What husband would let his wife do this?
I’ve been struggling and wrestling with this question over the last month now and it reached a climax when ten days ago, I put my wife on a plane to what is literally one of the world’s most cut off and inaccessible places. There is next to no reliable infrastructure and the mobile reception is patchy at best, with no emergency health care services if something goes wrong. Yet this week, at a point when I hadn’t heard from my wife at all for three entire days, I had an inexplicable peace. So am I irresponsible, indifferent or negligent? Am I a bad husband (I’ve certainly asked myself that!)? Or is there something greater going on here?
We wrote our own vows when we got married and finished them with:
From this day forth, I’m on your team!
Since then, we have orientated our lives and our relationship around this one central idea of being a ‘team’.
Together. United. Inseparable.
This is what has enabled us to ‘let each other go’ just enough in order to fulfil tasks we know we have each been called to do. Namely, to love others and to serve the poor. And this week, that is exactly what we have both been doing – separately.
Brittany is currently making her way from village to village in the upper reaches of Mugu – a district comprising 55,000 people at an average altitude of 3000m above sea level – living in villages flung across the valleys and mountains of the Himalayas in Nepal’s remote north west. Her days involve trekking up to 10 hours from one village to the next, sleeping in the homes of community members and eating whatever is available. She is there as part of her role as a Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor for the International Nepal Fellowship.
Meanwhile, I have had the privilege of leading an incredible group of young women from Australia through a two week immersion experience into the communities World Vision Australia works with in Nepal. On this trip are teachers, law students, fashion designers, photographers and a journalist from CLEO Magazine. I have been personally inspired and challenged as I’ve watched them go from being broken by what they’ve seen, to inspired about the possibilities for change and what their role in it all might be.
If we didn’t have a sense of the greater purpose of our relationship, Britt and I would simply not have the individual strength or confidence in our relationship to enable each other to do what we are doing right now – for me to trust that Britt is okay without me in those mountains and for her to know that I have the integrity required to keep company with nine other women for two weeks.
Learning to see our relationships as something bigger than ourselves
In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal – it is a status, an office.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell
When I first read this quote it blew me away. It completely turns our society’s view of relationships, romance and love on its head. The idea that our relationships (and this is not just limited to those between husband and wife but equally applicable to dating couples, family members and our closest friendships) are not just for ourselves but for others is completely counter-cultural. Yet it is essential we grasp this if we are to be at all effective in working to make this world a better place (if you haven’t yet discovered your calling to do just that this might just help!).
So what does this look like practically? Let me offer a few thoughts from my own experience and examples my wife and I have had modelled to us by other great couples and friendships.
Becoming the best team you can be
1. Remove safety and comfort as your ultimate goal:
I hear this all the time, especially amongst people of my own age “We’re waiting to… [insert dream here (eg. move out / get married / volunteer for that cause we’ve always wanted to / start that new ministry / have children)]… until we have enough money so that we’re set up.”
There is a wisdom in planning for the future but never at the expense of missing out on life’s greatest adventures.
Don’t wait for that mythical future day where you are free from financial pressures or other external stresses before you start to pursue your dreams together. For my wife and I, we first ask who do we feel called to serve, where do we need to be in community to best achieve this and, finally, how are we going to resource this? Don’t get me wrong, the ‘how’ is vitally important but I believe it should serve your calling as a team and not determine it.
2. Take it in turns to ask ‘who has the biggest dream right now?’:
While we want to see our relationships as enabling us to do more together than apart, as individuals, we are each given a unique set of gifts, talents and passions.
We moved to Nepal because my wife had recently completed her Masters in Community Development and was passionate about putting to use her new found skills and experience in an overseas context. So we looked for the perfect opportunity to do just that and when we came to Nepal, she was the one with the ‘role’ while my visa literally reads, ‘unassigned spouse’ (though I have since found much to assign myself to).
Naturally, there will be some contexts and seasons where one of you feels that they are more naturally operating out of their ‘sweet spot’ than the other. And that’s fine. The best relationships are able to take it in turns to support one another selflessly because they know that their partner only wants to see them flourish too.
3. Invite your partner to experience what excites you most:
Don’t be frustrated if, at first, your partner doesn’t seem to understand the excitement and passion that you have for something. Instead, find ways to involve them in it so that they can see you doing what makes you feel ‘most alive’. That way, even if they still don’t want to do it themselves, they will realise how essential it is to you and be able to support you better.
4. Find at least one way to serve others together:
For Britt and I, this is practicing hospitality in our home (wherever that may be). We intentionally bought a dining table far too big for the two of us and constantly endeavour to fill it with people, laughter, good food and rich conversations as often as we can. This gives us memories and stories that we created together and are able to look back on with great fondness.
5. Above all, protect, nurture and constantly seek to strengthen your relationship:
Don’t give so much to others that you’ve got nothing left to give each other. The love in your relationship is the greatest asset you can use to love others. I’ve learnt this the hard way during times when I’ve become so stretched I’ve ended up both a lousy husband and an average friend, unable to sympathise and even resenting those I’m meant to be helping.
A tremendous source of help in this has been the mentoring relationship that we have with another couple a bit older than us. They constantly seek to check that we are loving each other first and foremost and generously share with us from their own relationship how they have managed to create a marriage that not only survives the challenges of living a life of service but thrives. We also seek to ‘get away’ together (even more important as we do so much ministry from out of our house) and make sure we go out for regular date nights!
Whether you’re single, dating or married, we are not created to walk through this life alone nor will we have the impact we’re designed for if we do. So grab your teammate or teammate(s) and bind yourself closely to them – never forget there are others in this world who desperately need the love you get to share with one another.
Question: How does this strike you when it comes to the way you think about the purposes of your own relationships? [Please leave your comment below]