A few weeks ago my church put together a softball game. Af first we had enough players to field two teams and play ourselves, but after an hour we were down to about 12 players. Fortunately, more players had formed at the field (they were the Mexican-American Bar Association, as in attorneys, not alehouses) and were looking to play. We spent the next hour playing against these guys and making some new friends along the way.
Later that day, when I had showered and rested and began to feel the initial soreness of physical exertion, Jamie looked at me and said, with pride in her voice, "I was so glad that you were my husband today." What she meant was that I was one of the better players, and it was fun for her to look out there and know that her hubby still had some athleticism.
I won't be delusional here. This was a pickup softball game. I am 29 years old, which is young enough to still play, but old enough to know that I'm far below professional-caliber athletes. And I played baseball in college, which gave me quite the advantage in a softball game. If our church had chosen hockey or football or even basketball on that day, the story would have been far different.
Still, when she looked at me and said she was glad I was hers, I was immediately overcome with these incredible feelings of strength of self, and incredible love and warmth for Jamie. I couldn't remember the last time I felt such a strong emotion toward my wife. That's when I realized that she had done exactly what I've heard preached dozens of times... "respect your husbands." And as a natural response, I instantly and without thought "loved my wife."
Ephesians 5:22-28 is a passage known by almost all Christian couples, and it's incredible to think of the human psychology behind it all! What do men want? I mean really, deep in that place where men don't want to look, what do we want? We have driven much of the advances of our time, yet we have also started most of the wars. We are physically stronger than women, yet individually we often lament the fact that we're not the strongest of all men. Whether we're on a softball field, in a board room, or watching a football game, we are constantly sizing ourselves up against others.
This is why men need so much encouragement (some would say "coddling"). C'mon, really, do you think women's sports would have invented the idea of cheerleaders? Men created that to feed one of the key needs a man has: to impress women. And if he's not impressing a woman, then he's trying to impress another man (friend, enemy, boss, father-in-law, etc...). Men have a fundamental (dare I say God-given?) need to feel important, powerful and noticed.
God's plan is for the wife to meet this need. If she doesn't, you'd better believe that the husband will search elsewhere for a way to feel important. Maybe a job, a hobby, a social group, or even another woman. But the need remains, and he will probably look to fulfill it.
The beauty of this setup is when the wife respects her husband and meets this need, his natural response is to reach out in love to her. When he loves her, the wife naturally responds with further respect for him. Thus begins the "virtuous cycle." This may be one of the biggest challenges in 21st century American marriages -- how to address each gender's needs in an age where gender barriers continue to be blurred.
Many of the past few decades' changes have been very positive -- women breaking through glass ceilings in business, men taking responsibility for housework and child-rearing... these are exciting times of progess! Yet it can also be confusing as we deal with things like transexuality (I've already worked with one sex-change recipient) and wonder: what differences in gender should we protect?
We do ourselves a great disservice if we say that men and women need the same things from marriage -- it's just not true, and it's not biblical. Take a look at this list for men and this list for women, and see how they relate to Ephesians 5. I hope that in all of our marriages we can experience constant re-enactments of the virtuous cycle, as both spouses give and receive exactly what they need as men and women.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go to the gym to lift weights. You never know... it might just impress somebody.