Lighthouse of Honor

Imagine you are on a small boat caught in a fierce ocean storm. As the towering waves crash all around you, your boat is barely able to stay afloat. With each passing second, you are driven closer to the deadly rocks standing guard off shore. Suddenly you catch sight of a tiny blinking light. Searching through the dark surf, you realize the light is your lifeline—a lighthouse.

Very few images reflect such security and hope as does a lighthouse. In the same way a lighthouse provides safety to a wayward vessel, honor builds protection in a relationship. In other words, the cumulative results of consistent honoring is like building a strong, rock-solid lighthouse. By honor, I mean a simple decision to place high value, worth, and importance on another person by viewing him or her as a priceless gift and granting him or her a position in your life worthy of great respect. Honor is a gift we give to our family. It isn’t purchased by their actions or contingent on our emotions. You’re giving them distinction whether or not they like it, want it, or deserve it. You just do it; it’s a decision you make. You will soon see how honoring your mate gives legs to the words “I love you.” It puts that statement into action.

Honor is not only the first step of love, it’s also the single most important principle for building a strong family. My favorite illustration of the unlimited power of treating someone as a priceless treasure is a story called, Johnny Lingo's Eight-Cow Wife, written by Patricia McGerr.

Johnny Lingo was a young islander who lived on Nurabandi, not far from the island Kiniwata in the Pacific. Johnny was one of the brightest, strongest, and richest men in the islands, but people shook their heads and smiled about a business deal he had made with a man on Kiniwata. He had paid the unheard-of price of eight cows for a wife who was by any standards unattractive. As one fellow explained, “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.” The amazing fact was that in the islands, two or three cows could buy an average wife, and four or five a highly satisfactory one. Why would Johnny pay eight? Everyone figured Sarita's father, Sam Karoo, had taken young Johnny for a ride, and that is why they smiled whenever they discussed the deal.

The teller of the story finally met Johnny for herself and inquired about his eight-cow purchase of Sarita. She assumed he had done it for his own vanity and reputation–at least she thought this until she saw Sarita. “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.” Sarita was not the plain girl she had expected, and the explanation lies with Johnny Lingo.

“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband 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. 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.”

Because Johnny Lingo considered Sarita to be worth eight cows, she began to feel and present herself as an eight-cow woman. Before Johnny entered her life, Sarita was a shy, plain island girl. After he placed incredible value upon her, she was transformed into a confident, attractive woman who knew she was worth far more than any other woman. How many cows do your loved ones feel like they are worth? The answer will give you an idea of how much honor is present at home.

The Apostle Paul encouraged the early Christians to honor each other when he wrote, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10). The literal definition of honor we prefer is, “To give preference to someone by attaching high value to them.” In his research, relationship expert Dr. John Gottman found honor to be such a bedrock of a satisfying relationship that he can now predict divorce with 100-percent accuracy if one mate loses honor for the other. In my studies, I’ve seen that honor isn’t merely important to relationships, it’s absolutely critical. Without honor, you cannot attain intimacy in a relationship; moreover, it’s impossible to create even a functional relationship without honor.

Honor has to be the center of the relationship, and it is not a difficult strength to master and practice. The key is the pledge. You must consciously pledge yourself to put honor at the heart of your relationship. You and your family must commit yourselves to consider each other not only very valuable, but indeed one of the most valuable things in your lives, worthy of reverence, praise, and honor without restriction. You must treat each other as treasures, and that attitude should govern all your actions and words.

Why is it so important to look at our loved ones as costly gifts or special treasures? Because, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Whatever we highly treasure, that's where our affections, desires, and enthusiasm lies. Likewise, when you learn to treasure your mate, your positive feelings for him or her go up as well. This is an important distinction. When you make the decision to treat your mate as a 100-karat diamond, then your positive feelings for him or her increase. This is called “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias means that whatever we believe about someone (positive or negative), we will find evidence to support that belief. This can have a major impact on your relationship with your loved ones. If you do not see them as priceless treasures, then you will tend to focus on their negative actions as evidence of their low worth. On the other hand, if you believe they are wonderful treasures, then you will focus more on their positive behavior as evidence of their high worth.

Commit yourself to building a lighthouse of honor in your family. Once you do that, you’ll protect each other from the storms that will come. The higher the honor, the safer your relationships will be from harm.

Greg Smalley, PsyD
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Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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