As the proper time approached to search for, find and choose a spouse, all I knew about honor I had learned from my parents, other mentors and classics. There had been countless times I had thought "that's how I want to be with my husband," and sadly, many times I had also thought "I never want it to be like that."
Had I stopped at that time to write about my interpretation of honor, I doubt I would have been able to put words to it much better than I can now. I only knew there was something of it in things I tended to noticed: kind words spoken about a spouse, gratitude expressed, physical embraces, continued courting, checked opinions, tongues held. What honor consistently looked like reminded me of a passage describing Mary, the mother of Jesus when it explains that "she kept all these things in her heart." What was so great and so sacred that a woman, social creature as she is, could keep it in her heart? These were experiences-- owned by her-- that consistently bore character qualities of trust, giving and graciously receiving gifts, taking personal responsibility, and understanding one's own heart, desires, power and influence with others.
I used to think that honor was something that a man earned. Perhaps this is true for the honored, from his self-perspective. But for the one honoring, it too begins with self. The honor I have for my husband began with me, before we ever met, before the proper time came to seek one another. It began with my choices and honoring myself. Through repeated experiences of honoring my heart and seeking to follow my own conscience, I learned to trust my own judgment in being able to make choices which would lead to my freedom, happiness and joy. Practicing honor with myself assured that I was usually surrounded- throughout my life - with other people who were also honorable. These individuals became easily recognizable, for I could see in them reflected the values and ideals that also kept me happy. Thus, it wasn't difficult to see in the man I eventually married these same recognizable qualities. And having learned, through ever-building experiences, to trust my judgment in noticing such qualities, I could be - to this degree - confident in my ability to choose an honorable man. Hoping he would be consistent in his character was the foundation of our friendship and eventually our marriage.
Knowing this was disillusioning to me, therefore, in the early years of my marriage when I found it difficult at times to honor my husband. I wanted to honor him, but his choices sometimes made that difficult for me. I eventually have come to know for myself that honoring my husband isn't just for the times he deserves it. I know now that it was a subtle abandonment of hope on my part; harsh judgments that crept slowly in to replace the ever-healing benefit-of-the-doubt. It was unrealistic expectations, assumptions and lack of personal responsibility to myself and my man. It was also an incomplete understanding of my own power and influence that had led to this disillusionment. Looking back, I am happy at least that I did honor him-- and us-- enough to "keep these things in my heart" -- and between just us-- long enough to open my heart up to the mentors and classics that still came my way overflowing.
My greatest mentors in this area were many dear friends. Through example and instruction-- both formal and informal-- these people, often other mothers, helped me to begin to re-capture the perspective of truly honoring my husband. Countless excerpts inspiring literature continued me along this path. Two books in particular: Laura Doyle's "The Surrendered Wife" and Ramona Zabriskie's "Wife for Life" graced me with a healthy perspective on honor. What I came to learn was that continuing my trust in my husband is the foundation of my honoring him. Trusting him to support me and our children, trusting him to take care of us, to make wise decisions and, most importantly, trusting him to take responsibility and learn from his own mistakes when he doesn't.
This trust weaves through every detail of a marriage, from being the passenger in a car he is driving, to money concerns, to issues surrounding the bearing and raising of children. A woman who honors her husband doesn't need to tell him how to drive or give directions, doesn’t need to pay the bills nor to control all decisions concerning him and her children. The first principle of this trust for me was remembering the trust I had in my choice of a spouse in the first place.
Honorable people are gracious people. They give to others because of their virtues and the love that exists between them. They, too, recognize goodness and honor in others and want to reward that with their love and gifts. The key to this principle I had been missing was that while part of honoring my husband is in my giving these gifts to him in their many forms, an even bigger aspect of honoring him is in my graciously receiving his gifts to me. The trick is often in recognizing these gifts.
Something huge changes when a wife is looking to recognize gifts from rather than pick out weaknesses in her man. In all the giving and receiving that takes place in a marriage, the greatest gift a woman can give besides her trust is closely related to that trust; it is her benefit-of-the-doubt. There are many other mentionable gifts, such as a sense of humor, a smiling face, a willingness to quickly apologize when wrong. But more mentionable is that she honors her husband to the degree she can accept his many attempts at trying to make her happy graciously, as the greatest of gifts.
Learning these principles was one thing. Still, I had difficulty noticing his gifts to me when, honestly, I was using so much energy worried about his deserving my honor at all times. Somehow my attitude had changed from when I was single expecting my own choices, hobbies, interests and accomplishments to make me happy, to being married and expecting him to make me happy. Although this is my man's greatest desire, expecting this of him solely is unrealistic. Again, returning to my personal responsibility to create my own happiness is a most important way to honor my husband. I do things I enjoy, and then I share my adventures and happiness with him. I learn, I develop my talents, I create and build and serve others. I continue to be that consistently happy and interesting person he married, and in this way I most honor him.
Gaining a true and deep understanding of, and then a testimony of the depth of my own power and influence with others has been the crowning principle of honoring my husband. Though having crowned all my efforts, this principle has brought me to the depths of what it truly means to honor him. This principle is closely related to that ability to receive gifts graciously. As women, we give and nurture constantly. Being able to recognize and receive gifts is thus imperative to our well-being, for it is these gifts that fill us back up, if we let them.
A man who provides for, protects, strengthens and shields his wife is an honorable man. So, what happens when one’s husband isn’t, in her opinion, deserving of her honor? There are varying degrees of this I suppose in every marriage. I know I am not perfect and cannot expect this of my husband. There will be times he will fail us, fail me, and fail himself. Again, the best way I can honor him is to give him the benefit of the doubt and remind myself, hard though it may be, that he is an honorable person, for that is what attracted me to him. I expect him to act and be a certain way, but when he doesn’t or isn’t, I remind myself to trust that he will and must learn from his own mistakes and take responsibility for his own choices.
I go on and do the best I can, be gracious, and focus on or find the many things that make me happy. This may encompass the most difficult part of honoring one’s husband. And as Laura Doyle states as a section heading in her book The Surrendered Wife: "No Trumpets Will Sound." No, indeed they won't. A woman who truly understands her great power and capacity for influence also understands how significant and far-reaching this influence is. It becomes very sacred to her, and like Mary, she has found the great secret worth keeping in her heart.