Husbands, love your wives.

Those are easy words to speak — “sure, I love my wife…” we might quickly say.

But if the pressure in the crucible increases, what will be revealed?  If repeated slights and misunderstandings are left unresolved and accumulate over years, will I still love her?  If significant, trust-violating sin intrudes the relationship, will I still love her?  If the strain of sudden loss — perhaps of job or home and significant financial instability infiltrate the home, will I still love her?  If debilitating illness turns one or the other of us into a dependent invalid, will I still love her?  If my expectations for our marriage and home are left unmet and my anticipated joy turns into disappointment, will I still love her?

The question, “do you love your wife?” is not about a particular emotion at a happy point in time — it is about duration and perseverance and consistency and faithfulness, regardless of the circumstances.  The quality of a marriage is not tested or revealed on a wedding day or on the day of a job success or a child’s birth.  It’s easy to love when everything is going well and according to expectations and desires.

Rather, the depth of our love will be revealed when things are difficult — when we face criticism (either inside or outside the marriage), when sin is persistent and unresolved, when illness is unrelenting, when the demands of children who are physically incapacitated stretch both our financial and emotional resources, when one spouse is uninterested in spiritual growth or church participation.  Then we will know whether or not we really love.  When a man continues to give himself with grace and tenderness when these and a host of other circumstances enter the marriage relationship, then it can be said, “Yes, he does really love his wife.”

A man who has undergone such testing and trials and finished the course of his marriage well was Robertson McQuilkin.  For 25 years, he cared for his wife as she slowly deteriorated with Alzheimer’s.  Rather than complaining about his circumstance, the loss of relationship and the loss of ministry and influence, he called their situation, “Muriel’s Blessing.”

One illustration demonstrates his lifetime commitment:  On one occasion his wife had an “accident,” and he was on his hands and knees in the bathroom attempting to clean it up:

Muriel wanted to help—hadn’t cleaning up messes been her specialty? But now those busy hands didn’t know exactly what to do. I mopped frantically, trying to fend off the interfering hands, and contemplated how best to get a soiled slip over a head that was totally opposed to the idea. At that moment Chuck Swindoll boomed from the radio in the kitchen, “Men! Are you at home? Really at home?” In the midst of my stinking immersion I smiled, “Yeah, Chuck, I really am.” Do I ever wish I weren’t?

Recently, a student wife asked me that. Cindi has sort of adopted us. As we sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee, she said, “Don’t you ever get tired?”

“Tired? Every night. That’s why I go to bed.”

“No, I mean tired of … ” and she tilted her head toward Muriel, who sat silently in her wheelchair, her vacant eyes saying, “No one at home just now.” I responded to Cindi’s question, “Why, no, I don’t get tired. I love to care for her. She’s my precious.”

“Well, I certainly would.”

Cindi and her husband are handsome, healthy, smart people, and yet she admits that it is hard constantly to affirm one another. What happens when there is so little to commend? How does love make a difference?

Love is said to evaporate if the relationship is not mutual, if it’s not physical, if the other person doesn’t communicate, or if one party doesn’t carry his or her share of the load. When I hear the litany of essentials for a happy marriage, I count off what my beloved can no longer contribute, and I contemplate how truly mysterious love is.

There is a man who can affirm that he has been faithful to fulfill the basic calling of a man:  “husbands, love your wives.”

More of the story of Robertson McQuilkin is available online in a variety of places: