Friday, November 27, 2009

Helping Wounded Husbands

Happy Holidays. It can be the best of times. It can be the worst of times. It’s an especially hard time if the ones closest to you are struggling. I was talking with a wise woman this week (mother, grandmother, and former pastor’s wife) who suggested I write a post about helping hurting husbands. This is a subject I suspect will resonate with many of you. There is much teaching now on strong male leadership in the church and home. If effort isn’t made in a book or sermon to carefully parse the doctrine of sanctification, distinguishing between the image of God to which we are being conformed and the realities of our depravity until we are glorified, a woman can become very discouraged by the nebulous image of Joe Christian Dude, pastor dad, leading his family from a position of strength and power, constant in character in the marathon Christian walk. The truth is that that caricature of the overcoming Christian man is just that … a caricature. He doesn’t exist. Or actually he does exist, but only in one single person, the perfect man Christ Jesus. For ALL other men, he may be the goal, but he is not the reality. Get that, ladies – even the pastors who seem like that guy, the ones that you secretly wish you’d married, do NOT have it together like that. Godly men may be somewhere along that journey, but none of them have arrived.

(And please note that this is not an article of disrespect to husbands. We are called to respect and submit to this very man in cooperation with God’s work to transform him into His image in Christ.)

God created the first woman to be a “helper suitable” to her male counterpart. But it is important to note that the Hebrew word for help is much stronger than our English term. When you think of “the help”, you may envision a maid, butler, or cook standing to the side waiting for a master of power and authority to give some order. If that’s your idea of what it means to be a helper suitable to your husband, you have missed the Biblical meaning of the term. Instead, think of the Man of Sorrows carrying His cross toward Gethsemene. As He stumbles, Simon of Cyrene steps in to carry it with (or for) Him. This is a much closer picture of the Biblical concept of Help. It’s not a maid. It’s more like a crutch. It’s not a mindless sidekick waiting on an order. It’s Morpheus or Trinity to the Matrix’s Neo. The Hebrew word is strong.

Consider again the Hebrew word translated helper at the first mention of the first woman in Genesis 2:18. We absolutely must let Scripture and not preconceived notions from our culture guide our thinking on the meaning of this term. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer, meaning to help, nourish, sustain, or strengthen. It’s used in the Old Testament of God Himself, as in Deuteronomy 33:29.

Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.

Ezer is used 21 times in the Old Testament, 16 of which are descriptions of God Himself. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper, Counselor, and Comforter (depending on which translation of the Bible you use—these are all translations of the Holy Spirit’s role of “paraklete”, or one who comes alongside in help.) God Himself is the greatest example to us of what He is calling us to do in fulfillment of this term.

So let’s consider God’s example on this issue of Help. In Exodus 18:4, God our Help defends (in contrast to attacking or ignoring the fight altogether). In Psalm 10:14 God our Help sees and cares for the oppressed (rather than being indifferent and unconcerned). In Psalm 20:2 and 33:20, God our Help supports, shields and protects (rather than leaving unprotected and defenseless). In Psalms 70:5, God our Help delivers from distress (rather than causing distress). In Psalm 72:12-14, God our Help rescues the poor, weak, and needy (rather than ignoring the poor and needy). And in Psalm 86:17, God our Help comforts (rather than causing discomfort or avoiding altogether).

God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for wives as “helpers suitable to their husbands”. We are not glorified maids, butlers, or cooks simply waiting on an order to perform from a master. This is not God’s example of help at all!! We are called to show compassion, to support, defend and protect, to deliver from distress and to comfort, to bear burdens and sometimes hold up as a crutch. We are called to be conduits of God’s grace in our homes. We are called to be like Christ.

Don’t despair over respecting, submitting to, or helping a wounded husband. Don’t think that these instructions only work for wives of Joe Pastor Dad who has it all together. It is for this very moment that God intended you to come along side in quiet strength to support, uphold, and encourage your husband (often without words). If your husband is hurting, THIS is the time God has prepared for you. Be an ezer to him – helping him, sustaining him, strengthening him, and nourishing him as God does for you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Ephesians 5 ...Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

"Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."

A few years ago, the elders’ wives at the church I attended planned a women’s retreat entitled “Exposed,” taken from this section in Ephesians. I was a women’s ministry leader at the time, but to be honest, I dreaded going to this retreat. The title did not in any way naturally draw me. Personally, I did not want to be exposed and did not care to be apart of something that had set that as its agenda.

Then I went to the retreat. Each woman that spoke gave brutally honest testimony of where she had been in her darkness, how God had brought her from darkness to light, and all the ways God was still meeting her in her failures. Each one was exposing themselves, bringing their ugly pasts and some of their ugly present into the light. It ended up being one of the most powerful retreats with long lasting outcomes I have ever witnessed. As each speaker spoke on God’s redemption of her particular sin or the sins committed against her(gluttony, sexual addiction, vanity, sexual abuse, and so forth), women started understanding that hiding their sin, shame, and guilt was not the answer. Woman after woman started admitting her sin, exposing herself by walking out of the darkness and into the light. And while that can be terrifying and cruelly damaging in the wrong context, in the light of the gospel, it was beautiful, redemptive, and uplifting.

When Paul says to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness and instead expose them, we probably all think of an instance of someone maliciously revealing someone else’s sin or shame. When people in darkness rip at others in darkness, there is no good that can come from it. Exposure of sin apart from the gospel is cruel, leaving devastation and hopelessness in its wake. It took that women’s retreat for me to finally understand how radically different God’s call to exposure is. In light of the gospel, I do not have to fear exposure. Instead, God says bring all of the nooks and crannies of your sin and shame to me. Let me shine the light of the gospel into even your deepest and darkest place of fear and guilt. And when these things are exposed to the light, they first become visible. And then they become light. What radical transformation! I praise God for the humble, godly women who chose this verse for that retreat (surely with great trepidation) and then lived the beauty of this kind of exposure out before me. Instead of being devastating and degrading, we were moved by the beauty of God’s power to redeem to the praise of his glorious grace.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Parenting Our Children the Way God Parents His

The phrase "parenting our children the way God parents His" has stuck in my head since I first read and reviewed Grace Based Parenting. It's been the summary phrase through which I've filtered my views on discipline and punishment. I am God's adopted daughter, cherished and well loved. How does He parent me? How does He train me in righteousness? How does He root sin out of my life? What does He do when I don't obey?

I have gained insight into a tiny piece of this from watching the teachers at our preschool. Sometimes, kids have strong opinions on something that is negotiable. If there is room to accomodate, the teachers will always do whatever they can to do so. They are very gracious. But sometimes there are non-negotiables. No, right now, every student in class has to sit on the rug at meeting. No, taking off your shoes and socks outside in the rain is not an option. The answer to the children with non-negotiables is that either they can do it on their own, or a grownup will help them do it. In that setting, the kids usually choose to conform, but sometimes if they remain stubbornly set on their own way, a grownup will gently but firmly help them to do what they are supposed to do. I think this model has beautiful Biblical parallels.

My youngest has tapped into his strong will and started insisting on his own way very adamantly. Last week, the issue was just putting his dishes away. I can't believe how adamant he was to not obey me. And it didn't matter what consequences I offered, he refused to do what I asked. It got to the point that, short of child abuse, I was out of options to force him to do my bidding on his own. Then it occurred to me--"Ok. I will help you obey," and I carried him and his plate to put it in the sink.

"Help me obey." How many times have I cried out to God for this? And other times, I have had no desire to obey--I've just wanted to follow my own path. I find God is very gracious to turn me back to Himself and His way. He HELPS me obey. He removes stumblingblocks to my obedience. When I am tempted to sin, He makes a way for me to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

When I carried my son to put his dish in the sink, I almost cried thinking of all the times God has carried me to accomplish His will when I was too weak or stubborn or rebellious to do it on my own. He has poured His full wrath for my sins on Christ on the cross, and now He proactively trains me in righteousness by His gracious good hand helping me transform into something I could never accomplish on my own. In this model, disciplining my children stops being a struggle of justice and punishment but becomes a meditation on the mercy, grace, and goodness of God that conforms me to His image. I believe the greatest model for any of us on what godly parenting looks like is God Himself. I would challenge all of us to look at our parenting skills and then ask what it reflects on how we view God our Father and how we think he parents us. You might be amazed at some very wrong views of God that trickle down in how you parent as well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dealing with Our Husband's Job Problems

In the current economic setting, many of us are struggling with the loss of jobs, reduction of income, and more general stress in the workplace as employers require more of employees with no added compensation. As a follow up to the post on being a safe place for our husbands to share their burdens, I wanted to share some practical wisdom I've learned the hard way about walking with my husband during a hard time with his job (or lack of job).

First of all, have you personally struggled with infertility or miscarriage? If so, you are uniquely equipped now to better understand your husband's burdens with his job. If you haven't struggled with child bearing issues, try to think about how you would feel if you had -- if all your friends were easily getting pregnant and telling you what worked for them but none of it worked for you. If your vision for your future involved raising children but you realized your powerlessness to accomplish that on your own. In my own experience, I found very clear parallels between my struggles with fears and insecurities when I confronted the fact I may not be able to have children and my husband's emotional struggles when faced with unemployment and job insecurity.

