One month after my 19th birthday I married the man of my dreams.
Phil was exactly what I wanted. Strong yet tender, godly and good, he exuded charisma and made me feel safe and valued.
I was new to faith but absolutely determined to follow God with abandon. I’d cleaned up my fairly innocent life in order to align myself with every single rule I could ferret out.Phil was way ahead of me, steeped in the wisdom of the Scriptures and unerringly strict in his application of those words to his own life.
I admired him more than any man I’d ever met and loved him with a passion that consumed me.
When we got home from our fairy-tale honeymoon and Phil went back to work, I set about creating a home for the two of us. I cleaned and scrubbed and painted our little house on the corner while soup bubbled on the stove and ruffled curtains let in the fresh California sunshine. At night Phil came home and filled me in on all the comings and goings and conflicts and victories of life as a worship pastor at our church.
So far I’d lived up to my pledge to meet Phil’s every need. And though we’d had a struggle or two over hurt feelings and misunderstandings, we’d managed to be nice and make up every time.
Until my hair dryer broke.
One of my favorite ways Phil loved me was when he offered to dry my hair. I’d sit on the floor at his feet while he used the hairdryer and a soft bristled brush to dry my long blond strands to silky perfection. So soothing and so romantic.
Then one day some stray hairs wound around the motor of that hair dryer and all of a sudden Phil saw it spark. We smelled the awful scent of burning before it quit. Permanently. Now what? We had precious little money for much else than groceries and gas and our house payment. Running out to Target to buy a hair dryer was not an option.
Phil, ever the valiant warrior, promised to fix it. I put it out on our shiny-new-never-before-used-wedding-gift workbench so he could.
The next morning, as was his habit, Phil got up just in time to read his Bible and before rushing off to the office, gobble down one of my homemade breakfasts (because every young bride who reads the stacks of books on marriage knows that making breakfast for her man is essential to a good and lasting marriage).
Okay, I reasoned, no worries, he’ll fix it tonight. But that night came and with it responsibilities that kept us both out late. The next morning he dashed off in the nick of time to work.
A week went by. I hinted. I mentioned. I suggested.
Phil assured me he’d get to it as soon as he possibly could. He promised. Several times. With a big compelling smile and a compliment on my sun-dried hair.
Inside I was starting to sag. Maybe he didn’t love me. Maybe I was just becoming too much trouble. Or maybe it was his problem. Maybe he was a workaholic. Maybe he wasn’t doing what every-husband-ought-to-do. Hadn’t he promised to love me and cherish me and provide for me, and all that? Wasn’t fixing hair dryers part of his job?
Every day I mentioned that hair dryer. At least once. Okay, maybe more than once. A lot. And of course there were the notes…just to remind him…no pressure. And Phil started to get irritated.
Then finally we had a day off. Nothing planned but a bike ride in the sun, maybe a lingering breakfast somewhere close by. Time together to enjoy being newlyweds.
But for that hairdryer on the workbench it would have been a fabulous day.
When Phil never so much as mentioned fixing the hairdryer as we planned out our fun day, my insides sank lower. This was it! He didn’t love me at all!
Of course I didn’t act hurt. I didn’t ask if his neglect of my hairdryer meant he didn’t really love me and therefore couldn’t be bothered. Instead, in typical female fashion I looked and sounded annoyed. Hands on my hips, scowl on my face, all those flirty womanly ways buried behind a façade of belligerence.
And to my extreme consternation, instead of bowing at my feet, apologizing profusely, and immediately making his way to the workbench to fix my poor hairdryer, Phil got mad right back. And that’s when two worn out, strong-willed, misunderstood, hurt people jumped onto the Crazy Cycle.[1
All day long we tried to “resolve” it. And all day long we just kept stepping on each other’s toes and causing more hurt. Every single grievance got dredged up and hashed and rehashed. Tears and apologies and more rounds of blaming.
Just ugly, defeating, discouraging meanness.
All these years later I shudder when I remember that sinking feeling of failure I felt. Our love would never, could never be the same. I was sure of it. We were not the perfect couple. Phil was most definitely not my Prince Charming. And I would never be the perfect wife.
The fairy tale was over.
And that, my dear daughters, is the real beginning of when God began to grow me up so that I could learn to love for a lifetime.
The journey has been long and often painful. We’ve instigated and endured many days of “trying to resolve it”. And yet here we are, nearly 35 years later and as I write this Phil brought me a lovely half-caf coffee with just a bit raw sugar stirred in and a dollop of whipped cream on top… just the way I like it. I mean, girls, who does that?
Later we’ll talk about conflict and some do’s and don’ts I’ve learned along this bumpy road to real romance. But for now, here are just a few things I think you should know…
1. Rules don’t work.
I thought if I followed “the rules” meticulously then my husband would always be happy. But I’ve learned that there is no one-way to love a man well. Instead we study him, listening carefully, watching for signs of stress or that sigh of distress that signals unspoken need.
2. Books don’t tell everything.
I love to read. Books have taught me how to clean my house, how to cook, how to pack for a vacation, how to house break a puppy and toilet train a child. But books will never be able to tell me how to love my husband. Loving a man well over a lifetime is a skill learned by sitting at the feet of the Father who made both of you and asking for wisdom to know how.
3. My husband needs more than me.
I cannot and never will meet all my husband’s needs. I am not enough. I’ll never be enough. And as hard as that is to swallow, it’s freeing too. Being freed from the need to make my husband happy also frees me to lavish him with my love and to honor him as a man.
4. He wants to be your Prince Charming
Phil wanted to fix my hair dryer, he really did. He wanted to prove his valiant conquer-the-world-status to his adoring bride. Your husband longs to be your hero too. He wants to sweep you off your feet and enamor you with his strength. He wants to fix everything for you. But he can’t. And that’s okay. Some things can only be fixed by that same Father who teaches how to love well. And some things won’t be fixed until all this broken world is made right on the day He comes to get His Bride.
I wish… that Phil had just told me that he couldn’t fix that hair dryer on the workbench if his life depended on it.
I wish… that I’d just told him I’d take my broken hairdryer to someone who could fix it for me rather than hold his less-than-admirable-fixing skills as a test of his love.
But I’m glad we’re both freed now from expecting too much from each other and from ourselves. Because the more we learn to depend on God to meet our needs and fix our brokenness the more we’ll be able to love with abandon.
Because, you know girls, He’s Not Your Prince Charming…
From my heart,
P.S. Are you learning this lesson too? Is God patiently and persistently teaching you that He is enough? Will you tell us what you’re learning? I cherish your stories…
Keep checking back this week… I’ve got some notes to help you along the way that will be posted in Glimpses.