“My favorite type of advice is unsolicited, and comes from someone who has never done the thing he is giving me advice on,” said no one ever. Still, here we go. Though I’m a couple days out at the time of writing these words, by the time you’re reading this, I’ll be a freshly married man on a cruise somewhere off the coast of Central America.
So, what do I know about being happily married and an avid angler? Admittedly nothing firsthand. But, I do have a wealth of knowledge on how to be an avid angler and not have a successful relationship, wisdom earned through past failures in this department. And, I’ve learned a lot from the men around me.
Lastly, I actually had someone give me a playbook explaining exactly how to do this a long time ago. But I didn’t realize what I had at the time, and so I stuffed it away in the drawer of my dresser for a decade or so. When I relocated it and started to put the plan within its pages into motion though, all of my relationships, romantic and otherwise, started to improve drastically.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m talking about the Bible. Putting its words into practice, learning from my past mistakes and absorbing as much second-hand knowledge as possible, I think I’m ready to try my hand at being a happily married angler. I’ll give it a shot for this first year, and challenge you to do the same, and then we can circle back after a year and compare notes.
Lessons learned the hard way
You don’t get to 36 never having been married by having it all figured out. If you look back across my past, you’ll see a long list of heartbreak, felt by me, the ladies along the way or both of us. There were lots of mistakes made in those relationships. But the beautiful and beneficial byproduct of all that pain is something we all desire, but rarely want to pay the price for, known as wisdom.
So what is the big takeaway from all the misery? I was selfish. We all are innately, to some level. And whenever I finally sat down and really analyzed what went wrong along the way, the root was always my self-centeredness. I was focused on my career, on fishing, on getting what I wanted, on feeling a certain way. We all want to be happy. Or, at least that’s what we think we want.
But happiness, I’ve found, is just a fleeing feeling. I learned that I could achieve happiness, at least for a moment, if I focused all my effort on getting it. But I also learned, that even though it was often hard earned and came at a steep price, the happiness that I felt often evaporated into thin air and left me desperately in search for the next emotional high.
I found that high most often came while fishing. So, in an effort to feel happy more often than not, I fished. I spent my money on it, spent my time doing it, exhausted my energy in pursuit of it and staked my very livelihood on it, first trying to be a professional fisherman and then by taking a job in the fishing industry as a journalist.
This relentless pursuit yielded fewer and fewer peaks as time went on, and left a wake of decimated relationship with women, friends and family. It also, and most importantly, took a devastating toll on my relationship with God. Maintaining that relationship, which needed to be foundational in my life for there to be any real order or shot at lasting joy, had unfortunately fallen to the bottom of my todo list.
I’ve come across a few men in my life who live a different way. They are selfless, meek, humble, servant-hearted men. You might have encountered a few men like this and heard them referred to as whipped, weak, passive and submissive. Before God removed the blinders from my eyes, I must admit that I referred to such godly men with the same derogatory terms. But now, I aspire to be just like them. Jesus was such a man.
Let’s start with meek, a word you rarely hear these days, but one I mistakenly used interchangeably with weak for the longest time. Meek is not weak. Weak is void of power. Meek is power, under voluntary restraint.
Think Navy SEAL playing with his young child. The same man that is joyfully engaged in a tickle fight with his toddler on the floor can flip the switch before he takes his next breath if a threat were to mistakenly walk through the door of his home. This is meekness, a man fully capable of doing what needs to be done, who is simultaneously full of compassion.
Such a man is selfless, willing to put in the work to be ready should he be called upon. Gentle and tender with those entrusted to his care, his flock if you will. A shepherd capable of protecting those sheep should the need arise. Ready to put himself in harms way for his family or his brothers in arms. Willing to die even.
Jesus himself plainly stated this is the pinnacle of love in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This is but one aspect of the man we’re all called to be as husbands. Selfless, not selfish. And not only in the big things, but also and, perhaps most importantly, in the everyday little things.
I’ve struggled with pride in my life, and rested self-righteously on the presumption that I would certainly jump in front of a bullet to save someone I loved. But, checking off some highly unlikely hypothetical isn’t the point of this passage. Hopefully, I’ll never be put in a situation where I’ll have to literally take a bullet for someone. But, without a doubt, I will have the chance to die to self and put others before me dozens of times everyday.
This is where we’ll transition the convo to the game plan for how to be a happily married angler.
How to be a happily married man, who fishes
The Bible has a lot to say about marriage. Though there are a few more specific instructions for women on how to be wives, God packs quite a punch in the few specific lines He aims at men. The most impactful perhaps of all these comes in the book of Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 29, when the apostle Paul passes on this instruction from God: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”
We already talked about the greatest love a man can have, which is to lay down his life for someone. Here, Paul uses the example of Christ literally dying to ransom the souls of all those who would choose to believe in Him and accept His sacrifice for the atonement of their sins (the church). But Jesus laid down His life, in a metaphorical sense, constantly while He was on earth, stating that, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 20:28).
If you want to find joy in your life, you won’t find it from the tug on the other end of your line. Believe me, I’ve caught some big fish in some pretty big situations, and it was awesome. And I was happy, for a moment. But the temporary happiness I felt in those situations pales in comparison to the joy that my heart is full of when I put my Savannah and her needs first.
You see, love is simply a choice. I had an ex-girlfriend try to explain that to me once upon a time. But I didn’t get it. I just wanted to feel a certain way. I thought love was a feeling. It’s not. Jesus didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy on that cross as He was getting crucified. But, He chose to lay down his life for us, His friends, His church, to show us the greatest example of love of all time.
Love is a choice. Where men go wrong in their relationship, where I went wrong, is loving things in the wrong order. It’s okay to love fishing, it’s okay to choose fishing. But, order is everything. If you choose fishing over your family, you will be a miserable man soon enough. Because you’ve just told them that you love fishing more than them. Your wife is now in competition with fishing, and it might as well be another woman. She’ll resent fishing, hate it even, and in time perhaps even hate you for choosing this other love over her.
But, if you get things in order, exemplifying you love your wife more than fishing by simply choosing her before fishing, she’ll feel secure in her relationship with you, loved by you and, at worst, indifferent towards fishing. But, my guess is she’ll actually like fishing, and be glad for you to go fishing sometimes so that you can recharge your batteries and enjoy yourself. And it’s my experience that inviting her to go with you from time to time is a great idea too.
This is my plan anyway. It won’t always be easy, but it’s not complicated. If I say I love my wife, but I choose anything before her (short of God), she has no reason to believe me. My actions aren’t lining up with my words. If I truly love my wife, I’ll choose to put her first. And her love for me will show up in her encouraging me to go fishing sometimes.
If you love fishing, perhaps a little too much like I have at times, and you’re having relational issues with God, your wife or anyone else you claim to love, I challenge you to prove that love to them, by simply choosing them. That’s the commitment I made, as I looked into the eyes of my wife and promised in plain view of God and a couple hundred of our closest friends, that I’d love her, that I’d choose her, til death. Join me on this journey, and we’ll circle back in a year and see how it went.