First, I internalized my fears with infertility in a very different way than my husband. He does the same with his job concerns. If he lectured me on why I shouldn't be so concerned about having children, that God is good, and His timing is perfect, it would seem slightly hollow to me as he didn't struggle with it with the way I did. Similarly, I needed to respect the fact that my husband internalized job insecurities differently than me and THAT WAS OK. Lectures for him to come around to my way of thinking on it just weren't fair. Instead, I needed to listen to(not lecture) him when he felt like talking and respect his silence when he didn't.

One thing I noted when I was struggling with infertility was that advice on what to do and things to try was helpful at times. At other times, it just added a weight to an already overtaxing burden. Similarly, during the near year my husband was unemployed, he was glad to try most any and everything anyone suggested. More on his resume. Less on his resume. Try this company. Try that company. But there came a point when every good suggestion he was given didn't produce any fruit. And he needed a definite break from well meaning advice on what to try next.

Ultimately, with both my getting pregnant and him getting a job, God did it in His way in His good time, not because of the good effort we had put into it but in SPITE of our efforts. My encouragement isn't to lay back and do nothing. But I also respect our need to sit quietly with someone with no pressure from us to try something new. Sometimes, they just need to sit, take a breath, and not think about it for a while. And it's helpful for them to be around someone who respects this need.

So my advice is this -- Don't lecture him. Do listen to him. Don't pressure. Do encourage when the time is right (and not by your agenda but the Spirit's prompting). Don't despair. Do empathize.

His job issues will strike at the heart of your need for security as well. You will need to be completely confident in the good hand of your sovereign, compassionate, and all wise God at work for your family if you want to be strong and quietly available to your spouse in this season. God is in control. He loves You. And He knows what He's doing. Trust Him so that you can be a safe place for your husband.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Anthology of Posts on Endurance, Suffering, Trust, Etc.

I can't believe the number of hits one post on verbally violent elders has generated. The comments were thoughtful, and I enjoyed the discussion. Now, I want to shine a light on a focus of this blog over the last year--endurance, perseverance, and hope in suffering. If you are waiting, enduring, or just barely hanging on, watching the gulf between what you thought your life would be and what the reality currently is, here are posts that you may find encouraging.

1) This World Is Not My Home

2) Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

3) Learning Obedience through Suffering

4) Job, Screwtape, and Our Testimony in the Heavenly Places

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pugnacious Elders

I come from a long line of fighting fundamentalists, at least in terms of my spiritual genealogy. I remember a saying that hung on the wall of one of the pastors under which I sat for a number of years in my hometown. It was something along the lines of “I ain’t no limp-wristed, panty waist” something or other and seemed a motto by some fundamentalist leader to encourage pastors to fight for the faith. I had another pastor (KJV only) in my teen years who told all the youth kids about a Chuck Norris movie he loved where his favorite scene was Chuck Norris killing a rat and coming up out of a bag with it in his mouth. This pastor’s teenage sons ended up shooting a man in a drug deal gone bad, and I think they ended up in jail. I’m not citing that as cause and effect, by the way. Just noting some interesting facts.

Now a newer, more sophisticated version of the fighting fundamentalist has emerged. A friend recently recounted to me a counseling situation in which a husband admitted to the pastor counseling him that he was struggling with other religions, and the pastor replied that he just wanted to hit the guy. He, of course, didn’t hit the counselee. He just WANTED to, and he unleashed his anger on this guy verbally though not physically. These weren’t backwards, uneducated Christians either. The counselee left the church ... and eventually the faith.

Even as a teenager in Chuck Norris Want-a-be’s church, I noted that the qualifications of an elder in I Timothy 3 in the NAS (which I used at the time even though I was in a KJV only church) said, “not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” The ESV says “not violent, but gentle”. I get the feeling that as long you don’t actually make fist contact with face, this new version of the fighting fundamentalist thinks they no longer violate this standard for eldership. I would like to go on the record as very strongly disagreeing with that assumption. First and foremost, the Greek word translated pugnacious/violent can mean both the one who actually hits and the one who is just ready to hit. It also can mean a person who is contentious or quarrelsome. In other words, this standard includes verbal violence as well as physical. It includes a STANCE of violence (and an ATTITUDE of violence) as well as the actual act.

