Monday, August 24, 2015

Four Weeks of Meditations on Scripture

A few months ago, a friend told me about her process of spending one year meditating on the simple concept of the love of God for His children. I was intrigued by the idea and started to think through a way to make such a study accessible to more women.

Anything I write or produce is born out of something that first ministered to me. And this study is no different. If you are like me, you benefit from something that has Scripture written out for you rather than one that has you looking it up on your own. I fully admit to my laziness and desire to take shortcuts. If I am only given a Scripture reference, nine times out of ten I won't take the time to look it up. So I have always included the Scripture right in my books when it was integral to a point I was trying to make. Because surely I'm not the only lazy reader who is constantly tempted to take short cuts when reading.

Another thing I like to do is interact with what I'm reading. I must have a pen in my hand, and I must have a place to write out little notes. I don't write a lot, and I have never been good at journaling. But I do like to highlight, star things, and write little notes to remind myself of what stood out to me. So in the last few books I've published, I've left room for Reflections at regular intervals.

Finally, I don't like to be overwhelmed when reading. I write short books because I can only read short books. I can read only as much as I can process.

Putting those needs together resulted in booklets that are short and concise. They consist of four weeks of meditations, five days per week. All of the Scripture is written out with room for reflections on the opposite page.

The first one is on the steadfast love of God.

From the back cover:
Shame and self-condemnation keep many believers locked in painful places, unable to look into the mirror spiritually for fear of being undone by their sins and failures. We need to face our sin and failures head on, but before we can, we need to first know the steadfast love of our Father in heaven that equips us to look at such sin and failure without them defining who we are or how God relates to us. If this struggle sounds familiar, come on this simple four week journey through God’s Word concerning His steadfast love for His children, a love that never gives up and never fails.
The second one is for those waiting and enduring a long season of trial or suffering.

From the back cover:
Few believers need to be talked into wanting God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth. Instead, much of our struggle in life is tied to the fact that we are still waiting to see all things reconciled to Him. We may be waiting for physical healing. We may long for spiritual healing for a loved one who has walked away from the faith. We may be waiting on reconciliation with another believer or justice for one who has been sinned against and forgotten. These all reflect godly longings. They remind us that God created us for something better. Yet, He calls us to persevere as we wait to see His redemption of all things to Himself. If you find yourself in a season of waiting on the Lord, come on this four week journey through Scripture and hear God's Word to you on persevering in faith.
If you are interested in a free download or in buying a hard copy, here are two links to get you started.

The Steadfast Love of God

Waiting and Enduring

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Third Way on Gender in the Church

I first wrote on Things that Undermine the Complementarian Position in 2010 and refined the thoughts in 2012. I wrote on a New Wave of Complementarians in 2013. The response I got convinced me that I wasn't the only person uncomfortable with both the egalitarian and complementarian positions and that the Spirit was moving throughout the Church to refine it and restore His Body to better reflect the early Church in terms of gender. Day after day, week after week, I hear of grassroots movements to reclaim a view of gender in our churches that uses and relies on women in much more robust ways than the conservative American church has done in the last 50 years, but one which also keeps the distinctions in the church and home that have consistently characterized an orthodox, historical understanding of Scripture.

Most public discussions of gender in the evangelical church are debates between complementarians and egalitarians. Those debating provide a spectrum of thought with egalitarian/feminist thinking on one end and patriarchal thinking on the other end (with complementarian thinking a little left of patriarchy). I used to think that the way to handle this in the church was with a new wave of complementarian thinking that pushed toward a Biblical position closer to egalitarian/feminist thinking but that still kept complementarian distinctions. If Patriarchy is a 1, Complementarian is a 2, and Egalitarian is a 9 or 10, I saw myself closer to a 5. I believe in distinctions in the ways the Bible talks of them, but I am thankful for the right to vote and the feminist work to say that women indeed have equal dignity and worth (and subsequent rights) as human beings.

