A wife matters this much...
"If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married."
- Deuteronomy 24:5
I was thinking about this verse on the way home from Christmas vacation yesterday. Don't ask me why...it just kept ringing in my head.
So many men are war-sent, duty-laden creatures gasping for air, and the world in which we live applauds it. They start their marriages with a rubust honeymoon, to many a blurry exception to the rule of reality, and then plunge themselves headlong into the dissipation of dutiful responsibilities. And what happens to the wife? Funny you should ask.
She basically gets the shaft, the sidelines. She becomes the personified afterthought. She gets the leftovers of her man's energy and creativity and curiosity. She is old news. And she feels like it, often in the first months of marriage. Old news...and you're just getting off the blocks...wow.
And then there's this unbelievable verse that strikes a chord that has long been forgotten...namely, that marriage is a meaningful enough occasion that it demands a leave of absence. A departure from all other voices and vices clamoring for attention and affection so that the wife becomes the sole recipient of her man's energies. What runaway stagecoaches and inevitable train-wrecks could be avoided if we heeded this age-old commandment? Can you imagine what marriage would look like if it was treated like it mattered? Like it was meaningful enough to give the time of day...the time of year? My imagination can hardly muster a mental vision of the positivities and possibilities! You wanna know why? Cause I never did this.
I rushed into marriage and became a work warrior and a dutiful dude the minute I got home from the "moon of honey". And you wanna know what happened. I had the most depressed year of my life, bar none. I was turning yellow with unhealthiness, like I had jaundice. I remember--vividly--laying in the fetal position on my wife's lap and crying like a little boy saying, "I'm sorry that you married me. I didn't know I was like this. I wasn't lying to you, I didn't know this about myself." She just stroked my hair and spoke words of validation into my thin and thinning heart. I got three speeding tickets in the first year because my mind was blitzed with hyperactivity and hyper-analysis...I got in an accident as a result of running a red light that led to 8 hours of community service in a neighboring county at the Fire Station (remember, this was my first year of youth ministry!). I went to the doctor to see if I needed medication to buffer the anxiety that was plaguing me and leading to horrible sleeplessness. I was a mess of a man.
What would it have been like to just be with my wife, and to not just be with her, but to be with her for the express purpose of figuring out how to make her happy...how to bring her pleasure. To have the space and time to let my curiosity run wild about her story, her body, her desires, her unique snowflake of a soul. I don't feel like I got started real well in this thing called marriage. And the smash-mouth start has led to crippled patterns of love along the way.
There is actually a translation of this passage that applies this "making your wife happy" to the idea of sexually satisfying (or pleasuring) your wife. Anyone who is married knows that the women doesn't just hop in bed and have an orgasm on command. It's more of a relational and emotional thing for them. They have to feel known and valued and nurtured and secured throughout the day in order to go to that special place. The Hebrew culture was very well aware of this critical component to healthy marriages. Men need time to figure out how to bring their wives to pleasure...but it isn't just knowing where to touch them and how delicately...it has much more to do with how to engage their world, their soul, their dreams, their aches, their insecurities. If a man cannot (or will not) enter those places, sexual satisfaction or soul satisfaction will rarely, if ever, occur. Women are delicate creatures with complex psyches that require much more than a cursory combing, their pleasure is unlocked and unleashed when they are treated meaningfully...so meaningfully that a man would even put life on hold for a year to get to his wife's deep heart.
I'm learning that my wife is a masterpiece, a work of art made up of textures and brush strokes and colors and layers that are boundless. I could study her for years and still only scratch the surface of her womanhood. I could devote focused energy and still come up short in the defining of her essence and presence. But the reality is that I'm not a good student of my wife. And I'm woefully deficient in my ability to know her pleasures and to lead her to them when she's forgotten what they are. To make her happy. To bring her mirth. To penetrate her story, her soul...this is crowning achievement of manhood. The penetration of the body is such a paltry pleasantry that can be enjoyed by whores and ingrates and womanizing perverts. But to slice through to the girl inside the woman, to not just know her outside-in, but inside-out, that is marriage. And that is worth a year, a decade, or a lifetime for that matter.
And this man that I speak of...he needs "to be free to stay at home". To not feel guilty to be a family man. To not feel stir crazy when he's doing "nothing" with his wife and kids. Oh, how I would love to feel a freedom from this "unwritten" external pressure to be out doing great exploits for the watching world! To relax with my wife allowing that relaxation to bleed into my recreation with her. Not preoccupied or overwhelmed by yesterday's issues or tomorrow's problems...but to be free to be home...to be commanded to be home. To be at home with my wife and maybe, just maybe, to start to feel at home with my wife.
A woman is in no uncertain words the most beautiful and intricately unique creature in all of creation...and she is worth getting to know...and known in every way.