I recall the day that I asked Barbara why she had not disciplined one of our children for what appeared to be a clear disobedience. I was surprised when she replied that she wasn't confident of her judgment. "You're a great mom," I told her. "And your batting average is far better then you are giving yourself credit for. Trust your judgment and decide—God will lead you. And I have confidence in you!"
Later Barbara told me that she needed my encouragement—it showed that I believed in her, even when she didn’t believer in herself.
We all need the support of friends, family, and mentors. But there’s nothing like the love and encouragement of your spouse. You may not realize it, but nobody else has the power to build up your spouse as you do—not even parents.
This is something Barbara and I learned early in our marriage. I will never forget what a surprise it was for me as a young man, a new husband, to realize that my wife had serious questions about herself, that she had self-doubt. She needed me to believe in her, to help her, to point her to Christ as her sufficiency. And Barbara discovered how much I needed her to help me become the man God was calling me to be.
You have a special power in the life of your spouse. Here are two ways you can express this power.
First, love and accept your spouse unconditionally. True intimacy in marriage is risky. We all fear rejection, and in marriage it’s common to think, If you really knew me, you wouldn’t accept me. If you really knew what I am like on the inside—who I am as a person—you would reject me. You might not love me anymore. So the more we are transparent in a marriage—freely sharing our deepest thoughts and emotions—the more vulnerable we feel. Is it any wonder that a divorce is so traumatic? The person who knows you the best has rejected you.
On the other hand, it is powerful to know that the one who knows you best, loves you the most. That your spouse accepts you and loves you in spite of all your faults. As 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”
Accepting your spouse and loving your spouse unconditionally means continually remembering that he or she is God’s gift to you. It means giving him the freedom to fail, and when he does, offering forgiveness. It means making your home a safe place where your spouse knows she can be herself without condemnation. It means loving her as Christ loved the church.
Second, look for ways to build up your spouse. This does not mean controlling or manipulating your spouse to meet your standards or specifications. But you do have a special power in your marriage to encourage and help your spouse walk more closely with God and become the man or woman He desires.
Does your spouse get discouraged? He needs a cheerleader who will accept his failures, celebrate his victories, and gently encourage him to press forward and be courageous. One thing Barbara has done for me over the years is remind me of the truth about who I am—that I am God’s man. She reminds me of what God has done for me, for us as a couple, for us as a family. This is especially helpful when I’m feeling doubtful or discouraged or lacking confidence as I’m facing a tough situation.
Does your spouse have difficulty making decisions? You can come alongside her and help build her confidence. Coach and encourage her in how to think through her choices; point out good decisions she’s made in the past; help her analyze poor decisions so she can learn from them rather than allowing them to block her in the future.
Does your spouse have potential that needs to be nurtured? Many of us barely know what we do well at the time we’re married. Become a student of your spouse. What are her unique gifts and abilities? Where does she excel? What do you see him doing that he really enjoys? Expand your spouse’s borders—challenge him to try something that perhaps he’s wanted to do for years, but that no one has ever given him permission to try.
In recent years I’ve encouraged Barbara to pursue her interest and skill in art, and it’s been a delight to see how she has blossomed. It’s even turned into an outreach as she has begun developing beautiful resources to help families know and apply the Scriptures and bring meaning to holidays.
God has indeed given you a special power in the life of your spouse. The question is: How will you use it?
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