A few weeks ago, one of our sons asked me if I would share with him my thoughts on what I consider important characteristics to look for in a woman. Since he does not date casually, this is his way of asking me what characteristics to look for in a potential wife.
I could have just directed him to Proverbs 31 or any number of verses that speak of godly womanhood. Instead, I decided to think about my own experience of being a wife, and the wife I want to be. And since the wife I have been and often am is not always the wife I want to be, I have a lot of experience with failure!
I can think of nothing more daunting and intimidating than for a young woman to read a blog post by her boyfriend's mother that contains a checklist of "perfect-wife" attributes!
As a young woman (whose own mother had died), I was blessed by an encouraging, open-armed and gracious mother-in-law, who always welcomed me as I was. Her unconditional acceptance of me was a gift. Far from being intimidated by her, I was motivated to be a better wife because she trusted me with her much-loved son! And I might add her trust was not based on my own merit but rooted in her trust in God.
So with the hope of giving some guidance to my son, while at the same time encouraging young women through sharing my own aspirations, here goes.
First and foremost, I want to be a wife who wants what God wants more than anything else. To be perfectly honest, I want to want what God' wants. You see, left to myself, I'm not even able to want what God wants. But God hears the cry of my heart to WANT to want His ways. I want to be willing to let go of my agenda, my desires, my preferences, my style. To be willing to defer to God.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Proverbs 31:30
This is not easy for me! I find it easier to be in a relationship with myself than with other people! You see, I'm exactly like me, so I don't have to negotiate a different set of preferences and ideas. I can put forth a motion, second it, and pass it all by myself! I've struggled when I've brought my "great ideas" (often spur-of-the-moment "revelations") to my husband only to find that his response is not quite as enthusiastic as I had hoped. I was basically wanting to run something by him as a matter of course. I didn't really expect or want him to have an opinion on the subject. At least not an opinion different from mine! What a drag! But that's where the rubber meets the road. Do I whine and complain? Do I manipulate? Do I secretly do my own thing? Or do I listen and discuss and, in the end, defer?
I could actually stop here since this "wanting to want what God wants" informs everything else, but I will give a few more specifics.
Second, I want to be a wife who demonstrates to my husband that he is my number one priority. Yes, of course God comes first, but really, how do we women generally live out our love for God? By loving those around us. And who is closest to us? Our husbands.
Now, saying that my husband is my top priority does not mean that every single day, in every single situation, I will be focused on my husband! Of course not. Having a job or children or other commitments requires time and energy as well. What I am saying is that over the days and weeks and seasons of my life, it will be clear to my husband that he is my number one priority. At the end of our days together, my husband will know that he was the most important person in my life. Not because I said "I love you" every day, but because I demonstrated that love and commitment in myriad choices throughout the days and years.
Her husband can trust her and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:11-12
Oh, I have failed miserably here! Whether through the common tendency among women to put our children before our husbands (leaving our leftovers for our men--and of course, there's not much left over), being lured by the spotlight of ministry or success, being more interested in my time with my girlfriends or family members, or being focused on my needs, my desires, and my wants, I have often demonstrated to my husband that just about anything or anyone else is a higher priority in my life! My choices need to demonstrate that my husband is a non-negotiable while most everything else is negotiable. God helps me more and more to recognize this tendency in myself and to do what it takes to put my husband first.
Third, I want to be a wife who is ever growing and learning so that I can be a great asset to my husband. This means I am reading God's Word regularly and digging deep. That I am regularly learning new things and educating my mind in many subjects. This means I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and learn about something that is important to my husband so that I can engage with him and even be a sounding board for him. There is no one who will influence and affect my husband more than I. I can't speak words of wisdom unless I have sat at the feet of Jesus and in His Word. And when I do speak, I want it to be with kindness, not pride and "I told you so's." Sometimes, I am not careful with what I fill my mind. As Jesus says, a little yeast spreads through the whole batch. I want to fill my mind with whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable.
When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31:26
Fourth, I want to be a woman who works hard alongside my husband. A woman who does not grow weary in doing good. We have been given six days to work--and to work hard. It's a good thing to be tired at the end of the day after fighting the good fight of faith, after having the 100th "teaching moment" with a particular child, after spending time encouraging a friend, after having tended to my tasks. I want to be strong for the work God has for me. Strong in mind, body and character. Am I willing to get up before dawn to prepare for the day ahead? Am I okay with falling into bed tired from a long day's work? Do I take care of myself and make sure to get good food, rest and exercise?
She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work...She is energetic and strong, a hard worker...her lamp burns late into the night...Her hands are busy...She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:15, 17, 18, 25
I have failed here, too. Often I would prefer a comfortable and soft life full of bubble baths and back massages. I think bubble baths and back massages are awesome, but they can't make up my day. Work and rest are God's rhythm for our days and our weeks. Rest is God's good gift to us to refresh us and restore us after our hard work.
Last, I want to be a wife who prays for my husband. Every day. Who else knows my husband like I do? His struggles, his disappointments, his weaknesses? He has made himself extremely vulnerable by letting me in on all of this. And who is going to pray for him every day if I don't? God has given me an extremely significant role in my husband's life. I can come before God and lift up my husband in a way that no one else can.
Being able to pray well for my husband means that I must know him well. Sometimes out of laziness or selfishness, I'd rather not know what's going on with him. I'd rather zone out and focus on something entertaining. But I must spend time with him learning about his hopes and dreams, his fears and failures, his work and aspirations if I am to pray with knowledge and insight. Ideally, I will connect with him daily so that I can be in the know. Praying for him is a great honor and invitation to ask for God's will in my husband's life. May I not shrink back from it.
In saying all this, I want to make it clear that I am wholly dependent on God's mercy and grace to do these things in me. I can no more will myself to be the perfect wife than I can will myself to follow God's commands perfectly. But God loves to give us all that we need to do His will.
"O Lord, command what you will and give what you command" — St. Augustine
The beautiful truth is that as I become more and more like Jesus, loving what he loves, and prizing what he values, I will naturally become a more godly wife (and mother, daughter, church member, neighbor and friend).
By God's grace I will seek His ways, make my husband my priority, continue renewing my mind, and work hard alongside my husband. And when I fail, I will ask forgiveness. And knowing my God and my husband, forgiveness will be bountifully granted! And this is my "secret" for my son: A man never marries the woman of his dreams; He Helps the woman he marries to become the woman of her dreams. And a good woman returns the favor.