Now that we have entered February, our thoughts naturally turn toward obtaining the proper gift for the one we love. It often begins with the question “what can I purchase”. . . perfume, Mikimoto pearls, galoshes? The challenge revolves around either getting the right thing or having a memorable experience, such as a candlelight dinner at Giuseppe’s, tickets to the show, or a pedicure (for her, unless you are from Long Island or the Jersey Shore, which could go either way). Seldom, however, do we think about what we will be—not as an alternative, but, the point is, if we don’t work on how we embody Christ to our spouse, then all the gifts in the world will miss the mark.
John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407) had something to say about this. In an exposition of Genesis 16:1ff, he counsels husbands to show gentleness and unselfish love towards their wives and thus bring peace to the household. Such a marriage, based on Christian devotion, glorifies God and as a result will be “stronger than steel,” able to withstand the storms of life.
Let us learn to be reasonable and gentle toward all, especially our wives, and to be very diligent so that if they rebuke us—whether rightly or wrongly—we may not be too exacting but may make our sole concern the removal of the cause of sadness and establish deep peace in the home. Then the wife may turn her attention toward her husband, and the husband may take refuge in his wife and find consolation at home, as in a harbor sheltered from external difficulties and troubles. The wife was given as a helper in order that the husband, strengthened by her encouragement, might be able to withstand whatever comes his way…. Those who are thus bound together will have no grief in this life nor will their pleasure suffer any harm. Wherever harmony, peace, and the bond of love exist between a wife and husband, all good things will flow together, and they will become impregnable to every assault, being fortified by the great and unassailable wall of divine harmony. This will make them stronger than steel, harder than iron, and supply them with more benefits than all wealth and possessions; this will lead them to the highest distinction and recommend them to God’s abundant favor.
I urge you therefore that we not prize anything more than this, but that we labor and do everything we can to bring about calm and peace in marriage. Then the children who are born will follow the virtue of their parents, the servants will imitate them, and in every respect the affairs of the household will contribute toward virtue, and there will be much happiness in our affairs. When we honor first the things of God, then all other things will come to us smoothly and we will experience no distress, for the goodness of God supplies us with all things in abundance.1
1 John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 38.7 , on Gen. 16:1ff, in Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom: Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 8.