However, I realize through discussions with others and my own ponderings that it doesn't work to think of this as a linear spectrum between egalitarian and patriarchal views. The answer to gender questions in the Church isn't to compromise between egalitarians and complementarians. The Biblical answer in my mind is a third data point that isn't on the line at all. We don't need to come back to a central balance on a see-saw. We need to get off the see-saw and build on a different platform altogether. 

What is the better platform? Well, it helps to understand the foundations of complementarian thought. You and I can say it means this or that for us, but there were a specific group of folks who coined the term and wrote much about it at the time. Many of these leaders have deeply, positively influenced me by the way. The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood rose out of these beginnings. I love the title they came up with for this movement, complementarian, because I love the emphasis on complementing genders. It emphasizes different genders, not always doing the same things, that bring different gifts to the table. But it also lends itself to genders working together, complementing and enhancing the gifts in the other. For a time, I wanted to embrace the name because I liked the concept of complementing genders, but the folks that chose that name have attached other things to the concept that I don't fully embrace, and I can't change that history no matter how much I like the essence of the name. 

The focus on complementing genders that brought about the term complementarian in the late 80's/early 90's was based on Genesis 2 and was a reaction to Third Wave Feminism of the previous decades.
Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
A better platform for understanding gender in the Church is found by starting with Genesis 1 (though it certainly includes Genesis 2) without reacting to any other teaching. Egalitarians react against patriarchy. Complementarians react against feminism. What if we stop reacting and just start acting? What if our doctrinal debates aren't zig zagged like the path of a pinball bouncing off of various pop ups and flipper bats? And what if Target can do whatever it wants with its boys' and girls' aisles because our children are discipled in their distinct but overlapping image bearing identities?

While Genesis 2 and 3 was the starting point of complementarians reacting to feminism, a better foundation starts as God does with Genesis 1. Genesis 2 expands Genesis 1. It zooms in on the particular creation of woman, but it FOLLOWS something else. Genders were first announced in Genesis 1.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
I'm not egalitarian. I'm not complementarian. I'm Imago Dei-rian. Just kidding – I'm not suggesting a new name. However, I am suggesting we go to a new platform for gender discussions and stop letting the egalitarian/complementarian spectrum be the starting point for discussion. We have old doctrines from Scripture to build upon found first here in Genesis 1.

Imago Dei

The Creation Mandate

But Genesis 1 and 2 were quickly followed by Genesis 3. Before we got to see Adam and Eve working together, fitting together as God intended to serve and protect God's creation, they sinned and much was lost. Our gender foundation then needs the Gospel and the Great Commission. Jesus comes to us and redeems all that was lost in the fall so that we can once again be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1). Then He commissions His disciples to go and do it all again with the Great Commission.

Imago Dei
The Creation Mandate
The Gospel!
The Great Commission

These points of Scripture need to be the doctrinal foundation of any new structure on gender. Which is really just a very old structure that we have forgotten to let boys and girls play on together. Before God taught of the complementary nature of gender, He first taught us the unified nature of gender. Male and female were created IN HIS IMAGE. Male and female were tasked with the creation mandate. And when Jesus came to earth to redeem back all that was lost in the fall, He tasked His disciples with the great commission, as God re-dignifies His children by sending them off with His help once again to do His work in the earth. The disciples given this commission show us throughout the rest of the New Testament how much they valued women's integral role working beside them.

Phoebe was a patron of Paul and carried the book of Romans as an officer of the church.

Euodia and Syntyche labored side by side with Paul in the gospel.

Lois and Eunace passed down their faith generation by generation to the great benefit of Paul and the early church.

Priscilla labored with her husband to disciple the influential Apollos.

The same Apostle Paul who wrote of male-only elders and submission of wives to husbands also commended these women who blessed him by their co-labor with him on the same mission, the Great Commission.

