Over the last several FOSJ meetings we have been developing a school of thought regarding the vocation of fatherhood: 1) Society goes by way of the family, the family goes by way of the father. If you want to change the world, change the family, if you want to change the family change the father. 2) Great fathers help make great families. And the statistics demonstrate that one of the greatest gifts a father can give to his children is a united marriage between mom and dad. A united marriage helps keep a family united. 3) To be great fathers—to father in God the Father’s image—we need to husband in Christ’s image. “Husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” (Eph 5) 4) Christ is head of his bride and exercises His headship by setting the pace of self-giving love. As Christ loves, so the Church loves; as Christ gives Himself to His bride, so the bride gives herself to Christ. 5) Christ loves His Church, His body, and shares His glory with her by being present to her in the three areas of “listen, look, and touch.” 6) We as husbands are called to follow Christ’s example and set the pace of self-giving love, die to our selfishness for our brides, and as Christ bestows His glory on His bride we are also to share the glory that we have received from God with our wives. Today, we will penetrate more deeply what it means to learn from Christ how to love our wives.
Our Lord said, “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29) Our Lord calls each of us to “learn from Him,” from His example, His words, His passion, His sacrifices, His self-giving love which compelled Him to become completely vulnerable in order to give Himself fully to His bride. This is true manhood—true masculinity.
Our Lord also encourages each and every man to take His yoke upon him. A yoke was a constraint which locked around the neck of a beast of burden. The beast of burden pulled the load by means of the yoke around his neck. When two oxen were yoked together, they would not simply pull their combined pull-weight, but because of the synergy between the beasts, they would pull a substantial amount more than the sum of what the two beasts were capable of pulling individually.
This dynamic holds true with Christ’s yoke. Christ yokes Himself in two ways: 1) Christ yokes Himself to His bride the Church, and the two become one in pulling the load of working out the salvation of mankind. 2) Our Lord yokes Himself to husbands in that He commands each husband to love His wife as Christ loves the Church. Jesus calls every husband to partake in His mission of loving the Church by loving all women, especially his wife by “delivering himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25)
What does this mean? As men, we need to be yoked in two ways: 1) We need to yoke ourselves to Christ—pull the load with Him—look to His lead and work with Him. 2) We do this by yoking ourselves to our wives. Gentlemen, Christ is far greater than us and yet He yokes Himself to us. Usually when yoking two beasts together they should be close to equal in strength. Christ yoking Himself to us is like an oxen being yoked to a ground hog. Yet, Christ grants us the redemptive grace to actually pull the weight with Him. The question is, “What is the load that we are pulling? And why does it demand supernatural grace?” What is the burden? Contrary to what some of us may believe from time to time, the burden is not our wives. Our wives are not the burden, but are our helpmates to whom we are yoked . She is another ox that pulls the weight of marital life, and family life. She is an ox that helps you carry the joys and sorrows of life with heroism.
Recall that our Lord calls each of us to carry His yoke by being vulnerable – like Him. To be yoked to our wives, and for a husband and wife to be both yoked to Christ, a husband must become vulnerable. This is a paradox. To be truly strong we must admit our weakness, for by doing so we allow the grace of God in to empower us. To become strong as oxen—spiritually—we need to become vulnerable. Our Lord Jesus, the Master, the One to Whom we are yoked, the greatest ox, if you will, became the most vulnerable: “When the Son of Man is lifted up (that is, completely vulnerable on the cross) He will draw all men to Himself (that is, He will become a magnet of love). When we become vulnerable we will become a magnet to which our wives and children cling. Vulnerability is not self-pity, pouting, or licking one’s spiritual wounds with “poor me’s.” So how does a husband become vulnerable?
One of the key practical ways by which we can become effectively vulnerable is to communicate with our wives our needs. Indeed, for a marriage to truly succeed, for a couple to be yoked together, and together yoked to Christ, a couple must communicate their needs to one another. Too many marriages end or fail to become full of vitality and grace because the two parties failed to effectively communicate their needs. Indeed, the New Adam and the New Eve communicated their needs. Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine” and Jesus said to Mary and His Bride the Church, “I thirst.” It is imperative that we have special meetings with our wives wherein we express our needs—in a charitable manner—by first asking our wives to share with us their needs. This is one of the ways that we husbands can set the pace of self-giving love, become vulnerable and draw our wives and our children to ourselves, and ultimately to Jesus.
So how do we do this? 1) Pray. Ask God for the humility and patience to forget about yourself and to become disinterested—focused on your wife’s needs. 2) Acknowledge to Our Lord your heart’s deepest, truest needs. God will help you sort out which needs are authentic and which ones are not. 3) Set aside a special time to ask your wife her needs. Listen and take notes. Listen again and take notes. Listen again and take notes. 4) Then share your authentic needs. Don’t accuse her of not fulfilling your needs—simply express them. 5) Over the following days, determine ways that you can be a gift to her and meet her authentic needs. 6) Never attempt to make her meet your needs or attempt to determine how she should be a gift to you—it doesn’t work. 7) Usually, if you are being a sincere gift to your wife, she will return herself to you, attempting to meet your authentic needs. By doing this you will, “find rest for your souls” and for your marriage.