Monday, December 20, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
As we make our way further into the twenty-first century, the term hope chest is becoming fairly extinct. In fact, many of you reading this may have no idea what I'm talking about.
Also called a dowry chest or a glory box, a hope chest is a box—usually made out of wood and sometimes decoratively painted or intricately carved—in which unmarried women would place objects that they hoped to bring with them to marriage one day. These could include linens, dishes, silverware, household items or perhaps family heirlooms.
While I was growing up, there were still some visible sightings of hope chests being recorded. I made note of a few of them myself in my friends' bedrooms (they were usually positioned at the foot of their beds). If their fathers were handy with woodworking, they would have crafted them for their daughters (or grandfathers for granddaughters). The boxes might have also been passed down to them in their families or purchased at furniture stores.
I didn't have a hope chest, but I did collect a few items to bring with me into marriage one day: an apron, a silver-plated, commemorative, bicentennial server and some tablecloths, among other things. These were all given to me by one of my grandmothers—but when I received them, I didn't think they were such great gifts (I was young and really just wanted a Lite-Brite, some Luv-It jeans or a Barbie doll instead). So, I said "thank you" and stored them away somewhere in the back of my closet.
Many years and multiple moves later, I now cannot find any of these objects. But honestly, it really doesn't matter to me that much—for I know that it is really the intangibles I bring to a marriage that are most important. And I must carefully (and continually) add to this trove of "gifts" while I prepare myself for marriage.
As of late, I have thought about these qualities a great deal. Of course, the Proverbs 31 woman is a natural go-to model of the "perfect wife," and I have been encouraged (and overwhelmed) by reading through the verses that describe her way of living.
But recently, it dawned on me that the ultimate example who should inform my life is Christ. His relationship with his Father, his interactions with others, his choices, his words reflect so well what I hope to bring to my marriage and to my future husband. …
A Humble Heart and a Submissive Spirit
When Jesus walked the earth, he did so in humility and in submission to his Father.
"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:38-40).
Imagine, if you will, had Jesus not done the will of his Father. Had he not walked in humility. Had he not submitted. Had he not followed when being led by the Spirit. Everything would have been thrown out of whack. He wouldn't have been raised on the last day, and we wouldn't have eternal life. We would have no way to the Father and no relationship with our Creator. Jesus knew that there was an important plan in the works and a purpose for God sending him to earth. In obedience, he humbly submitted to his Father.
Now, in considering how a woman brings a humble heart and a submissive spirit to her marriage, she would also upset God's design of the husband and wife relationship if she did not follow this same example.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. … And the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:21-24, 33b).
When we follow Jesus' example, we begin to realize that our choices really shouldn't be made on our own. We are here to do the will of the Father, and to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. It is not about us. It is about God working through us—empty vessels willing to be used by him.
When a wife respects her husband and submits to him, he naturally responds in love "just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." He is submitting, too, and is devoted to caring for her in a way that will make her holy. And when she feels loved, she naturally respects. As it says in Ephesians, "this is a profound mystery." But it's the way God designed the husband and wife relationship, as we mirror his relationship with the church. It is awesome and beautiful to behold, and it just works.
A Desire to Nurture and a Proclivity to Provide
While on earth, Jesus spent a great deal of time discipling, teaching and listening to and caring for others. Yes, there were times when he took some time to rest, but by and large his life and his schedule were open to whoever needed him. He was constantly reaching out to others.
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied (Matthew 15:35-37a).
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).
Jesus poured his life into people. When they left his presence, they were edified and encouraged. He filled their cup. He fed their spirit. He stirred their soul.
A woman has the same opportunity to nurture and provide (practically, spiritually and emotionally) as she tends to her husband and (one day) to her children. She can choose to give life to her family and be one who offers them "healing" and caregiving. She can provide a safe haven for her husband, encourage him in his leadership role and be his confidante. Likewise, her children will feel secure under the protection of her wing. They will benefit from her training, as she speaks into their lives and carefully monitors their upbringing.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life … Her children arise and call her blessed (Proverbs 31:11-12, 28a ).
