(Editor's Note: The writer, Nick Dean, is a former employee and friend of AFA.)
There are countless articles for men on dating and marriage, but many seem to focus on what we ought to expect from our future wife and not enough on our own responsibilities in becoming her future husband. For young men who hope to someday marry, this trend reflects a particular danger: bad husbands. Why? Because the young husband who expects only of others and not of himself is little more than a foolish boy with a ring. In the interest of full disclosure, allow me to make clear I am twenty-two and unmarried. This article is every bit as much for me as it is for the other young men I hope will read it. The practices and challenges I set forth are ones I have not yet mastered. Some I do well, others I do poorly. I am not here as a pretender or preacher. I am here as a participant. I am learning and practicing these things right alongside you. That being said, I believe what makes a good man will make a good husband.
First and foremost in the process of becoming a good man is spiritual formation. Spiritual formation can take many forms, but the most helpful for me are habitual prayer and Scripture reading. A habit of prayer deepens the relationship between a man and his God. This relational intimacy creates a context and a rootedness that will support a man — and a marriage — through the best and worst of times. Additionally, by reading Scripture regularly, we become more knowledgeable in the narrative of our faith, a worthwhile result in and of itself. Beyond that, we also become more in tune with how to live life according to God’s will. Scripture is a beautiful, albeit sometimes difficult to read, collection of 66 articles of antiquity that teaches us much about what we are to do and how we are to do it. By these practices, we cultivate ourselves and our intimacy with the Lord. We become men of God, ever loving the One who created us to love and be loved, and prepared to love our future wives as Christ loves the church.
Self-discipline and care
As we practice these spiritual disciplines, our focus of mind and heart will be honed. We may utilize this to cultivate a steadfast self-discipline in all aspects of life. Hold yourself accountable to times of prayer and Scripture reading, but do not allow yourself to stop there. It is so easy to become slaves to our capricious desires and always be in a state of indulging, whether those desires are for laziness, sex, alcohol, money, the latest gadget, junk food, or just one more episode season on Netflix. Self-discipline is necessarily about denying ourselves some of life’s pleasures. But self-denial is not an end to itself. Rather, we deny ourselves the too much so that we might properly enjoy the good, protecting ourselves from the bad. In the day to day, this means fulfilling responsibilities, eating healthy, staying active, limiting entertainment, practicing sexual purity, and not drinking to excess. It also means setting aside some time and money to treat ourselves on occasion because self-discipline is not some guilt-driven denial of one’s nature; it is taking care of oneself properly. If we can take care of ourselves, we will be that much more prepared to take care of our wives.
Loving hard work
With self-discipline comes a work ethic. As young men, we must develop a work ethic predicated upon diligence and not warm, fuzzy feelings because our future marriages will require the same of us. Certainly, loving relationships are, at times, filled with romantic feelings and profound moments of emotion, but, particularly in the long term, they are about working through the difficult times with your partner. Whether in relationship or work, we must intentionally make the decision to not give up. We will all have to work long hours and take on unappealing assignments. Take these as opportunities to work hard and with excellence, even if your desire is to slack off or quit. This in turn will help to develop the sort of depth of character and uncompromising fidelity that sustains a marriage through sickness and health, good times and bad.
Very much tied to work ethic in the development of our manliness is servanthood and self-sacrifice. Someday, we will need to be servants to our wives and love them selflessly (Ephesians 5:25), and we will be better at this if we have an established habit of serving sacrificially. We can begin by setting aside time to serve others. Become involved with an after-school program, a homeless ministry, a community development project, an assisted living home, or special projects at your day job. Work ethic is not simply about what you do, but how you do it. Whether we are volunteering or at work, let us go about both with an attitude that reflects servanthood. Doing so will not only expand our love for others but will also train us to serve well.
The process of becoming a good man has to do with more than ourselves and our work. It also involves our relationships. Wherever possible, we should endeavor to be a friend to all, but we should also nurture and maintain deep, abiding friendships that last a lifetime. In our romantic relationships, we should honor the women we date. It is worth noting that dating-age people are getting to know others at a time when they are still getting to know themselves. Large portions of grace ought to be brought to the table with an understanding that things will not always work out, and that has nothing to do with the value, or dare I say righteousness, of either individual. Moreover, we must take care not to place lofty expectations upon women whom we have only just started dating. We can enjoy the process of dating, getting to know a young woman and appreciating her company, without expecting marriage as a necessary result. That being said, we must continuously exercise discernment before giving our hearts away to a woman who will someday be the wife of another. Honor those you date as well as their future husbands by protecting their hearts and maintaining their purity and integrity. And do your future wife the great honor of not having given your whole heart, body, and eyes to another woman.
Finally, benefit also from mentoring relationships with older men. As young, relatively inexperienced men, we should be thirsty for mentorship. Older men have a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and practical experience. Home repairs, office politics, what marriage is really like, there is so much we do not yet know. Yet all we need do is ask. As we learn from these men who have walked the road further than us, we grow. Eventually, we will grow to the point that we will be able to pass on this collective wisdom to the next generation of young men.
Grace for growth
At the end of the day, we must remember that this is not some magic formula for becoming Mr. Perfect. And so we must allow ourselves grace as we stumble through these practices in different ways and in different seasons. For what it is worth, though, I think that a real man, a strong man, is one whose greatest passion is demonstrating service and love to his God, family, friend, neighbor, and enemy; and one who is intent on cultivating himself. Not that he will do so perfectly at all times, but that he is intent on trying. Let us strive to be that kind of man, and then we may be that kind of husband.