Every one of us—whether consciously or subconsciously—came into marriage hoping for and perhaps expecting a spouse who understands our needs and spends his or her life meeting them. Major needs and minor needs. Physical needs, emotional needs, social needs, spiritual needs. Your particular gender needs as a man or a woman. Your unique personality needs. You yearned for someone to notice them, care about them, and work to fulfill them.
Has that hope been realized? Is your life one happy little vignette after another? Are you the object of your spouse’s attention and affection to the point that he or she constantly meets your needs?
Let’s turn the tables for a moment. Have your spouse’s wishes and dreams for a loving, serving spouse been realized? Are you the hero of an endless string of happy-ending stories in your marriage relationship because you are so good at meeting your spouse’s needs?
Truth be told, no one’s dream for a totally selfless, need-meeting spouse has been completely realized because no one has a perfect spouse. But does that mean that such a serving love does not exist? Not at all. It does exist, and it is available to every husband and wife. It is the same kind of love Jesus demonstrated on the night before his crucifixion—the night he washed the feet of his disciples. You and your spouse may not be able to demonstrate serving love as perfectly and consistently as Jesus did, but thanks to the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you can consistently grow in the way you meet each other’s needs.
Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ example of serving love. It may help you and your spouse to understand the dynamics of serving love in your marriage.
Do you think the Savior might have had other things on his mind that night in the upper room when he washed his disciples feet? (see John 13:1-17) Of course he did; very serious things. He knew that the final hours of his earthly life were ticking away, that a brutal death awaited him. And yet, with the weight of the world’s sin mounting on his shoulders and the agony of impending betrayal, arrest, rejection, and physical torture filling his thoughts, he turned his attention and compassion to his band of disciples and their dirty feet.
Two observations here. First, whenever your spouse forgets to make your coffee or doesn’t fill the gas tank or otherwise fails to meet your need, don’t be too hard on him or her. This is not Jesus you’re married to; this is a loving but sometimes forgetful, sometimes distracted, sometimes stressed-out human being. Be patient and forgiving.
Second, don’t use your own busyness and stress as excuses for not serving your spouse selflessly. You’re not Jesus either, but in his strength you can look beyond your own needs to meet his or hers.
Who really deserved to be served that night in the upper room? Certainly not the disciples. Jesus was their leader, their master—and they all knew it. If anybody should have been afforded the cultural courtesy of foot washing, a task reserved for the lowest servants, it should have been Jesus. But that wasn’t important to the One who took the basin of water and the towel to model what he had earlier taught: “The greatest among you must be a servant” (Matthew 23:11).
And to make sure his disciples didn’t miss the point, when Jesus finished, he said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing” (John 13:13-17).
Let’s be honest about this: Your spouse doesn’t always deserve the serving love Christ calls you to share. Agreed? All right, now let’s be brutally honest: Neither do you. Serving one another by noticing and meeting needs, great and small, is a ministry of grace. Jesus did not consider washing the feet of a bunch of self-centered disciples (they spent part of the dinner hour arguing who was the greatest) to be beneath him. Neither should you withhold loving, need-meeting service from your spouse, even when he or she doesn’t notice, doesn’t thank you, doesn’t reciprocate, or doesn’t deserve it. Rather, according to Jesus, living out serving love at home is “the path of blessing.”
*For more practical advice on connecting with your spouse, we'd recommend the Renewing Your Love devotional. It's available in our online bookstore!