My wife and I just celebrated our one-year anniversary, and I got a wake-up call for how to be a great husband in a way I’ll never forget. I’d been trying to figure out how to make our marriage great, and as weird as it sounds, God used a life-threatening experience to show me how.
Alexa and I celebrated our anniversary hiking down a secluded mountain in North Carolina. Near the end of our hike, we looked up to see a black bear, about 40 feet away, completely blocking our path.
Being suburban-raised, unprepared-for-this kids, we slowly backed up and started walking the other way. I wish that was the end of the story. Unfortunately, the hike back to our car didn’t loop around, so we couldn’t go around the bear. One way in, one way out. The drop off at the side of the trail was also extremely steep, so cutting corners was not an option. We were stuck.
OK, I gotta admit. I may have exaggerated a wee bit at the beginning. I know now, after hours of research following this incident, black bears are typically not aggressive, and our lives were likely not in danger. However, at the time, I had no clue what to do.
We decided to keep walking back until the bear was completely out of sight and wait it out. Again, I wish this was the end of the story, that we waited for the bear to leave the trail and then simply walked back down. Unfortunately, the truth is more embarrassing. After waiting a while, out of fear and ignorance, we called the local police department, who showed up about an hour later.
Yes, we called the cops on a bear.
While waiting for a deputy, I thought about the potential danger we were in. What happens if the bear gets curious and wants to come closer? What if we’re perceived as a threat to the bear, and it becomes aggressive? Or we startle the bear, and it attacks us? Again, I now know those scenarios were very unlikely. Yet that’s when God started prompting me.
While waiting out the bear, I was consumed thinking about keeping my wife safe in the unlikely worst-case scenarios. How would I protect her, fight off the bear, and make sure she was safe? This got me thinking further. What does God say about this?
Ephesians 5:25 commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Or, put another way, husband, sacrifice your life for your wife. We heard this verse a lot during our pre-marital classes, usually around the premise of humbling yourself as a husband and lifting your wife up to a higher place.
But for the first time, while we were on top of that mountain waiting for a bear to come to eat us, I felt the verse’s weight. It isn’t just a nice sentiment. It’s a literal comparison to Jesus dying for all of us.
So, would I do that? Would I lay my life down so my wife could live if the circumstance required it? I like to think I would, and on the mountain, I was praying to stay calm for Alexa and have the strength to protect her at all costs.
But even when we were safe, and the bear was behind us, a question still lingered. What does it really mean to die for my wife? I began to feel God challenging me to put Ephesians 5 into practice on a daily basis.
Most of us don’t, and probably shouldn’t face consistent, literal situations where we have to die for our wives. Yet, if you believe in Jesus, you can live each day knowing He died for us. This death gave us power, freedom, and encouragement. So as a husband, what does it look like to do this every day for my wife?
Ephesians 5:26-27 commands husbands to sanctify our wives, having cleansed them by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Put another way, dying for our wife means sacrificing to give her freedom and help her flourish. Giving her the ability to pursue her life, her career, her hobbies, her friendships, and her callings without fault and with our total backing. While you should be willing to literally die for your wife, you also need to lay your life down for your wife in other ways every day for her to have the same freedom that Jesus gave us.
Identify what gives her life.
To me, this means identifying what restores Alexa and making time for those activities. Alexa thrives when researching holistic living, cooking, getting dinners with friends, and reading. Making time for these in our life not only shows her love, it shows her that I want to give my life to the things that give her life.
Give her the capacity to pursue that life..
Tangibly, this means putting my time and energy toward small and large tasks that will free her up. For Alexa, it’s hard for her to pursue activities she enjoys when the house is a mess, or our schedule fills up at the last minute. That means I need to make time to do the laundry, wash the dishes, and make dinner. It also means I protect her time and say no to last-minute plans that aren’t priorities.
While some of these things are not as big of a deal to me, Alexa can’t focus on doing those things she enjoys until she has that time. Learning this has been an amazing, challenging, frustrating, and life-giving journey, and I believe it has ultimately strengthened our marriage.
Come alongside what gives her life.
I’ve also learned the importance of spending time with her while doing what she loves, such as planning date nights involving activities she enjoys, going on walks together, playing with our dogs together, and creating space in our calendar to sit outside by our fire pit to talk and have a drink. My physical presence and support convey a love for her and her pursuits, as well as a justification that what Alexa is putting her time towards is worth more than just her energy.
Spending extra time on chores or activities your wife enjoys won’t always feel gratifying in the moment. But making an effort to show your wife you’re committed to her and her interests each day is just as powerful as putting yourself between her and a bear, especially if these interests involve musicals (most bear attacks only last a few minutes, whereas musicals take hours).
Men, whether you are already married or thinking about proposing, start looking at your spouse through this lens—and don’t let this responsibility scare you.
Marriage has the potential to give you a partner who can exponentially increase your impact. A great metaphor I have heard is that of oxen pulling weight. A single, well-trained ox can pull up to 5,000 pounds of load. Take a younger, less-trained ox, who can pull 2,000 pounds, and yoke them, together they will have the ability to pull 10,000 pounds of load. Clearly, more than simply adding them together.
While I am not suggesting one person in marriage will pull more than the other, I am saying two people, yoked together (married) and headed in the same direction, can make a bigger impact than two separate individuals. Getting married gives you life and challenges you to think, act, and pursue an adventure that is bigger than just you.
By conditioning yourself to regularly sacrifice for others, especially your wife, you will raise the bar of manhood and grow closer to who God made you to be. If you’re still lost on what to do, ask God for help. Possibly while taking a walk in the woods. And remember, black bear encounters are almost never fatal.