For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. —Phil 3:18
Three little words. I looked this verse up with a commentary, and the commentator neglected to even mention them. Even with tears. Paul’s burden for those who do not know God moves him to the point of tears. How many things bring you to weep? We cry about the things we allow to really matter. I picture Paul thinking about those who do not know Christ as he goes about the most mundane chores. I picture him eating breakfast, walking to the market, or looking out over the ocean as he sails as a prisoner, praying over the fate of many he does not even know. Mostly I am captivated by Paul’s willingness to join a fight he knows he will lose. Some will come to Christ. But the mass majority he encounters will reject the good news. Paul has to know this from hours of fruitless evangelism. And yet he chooses to continually subject his heart to compassion for those who do not know Christ. He cannot change reality, and still he allows his heart to care, even with tears.
A marital couple I saw once reminded me of Paul. The connector was not faith or living as an enemy of Christ. Rather it was the extent we will go to bear a burden on behalf of someone else. In this couple’s case, it was for the glory and beauty of the other to shine. Let me explain with a bit of backstory. Holly creates. Period. Give her a piano, and you will have a melody ready for lyrics in minutes. Give her a notebook, and you will have a sonnet ready for a publisher. She exudes artistry and imagination. She dreams of leading others into the creative process. There is only one problem: No one knows what she can do. No one, that is, except her husband Josh.
As Holly spoke of her dreams to create classes and lead workshops, Josh fidgeted and squirmed on the other side of the couch. Before I knew it, Holly was listing the reasons why her desires made no sense. Her toxic-shame slowly but surely whittled her hopes into a statue which no longer had a foundation to stand. Self-contempt sabotaged its way to victory, again. Josh wiped a tear from his eye. As I sought his feedback, he spoke of the painful reality of knowing his wife was an artist meant to share her creativity. Yet he also knows the power of her toxic-shame which convinces her time and again she has nothing to offer.
Josh’s pain reminded me of Paul the Apostle, and he taught me about marriage. In marriage, a husband is asked to bear the burden of seeing who his wife is even if she does not see it. A wife is responsible to see and carry the vision of who her husband could and will be in full maturity, even when his self-contempt blinds himself. Can we take on this fight, even to the point of tears?
None of us do glory well, by the way. We long for it, yes. Dream about it. Pray for it even. Yet when moments occur when our dignity is actually revealed, we deflect and hide as quickly as we can. Just recently in a gathering of friends I listened as a woman spoke deep truth about her admiration and respect for another. Across the room, the recipient of whom she spoke visibly slid further down her chair with each word. If she could have covered herself with a blanket, she would have. A tongue lashing would have been easier to receive than praise. When I pointed out this observation, the woman agreed, “I cannot believe what she says is true of me. I hear her words. They are gold. I want them to be true of me, but I know who I see when I look in the mirror.”
This is the work of a healthy community, to live and love each other in our dignity and depravity. In a marriage, the call goes deeper and further. Husbands and wives are responsible to see beneath the wreckage of each other’s shame to the hidden glory. And the glory is not just to be seen, but carried. A spouse must do this for this simple reason: We cannot see our own glory. Our contempt for ourselves will never allow us to fully embrace the fantastic ways in which God has crafted our being.
It’s one thing to see someone and speak to their glory. It’s quite another to carry it for your spouse. It’s yet another to be in pain for it. This includes watching her fail and continually live short of her potential, condemning herself time and time again, and yet still you maintain vision for how God has made her and who she will one day be. This is what it means to choose a burden. It is to say, even with tears, “I see you. I am going to fight for you to see what I see.”
Will you search beneath the warts, passivity, arrogance, and shame (the list could go on) to see, really see your husband?
Will you develop vision for whom your wife could be, free of the shackles of her self-contempt?
Will you carry the burden even with tears for whom your husband is when he does not believe the truth about himself?