Written by Tim Gustafson, USA
Tim Gustafson is a writer and editor at Our Daily Bread Ministries. As the adopted son of missionaries to Ghana, Tim has an unusual perspective on life in the West. He and his wife, Leisa, are the parents of one daughter and seven sons. Perhaps not surprisingly, his life verses say: “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy” (Psalm 68:5-6 NLT).
Hey, younger Tim!
Nice hair, dude! You’re going to miss that. Take those monstrous headphones off for a minute. I’ve got something to say.
Let me talk to you about this love and marriage thing. It’s great that you want a life with this gorgeous, passionate woman. That’s a beautiful thing. But marriage . . . well, how should I say this? Your life isn’t going to be your own any more. Marriage is a lot of fun, but it’s also labor-intensive, time-consuming, and demands real sacrifice.
So why get married?
Well, although marriage isn’t for everybody, we’re all made for community and family. Even the most introverted loners among us need that. And marriage is a major way God will pull you into His community and family.
So, I want to start by telling you the second-best thing you can do for this wonderful, complicated creature who will become your wife:
Learn what really loving her looks like!
It will do wonders for your marriage relationship if you can relate to her on her terms, and in her “language.” That isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to listen to her. See her. Study her. Understand her. Yes, I ask the impossible. But try. When you’re doing it (mostly) right, the effort is fun and fulfilling.
Always keep the lines of communication open! She’s pretty passionate, which is one of the things you love about her, remember? That comes with an ever so slight downside. She can be really passionate! (Yeah, I know, I already said that.) So let her vent. Don’t give those answers you’re always so quick with. That’s not what she’s looking for. Hear her out.
Much of what she will want to talk about won’t have answers anyway. The world is broken, and she doesn’t like that. She needs to vent about it. When Saint Paul told us, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), he let us know that submission is a two-way street. This is a lifelong, God-honoring partnership. Be Jesus to her, not Wikipedia.
Tend the important garden.
You are driven, and you are passionate about music, so pay attention here. Another pretty driven guy has a quietly successful roots-music band called Over the Rhine. This guy’s name is Linford Detweiler, and he’s been married to his band’s cofounder, Karin Bergquist, for over 20 years. When an interviewer asked him about balancing career and marriage, Detweiler said, “It’s kinda like tending two gardens. You can’t really neglect one garden in favor of your career.” That, younger Tim, is great advice!
Never neglect the garden that is your marriage. For too much of your life, you’re going to be favoring your career over everything else. And it’s going to be worse with you, because you, my mulleted ego, are going to have two careers at the same time. This military thing you think is part-time is going to consume a lot of your life. World events will turn your job as a reservist into a full-time gig—and you’re going to love it. You’re going to love it a little too much because you thrive on adventure. But you’ve got to find ways to include your family in the adventure.
Build a place for her.
You grew up quite transient. She did not. She won’t want to live on the road; she’ll always want a garden—a literal one. That’s what makes her happy. So you’ll need a place where you can plant that garden, and you need to take time in that garden with her. It’s part of her DNA.
Every time you get the chance, do things she likes to do. Coincidentally, that will include actual gardening! Just pull weeds or something. She’ll tell you what needs to be done. Leave the green-thumb stuff to her.
But the best thing you can do for your marriage is . . .
That sounds platitudinous, but it’s the way of life we are called to. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He didn’t give a pontifical answer; He gave a practical one. It’s so practical that it demands our complete reliance on the Holy Spirit. Which, of course, is the point.
Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–39).
If you’re loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, you will not have as much trouble loving your “neighbor,” i.e., your wife, as yourself.
You’re a goal-oriented guy. In the future a counselor is going to refer to you as “a thoroughbred.” It’s only going to be half a compliment. He means that you run hard, which is good.
But you don’t stop and smell the roses, which is bad. Stop and smell the roses! That will take work of a different kind. You’ve got to learn to embrace the quiet. Suppress the urge to charge forward every waking moment.
Go for quiet walks. And while you’re on those walks, listen for God. If you can keep that in mind, my younger self, you will be on your way to the kind of success others are going to want to emulate. Because it will be the success that can only come from God. And that, my younger me, is what your heart truly desires.
Old-guy Tim, some time in the next millennium