff:
“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.” (Eph 5.28-33, ESV)
I was unpleasantly surprised the other day when I took a look at myself in the mirror and discovered–well, admitted–that I’ve let myself go. My clothes don’t fit well, I’m uncomfortable in some positions, I get out of breath far too easily and I don’t have the strength and stamina I should have. Admittedly, part of this is due to aging. But age ain’t what I saw in that mirror.
When I look at this passage of Scripture, I see a direct correlation between how a married man cares for his body and how he cares for his wife. Paul’s assumption is that anyone in his right mind is going to care for his body…well, carefully. The apostle wants to make a couple of points here: first, the one-flesh relationship between a husband and wife is both sacred and profound because it mirrors the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. But, he says, that’s not really the topic of discussion. He’s applying a profound theological concept in very practical terms, and that’s the second point. Just as a man would be expected to care for his own body, he should care for his wife–remembering all the while that she is a co-owner of that body!
Reflecting on this passage, which is even more painful than reflecting on the image in the mirror, I can think of several descriptors for the possible correlations between how men treat their bodies and how they treat their wives. (We could also discuss how men treat their buddies as opposed to their wives, but that’s a different thesis.)
Indulgence. Rich foods, snack foods, sugar, fat–whatever we want whenever we want it. Our economy and lifestyle have made it too easy for us to be indulgent. Do physically indulgent men treat their marriages the same way? Are their wives allowed to be indulgent as well, with their spending, their speech, their use of time?
Neglect. I’ve often joked that the easiest way to keep one’s cholesterol under control is to not have it checked. I’ve always enjoyed robust health and lots of energy, scoffing at the regularity with which many people are in doctor’s offices or rolling my eyes when others talk of all the medications they’re taking or the parts they’ve had removed. But I’m beginning to realize that regular physicals are actually a good idea. Likewise, the longer people live together, the easier it is to neglect their relationship–to assume they are communicating, to argue about minor issues, to become complacent about how much time they spend together and how much attention they give to each other’s spiritual growth and happiness.
Hypochondria. This is the antithesis of neglect, and another kind of self-absorbed indulgence. The hypochondriac assumes there is always a problem and is very disappointed if there isn’t. Hypochondria in marriage may present as hypersensitivity, reading into my wife’s motives for saying and doing things, becoming defensive when criticized, and developing an adversarial spirit.
Vigilance. I think this is what Paul is advocating. Just as I should read labels, I should read responses. Just as I should measure portions, I should measure words. Just as I should develop heart and lungs and muscles, I should develop interpersonal skills. Just as I should monitor symptoms and vital signs, I should monitor communication and time and attention. Just as I should enjoy the occasional feast and the regular holiday, I should enjoy laughter and love and giving and surprises.
And I should remember that I only have to see myself when I look in the mirror. She sees me all the time.