A woman's outpouring will reflect the nature of her relationship with Christ. As she grows closer to the Lord and hides his Word in her heart, her life will be changed and those around her (first and foremost, her husband and children) will be nourished by the fruit of the Spirit that is produced in her life (Galatians 5:22-23).
A Noble Character and a Permeating Influence
Jesus' reputation proceeded him. Wherever he went, people were drawn to him and large crowds followed him. People were amazed at his teaching, and lives were changed as a result of his influence.
Others, because he was so compelling and his words so powerful, left what they were doing, gave up everything and followed his example.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases … Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him (Matthew 4:23-25).
"Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? …" (Matthew 13:54b-55a).
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19).
A woman's character can add to her husband's reputation and not subtract from it. Her sphere of influence in her husband's life is far more powerful than she realizes (some would even argue that a woman can "make or break" a man just by her words). Just as Jesus' example convincingly shaped how mankind viewed God, so can a woman's example help determine how others view her husband and his household.
A wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones (Proverbs 12:4).
Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land (Proverbs 31:23).
When Boaz spoke with Ruth for the first time (Ruth 2:8-12), he commented on her reputation: "I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before."
And later, when Ruth asked him for protection as her kinsman-redeemer, he said: "You are a woman of noble character" (3:11). Not only did Ruth rightly influence (not manipulate) Boaz in his decision to fulfill his kinsman obligation, but she also offered the invaluable gift of character (her reputation had proceeded her!) to her soon-to-be husband.
A Servant's Mindset and a Sacrificial Love
It is interesting in Scripture that Jesus always points out that his agenda is not his own. It is his Father's will that he serve and not be served. As the ultimate servant, he gave his life for us without complaining, "But this is my life!" Jesus kept serving without reservation and loving unconditionally, even when rejected.
"Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26b-28).
In the same manner, and in fulfilling the command to love one another, a woman should be ready to serve her husband and not enter marriage so that she may be served. Or be made comfortable. Or happy.
Just as she offers herself as a living sacrifice to God, she knows that her life—her body—is not her own. And in marriage a woman offers all that she is to her husband, as they now belong to each other.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
These days, it's considered countercultural or antiquated for a woman to focus more on giving and serving in a marriage (seen The Oprah Show lately?). In fact, the world seems to be doing everything it can to encourage spouses to live separate lives instead of becoming one: "How does he/she make me happy? Protect your interests and keep your money separate. Why should I have to give up [fill in the blank] for him/her? What's best for me? This is my time!"
In author Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage, he offers a different point of view:
"What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? … Marriage calls us to an entirely new and selfless life … Whether it is delightful or difficult, your marriage can become a doorway to a closer walk with God, and to a spiritual integrity that, like salt, seasons the world around you with the savor of Christ."
That's radical. But it's right. The Bible encourages us to focus not on ourselves, but on what and how we can give to someone else, as two become one (Genesis 2:24). A woman must practice daily dying to self, as she is fused together with her husband in marriage. And her example can be a witness of greater sacrificial love (the love of Christ) to others.
Following Christ's Example in Marriage
As a wise woman is motivated to bring the qualities that Jesus exemplified to her marriage, she also knows that she will not take the place of primary importance in her husband's life.
She is a co-laborer in the cause of Christ and a sister in God's family. And she should do all that she can to help point her husband to Christ first, so that he is the center of their marriage and the primary focus of their relationship.
And the intangibles that a woman packs in her hope chest? They will hopefully bear forth Kingdom-minded qualities that she will one day offer her husband in marriage.
Surely he will be blessed and will praise her as they begin their marital—and spiritual—journeys together.
He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD (Proverbs 18:22).
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30).
Laura MacCorkle is Crosswalk.com's Senior Editor and oversees the Books, Movies, Music and Singles channels. While she's still holding out for Mr. Right, Laura has recently downsized her "perfect" wedding day ideal from high-budget, blow-out extravaganza to inexpensive, beachfront ceremony or informal, backyard barbecue.
She also cowrites the monthly "He Said-She Said" column with contributing writer Cliff Young. Click here to read the latest edition in Crosswalk's Singles Channel.