Midlife Dimensions


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Mutually Sacrifical Love

We recently visited our friends, Drew and Lucy, who are a splendid example of a couple living a mutually sacrificial love. Drew is a busy pastor, and Lucy ably fills her role as a pastor's wife and mother to their young daughter, Megan. Lucy also works in her profession as a teacher and is studying for a graduate degree. (The names in this article have been changed.)

Drew and Lucy's home is a comfortable place to visit. It isn't just the charming country interior of the house or the woodsy, bird-inhabited setting. Neither is it the delicious meals served in peaceful elegance. It's the loving atmosphere in their home that invites visitors to relax.
Couple in Kitchen
You don't have to be there long before you see that Drew and Lucy spontaneously love and respect each other. Mutuality is evident in their relationship. They quietly and unassumingly serve each other even though they aren’t overtly aware that they do it.

No woman can be housewife, mother, pastor's wife, teacher, and student—and keep her sanity—without some help. And no man can be an effective husband, father, and busy pastor without the support of his wife. Drew and Lucy have a beautiful blend of carrying out their separate roles while supporting each other.

When we visited them, we saw Drew and Lucy share in the care of Megan after school—transporting her to and from a friend's house, helping with homework, and carrying out her bedtime rituals. They worked together to serve us a gourmet dinner. Then we enjoyed a time of stimulating conversation in front of their fireplace.

Lucy left for work early the next morning before the rest of us were awake. Drew fed Megan and got her off to school. Then he served us a tasty breakfast. Drew had to be at an important meeting, so he left the house before we did.

Later we packed our car and closed their front door. As we drove away, we knew we had been in a special place. Drew and Lucy had been a spiritual refreshment to us when we needed a rest during a heavy speaking tour. But, most of all, they had shown us that an invigorating, but tender, graciousness permeates a home where husband and wife serve each other. They are busy people, but the gears of their complex life run smoothly because of the oil of love, courtesy, and mutuality they share.

Reflecting on Our Love

Car on Country RoadContinuing down the road away from their house, I (Sally) mused about all the ways Jim has shown his servant attitude toward me through the years—sharing the parenting of our three daughters, helping with the housework when he could, encouraging me to go back to school to finish my bachelor's degree and then obtain a master's degree—and putting up with simple meals and skimpy housekeeping so that I could manage all of it!

Jim's serving attitude has made it possible for me to have a career in teaching, writing, and conference speaking after our daughters were grown and gone. He does as much of the meal preparation and cleanup as I do. He insists that I have someone to help clean the house, and he helps me with the parts we do ourselves. He shares in shopping for groceries and doing laundry.

Most humbling of all are the many times when he puts my wants and wishes ahead of his. I know him well enough that I can tell when something is not his first preference, but he often graciously does it to meet my needs. Do you know what that does to me? It makes me want to look for ways to serve him!

Some Negative Examples

Don and Cindy might have saved their marriage had they practiced sacrificial love. Instead they have clawed at each other for over thirty years. Their pain is now so great that they are divorcing.

Don had a career in Christian ministry and needed his spouse to work as a team with him. He expected Cindy to help him professionally. However, because of her dysfunctional parental home, Cindy had emotional problems throughout their married years. Cindy was often unable to share in Don’s work. He did not understand her problems and was unresponsive to her needs. The accumulated hurt in Cindy then made her unwilling to help Don.

Through the years they have bitterly blamed each other for their marital war. When someone suggests that they call a cease-fire and try peace negotiations, each is unwilling to be the first to lay down the weapons. Neither has been willing to take the first step toward sacrificial love. The results—no winner in their war and a double murder emotionally.


He did not understand her problems, and was not responsive to her needs. The accumulative hurt in Cindy then made her unwilling to help him.


Fred and Martha are another prime example of the lack of mutual sacrificial love, except that Martha did sacrifice. The sacrificing was not mutual, however. She did the giving and he did the taking—year after year—for ovcouple in Kitchener sixty years—until Martha’s death. The loving was not mutual either. Fred felt he had made a mistake in marrying Martha, so—even though he professed to be a serious Christian—he believed he had the right to get his love needs met by a number of other women.

