After several weeks of grueling overtime at work, my husband had worked all day with our boys cutting up fallen trees from a recent string of storms. Hauling brush, cutting and splitting logs, and stacking firewood in sweltering heat all day, they came in for supper sweaty, dirty, exhausted, and hungry, with noses pointed toward the kitchen.
I had gone all out for my men while they labored: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, creamed corn, yeast rolls, sweet tea, and chocolate pie. The second the last syllable of the blessing was uttered they descended like vultures.
As I always feel when we are around the family table together, I was deeply pleased to see them so satisfied and content after their long, hot, hard work day. I didn’t even correct the boys for talking with their mouths full.
I could see the fatigue pulling at my husband’s frame and he’d only had a single piece of chicken, so when my oldest son, a teenager, reached for the last leg after having already eaten two I glared at him and told him to leave it for his father. My son’s arm stopped mid-air and my husband said, “He can have it.”
It’s Not About the Chicken
Immediately, I bristled. He’d been working all day, all week, for goodness sake, and if there was a last piece of anything he should get it. The overrule was about to leap from my lips when the Holy Spirit strongly checked me, and although I obeyed I asked him why he should allow such an injustice!?
“As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her . . .” (Ephesians 5:24-25).
In the moment it took for me to understand, a wave of humility washed over me and tears sprang to my eyes.
As the Theology of the Body tells us, our primary vocation as men and women is the same: to become self-gift. We give ourselves in love to God and to one another. We are, in fact, to become increasingly like God, who, in his very essence, is self-gift: Three Persons giving themselves eternally in love to each other.
The great sign of Ephesians 5 is the marriage relationship as the mysterious reflection of that between Christ and his Church. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is the bride. He lays down his life for her, and in doing so makes her holy.
In giving himself completely to the souls entrusted to him, a husband reflects Christ to his wife, and in some powerfully mysterious way contributes to her holiness and that of their children.
St. John Paul II said that holiness is always expressed through the body. Jesus teaches us this lesson when he pronounced the most masculine words ever spoken, “This is my body which is given up for you.” His was the gift of self through the body, not just in the Eucharist or crucifixion, but even through his whole life as a man.
I am a witness to the power of a husband’s self-sacrifice.
Expressing Holiness Through the Body
I have wrestled with a father wound my whole life. My father’s dominating parenting style provoked me to wrath and discouragement (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). I struggled with rage, rebellion against authority, and perfectionism for many years. After guarding my heart for so long, I had no idea how to give myself fully to God, much less my husband.
Since our first child made his wailing way into the world, my husband has worked in order for me to be home and give myself fully to them. We homeschooled one into college and have one in middle school. My husband’s self-gift is to the utmost. Like many men, he works a job he hates to provide insurance and a healthy, happy home environment for the rest of us.
I submitted to my husband over the chicken leg because it was his gift to our son, and I have never been so humbled by or in love with him as I was that day. I almost missed the holiness of the moment by trying to assert myself.
After a week of giving himself at work, and a day of giving himself at home, I watched him express holiness through his body over something as mundane as a chicken leg. And a life with him, receiving his ongoing self-donation, has made a safe place for me to be able to also give myself fully both to God and him.
To turn a phrase of Edith Stein’s, the world doesn’t need what men have, it needs what men are. How would we women grow personally and individually if we sought, in active demonstrative ways, to build up the masculinity of the men entrusted to us, and men in general, especially by submitting to the Lord through our husbands?
What could we become, working alongside such protective, robust leadership? We would become like Mary Magdalene, Martha, the Samaritan woman, and Mary Our Mother, women to whom Jesus entrusted some of the most profound truths of his identity and ministry and who changed the world.
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