It sounds totally Biblical. I never even questioned it. Logical too-I love when things are logical! After all, God does give a specific order within the family-whether we like the sound of it or not, the husband is the head of the home, and ideally, he is a loving servant-leader who provides for his family, values his wife above his own needs and loves her to the point of death on the cross, just as was Jesus’ example. The wife, in turn, should also love her husband and respect him, putting his well-being before her own. Kids are commanded to obey their parents. Everyone thrives. So far, so good.
Then I started contemplating this idea that gets talked about a lot. “Put your marriage FIRST," people say. “Your kids should know that you love your husband more than you love them," they quip. “We have to take care of Mommy and Daddy in order to have anything left to raise our kids well,” they affirm. That sounds soooooo good. I think people who say these things have their hearts in the right place. They don’t want busy moms and dads to neglect their marriages. Totally. They want kids to realize that they are not the absolute center of the universe. Absolutely. But, the philosophy behind this thinking is slightly flawed, and if I allow it to take deep root, it will change the way I lead my family, and I’m not sure if I like the direction it’s going.
You see, it’s most important to examine what the BIBLE actually says. And the only verse that really laid it out for me, that absolutely dictates an order of affection and priorities is this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it.
Who’s your neighbor? It’s your husband. It’s your child. It’s the elderly lady next door and the little family across the street. It’s the man behind you in the grocery line, and the coworker at the desk next to yours. It’s the parent of your son’s best friend, and the child you support through Children’s Hunger Fund.
Honestly, I don’t need a vacation in the mountains with my husband to have something left to give my kids. There are millions of people on this planet who love the Lord who cannot afford to do those kinds of things, and that’s okay, because our strength comes from God alone. Our ability to love well comes from the Holy Spirit. Anything else is a luxury.
Listen, I love my husband and he is one of my priorities. My children too. But when I spend my time contemplating how much I need to put everyone in my family first, I lose sight of my other neighbors real quickly. Maybe you don’t. But I do. I am already naturally inclined to do the best for my family, and I know God takes our responsibilities to the spouses and children He blessed us with seriously. By all means, love them well and fulfill the roles God gave to you. But let’s get rid of the “order of importance” mentality that subliminally leaves our neighbors outside on the doorstep.
I don’t want to over-think or focus in the day-to-day whether or not I am putting my husband first in my life on this earth, because the moment I do that, I start forgetting that God alone is first in my life. Everyone else-everyone-is second, and there is no third. Biblically, I'm supposed to put everyone before myself: "And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all' (Mark 9:35).
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:32-36)
I’m willing to sacrifice Oprah’s version of the “best life” for my children to meet the needs of others. It may not be the most convenient and comfortable life for my kids to share a bedroom so we can take in another family who needs temporary housing. My husband and I may forgo that couples only retreat to help financially support a missionary family. And no, I’m not saying that those other things are wrong-I hope we will do some of that too, Lord willing. But this world is in such desperate need of people who love them like Jesus does that I just can’t be comfortable with giving my family top billing over others.
Somehow, I don’t feel like our marriage or our kids will suffer for it at all. I’m pretty sure that spending this life on others-period-is always worth it. I know plenty of missionaries in other countries whose families are often in danger or whose basic comforts are stretched pretty thin in order to reach the lost, and we never question it. We applaud them and we are glad they are there, reaching the world. But what about me? Am I not a missionary right here in CA? Am I willing to put my neighbor first even if they live in a brick house instead of a grass hut? It’s so much more natural to think of Christ-followers giving up everything-even weekly date nights at the movies-to share the gospel when we can picture them in India. It makes us super uncomfortable when we consider doing that ourselves in the suburbs.
If you want to talk about whose on first and who’s on second, I’ll tell ya what. We are all meant to take first place in the race, running to win just as Paul urges believers to do. I can’t run as well as I want to if I’m thinking about how I can make my kids understand that they are lower than so-and-so on the family totem pole. God never makes me feel like that. He gave His all, for each one of us, equally. May our neighbors know us for one thing only-that we love God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds, and with all our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
YOUR TURN: How do you prioritize in your family while also reaching out to the world around you? Do you feel pressure to have the ideal balance in your marriage and family-life as a mom or dad?