The insidiously pervasive damage from their unhealthy marriage was passed on to their children, the
ir children’s children, and even their great grandchildren. Finally—at great cost and with God’s help—some of the heirs declared a moratorium on the deadly inheritance. "No more! We want nothing to do with it!" they asserted. Those brave family members are on their way to emotional and spiritual soundness. Sadly, the destruction still goes on in the lives of many of the other descendants.

The health or sickness of a marriage affects not only the two people married to each other, but their family for generations to come. In addition, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances are either benefited or harmed by the quality of a couple’s marriage.

The health or sickness of a marriage affects not only the two people married to each other, but their family for generations to come.

A few years ago we surveyed 186 couples to learn their secrets for a lasting marriage. Each couple had been married fifteen or more years. Many were in their third or fourth decade of marriage. These couples revealed that learning to serve each other was one of the very important traits in helping their marriage to succeed.

So How’s Your Marriage?

Couple Wife Serving Husband BreakfastPerhaps you wonder how well your marriage measures up in mutual sacrificial love. Or you may recognize that your marriage is lacking this important ingredient and you want to know how to build a shared, self-sacrificing love. We would suggest these steps:

1. Adopt the mind of Christ who served without feeling the service was "beneath him."
2. Serve without expecting a return. Of course, a mutual sacrificial love means that both spouses are serving with this mind-set.
3. Cultivate an attitude of service, as well as the actions of serving. We know one woman who serves her husband, but she grumbles about it the entire time. She wants him to be sure to see (and hear) the great sacrifice she is making.
4. Do your serving as a service to God Himself. You are, in fact, serving God when you serve your spouse, and sometimes it helps to envision your loving God rather than your flawed spouse.
5. Accentuate the positives when thinking of your spouse. Minimize the negative thinking about your mate’s personality and behavior. If you focus on his or her strong, good points, you will find much to honor—and reasons to serve.
6. Show appreciation to your spouse when he or she serves you. Even if it is only an imperfect, incomplete attempt, you can affirm their intention or some small part of the action.
7. Look for examples of mutual sacrificial love in other couples. As you study their ways, you can incorporate the same caring for your mate as you see in them. Of course, our supreme example is that of Jesus, especially the incident recorded in John 13. Jesus, the Creator and Lord of the universe, knelt and washed the disciples’ dirty feet.
8. If you blow it, start over. Practice won’t make you perfect, but it will help establish a good habit. We are always encouraged by this reminder:
Couple Seniors Back Rub
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on. . . (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV).

Jim's sacrificial love has been proved many times, but so far the greatest validation came a few years ago after I had a mastectomy because of breast cancer.

The two of us have counseled hundreds of married couples, written books about the ingredients of a good marriage, preached sermons on mutual sacrificial love in marriage, but "the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Jim’s sacrificial love has been proved many times, but so far the greatest validation came a few years ago after I had a mastectomy because of breast cancer. Jim went far beyond the call of duty, taking over my ministry duties, doing all of the household work, and "waiting on" me because I was too weak even to get my own drink of water. I often felt embarrassed that he was doing so much for me. He would simply reply, "I’m here to serve you."

Right after I started aggressive chemotherapy, I developed an infection in my scar. This left a gaping hole that needed to be cleaned and dressed daily for ten months. Every day Jim tenderly bent over me, cleansing that ugly cavity and putting on clean bandages. As he would lean over , I could see the puffiness under his eyes and the deep wr
inkles down his cheeks. Those bags and lines weren’t on his face when he was young. But those signs of aging were beautiful to me and advertised the sacrificial love-gifts he had given me all through the years.
Book Traits
But Sally had already served me with just as great a sacrifice as I’ve made. During my difficult midlife crisis and also during a lengthy process of recovering from my dysfunctional childhood, Sally was a rock of strength and encouragement.

Early in our marriage both of us determined to practice the model of Jesus and to serve each other. Serving each other can set up a delightful cycle of eagerness to serve because you have been served.

(The preceding paragraphs were adapted from Traits of a Lasting Marriage by Jim and Sally Conway, InterVarsity Press, 1991. Revised and updated 2000.)

Conway / Farrel Articles ~    Reprint by permission only,  ©2011

Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com


The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.

Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.