As a math educator, I like two math visuals that help me think through this paradigm on gender. The first is a triangle. Imagine egalitarian and partriarchal views as the vertices at either end of the base, A and B. Complementarian thought is on the partriarchal end, point E, but not quite at the vertex. Thoughts on gender founded on Genesis 1 present a third vertex, point C, not on the baseline at all. It can be linked to that other line, but it adds a new dimension altogether.


The other math visual I like is the Venn Diagram. Envision male and female as two circles with overlapping parts. There is overlap, and there are distinctions. In the past, the debates on gender seem to argue for all overlap (egalitarian thinking) or all distinctions (patriarchal thinking). But what if we embraced a great big overlap that also allows for distinction, and place the diagram in the middle of a bigger background called the Image of God? In that paradigm, we can stop debating how much overlap and how much distinction, and instead say yes to both and focus on the context of what both the overlaps and distinctions are supposed to be working toward – the kingdom of God fully realized on earth through His image bearers.

Women should fight and women should teach. Men in the Kingdom of God NEED women to fight and women to teach. But women should Fight Like a Girl and Teach Like a Girl. Man must look at woman and say, “You bring many of the same things I bring to our shared commission by God to fill His creation and share the good news of King Jesus. But you also bring something unique, and I need it.” And woman should look at man and say, “I can help you with this burden. I can do many of the things you can do, but not all. And I bring something unique to our shared mandate to serve and protect God's creation in light of Jesus' sending of His disciples that you need. How can I help you in my home, in my church, and in God's coming kingdom in general?”

Man needs woman to bear God's image into the world.

Woman needs man to bear God's image into the world.

Don't react against feminism (complementarians). Don't react against patriarchy (egalitarians). Don't react at all. Act. Act as image bearers, male and female, jointly tasked with the creation mandate and reaffirmed by Jesus in the Great Commission.

Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, and Priscilla.

Helping Paul, Peter, Aquila, and Apollos.

They were joint image bearers reflecting God's reclamation of all that was lost in the fall as He commissioned them (and us) to disciple all nations.  They did this within the parameters He instructed with respect to gender in the church and home.

May we inspire the next generation of disciples to live out their giftings in such a way.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gay Image Bearers in the Church

Several friends have asked me lately about how, as a Christian, we need to think about the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. I can tell you how I think and the principles from Scripture along with the experiences from life that have shaped my response, but your response, gay or straight, has to be yours through the moving of the Holy Spirit through the Word. I hope something I write here is helpful to that end for readers.

I want to write about three things – my understanding of “gay pride,” my understanding of the Old and New Testament instructions forbidding gay sex, and a way forward that centers around discipleship on our essence as humans as image bearers of God.

On Gay Pride 

In talking with friends who experience same sex attraction, some who are practicing and some who are not, I have come to realize that the first reaction most any kid has to feelings of attraction to the same sex is not pride. The fundamental struggle youth have when they are not attracted to the opposite sex is despair. This is reflected in the recent round of public stories of gay teens committing suicide. Gay “pride” is a learned response, a reaction to the deep pain of feeling other. I encourage any believer reading this post to talk to friends or family who experience same sex attraction first hand before you talk much about it publicly. If you don't know anyone personally (though you most likely do), then read Wesley Hill's book, Washed and Waiting. We who don't experience same-sex attraction need to understand the issues from those who do, or we will be completely unhelpful to those working through this in the faith.

Whether someone decides to embrace a gay lifestyle or not, the feeling of otherness seems to remain for many gays. The secular outside world, even gay approving secular media, is dominated by relationships between men and women. (Stereotype alert!) For instance, romance novels and movies geared toward women reflect a romance between a man and woman 99.99% of the time. When every “chick flick” out there reflects a heterosexual relationship but you are a young woman attracted to other women, it makes you feel other, like not a chick at all. Movies geared toward females usually reflect a romance between a man and a woman and movies geared toward men reflect “manly” pursuits like war or fast cars. I agree these are stereotypes, but Hollywood and most media still use them for their primary money making ventures. Along with outside projections from media of otherness, there is the inside struggle as someone feels attractions that don't fit their body's design. Put the outside stereotypes together with the internal struggle, and I quickly understand why kids who first experience attraction to their own sex are moved to such deep despair as to take their own life. And I also understand why others want to put their orientation in a positive light, i. e. “gay pride.”

