This is part 1 of an article on preparing and staying married.  Look for part 2 in a subsequent post.

How could I have missed it? I’ve literally read this passage hundreds of times. Ephesians 5 is a classic scripture on marriage. It’s been at the foundation of our marriage for nearly three decades. It’s where I hang my proverbial hat in terms of how to be a husband to Sandy. And yet I missed an essential truth right there in plain sight! In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Here it is..)  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:28-29 ESV

Nourish and cherish. Self-care. Sure, I eat (maybe more than I should), I sleep (maybe less than I should), but where my focus has been is back up in verse 25 of Ephesians 5 “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Going the extra mile. Sacrificing myself so that she can be all God’s called and created her to be. Sometimes that meant burning the midnight oil. Working overtime. Giving up my agenda so that she can blossom as a woman! In our culture, men who love sacrificially have become as rare as the Sumatran Rhino. Like a cultural reaction to the call for sacrifice, men have opted for the opposite extreme: self-indulgent passivity. Instead of celebrating protection, provision, and procreation, men are there for themselves. They stand in the back, not engaging in the marriage as God calls them to. The fallout of a passive man wreaks havoc on family and culture.

So what makes self-care such an essential part of a healthy marriage? As a warrior, single or married, you are called by God to take care of yourself. Recently, I was talking to a single young man in his mid-twenties. He was quietly regretting how he used and abused his body in his teens and early 20s. “Back when I thought I was invincible, I risked more than I should have and now I’m paying the cost. Broken bones and torn muscles that never healed correctly. Scars from literally beating my head into a wall. Eating a ton of junk food and using my body for sexual experiences that ruined relationships and made me the center of my manhood. I definitely didn’t nourish and cherish myself.”

To nourish is to feed, to sustain, to pursue health. To cherish is to appreciate, hold with sanctity the life God has given you. Sometimes, driven by raging testosterone, we push ourselves into a pace of life that is unsustainable long-term. We wear out quickly. Young men growing weary because they withdrew more from their manhood account than they effectively deposited. Single, warrior-aged young men can burn the midnight oil, surviving on a few hours sleep, eat horrible junk food and seem to be able to handle it. What he doesn’t realize is as he pursues a woman, he has significantly limited the depth of what he can offer because he didn’t value self-care. As a married warrior, the same holds true. How you handled your single days directly impacts the health of your marriage today. How you are nourishing yourself as a married warrior plays a vital role in the well-being of your wife and kids.  

So, what’s a man to do? God created us with a mind, body, and soul. Living in the flesh is more than referring to our bodies. Our minds and souls are also key, integrated, non-separable parts of our flesh. That means, if you are a single warrior, be sure to invest in yourself. Yes, eat good foods. Have a proper diet. Get the right amount of sleep. Cramming so much into a day can adversely affect one’s ability to handle illnesses and stress.

Feed yourself spiritually. Spend time with Jesus. Don’t think of it as “clock time” with the Savior, but as real-time with Him. This idea goes back to Galatians 2:20, which says: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 ESV.  If you find it hard to spend consistent time with Christ in His Word, you will find it hit and miss in how you treat a woman and the type of husband you will become. You’ll have little if anything to offer her.  

As a married warrior, the call to nourish yourself is meant to be for the benefit of your wife and kids. You are the pastor of your home, and taking care of your family is far more than putting bacon on the table. In the same way that Christ loves and nurtures us (his body, the church) is how as a man, a husband, you are to love and nurture your wife and family. In fact, the Holy Spirit is your source of life. Trying to provide in your own strength will fail. Believe me when I say I regret the times I emptied myself for my family without taking care of me. Little from little is still little. Nothing from nothing is still nothing.

Self-care is vital to helping single men prepare for marriage and keeping married men married. God calls us to be men that reflect Christ to our future wife, if single, and our wife, if married.  

Part 2 looks at practical ways towards healthier self-care.

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.