I grew up listening to Elisabeth Elliot on the radio. I think my mother had every book Elisabeth had ever written, including the most well-known, "Through Gates of Splendor" - the story of five missionaries who were killed by the tribe they were trying to reach, including Elisabeth's husband, Jim Elliot.
Tonight, I happened across the transcript I had saved of one talk from "Gateway to Joy," her radio program. The subject is a constant challenge: making sacrifices for my spouse. I needed this reminder tonight, perhaps you do, too.
--Beginning of Gateway to Joy Transcript: How to Lay Down Your Life--
How do I lay down my life for my spouse? Not usually in anything very heroic, but in the willingness to say "no" to myself. How long did it take for you to discover that you were going to have to make some sacrifices? I've just read a very excellent and practical book called BY LOVE REFINED by Alice von Hildebrand. It's just a series of letters to a niece who has just gotten married. She deals with practically every question that a newlywed could ever ask. She tells how when she herself, Alice, was married. It irritated her that her husband was accustomed to leaving the soap in a pool of water in the soap dish. When she came into the bathroom, it was a squishy mass of jelly. That just infuriated her.
So she spoke to him about it, and it had never crossed his mind to dry the soap. She said, "From then on he always dried the soap. For the rest of our married life, he dried the soap so well that I couldn't tell whether he'd actually used any soap or not." But she said, "I can't think of that tiny sacrifice that he made for love without a great wave of loving gratitude."
You know, that is such a tiny thing, but it can be such a big thing. How much does it cost when it comes right down to it? How much does it really cost to love somebody enough to dry the soap, roll the toothpaste tube, put the cap back on the toothpaste? But is there anybody here who can't think of some little tiny thing that just drove you up the wall about that husband of yours or that wife of yours?
Oprah Winfrey had a program on this very thing, asking couples to tell the thing from the husband's point of view about what his wife did that still drove him up the wall, and the wife also told about her husband. It was amazing how many of the wives had the same complaint. Their husbands would promise to fix some little thing around the house, and somehow that little thing stayed for weeks and months. I'm not going to tell you about the little thing in our house that isn't fixed yet. But I remember my husband Add Leitch telling about how somebody broke a window. He said, "It's not getting the window fixed that is the big problem. It's having your wife say to you every day, 'When are you going to get that window fixed?' that drives you crazy."
The cost is not some huge sacrifice that we think very much about most of the time. It's those tiny little things which indicate our attitude toward our spouse. Am I willing to lay down my life? How do I lay down my life for my spouse? Not usually in anything very heroic, but in the willingness to say "no" to myself. The willingness to give up the right to be right.
Now I like to be right. I not only want to be right, but I want to be recognized as being right. As somebody has said, the root to happiness is whenever you're wrong, admit it. Whenever you're right, shut up. I want to be right. I don't want to be wrong. So I'm an arguer. I'm a debater. Unfortunately, Lars realizes he is stuck with somebody who was actually a champion debater in college. So he gets salted with fire. I mean, he has to make all kinds of little sacrifices that he doesn't make a big deal out of it. But we do make a big deal of them often, don't we?
I've heard many stories of the first revelation of problems in marriage. Usually they occur within 24 hours. I'm not sure exactly whether it was 24 hours after I married my second husband. I remember 24 hours after I married Jim Elliot that something made my mad. I've completely forgotten what it was. But I was so shocked at myself because I had thought, "I love this man so much that I could never be mad at him." Never once during our engagement was I angry with him. Never once. It was a horrifying revelation the very day after our wedding that here I was, gritting my teeth about something that Jim had done or said. And I'm glad that I've forgotten it now.
But at least one or two days after I married Add Leitch, we were sitting in a hotel room. At that point I had a thirteen-year-old daughter who had been my only attendant in our wedding. She had gone with a friend back to New Hampshire where we lived. I sat down to write a letter to my daughter. Suddenly I realized that there was a thundering silence on the other side of the room. I looked over and my husband looked as though he was furious about something. I didn't know what it was and I didn't say anything and I just kept writing the letter. The silence went on and on. Of course, I was completely absorbed.
Finally, later that evening after we had eaten a silent dinner I found out that I had hurt Add by writing that letter. I was floored. I said, "What was wrong with writing a letter to my thirteen-year-old daughter?" He said, "We're on our honeymoon. You cut me out." I said, "What did you expect me to do?" He said, "You didn't say, 'I'm going to write a letter to Valerie.'" What a tiny thing, but he was really hurt. I was thoughtless and selfish in not having said something about it. I had to learn that this man was sensitive in a way that I wouldn't be sensitive. Do you know anything about that kind of thing?
You men, you can be hurt in ways that we women can't even imagine. I suppose psychiatrists sometimes would explain it as being the male ego. We women are told that the male ego is very fragile and it has to be handled very gingerly. I don't always handle things with kid gloves, not by any means. In fact, Jim told me I had a sledge hammer personality. My husband Add told me that I didn't call a spade a spade; I called it a bloody shovel. I don't know whether Lars has come up with any of those quotable quotes yet, but he's not going to admit to one.
But love gives itself. Love gives up its rights. Love always means sacrifice. We sometimes want the splendor and the glory of offering ourselves without the sacrifice of commitment. In the spiritual realm, we'd like to do heroic things, wouldn't we? We'd like to be seen as spiritual leaders. We'd like to do something for God that would be hailed as a great work for God. We want the splendor of self-offering without the salt and the fire and the sacrifice.
It's only the vows that carry us through. The ancient fathers knew exactly what they were doing when they required vows to be pronounced before God and witnesses in the wedding ceremony. The vows of the ancient fathers and the vows of the prayer books are not a descriptive of how the husband and wife happen to feel about each other on that particular day, but they are a statement of a course that has been irrevocably chosen. "Till death us do part. For richer, for poorer. For better, for worse. In sickness and in health."
When somebody decides to drop out of a marriage and unload the partner, it's usually because they didn't expect it to be poorer and worse and sickness. Yet they had made those vows. It is the vows that carry you through when things get poorer and worse and when sickness comes and when a job is lost. There are many areas of conflict where you have to go back to those vows.
Well, I see that my time is up. Let me go over those three points again. First of all, we looked at the nature of love. It's not a mood or a feeling or a temperament or a sentiment or an emotion. It is a revolution. It means sacrifice. Secondly, we looked at the glory of sacrifice. There is always a reward. There are eternal rewards and there are temporal rewards when sacrifice is made. Lastly, every sacrifice must be salted with fire. Our vows carry us through those costly times.
Start asking yourself, not your spouse, "Have I been giving myself for this person? Is there some new way that I can think of in which I can give up my right to myself?" Back off. Not be seen to be right, necessarily. Just let something go. Let's ask God to open our eyes to this revolution and revelation.
--End of transcript--