Frankly, if you experience same-sex attraction and hold to an orthodox view of Scripture, you are in essence embracing a life of suffering. Wesley Hill articulates this well in Washed and Waiting. He also inspired me to persevere in my own suffering, for if we understand anything of Jesus, such suffering is not a life sentence but a path forward. My friends who are gay but believe that God forbids gay sex are some of the most inspiring people I know. They understand a life of suffering, a life of sacrifice. The kind of life that C. S. Lewis and Elisabeth Elliot and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom got. The kind of life that endures in faith despite the pressures against it, for in that very endurance under pressure, they become diamonds in the Church.

On Old Testament Law 

The second thing I'm thinking about is the woeful misunderstanding people have of the relationship between Old Testament Law and sexual ethics. Oh my word – stop with the shellfish and mixed fabric discussion, please! People pull out the shellfish example and think that, “Poof,” they have disproven the entire discussion around gay sex in Scripture. I certainly can't fault those who don't profess faith in Christ for not understanding how the Old and New Testament work together. But it discourages me how many who do claim Christianity have an anemic understanding of how Jesus transforms our understanding of Old Testament law.

If you do believe that the Bible is God's authoritative Word for us today, here's a condensed explanation of the relationship between Old Testament law and our new covenant in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled (not abolished according to Jesus' own words) the law. It's particularly easy to understand how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial and ceremonial laws. These pointed to His coming sacrifice, and when He was actually sacrificed on the cross, the need for those laws was completed. We no longer, for instance, need to sacrifice a goat for the purification of our sins because Jesus was the final perfect sacrifice. The laws over the purification of sins have been fulfilled, because we have been purified once for all.

The New Testament also gives us long instruction, particularly in Acts, that we are no longer under the Old Testament dietary laws. So have at your shellfish and reject someone else's projection of hypocrisy on you in your application of Old Testament law. The Bible is the best commentary on itself, and it teaches us in a straightforward way that we are no longer under the dietary laws of the Old Testament. But what do we do with other laws? We naturally keep some because they still make complete sense for today. Put a bannister around your roof so no one falls over the side. God was the first to say this, but now our insurance companies make sure we do it on our raised decks and porches no matter what our convictions are about the Old Testament law for today.

What do we do then with the moral laws, particularly around sexual ethics? This is where John 8 is so helpful. There, Jesus interacts with the woman caught in adultery. She is thrown at Jesus' feet to be stoned consistent with the sexual laws of the Old Testament that include prohibition of gay sex. We see two things in this interaction. First, Jesus clearly removes the condemnation from the woman. He silences her accusers, and even more importantly says, “Neither do I condemn you.” He was GOD, and He alone had the right to pronounce judgement on her. Not only did He not condemn her, in just a short time, He personally paid the penalty of death that the Law pronounced over her for her sin of adultery. Note that, second, Jesus tells her to go and “sin no more.” Jesus both removed the condemnation from her while affirming the sexual ethic God declared in the law. That sexual ethic included not having sex with someone else's husband or anyone not your own spouse. It also included not having sex with someone of the same gender.

The New Testament goes on to repeat a good portion of the Old Testament moral code. Don't lie, don't murder, don't steal, don't have sex outside of marriage, don't have sex with the same gender, don't get drunk, etc. The Old Testament pronouncements of condemnation for such things are fulfilled in Christ. And we are clearly freed from practicing any of the sacrificial law and dietary restrictions. Yet Jesus and the Apostles affirmed the continued value of the sexual ethics presented in the Old Testament Law and repeatedly discipled believers to pursue sexual faithfulness in the context of traditional marriage.

