The scene was reminiscent of a scary movie. Julia walked out to the church parking lot and found an ominous note taped to her car window: “I SEE YOU!”
Though she thought I was hundreds of miles away, I was actually nearby, watching the entire scene unfold. When she began to nervously look around, I took that as my cue and drove up next to her. As she stared in shock, I asked in the smoothest way possible, “Wanna take a ride?” (Yes, I had rehearsed it many times.) She joyfully got in the car, and a few hours later, I got down on one knee and asked if she would marry me. She said yes.
The cryptic three-word message was actually not the way I intended to start the morning. I had crafted the perfect poem to start our engagement day, but it got lost somewhere between my hotel and the church. With only a few seconds to write something, “I SEE YOU!” was all I could come up with.
We used to think our engagement was perfect except for those hastily written three words. Ironically, after 22 years of marriage, that note has become one of our favorite parts of the day. In fact, one of our marriage goals is to regularly and intentionally communicate what first happened on accident: “I see you.” While many fantasize about falling in love at first sight, we’ve discovered a better dream: a marriage that furthers love with each additional sight.
It took a few years of marriage before I realized the power of sight as a way to pursue Julia. Up to that point, I was focused on developing my listening skills. Then, right when I began to make progress on that, God revealed (in perfect Godlike fashion) a new need for development: looking skills. We get a glimpse of the power of sight in the way God describes Israel’s suffering in Egypt:
God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew. (Exodus 2:24–25)
By developing our listening and looking skills, we unlock a powerful combination in our marriages. When we listen, we communicate that our wife has been heard. When we look, we communicate that she is known and understood.
Unfortunately, far too many wives are overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness. Day after day, they feel invisible to the man they love. When I reflect on my own marriage and the real reasons why I don’t actively bless my wife as God intends, I admit that one of my main obstacles is optical. I don’t actually see what’s happening around me because I’m not really looking.
Savior with Wide Eyes
My breakthrough started with a study on all that Jesus noticed. Our Savior walked through life with eyes wide open. Jesus noticed Nathaniel under a tree (John 1:48) and Zacchaeus up in a tree (Luke 19:5). He noticed John’s disciples following at a distance (John 1:38) and the touch of one desperate woman while the masses pressed around him (Luke 8:45). Jesus watched in moments we think you shouldn’t, such as when the poor widow put all she had into the offering treasury (Luke 21:1–4). He also watched in moments we know we couldn’t, such as when he himself was the offering.
Even as he hung on the cross in intense agony, his eyes looked beyond his own suffering and responded with love. He prayed for those who crucified him (Luke 23:34), comforted a criminal next to him (Luke 23:43), and cared for his loved ones there for him (John 19:26–27). And through it all, Jesus kept his eyes on the work of his Father (John 5:19–20). Simply put, Jesus’s entire life and ministry deliberately and compassionately communicated, “I see you.”
I don’t wake each day with the burden to perfect who Jesus is for my wife, but I do rise with the great privilege to reflect him.
Three Paths to Better Sight
Empowered by the truth that God keeps me as “the apple of [his] eye” (Psalm 17:8), I made the commitment to be a man who takes literally the command that “each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Over the years, I have landed on three practices that promote a marriage culture that sees: stop, scribe, and speak.
When Moses discovered a bush on fire yet not consumed, he stopped to see what was going on. What happens next is worth reading slowly: “When the Lord saw that [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’” (Exodus 3:4). When Moses stopped to see, the Lord started to lead. I believe the same principle is true for each of us in our various relationships, whether with God, wife, or children. When we stop to see, the Lord may start to lead.
Apart from praying, I can’t think of a more effective use of my time than to stop what I’m doing and think about what I’m seeing in the life of my bride. These moments are always beneficial, and the main requirement is that I create the space with a curious spirit.
After taking the time to stop, I embrace the mindset of a scribe, taking notes on what I’m seeing. My observations are usually focused under a few main categories:
- What makes her happy or sad?
- What are her consistent dreams or disappointments?
- What relaxes her or increases her stress?
- What has she mentioned that could be a great “just because” gift?
I’m both excited and embarrassed when I go to scribe. The excitement comes from the awareness that God is leading; I’m seeing things! The embarrassment comes from reading previous observations and recognizing how quickly and easily they slipped my mind. But at least I see them again, because I’m a scribe. I encourage you to write what you see, because there is power in the pen (Deuteronomy 17:18).
Last, after taking the time to stop and scribe what I see, I speak.
My first words are to God on Julia’s behalf. Genesis 25:21 tells us, “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” I love the simple words “Isaac prayed . . . because she was . . .” As a prayer prompt, I will write these very words on a page and fill in the blank with as many things that come to mind: “Matty prayed . . . because Julia was . . .” Sentences like this give me a practical way to take all that I have seen and speak them to the One who cares for my wife most. Perhaps you don’t need a prompt like this to inspire you, but I sure do. I fear becoming the kind of husband of whom it could be written, “Matty did not pray for his wife, but she was . . .”
While the first words are spoken to God, additional words often come later. When I consistently stop to see, I find that my speech to Julia routinely lands with substance and strength. While I never assume the ability “to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4), I am keenly aware of where that ability comes from. Speaking such words begins with hearing (Isaiah 50:4), and hearing often begins with seeing (Exodus 3:4). This is the life-giving power that a husband kick-starts when he simply takes the time to see.
The part of the country we call home is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail, with some of the nation’s most beautiful viewpoints. Typically, the higher you go, the more clearly you see. For me, cultivating the simple yet consistent practice to stop, scribe, and speak is akin to walking up three giant steps that give me a higher, more breathtaking view of how good and generous God has been to me through my wife. It’s amazing what you can see when you are looking!