Building an overcoming marriage takes two people working individually and together to overcome their own faults. It takes two people willing to put God in the middle as the glue holding them together. It takes two people committed to each other and forsaking all others. It takes two people willing to suffer the pain of knocking the corners off of each other so that they may become smooth and polished and beautiful, without spot or blemish. It takes two people willing to give 100% (it is NOT a 50/50 proposition) and not expect anything in return. Oh, the returns are great; but expectations cause us not to recognize or appreciate the many gifts we are given, because they do not fit what we thought we wanted or what we expected.

God commands men to love their wives. “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself;” Ephesians 5:33 (KJV). “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:” Ephesians 5:25-29. “Husbands, love [your] wives, and be not bitter against them.” Colossians 3:19.

If a man loves his wife, she will return that love multiplied many times over. It doesn’t come easily to a man to love. He doesn’t really know how to love a woman. He thinks that providing financially for his wife and family is all that is required. To a woman emotional nurturing is far more important, and she is willing to live on a lot less if she really feels connected to and valued by her husband. Two standing together can support each other. They can watch each other’s back (by looking over the other’s shoulder as they face each other).

God commands women to reverence (respect, look up to, honor) their husbands. “…and the wife [see] that she reverence [her] husband.” Ephesians 5:33. This must be commanded because it does not come easily to a woman. She is so close to him, therefore she sees his shortcomings and mistakes. This makes her insecure; and she will point these out in a spirit of “fix this.” A man receives it as, “You are not good enough.” “There is something wrong with you.” He needs the honor and respect of his wife as a plant needs water. It refreshes his spirit and builds him up to go out and renew the struggle to make a life for his family.

When a woman refuses to honor and respect her husband, she is plucking apart her own nest, undermining her security, and destroying her mate and their unity. She can love him without respect or honor as she loves an infant or child, but this is not what he needs. It is part of our fallen human condition to want to rule our own lives, so when a man fails to do what his wife wants or thinks is required, the tendency is for her to step in and do it herself, or to complain bitterly about his failure. That is why it must be commanded, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so [let] the wives [be] to their own husbands in every thing.” Ephesians 5:22-24.

Loving means giving up your own way. It means putting someone else’s desires and well being before your own. “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Ephesians 5:21. When a man seeks his wife’s counsel and values her opinion even if he does not follow it, she receives it as love. If he refuses to listen, he demeans her and hinders his own ability to understand emotional issues. When God created woman, he took out a part of Adam. Man no longer has that part. If he refuses to value his wife and respect her opinions, he is abandoning something valuable and diminishing his ability to see the whole picture.

God established marriage. It takes a man and a woman together to reflect a complete image of God. Either of them trying to go it alone is like trying to walk with one leg.

People are not able to meet all the needs of another person. In marriage as in all other aspects of life we need to look to God to have our needs met. Our mate will meet some needs; but if we try to look to them for everything, we will be disappointed. We must be quick to forgive these disappointments, and put our faith in God to meet the need through some other means. Not all expectations or wants are needs. And some needs are not fulfilled until the proper time (e.g. sex waits until after marriage). We must learn to wait on God’s timing and provision; and while we wait, we should reflect the unconditional love of God to our mate. As we build up each other in love, together we will begin to reflect more clearly a true image of God to a lost and dying world. This will draw others to us to find the secret “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:” Colossians 1:27.

There was a story I read in “Woman’s Day” magazine in November of 1965. The general meaning of it stuck with me through the years, and after a while I began to search for it. After many years I found the story as a motivational film in the public schools, and in February 1988 I finally found it again when it was reprinted in “Reader’s Digest” magazine. The importance of the story is not in the wealth that the man accumulated, but in his desire and ability to make his chosen mate feel valued, not only by himself, but through his actions, by others.

[Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife by Patricia McGerr is unavailable for viewing online. Please contact me if you would like a print copy. Also, if you print this page, the entire paper will print including McGerr’s story.]

Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife
by Patricia McGerr

Reprinted with permission from the February 1988 Reader�s Digest.
Copyright © 1988 by the Reader�s Digest Assn., Inc.
Originally appeared in Woman�s Day, 1965

When I sailed to Kiniwata, an island in the Pacific, I took along a notebook. After I got back it was filled with descriptions of flora and fauna, native customs, and costumes. But the only note that still interests me is the one that says: “Johnny Lingo gave eight cows to Sarita’s father.” And I don’t need to have it in writing. I’m reminded of it every time I see a woman belittling her husband or a wife withering under her husband’s scorn. I want to say to them, “You should know why Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for his wife.”

Johnny Lingo wasn’t exactly his name. But that’s what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house on Kiniwata, called him. Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the islanders. But Johnny was mentioned by many people in many connections. If I wanted to spend a few days on the neighboring island of Nurabandi, Johnny Lingo could put me up. If I wanted to fish he could show me where the biting was best. If it was pearls I sought, he would bring me the best buys. The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke they smiled, and the smiles were slightly mocking.

“Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him do the bargaining,” advised Shenkin. “Johnny knows how to make a deal.”

“Johnny Lingo!” A boy seated nearby hooted the name and rocked with laughter.

“What goes on?” I demanded. “Everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up. Let me in on the joke.”

“Oh, the people like to laugh,” Shenkin said, shrugging. “Johnny’s the brightest, the strongest young man in the islands. And for his age, the richest.”

“But if he’s all you say, what is there to laugh about?”

“Only one thing. Five months ago, at fall festival, Johnny came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight cows!”

I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.

“Good Lord!” I said. “Eight cows! She must have beauty that takes your breath away.”

“She’s not ugly,” he conceded, and smiled a little. “But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she’d be left on his hands.”

“But then he got eight cows for her? Isn’t that extraordinary?”

“Never been paid before.”

“Yet you call Johnny’s wife plain?”

“I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess there’s just no accounting for love.”

“True enough,” agreed the man. “And that’s why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands was bested by dull old Sam Karoo.”

“But how?”

“No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny’d pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, ‘Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.’”

“Eight cows,” I murmured. “I’d like to meet this Johnny Lingo.”

I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny’s house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, “You come here from Kiniwata?”


“They speak of me on that island?”

“They say there’s nothing I might want that you can’t help me get.”

He smiled gently. “My wife is from Kiniwata.”

“Yes, I know.”

“They speak of her?”

“A little.”

“What do they say?”

“Why, just . . . .” The question caught me off balance. “They told me you were married at festival time.”

“Nothing more?” The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.

“They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows.” I paused. “They wonder why.”

“They ask that?” His eyes lighted with pleasure. “Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?”

I nodded.

“And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too.” His chest expanded with satisfaction. “Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita.”

So that’s the answer, I thought: vanity.

And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.

I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me.

“You admire her?” he murmured.

“She . . . she’s glorious. But she’s not Sarita from Kiniwata,” I said.

“There’s only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata.”

“She doesn’t. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo.”

“You think eight cows were too many?” A smile slid over his lips.

“No. But how can she be so different?”

“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.”

“Then you did this just to make your wife happy?”

“I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”

“Then you wanted–”

“I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”

“But–” I was close to understanding.

“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”

As a man, you should admire your wife and seek her counsel. Even if she is less intelligent than you, she still has an emotional understanding that you can never hope to match. You should praise her to others even if she is not there to hear. This will be a protection to you against temptation, in addition to the fact that you can be sure your opinion will get back to her whether it be good or bad. Make it excellent! Encourage her to grow in every area. In fact grow with her.

As a woman, honor your husband’s decisions even when you are sure he has made a mistake. When he asks for your advice give him the very best you can and rejoice that he bothered to ask. When you feel he is headed for a fall (there will be many), take it to the Lord in prayer, knowing that God can change your husband’s mind; or, if worse comes to worst, He can bring good out of disaster.

In the tedium of daily life we tend to forget the effort expended by others for our benefit. We need to stop from time to time and show our appreciation to them, especially our spouses, for the effort they put out whether it is working at a job, cleaning the house, running errands, caring for children or whatever it may be. We all need to learn to be humbly grateful, not grumbly hateful.

To have an overcoming marriage you must be willing to pay the price, freely and without coercion. In return you will receive far more than you paid for or could possibly have expected. IT IS A MIRACLE! After all, that is the business God is in.

May God open your heart and mind to understand and walk in this. AMEN.