The Way Forward 

What is the way forward then? There is the way forward for those who are not in the Church, the way forward for those who are in the Church, and the way forward for us as we interact with each other. I'm not a fan of politically legislating morality that does not directly affect another. As one friend said, “If you don't believe in gay marriage, then don't get gay married.” I've sat under one too many fundamentalist Christian dictators in my church and school settings to trust them to set my government policies. Our United States government was set up to protect us from religious dictators, and I am thankful for it.

My main concern is that Christians who hold convictions against gay marriage will be pressured, even forced, to participate in something or lose their business or ministry. But as a believer, I don't think that's necessarily the end of the world. In fact, when I think of fellow believers enduring much worse in other countries because they simply claim Christ, I am humbled. You may feel different about the possibility of future persecution, but that's my current feeling.

Personally, I'm burdened about a different aspect of the entire discussion around sexual identity and the Church. I am burdened that Christians have played into and supported male/female stereotypes every bit as much as Hollywood. We have for years presented an anemic, stereotypical version of manhood and womanhood in evangelical churches. But there is more to manhood than attraction to women and more to womanhood than attraction to men.

In the last decade in particular, the conservative American Church has pounded on the importance of traditional marriage. To many evangelical leaders, the answer to sinful hot sex outside of marriage was righteous hot sex inside marriage. If I didn't know better, by listening to some leaders I would think sex is the ultimate end all of the Christian experience, the great gift of God through marriage to which all of us should aspire. As I pointed out in my review of Real Marriage, the most vocal leaders of the last decade didn't seem to have a paradigm for a long term life of celibacy. Mark Driscoll joked regularly of his disdain for the celibate priests of his youth. Their lifestyle caused him to walk away from the Catholic church. All good and well if you are both attracted to the opposite sex and find someone in the faith of the opposite sex who is equally attracted to you. But even in the most healthy Christian marriages, there will be seasons of celibacy.

What do you do when your ministry focuses on extoling the value of hot sex in marriage and you suddenly lose your ability to participate in such hot sex in righteous ways? What do you do when you realize you are attracted to the same sex but you are convicted from Scripture that you cannot practice gay sex? Well, you join the party, because there has ALWAYS been a large percentage of the orthodox Church that has for one reason or another led a celibate life. And everyone one of them, male or female, single, widowed, disabled, or celibate by choice, equally reflect the image of God through their gender. Male and female, He created them. In His image. And the purpose of two genders reflecting the fullness of His character extends well past attraction between the genders.

Our church invited a panel of members to discuss this with our congregation. One was an elder who had participated in a gay lifestyle in Seattle before meeting his wife. One was a heterosexual single woman in her forties who had never been married. The other was a gay single guy who was choosing celibacy. My single female friend said that if someone had told her years ago she would be single into her forties, she would have said, “Shoot me now!” Yet, she testified of a full and vibrant life, filled with community and ministry opportunity. She is a happy, peace-filled woman. Celibacy had its problems for sure, but it wasn't a lifetime sentence to a lesser life. She is every bit a woman created in the image of God living out her likeness in Him.

I hope something in these thoughts is helpful to readers. I hope most of all that if you love someone facing their attraction to their own gender head on, that you can offer them hope for a satisfying, albeit sacrificial, life. If you are experiencing SSA right now and feel despair, I would love to hug you and tell you strongly that God has a good plan for your life. And that God really can fill your life with family and friends even if you choose celibacy. There are many inspiring folks who have gone on before you, and you will inspire others by your faithfulness as well. As I said, some of my greatest inspiration to persevere in the faith despite my own suffering (which has nothing to do with SSA) are my friends who have persevered in the faith with theirs. They are a great “cloud of witnesses.”

