As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, one of my favorite pastimes back when we lived in Dallas was frequenting home shows. This may have been, as one friend suggested, my way of escaping the fact that at the time my husband and I were ourselves living in a miniscule apartment, together with a growing brood of small children. My friend couldn’t imagine how supremely happy we were in those modest surroundings, despite the fact we could sit at our dinner table and retrieve milk from the refrigerator, answer the back door, or switch on the bathroom light—almost without leaving our seats.
But the truth is that I enjoyed walking through other people’s houses because doing so gave me such grand ideas for decorating my own. We were blessed with an accommodating landlady who let us paint walls, hang curtains, add shelves, and plant flowers to our heart’s content, so our little hole-in-the-wall became more pleasant, warm, and inviting with every home tour we attended.
In reality, our humble abode bore little resemblance to the lavish residences we toured. The sum total of our living space would have fit into one of their walk-in closets with room to spare. But our home was characterized by a spirit of love and joy that I suspect was lacking in at least one of the sprawling mansions we visited.
What makes me think so? A sign in the master bedroom told me as much.
Lifestyles of the Rich
This bedroom wasn’t just a bedroom; it was an entire wing of the house. Such opulence you wouldn’t believe. An exquisite Persian rug covered the floor and felt lush beneath our stocking feet (visitors had been asked to remove their shoes at the door). The walls were adorned with priceless works of art—all original oil paintings or signed and numbered prints. Two overstuffed armchairs flanked the marble fireplace, a gleaming silver tea service perched atop an antique tray table between them. A beveled mirror in an ornate frame hung above the mantle to camouflage the high definition television built into the wall behind it.
Beyond the fireplace, a chaise lounge stood in front of floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows through which we could see a pristine blue granite pool shaded by potted palm trees and bordered by well-tended beds of trailing lantana, bright impatiens, and fragrant gardenias. Atrium doors in the master bedroom opened onto a wide veranda that overlooked the pool, granting the couple easy access for late-night dips in the attached Jacuzzi.
Of course, the focal point of any bedroom is the bed, and theirs was no exception. Centered on the wall opposite the fireplace was an enormous reproduction of something straight out of Princess and the Pea. It was so high that a stepstool was needed—and provided—just to climb into it. Four massive mahogany posts supported an ornately carved canopy that brushed the ceiling. Heavy curtains of silk brocade hung at each corner. The thick mattress was buried beneath a sumptuous duvet, its topmost edge folded back to reveal smooth satin sheets beneath, and the towering headboard was fronted by ranks of ruffled, tucked, and tufted pillows and bolsters in an array of complementary patterns, textures, and designs.
It was here that I spotted, upon closer inspection, the telltale sign that something in this home was amiss. There, standing prominently at the head of that army of cushions, was a small needlework pillow bearing the sentiment,
NOT TONIGHT, DEAR
I HAVE A HEADACHE
Keep in mind that everything (else) about this room whispered romance: A pile of logs crackled in the fireplace. Sweet violin music wafted through the speaker system. Scented candles flickered on the nightstand. And that luxuriant bed beckoned, “Come. Drink your fill of love until morning.”
It was enough to quicken the pulse of any husband still in possession of half his senses—but all for naught.
Should the pitiable man dare think of approaching his wife with tender words or ardent hopes, The Pillow stood sentry, ready to quench his passion with icy water. What a cruel trick! What a slap in the face! Did the heartless wife hide the cursed thing on that rare occasion she was in the mood? Did her husband’s heart lift when he noticed it missing?
The Corner of a Roof
The book of Proverbs speaks of such a home as this. It tells us unequivocally, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Prov. 15:16-17). And again, two chapters later, it declares, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1).
Whence does all this strife and tension and turmoil come? I’m convinced that in many instances, the root source is a wife’s negativity. Proverbs 21:9 tells us: “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” When most of us hear that verse, we picture an embittered, demanding nag who is impossible to please. That sort of faultfinding person might be described as being actively contentious, but for the purposes of the present discussion, I want to focus on the flip side of this problem: that of being passively contentious.
You see, a wife does not have to continuously harp on her husband in an irritating voice to be a thorn in his side. In fact, she can be absolutely insufferable without ever opening her mouth at all. How? By practicing the art of manipulation. She can sulk and pout or cry and carry on until she gets her own way or—what’s worse—she can simply withhold sex until her husband gives in to her demands out of sheer desperation. This is contention in its most insidious form, for her husband has no recourse. He must either capitulate or be driven mad.
If you habitually put off your husband’s sexual advances, if you routinely insist that he wait until some remote time when you are “in the mood” before you give him what he so desperately desires, then you are by definition being contentious. A good synonym for the verb “to contend” is “to resist,” which is precisely what you are doing when you refuse to have sex with your husband.
According to the Bible, a man would be better off inhabiting a corner of the roof — exposed to what? Scorching heat? Gale-force winds? Torrential rain? Anything would be more tolerable than sharing a house with a contentious, resistant, vexing wife. For the sake of your husband, for the sake of your children, for the sake of your home—please do not allow a lagging libido to limit the frequency with which you make love to your husband. Otherwise, you may exchange what could have been heaven-on-earth for something far inferior.
Sending a Different Message
I sometimes think back on the little “headache pillow” which first caught my eye during that luxury home tour so long ago. I’m sorry to report, that wasn’t the only time I’ve noticed such a hateful thing being used to accessorize an otherwise beautiful bed. In fact, I’ve seen so many “Not Tonight” pillows over the years that I’ve completely lost count. (There’s obviously a bigger market for needlepoint excuses than I realized.)
Every time I spotted a new one, I felt an intense urge to showcase a drastically different “message” on my own bed. I admired the exquisite needlework, but wanted my pillow to say something along the lines of “Tonight and Every Night” or “I’m Ready When You Are” or maybe even “Bring It On.”
Two things prevented my acting on this impulse. First was the knowledge that our parents, children, friends, and houseguests might consider it in poor taste for us to adorn our bed with such a straightforward reminder of why we share it. Second was the fact that, regardless how earnestly I searched, I could never find a store that even sold pillows with such sentiments stitched upon them. Go figure!
Still, it was an idea that refused to die. Although I could sidestep the second issue by sewing the pillow myself, the first concern still presented a problem. How could I phrase what I wanted to say in a way that others wouldn’t find offensive or embarrassing?
The solution came to me unexpectedly about twelve years ago when my husband and I were at a Sunday school class dinner. One of the other couples in attendance knew about the commitment Doug and I had made early in our marriage to always pray together before having sex, so when we tried to slip away from the party early, they couldn’t resist teasing us a bit.
“Are you guys going home to pray?” they called to us across the parking lot.
My husband answered back with a grin, “Well, we’ve already prayed together once today, but we might decide to pray again.”
“You know what they say,” the couple laughed. “You can never pray too much!”
And there I had it… the sentiment I would stitch on my pillow.
If you were to visit our home today, you would find a spacious master suite, complete with plush Persian rug and four-poster bed. The dust ruffle, duvet, and a mound of pillows were custom-made by me in complementary colors, textures, and patterns. And there in the center of it all, you would find a beautiful little velvet cushion, hand-embroidered with silk ribbon roses and tiny glass beads.
To the rest of the world it simply says, “You can never pray too much.” But to my husband, who can decipher my secret code, it sends another message entirely. To him, it clearly reads, “You can never have too much sex… and I’m ready when you are.”
The choice is yours. What message will you send to your husband?
The above article was adapted from my book, LOVE YOUR HUSBAND/LOVE YOURSELF: EMBRACING GOD’S PURPOSE FOR PASSION IN MARRIAGE, pp. 61-74.