Friday, February 15, 2013

King Lemuel's Valentine

One of the things I do, pretty much without fail every Valentine's Day and every anniversary, is prepare a card for my wife.  That card is handmade, typically with some high-concept idea behind it and with the skill and execution level of a precocious third grader.

In the card is a poem from me to her, pretty much every year.  Some are better than others, as my muse is a bit flighty.  But the poems are invariably meaningful, and they track out across the arc of our marriage in fascinating ways.  I'm not going to share any of them with anyone but her, ever.  They're between us,  and occasionally bawdy, and often speak into those places between us that are ours and no-one elses'.

But one card I can share.

About a decade ago, for an anniversary, I prepped a card with a Proverb in it.  It was a complicated card, involving the construction of a handcrafted binding assembled from paper purchased at a store specializing in artisan-crafted paper.  In it was written, in my own best hand, the final proverb from the Book of Proverbs, the saying of King Lemuel's mother.   It was an affirmation, on that anniversary, of one of the things I love and respect about my wife.

Lemmy's mom taught him what mattered in a woman, and it's a remarkable bit of wisdom from the heart of an ancient sacred tradition.

What it tells men to honor in the women they choose as their spouses.  To put it succinctly, it ain't the booty, and it ain't the drama.  What it also most definitively is not is a mate who is a subordinate.

The woman described in this little bit of scripture is notable for her competence.  She is not her husband's servant, but his strong and capable companion.  She is wise and hard-working, and not just around the house.

She's out there in the marketplace.  She's a public person, active and respected in the broader world.  She's a part of the economy, a human being who is known as a doer, and whose capabilities only bring more honor onto the wise and/or lucky sod who married her.

There was a time in my life, when I was an adolescent pup, when this was not what I wanted.  I was drawn to the messes, the shattered creatives, those who were complicated and just needed me on my white horse to come a-riding in to fix things.  Or so I delusionally told myself.  That didn't work out so good.  Eventually, thank the Maker, I stopped thinking like a child and set aside my childish ways.

After Lady Wisdom graced me with her presence, what I found myself seeking was not a subordinate.  What I was looking for was a companion.  An ezer, to use the Hebrew term from Genesis 2:18.  That means "helpmate," but not in the Mark Driscoll "I help get you a beer while you do important man-things" sort of way.   The word means "ally," as we see it in 1 Kings 20:16.  It is used to describe the help that comes from God, in Psalm 30:11 and 54:6.  It implies...heck, demands...strength.  It does not imply subordination.  It is the farthest thing from that.  Subordination is, after all, one of the curses of the Fall.  Only a weak soul seeks one weaker.

A capable and equal companion is what, if we're honest about reading scripture, makes for a good partner.

That's true no matter what her vocation is, whether she's caring for kids and home and hearth or jetting across the world to Important Meetings with Important People.

Living into that God-ordained reality requires some ego-checking, particularly when your spouse has through her diligence attained an income considerably higher than yours.  If you're a pastor of anything other than a Big Parking Lot Church, that's a likely reality.

But it requires more than that.  It requires that you affirm your partner's vocation as a part of what you value about her.  When she's doing her thing, the goal is to respect that thing.  Honor the gifts and abilities she's been given.  Let her know you see that as part of why you love her.  It's part of what attracts you to her.

It also involves prioritizing your relationship above the other demands on your existence.  Your work is important, but honey child, it ain't your wife.  You make sure you're making time, and giving her space to live out her vocation.  This is not particularly hard, any more than dishes and laundry and getting kids to the dentist is hard.

So give her those things.   Make room for her gifts.  And honor her, and praise her, and tell her she surpasses them all.  "I see what you're doing, my love, and you're amazing."

And now and again, tell her she's beautiful.  More precious than rubies, which should remind you of her lips.  That doesn't ever hurt, particularly when that beauty goes all the way through her.