Oct 14, 2014

Loving My Closest Neighbor

By Dana Palmer

As Lutherans, we often talk about serving our neighbor. When we think of the command to “Love our neighbors as ourselves,” we usually think of doing something for someone outside our own families. If we have children, we may also think of serving them. But how about our husbands? A woman may inwardly protest, "Wait a minute, isn't he supposed to be serving me? The Bible says that the husband is supposed to love the wife like Christ loves the church. I know I am supposed to submit to him and respect him, but please don't ask me to do one more thing." Yet in the midst of our busy lives, God tells us to love and honor our spouse. How can we serve our husbands in fulfillment of the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and what are some pitfalls to avoid in this pursuit?

One enemy to loving our husbands is the expectation that we ourselves should always feel a certain way. We might compare our current feelings to those we held before we were married, or from when we were newly married. Yet life is not static. One thing I have learned in twenty-two years of marriage is that opposite personality traits can attract two people before they are married, but then cause friction after they are married. My husband and I are alike in some ways, but our approach to daily tasks is very different. He is spontaneous and doesn't like to do a lot of planning. I find this trait exciting, since I like to plan everything. When we went through pre-marital counseling, our pastor warned us that we would find this area the most challenging. We were confident that since we loved each other, we would not let it be a problem.

Within the first year of our marriage, I remember asking my husband to do something with a box of his stuff that was sitting in our parlor. He said he would. I had meant, “Please complete the task now,” because when I decide to do something, that is the way I approach it. Needless to say, he did not finish the task on my timetable, and I felt mad every time I walked by that box. I finally brought up how I felt, and we worked it out. Part of my husband's spontaneity is that he likes to work a little on one task, and then a little on another. I like to work on one until I finish it. I came to realize from this, and other similar situations, that part of loving and serving my husband was accepting his particular personality traits. When we married, I did not say, "I do, if you will do things the way I want you to." One day I asked myself, "Would I rather have my husband, even with his stuff placed where I don't want it be, or would I rather not have him?" That was a sobering question, and it helped me to learn not to feel angry when he doesn't organize his tasks and belongings the way I think he should. I am certainly glad that he accepts and loves me, also, and my endless lists and preoccupation with getting things done. This attitude helps us actually find our opposite traits endearing (most of the time).

Busyness is another enemy of loving our husbands. I was recently reminded of this when my husband and I were working on a refinishing project together. True to form, when I discovered we were running out of supplies, I decided to go to town to buy some more. I was eager to complete the job. We had already been working for most of the day, but I was hoping he would get some more refinishing work done after I got back, while I helped our children with their homeschool studies. Unfortunately, I forgot that we had already agreed to spend time together after the kids had gone to bed. Having time for each other in the evenings has seemed to be more of a challenge since he has become a pastor, and we had discussed making it a priority. However, this particular night I was so exhausted that I went to bed right after the kids. My trip to town had been unnecessary, because he hadn't had the time or energy to do more work on the project. Taking a nap would have been a better choice.

The next morning I was reading "How Christians Should be Taught to Confess the Sixth Commandment," from The Lutheran Catechesis Series by Peter Bender. One of the questions was, "Have I dishonored my spouse by neglecting to care for my spouse's body, mind, feelings, and needs, withdrawing faithfulness from my spouse?" Ouch. I realized that my drive to get things done was causing me to be inconsiderate of my husband. This is one area that is always a struggle for me, and is certainly a log in my own eye! Mercifully, God forgives me in Jesus Christ, who never neglects, forgets, or rejects me.

Life is full of ways to be busy, and they are usually good things, such as household tasks, a job outside of the home, hobbies, friends, church activities, community service, and children's activities. Yet Christ gives us our husbands as gifts, as we confess in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Modeling to our children what a loving marriage is like will do them more good than packing their schedules, or ours, with one more thing. It takes time to notice, appreciate, and communicate with our husbands. We serve our husbands when we guard our time in order to make our marriage a priority.

One of my favorite movie quotes is from Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968). The father of a large family is helping his wife out the door to go to the hospital to have another baby. Meanwhile, his teenage daughter is asking him about love, and whether her pushy boyfriend has the right interpretation of what love is. He responds, "It's giving life that counts. Until you're ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won't keep it turning. Life isn't a love-in, it's the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and . . . ground round instead of roast beef. And I'll tell you something else: it isn't going to a bed with a man that proves you're in love with him; it's getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts." He sums it up well.

Loving my husband is about giving to him, forgiving and being forgiven in this everyday life that we live together. May God keep us in Christ Jesus, believing that as He has joined us as husband and wife, He also will sustain us.


Dana Palmer is Pastor Stan Palmer's wife, mom to four children ages 11-19, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She homeschools three of her children and enjoys Lutheran theology, reading, writing, classic movies, exercising, scrapbooking, and people.

Title Image: Double Portrait of Marie and P.S. Krøyer, 1890 


  1. Well said! I've been married for 12 years, and it amazes me how many ways my husband and I are still learning about each other. I think the first few years we focused on what each other liked and disliked in life, but now we're getting more into why we have different habits, routines, irritants, etc. For instance, it bugs me that he will load and unload the dishwasher cheerfully, but rarely washes the kitchen counters. I finally asked him why, and he explained that if the dishes are clean, we can make another meal, whether the counters are dirty or not -- just put a cutting board down on the counter and the spilled flour won't matter. But I like to start out with a clean workspace before I make a new mess. So after twelve years of fussing because he won't clean the counters, and him thinking I'm just weirdly obsessed with clean counters, we understand each other.

    So anyway, I love that quote from The Lutheran Catechesis Series, because it really gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? We who would never have a physical affair with someone else, who avoid sexual temptation however possible, who think that means we're keeping the sixth commandment... we need to remember it's about more than just the marriage bed. Very convicting. Thank you!

    1. I live your example of getting to the "why," Hamlette!

    2. I love your example of getting to the "why," Hamlette!


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