I recommend Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship if you want to read more on this topic.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

To Whom Much Has Been Given: Reflections on Race

I am a white woman, raised in South Carolina, talking about race. I
face a number of easy pitfalls when writing on this subject. I am more aware than not of the pitfalls. For I have fallen in them many times while trying to better understand racial struggles, particularly while working with our PTA on the issue at my boys' school. Even when trying to HELP, I have sometimes harmed. When trying to create access, I have at times put up unseen barriers. When trying to speak carefully to heal, I sometimes speak ignorantly in ways that harm. I have some gracious friends of color who have gently pointed such things out to me, and I am thankful for them. Pitfalls surround me as I talk about this, yet I feel burdened by two Bible principles that push me to speak, to act, to put off complacency and get engaged in the struggle. To put off the fear of saying something wrong and just say something rather than choosing the safety of quiet and its friend, complacency, that often follows in its wake.

There are many angles in our current news cycle from which we could approach a discussion of race. Issues around the Charleston massacre and the confederate flag have eclipsed discussion of police brutality the last few weeks. I will eventually talk about the dear souls in the Charleston massacre whose grace makes me weep each time I think about it. But this post, around police brutality, has been percolating for a while, and I finally feel I can put some thoughts into words.

Bible principle number 1 is that those in authority are always called in Scripture to restrain their authority for the good of those they serve and protect. Be it parents, elders, husbands, police --- authority was always given for the GOOD of those under the authority, and authority was given to SERVE those under their authority. At some point in conservatism, we reacted against those we counted as rebellious against authority with a dogmatic glorification of authority. But Jesus says that leaders must serve. The hallmark of authority in the Kingdom of God is self-sacrificing service. The hallmark of authority in the Kingdom of God is BENEFIT for those under them.
Eph. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 
Eph. 6: 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger … 
I Peter 3:7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 
I Peter 5 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 
Matthew 20:25-28 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Consider also Bible principle number 2 – to whom much is given, much more is required. With privilege comes responsibility. With greater privilege comes greater responsibility.
Luke 12:48 … Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
At this point I must, as a white woman, consider what benefits being white has afforded me. By the mere fact that I was born white in the United States, evidence shows I received an advantage over my peers of color born in the same circumstances, the same city of the same family income level. I actually know without a doubt that I was privileged to be born white in my circumstances in my particular home town. My circumstances are so crystal clear, particularly around the access to education I had in my home town that my black peers did not, no one had to work to convince me of my own white privilege. I don't care to deal in debth publicly with those circumstances, but I think about them privately a good bit.

Couple principle number 2, to whom much is given, much more is required, with principle number 1, that authorities given by God need to restrain their authority to serve those under their protection, and you start to see a Biblical philosophy form, particularly around the issue of police brutality. First, no one can brush such brutality aside by saying that the person under authority shouldn't have been doing whatever they were doing in the first place. Again and again, this view results in sifting through the background of victims of police brutality to expose whatever character flaws and moral issues one can find. When I see memes of this nature (“Just don't break the law”), I want to spit. Of course, we should all be obeying the law! But disobedience by one under authority never justifies disobedience by the one in authority over them. Never, ever, ever. It isn't just the restraints in our constitution that should keep us from such reasoning, for God Himself calls the one with greater authority to greater restraint. 

We understand such restraints in some relationships. When my child hits me in a tantrum, I am not justified in responding in kind. I am called to be measured in my response every last time, and if I feel that I am losing control, I need to step back until I regain self-control and can reengage in the conflict as the mature one of authority called to deescalate the conflict and discipline the child. The entire point of authority is to restrain sin and evil, not heap new sin and new evil on top of a conflict. And if you can't navigate that difference, you do not have the maturity needed to be in authority.  With authority comes responsibility.

