I took a lot out of the book, but the most important lesson for me was taming selfishness. This was a lesson that kept coming back to me through the chapters. Keller starts out by explaining what marriage is at its heart: Mutual sacrifice and mutual fulfillment. Marriage is not a relationship where I get whatever I want, but rather it should refine my character so that as I give to my spouse, I am more satisfied with what I am getting out of it. If I focus on my own fulfillment, and Gil focuses on his, then we will ultimately miss out on seeing each other fulfilled through our mutual efforts.
The Kellers say that marriage is about helping one another become the person God has in mind for us. When we commit to love one another, we are committing not to feel warm thoughts about each other, but to help each other become the best person they can be. It's about getting excited about what God can do in our lives. Jesus is our truest friend, who walks by us even when we're at our worst, and who is committed to our sanctification. I need to be like that for my husband. And when I do that for him, I become a better person myself.
With this in mind, I have to be honest about my own selfishness. Keller reminds us that humans are often blind to their own self-centredness, justifying it for a million different reasons, but are over-sensitive to the self-centredness of others. When you get married, you are suddenly more involved in your spouse's life than before, and see them at their worst, so their flaws and self-absorption are more evident than before. So you start to say, “My husband/wife is soooo selfish! How did I never realize this?” Because this is a consumer society where people tend to want to get their “money's worth”, when I realize my spouse is more self-centred than I previously thought, my immediate response is to pull back and put less into the relationship. After all, why should I put so much effort into the relationship if he isn't trying hard enough?! Of course, when I pull back, my spouse sees that he is now getting less out of the relationship than before, so he pulls back as well. We become more and more dissatisfied with the marriage. That doesn't necessarily mean divorce; we might instead might put our efforts into other things that we find satisfying: our careers, hobbies, children, friendships. Overall, however, our marriage (and our growth) will suffer.
|See, he's pretty unselfish, giving me his jacket and all...|
The answer to this problem is to take our own selfishness more seriously. In fact, Keller says that each of us needs to, “see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and treat it more seriously than your spouse's” (p. 64). Why is my selfishness worse than Gil's? Because it's the only thing that I can change. If I go up to my husband with a list of all the ways he has been selfish, that will probably lead to an argument, and he will be tempted to tell me all of my own flaws. Of course, there is room in marriage for loving critique, but saying “You're so selfish!” rarely ends well. Honestly, reading these chapters was a bit of a slap upside the head for me. I was really challenged to see places where even in serving my husband, I was motivated by my own wants and needs. I've been earnestly praying that God reveal my selfishness to me and help me to change it.
Have any of you read The Meaning of Marriage? What did you think of it? Did it impact your marriage? I'd love to hear your impressions.
Also, stay tuned for the next installment of this series, in April-ish, when I will post about The Five Love Languages.