Marriage (6): when your dear wife says “no” (c)
That out of the way, the past few posts we’ve been discussing how to deal with a rebellious wife. We’ve been looking at wrong approaches, and now for another one.
When I was younger, I thought it was helpful to show a husband how to lead his wife by working with her in counseling with him present. Typically, it would involve me showing her the error of her ways as her husband watched and listened.
After some years (I’m ashamed to admit), it hit me this was harmful because it only made the husband feel more inadequate in his leadership. Here I was the pastor, with all that entailed, and so it was no wonder I found it easier than her husband. Add to that my own verbal facility and age (usually I was older) as well as any number of other factors, none of which I could claim as any virtue, and it was a setup for rendering the husband completely depressed. “Pastor Bayly can get my wife to agree. What’s wrong with me?”
Realizing I wasn’t helping, but hurting, I repented. I’m very sorry I didn’t learn this earlier, but I hope confessing my sin will warn other pastors and elders to avoid this mistake while also helping husbands to realize other men—including pastors and elders—will have a much easier time leading their wives for an hour than they themselves have to for a lifetime.
So what do I do now?
First, I always have my wife Mary Lee in the office helping with the counselling. Key lesson to learn. Pastors and elders should rarely counsel alone, and who better to help with marriage counselling than your dear wife?
During the meeting, we listen. Carefully. We ask questions. We make suggestions and watch the husband and wife’s responses. We probe. Before and after, I collect information from my wife and others in the church concerning what they have observed about the husband and wife together—both of them individually as well as their children. In the office, we take their blood pressure, have them weighed, thump their chest, do the blood work, ask them about the frequency and quality of their sex life, have them describe their fights, inquire about their date nights and vacations, and go from there.
There’s an old word that’s quite helpful in this context. The word is “sinecure” and it refers to pastors in the old country who finagled their way into being assigned a parish’s living (salary) but hired it out to another pastor or priest. The other pastor received only part of the living so the pastor owning the living made a profit without having to do any of the work. “Sinecure” comes from the Latin “sine cura” meaning “without care.”
No pastorate should ever be a sinecure. Milking the sheep without caring for them is evil. We used to call it Simony, and if any pastor doesn’t know the origin of that word, shame on him.
Too often today, pastorates are sinecures, and intentionally so. That’s the way the congregation wants it. The pastor is the man who gets paid to show up Sundays dressed appropriately for the tastes of his elders’ wives. He preaches for their approval and makes certain the music is their style. He officiates at those precious moments when a chaplain is needed and the larger his church the more sophisticated his pedigree, degrees, accent, diction, vocabulary, and sartorial displays.
Which is to say pastors today don’t do marriage counselling. It’s dirty and hard work—very hard. Rarely do you escort the couple from the office at the end of the time without knowing only God can help and only prayer will work. You may have said some helpful thing or two, but often that helpful thing is countered by several unhelpful things you said, some of which your good wife will point out to you afterward. (Make sure you thank her for it. It’s her kindest gift to you.)
Which is also to say pastors must do marriage counselling because our sheep and their lambs are suffering and we have been called by God to bear their burdens. To suffer alongside them, laughing with those who laugh, for sure; but mourning with those who mourn, also. This is much of the purpose of pastoral care: not so much to solve the problems of the flock as to enter into and help them bear the suffering God has placed on them. This is the shepherd’s love for his sheep.
So if your dear wife makes a habit of saying “no” to you, ask her to talk to the pastor and his wife with you. Set up an appointment where you expect him to be like our Savior in bearing your griefs and carrying your sorrows. That alone can heal you. He will pray for you. He will speak God’s Word to you, personally. His preaching to you will be better next Lord’s Day because he will know his flock better. His relationship with your children will improve because he will know their fears and insecurities, but also their sins. Because he knows the sins of their father and mother.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. The Good Shepherd loves and cares for His sheep.
His sheep in turn know Him. They know His voice and they follow Him.