Setting Priorities Print
Husbandry: For Husbands
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Thursday, 17 September 2009 11:08
Every husband and wife seeking to build a godly marriage knows what it is like trying to keep their priorities straight. In this fallen world, it is very easy to let the important things drift into neglect and to make the insignificant things into something more than what they ought to be. And so every once in a while a “priority adjustment” is necessary.
In some cases, the problem is difficult to solve, but it is at least easy to understand. If a wife is going through a period of extreme loneliness, and her husband is spending every evening watching football games, followed by a movie or two, the problem is not hard to identify. He needs to repent and should start doing this instead of that.
But the difficulty is that from such obvious problems like this, godly couples have sometimes drawn simplistic and erroneous conclusions. Priorities are established in our attitudes, and not by our time log. The husband who spent a couple hours watching football when he should have spent a couple hours with his wife distracts us. But the problem is not the two hours, but rather the attitude. For example, a diligent husband leaves for work in the morning to do a whole series of things that are less important to him than his wife is. And he does them all day long. If he is an accountant, he spends more time doing math problems than he spends gazing into his wife’s eyes. If a teacher, he spends more time correcting bad grammar and poor spelling than he spends over a glass of wine, visiting with his wife about the day. In such situations, the time he spends away from his wife is not competing with her—because he is doing all this for her.
A man who spends eight hours a day sharing a cubicle with an annoying co-worker may exchange more words with him than he does with his wife that evening. But that has nothing to do with how his “priorities” are ordered. He loves being with his wife, and does not love being with his co-worker. Unfortunately, spending time with the cute girl you married doesn’t draw a paycheck. Because he wants to feed his family, providing for them—in short, because his priorities are right—he spends a good deal of time away from them.
In this context, a husband’s love for his wife indwells everything he is doing. If he is digging a ditch, then every shovelful of dirt is a gift to his wife, not a replacement for his wife.
The problem with the football-watching husband mentioned earlier is that he is loving himself when he ought to be loving someone else. The problem is not the football, but rather the straightforward selfishness. It is not the two hours away from her, it is the reason for the two hours away from her. And when a husband is taken away from his family for a time, on business or off to war, the absence is a hardship—but it is not a hardship caused by skewed priorities. It is the difference between a woman who loses her husband by death, and a woman who loses her husband because he ditched her. In both cases, the “time away” might be identical, but the second situation is far more difficult to bear because it is the result of sin, the result of perverted priorities. A boy whose father died honorably in battle is fatherless, but it is not a shamed fatherlessness. But a boy who grows up without a dad because one day his dad decided that he didn’t want to be hassled by fatherhood anymore has a double burden to bear. It is same sort of thing in marriage. The central issue is why.
A husband with messed-up priorities is a husband who is being selfish. A husband whose priorities are right is not a man who considers his time to be his own personal possession to be spent as he wills it. This is why one man can disappear into his shop to get away from everybody, and everybody in the family knows it, and the effects of his disappearances are profound. Another man can disappear into his shop because he is building a cabinet for his wife’s birthday, and his absences are included as part of the gift. Another way of putting this is that a man can be giving to his wife whether he is present or absent. And the corollary is that a man can be taking from his wife, whether he is present or absent. The taking can be as potent as the giving, only in a destructive way.
I first learned this many years ago when our kids were still very little. We had bought a little house, a fixer-upper, and it lived up to its status as a fixer-upper. Around that time I realized that when I was reading a book, some fine volume of theology, this was a form of work and provision that was way too abstract for my youngest daughter to understand. But when I had my tools out and was working on (say) paneling the wall of the living room, she could see exactly what I was doing. And I noticed that whenever I was working on the house, she loved to come up and give me hugs—tangible reinforcements of a “go, dad, go” variety. She took the work I was doing as a gift to her, and she responded accordingly. She could see it.
In marriage, when a wife sees that you are giving to her, the gift is not taken as betraying a set of messed-up priorities. When she sees that you are doing nothing of the kind, it is a different matter.

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