The book The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace is a book that definitely goes against the grain of popular female thought. Not only would many radical feminisits probably want to burn it without much hesitation, but many Christian women would chafe at what Peace suggests. At the heart of Martha Peace's book is the principle of selflessness. Woven throughout this excellent book is the assumption that we must put ourselves second. Welcome to Christianity. Welcome to married life. Excellence in anything involves sacrifice. Excellence in marriage involves sacrificing our own wants and desires. I can hear a barrage of female voices as I type this: "But what about him? Doesn't he have to be selfless?" Yes, he does. But you can't control him. All you can control is yourself, and that truth is something that is promoted in Peace's book.
The book is divided into four sections, "A Wife's Understanding," "A Wife's Responsibility," "A Wife's Submission," and "A Wife's Special Concerns." The first section deals with understandins issues such as understanding God, sin, marriage, and roles. The section on understanding sin is, in my opinion, foundational to the whole book. If we can't understand how sin affects our relationships, then having excellent ones will be a much more difficult task.
The section on responsibility deals with Christ, the home, love, respect, intimacy and submission. The third section talks about Biblical submission, God's provision, honouring Christ, communication and conflict. The last section deals with issues such as overcoming impatience, overcoming anxiety, overcoming a lack of oneness, and overcoming a grieving heart.
There is a lot of overlap in this book, but I believe that is the nature of the whole issue. Submission is affected by sin; responsibility is affected by sin; intimacy is affected by submission, overcoming anxiety is affected by sin and submission. I know that some women who read this book found Peace a bit repetitive, and she definitely was in some areas, but I don't think it was reptitive in a negative way. I prefer to think of it as very thorough.
What I liked best about this book was Peace's work toward making the reader see that her situation is affected by her thoughts. All good and bad behaviour is motivated by good and bad thoughts. Working toward changing sinful thoughts into godly thoughts is the first step in becoming an excellent wife. It is our jobs as wives to have the mind of Christ; our thoughts will reflect that, and our actions will follow suit.
Here is an example. One of the chapters discusses handling anger. Peace provides a chart (page 213 of the revised and expanded edition) demonstrating the contrast between anger producing thoughts and gentle response producing thoughts. Underneath the left column, anger producing thoughts: "This makes me mad. I wish he would hurry up. I've got things to do!" The gentle response: "Thank you Lord for the delay. I would like to finish my work in time, but I want you to be glorified whether I finish or not." Another example, "How dare he snap at me when he walks in the door from work? He's not the only one who has had a rough day" produces anger. The gentle response: "He doesn't usually snap at me like that. I wonder if he has had a difficult day at work or if he has a headache. What can I do to help him?"
I'm sure a lot of women would think that the gentle responses given in these examples are something out of "Leave it to Beaver." They might think that the wife would be better to stick a "door mat" sign on her forehead. Well, whatever. The bottom line is that the godly response is to esteem others better, to be loving, to give the benefit of the doubt. The bottom line is that the wife must first and foremost please Christ. If she can't do that, she will struggle to be a good wife.
I also liked Peace's discussion about showing love and avoiding bitterness. She provides again some contrasting ways of thinking, bitter thoughts contrasted with kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving thoughts (page 94). Here is an example: "I can't believe what he has done to me!" is contrasted with "What he has done is difficult but God will give me the grace to get through it (I Corinthians 10:13)" "I'll show him what it is like," is contrasted with "I'll give him a blessing instead (1 Peter 3:)" "God understands that I can't take this," is bitter, while "God will give me the wisdom and grace to hang in there (James 1:5)" is a better response.
Very often, we get caught up in wrong thinking. We don't even realize it. Because we don't realize it, we falsely believe that it is the other person's problem, and it is something he must correct. Peace shows quite well that in our marriages, correcting our own sinful thinking is the place to begin. Make no mistake, she does go into the right of a woman to go to her husband (biblically, of course) and deal with issues she has with him. However, she stresses time and again that we must first confront our attitudes before we do this.
I think this book is a must-read for young women, even teenage girls. Do our young teenager daughter have any idea of what marriage really entails? How well do we prepare them? Ultimately, the way a woman loves and treats her husband hinges upon how she loves and obeys Jesus Christ. Her relationship with Christ is the model for all other relationships. If we put our husbands in the place of Christ, and look to them as our ultimate source of meaning, then we are disobeying. Put Christ at the centre of our lives, and it becomes much easier to deal with other relationships. I found that many of the principles in this book would be applicable to all relationships.
This is not to say that following the biblical pattern for an excellent wife is easy. It is not easy. It demands all of our dependence upon God. We can't do it on our own, because we are not programmed for selfless behaviour. The only way we can do it is through the power of Christ.