This year I am trying to read as much of Tozer as possible. As it happens he was not a brilliant husband. After he died his wife remarried and would comment, 'I have never been happier in my life. Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.' The tragedy was that shortly before his death Tozer was heard commenting to a fellow pastor, 'I've had a lonely life.' This man who experienced such intimacy with God did not know how to experience intimacy with the person he had agreed to love and cherish.
The reason I mention Tozer is not simply to point to his failings as a husband. The reason I mention him is because of something he mentions in his books. He is big on dealing with 'self' sins. How readily we excuse self-pity, self-consciousness and even self-absorption. In our therapeutic culture we think that our greatest need is a good self-esteem. But a preoccupation with 'self' is the enemy of a good marriage. Keller writes, '... when facing any problem in marriage, the first thing you look for at the base of it is, in some measure, self-centeredness and an unwillingness to serve or minister to the other.'
Keller points out that within a few years, or even a couple of months, three things usually happen in a marriage. 'First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is. Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are. And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you conclude that your spouse's selfishness is more problematic than your own.'
Keller advises that we see our own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than we do our spouses. Why? 'Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it.' 'If two spouses each say, "I'm going to treat my self-centredness as the main problem in the marriage," you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.' What if you begin to work on your own selfishness but your partner is not concerned about theirs? '... often, over time, your attitude and behaviour will begin to soften your partner.' 'But even if only one of you does it, your prospects [for a good marriage] are still good.'
Keller says that we need 'Spirit-generated selflessness - not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It means taking your mind off yourself and realising that in Christ your needs are going to be met and are, in fact, being met so that you don't look at your spouse as your savior.''