I worked with our neighborhood crime council briefly a few years ago. I met several kind, thoughtful police officers that were very helpful in our community. I also met a very rude, unhelpful officer that seemed primed to escalate, not deescalate, a conflict. As each of us, black or white, engage our voices for the good of our communities, the second type of officer will be exposed and disciplined so that the first type of officer becomes the norm in our precincts. But as God's kingdom comes and His will is done, this type of restraint of authority should characterize each of us more and more in whatever roles we play in leading/serving/protecting another in an authority relationship. We all have a responsibility to use the gifts and access we've been given for the good of all in our communities.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”    Cornel West  (HT: www.graceseattle.org)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Withering Wives

I am noticing a concerning trend among friends and acquaintances in Christian marriages far and near. It's what I call the Withering Wife.
Psalm 128 
1 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! 
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. 
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
It's the opposite of the beautiful vision of Psalm 128. At first it was one friend, then two, then four, and now it seems daily my attention is drawn to yet another wife in this condition. Instead of being a fruitful, flourishing vine, I can see her withering under the hot sun. No water comes her way, and instead there is cracking dry ground at her roots. Her leaves start to furl into themselves, and her vibrant color fades. She goes through the motions. She starts to shut down. Why stay engaged when she receives no encouragement or emotional support?

There are two things that contribute to this withering – active scorn and passive neglect by a husband. Some husbands freely communicate to their wives that they despise them. One friend shared with me how in the middle of a conversation in which her husband talked to her with scorn, he picked up the phone and completely changed his tone of voice to one of kindness and respect with the other party on the phone, and even in conflict at work on the phone, she heard a patient tone that he never used with her. She longed to hear him engage with her that way, but he felt free instead to despise and dismiss her with his tone of voice as well as his words. He talked to her in a way he would never use with anyone else.

There is also passive neglect. This is when a wife's needs are simply ignored. The wife may share tearfully that she is struggling, and the husband shuts her down with his lack of response. Or he says they will talk later but never does. He communicates passively that her emotional struggles are not worth him engaging. He sees her struggling with the children, but he doesn't actively step in. I ache watching loved ones demoralized by being in partnership with someone who sees them struggling day after day, but the only way to get them to engage is to have a near melt down.

On the flip side, I also note strong marriages among loved ones. I note particularly in these marriages that husbands NOTICE. They are proactive. Notice what, you may ask. What are they proactive about? Well, that depends on the marriage. That depends on their wife. Peter exhorts husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. In other words, understand your wife. Know her loves. Know her gifts. Know her needs. And your wife's needs aren't necessarily going to be the same as whatever illustration your pastor just gave in his sermon about his wife. The gospel is so needed here, because a wife's needs can quickly feel threatening to a husband. A husband can't find his identity in his wife any more than she can her husband. But if a husband is secure in Christ so that he does not feel threatened by his wife's concerns, there is great room to know his wife even when her needs and gifts don't at first fit a husband's desires or expectations.

If you are at this crossroads, husbands, I wrote before on praying with your wives. This is such an easy, hopeful, helpful first step. Even if it's just once a week on a Saturday or Sunday morning, ask your wife, “What's burdening you right now? What can I be praying for you?” Then right there with her, pray about it. That is an incredible ministry of grace to her in that moment. It's water for her withering vine. If it's something about you that's stressing her, well, pray honestly with her about it. If you as a couple have any kind of faith, you must believe that you access supernatural help in that moment.

I could give a second step (because there will very likely be some second step that needs to take place once you get up from prayer), but I think it's better if I leave the second step to the Spirit who works after the first step in a couple's heart according to their needs for their specific relationship.

This dynamic of course does not characterize all relationships. As I said, I know many great husbands of flourishing wives, and it is perhaps that I get to watch those healthy relationships that also helps me notice dysfunction in others. And there are wives who likely need to notice their husbands. But today, in case you haven't considered this lately, husbands, I encourage you to look over at your wife and notice her. If she is withering, take the steps you need to stir up your own love and concern for her and then be a conduit of God's grace to her that will revive her.