By Elton D. Higgs
“Cherish one another.” My wife reminded me the other day that I often give this aphoristic piece of advice to married couples, especially younger ones and those who are struggling to overcome marital conflict. She was asking, if I may paraphrase, “Why do you consider those words a starting point in marital relations?”
As I thought about how to enlarge on “Cherish one another,” I considered the difference between that admonition and merely saying, “Love one another,” which is rather the more expectable wording of the idea, and one used often in the New Testament to apply to all human relationships (see, e.g., I John 4). Since we are talking about marriage, we should refer to the passages in which the husbands are commanded to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25) and to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). Although the word “love” in these passages (agape, the absolutely selfless love that Jesus shows to His bride, the church) is deeper and more comprehensive than “cherish,” I believe the latter word, just because it is more focused and precise in denotation and more warmly personal in connotation, conveys an idea of core value in marital relationships.
The word “cherish” comes from a root meaning “dear,” both in the sense of “held affectionately close” and “appreciated for its value.” (In British English, the word “dear” is often used to mean “expensive,” as in “That’s too dear for me.”) So the appellation “dear” when talking to one’s beloved can be seen as more than a casual term, carrying with it both the joy of companionship and an appreciation for the great value of the one to whom it is addressed. The cherished one is perceived as a treasure, to be held close and protected. And the spouse so regarded will be presented to others with all of her/his good qualities showcased, as one deserving to be cherished.
In practical terms, cherishing your wife means, first of all, listening to her intensely and consistently, with both your ears and your heart, in a way that shows you value knowing and understanding her more than anything else that calls for your attention. Turn off the ball game, put down your newspaper or your tools, quit bending over the work you brought home from the office. Wives, if you want your husband to feel cherished, understand and acknowledge what gives him joy. If you don’t value it already, ask him to explain to you why it engages him, and participate in it with him if you can. When the two of you engage in conversation, even if it becomes an argument, avoid put-downs or condescension or contempt at all costs. Take for granted the value of hearing what the other one wants to say, and even if it irritates you, glean from it some building blocks of understanding. The scriptural admonition not to go to bed angry is especially important in the aftermath of a heated disagreement. Cherishing means offering forgiveness on a standing-order basis, for cherishing and anger can’t occupy the same bed.
Cherishing means giving gifts, especially when they’re not expected and the only thing they celebrate is affirming the value of your spouse. Attach a note that ties the gift to some quality of your spouse that you really appreciate. Of course, the affirming of your wife or husband can (and should) be a constant flow of “Thank you’s” and frequent acknowledgements of her/his good traits. (Caution to husbands: make sure your pattern of showing attention doesn’t elicit the mental response, “Oh yeah, I know what he really wants!” Make your cherishing much more often manifested than your appetites—keep her guessing!) Wives, be appreciative of the qualities your husband actually has, not just the ones that fit the Procrustean bed of your wishes and expectations. Many an effort at cherishing has foundered on the desire to create rather than find qualities to admire.
Mutual, consistent, intentional cherishing builds a relationship strong enough to withstand a lot of trouble. Indeed, it’s in the midst of trouble that mutual cherishing can become even more entrenched. And it’s that entrenched cherishing that makes a mature marriage rich and still capable of development. The breeding soil of cherishing is thankfulness for God’s gifts, the chief of which, in a truly committed covenant marriage, is the gift of a spouse who is willing to participate in the exhilarating exercise of progressive cherishing.
While I was writing this article, I fortuitously saw a review of the latest of the Mitford novels by Jan Karon, Come Rain or Come Shine. The reviewer quotes a comment by Father Tim, who is conducting a wedding, as he tries to answer a question from the bride, “How do we cherish someone?“ Father Tim answers, “A good marriage is a contest of generosities. Our happiness is ensured when we seek the happiness of another. The other person always has a choice. It is our job to generously outdo, no matter what, and discover that the prize in this contest of generosity is more love.” That reconfirms my conviction that the best succinct advice I can give to two people whom God has brought together in matrimony is, “Cherish one another.”
Image: “Love… just that” by Sippanont Samchai. CC License.