By Charles C. Grimm
“But she’ll make more money than you!”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing these words from my parents. I had married my wife right at the very depths of the recession in 2009, after investing four years of my life teaching for a nonprofit organization in a developing country. My wife and I moved to my hometown in Alabama and both found jobs as quickly as we could, working for almost one year together in a call center, where her talents were being completely wasted. Further, we had not found a good church home and our work hours prohibited joining most fellowship activities with our few friends.
So in 2010 we were looking to move near my wife’s hometown. She quickly got interviews in Connecticut, and we agreed to use our limited resources to buy a plane ticket to find a better career path. My parents invited me over for a meal while she was gone, and I thought it was simply to make sure I had a decent meal.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother . . .”
After we had eaten a meal together, my parents began talking to me about our decision to move to Connecticut. They asked about how we would pay the higher rent and other costs of living, and finally the root issue came out: they were concerned that my wife would find a higher paying job than I could, which they feared might challenge my ability to be the head of the household.
I was shocked that this was presented as a major issue. My wife and I shared bank accounts and discussed all major purchases (at the time, “major” meant more than $10!), so I had no reason to think money would be a challenge in this regard. Further, my life ambition has always been to teach English, while hers is to be an executive of a multinational company. We knew each other’s goals when we got married; neither of us had ever really expected me to be the primary wage earner, nor did we see our jobs as competition. We were one body together.
“. . . and be united to his wife . . .”
I called my wife that night and told her about my conversation, which sparked a useful discussion between us about the ways I act like Christ toward my wife. I also contacted mentors and peers to seek their advice to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something. I was new to marriage, and I have learned from Solomon’s proverbs that it is wise to seek counsel.
I consulted Ephesians 5:25-33 that night and have consulted it many times since. Even before I seriously considered getting married, I had always been fascinated by the command to love my wife as Christ loves his church. In the years since that conversation with my parents, I have had many reasons to reexamine this passage, both through fears and failings. What I come to understand increasingly about this passage is that it does not bind me to a life of wage earning; it calls me to a life of sacrifice.
Thus in verses 28 and 29, I must read, In this same way, Charles ought to love his wife as his own body. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, Charles never hated his own body, but he fed and cared for his body. Regardless of whether I was paying for the food or the food was provided from someone else, I had fed and cared for my body without fail. Regardless of all external factors, I had watched out for myself and made sure I had everything I needed. In all honesty, I had done this to a fault on more than one occasion! But could I say the same thing about feeding and caring for my wife?
I began to look at my marriage after those difficult conversations with my parents and wife. I had to ask myself and later also asked my wife if I had been feeding and caring for her. She quickly explained the ways in which I had: I frequently expressed my feelings out loud and on paper; I had buoyed her self-confidence; I gave her massages when she was tired; I took her out when she was sad. Conversely, she just as quickly listed other ways in which I had not: I had not taken enough interest in our financial affairs; I had not thought carefully enough about how moving to my hometown would impact her; I had not expressed enough interest in her passions; I had not given up some of my more selfish, time-consuming habits like playing games or watching TV on my own.
Since imitating the love of Jesus is my goal, I knew I had fallen short.
“. . . and the two shall become one flesh.”
Talking about my care for my wife lasted long into the night. As we struggled to make sense of where we were in our lives, I began wondering how many other husbands were also up talking to or comforting their wives. Of course I told her that everything would be fine in the end. I pointed back to God’s providence that we had already witnessed in our lives up to that moment as proof that he would continue to be faithful. We prayed together for peace and for wisdom to know where God wanted us to go. Eventually my wife fell asleep.
There were many more nights like this ahead for us, as I’m sure there still are, but I began to notice the men around me more carefully. Several of my close brothers in Christ had lost their jobs or had been demoted due to cutbacks and other recession-related issues. I knew that those men loved their wives, and that even in the moment when they could not support their wives financially, they were supporting their wives in other ways. Many took on part-time work to help supplement the material considerations in their lives, but more importantly each one made sure to spend more time talking to their wives. They did not try to pick themselves up or hide their frustrations and failures. They worked together as one body to overcome each issue. My wife and I strive to emulate this pattern in each difficulty we face.
Not long after my meal with my parents back in 2010, my wife was offered a job, but it was one that kept us in Alabama for four more years and saw her earning more than double what I was making at the call center. Since then, she has performed incredibly well and been promoted and even relocated in her career, while I have been working on earning the degrees I need to teach at the college level and staying home as much as possible to watch our newborn to avoid high daycare costs. I take as many part-time and temporary jobs as I can, tutoring through my university or grading papers online on my days off.
“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
More importantly than the financial issues, though, I took the opportunity to step up and feed and care for our spiritual bodies. I prioritized finding a local church with a missions emphasis and Bible studies with other Christians in our stage of life. We found one where we could be actively involved, and we stayed with our brothers and sisters there until we had to move to Atlanta.
Additionally, I began cleaning more independently and looked for things that needed to be done around our apartment, and later our house. I even began teaching myself to cook so that my wife could come home and relax, because as a servant leader that is how I can best show my love to her. When my wife was pregnant, I was our meal planner, grocery shopper, and cook. I realized that in order to care for her as Christ cares for his church, I needed to sacrifice the time to read one more book or proofread one more paper as a way to show love to her. As a result, when she sees shiny floors or a warm meal on the table or a freshly changed infant with clean clothes and a bib, in those moments she sees Jesus in me.
Charles C. Grimm is a Ph.D. student in rhetoric and composition at Georgia State University and a stay-at-home father of an infant.