In my many years experience growing up under the spiritual authority of fighting fundamentalists, their consistent excuse for their stance of violence is that anything else represents a tolerance of sin and false belief. However, Scripture VERY CLEARLY presents a 3rd way. Scripture warns against subverting the truth AND verbal violence in defense of the truth. BOTH are sin.

Jesus is our model for this 3rd way. In the qualifications of an elder in I Tim. 3, it is called gentleness. The same word is used in 2 Tim. 2:24-26 when Paul instructs the Lord’s servants in how to handle conflict. Be GENTLE. I’ve never heard a fighting fundamentalist give a sermon on gentleness. It’s a limp wristed, panty waist word, right?! Be careful. In fact, be convicted! If the term gentle makes you think women are taking over the church, you need to repent. Gentleness isn’t a sign that women have taken over a church. Not at all!! For women have definitely reached equality with men on the issue of verbal violence. Gentleness is a sign that JESUS and His GOSPEL have taken over the church.

Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.

Biblical gentleness isn’t weakness. I can prove it to you from Scripture multiple ways, and yet some hard-hearted people still won’t hear it. But it is the Scriptural truth. Gentleness is strength UNDER CONTROL. And in Scripture, it’s strength under God’s control. Verbal and physical violence are strength that has lost its submission to the Holy Spirit and has taken authority on itself. A baby is weak. It can’t hurt a fly. An adult is gentle because though they have the strength to crush the baby, they temper that strength for the baby’s protection. God’s good under shepherd is STRONG. But his strength is submitted to the Holy Spirit. He values the quality of gentleness. He does not assume a stance of violence.

For more on the SCRIPTURAL qualifications of elders/pastors, I recommend this post and the sermon to which it is linked.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Heart of Her Husband Safely Trusts in Her

Prov. 31 (NAS) 10An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. 11The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.

The virtuous wife. She is the seemingly impossible standard that for generations has hung over the heads of Christian women who care. First, let me say boldly that I think the NAS is correct when it translates this as the excellent WIFE as opposed to translations that call it the excellent or virtuous WOMAN. The word can mean either wife or woman, but the subsequent descriptions all center around wifely duties. Many godly Christian women never marry despite their desire to do so, and they do not lose their hope of being an excellent, virtuous Christian woman because of this state. Proverbs 31 is a particular description of a particular role—what does it look like to reflect the image of Christ as a wife in the home?

The very first descriptive trait of the virtuous wife deals with the heart of her husband. She is a SAFE PLACE for his heart.

Amplified Bible 11The heart of her husband trusts in her confidently and relies on and believes in her securely, so that he has no lack of [honest] gain or need of [dishonest] spoil.

The Hebrew word for heart is leb, meaning inner man, heart, understanding, mind, will, and so forth. This is our husband’s inner place where he holds his hopes and fears, dreams and worries, desires and burdens. The Hebrew word for trust is batach, meaning to trust in, have confidence in, be secure with, to feel safe with, to be careless with. When you put them together, the excellent wife is a safe place for her husband to let down his guard and be honest about his inner burdens and struggles. He can be careless in what he reveals of himself because he has confidence in his security with his wife.

This is convicting to me every time I read it, because instead of being the safe place that my husband can let down his guard, I usually feel threatened. Like Jack Nicholson says in A Few Good Men, I “can’t handle the truth.” If he lets down his guard about insecurities at work, my fears bubble up over job security and paying our bills. If he lets his guard down about problems in the church, I feel threatened over my future ministry. If he lets his guard down about issues in our home, I worry that our marriage is going to fall apart. If he shares concerns about his health, I’m afraid of what I’m going to do if he dies. When my response to his heart is fear, worry, self-condemnation, and worst case scenarios, you know what his response will be every time? He’ll shut up!

The end of Proverbs 31:11 gives an interesting consequence. A husband who can trust his heart with his wife has no need for dishonest spoil. Now, you can apply that in a myriad of practical ways. I think the big idea is that more than keeping an attractive figure, a clean house, good sex, or whatever, a wife can protect her marriage best by being a safe, secure place for her husband to let down his guard.

As someone who has a quiet husband and who has often squandered the opportunities I’ve been given to be a safe place for his heart, here are some practical tips for being an excellent wife.

1) Be secure in Christ. You MUST have confidence in the sovereign hand of your wise, compassionate Heavenly Father. There is no other way you can handle your husband’s concerns and insecurities. Traditionally, our husbands are the place women find (or at least try to find) their security. That will NEVER work, and I submit it was never God’s intention that women find their security in their husbands. Instead, we find our security in our Father, and only then can we become a safe place for our husband’s insecurities.

2) When that rare moment opens that your husband offers a tiny glimpse into his inner man, stop what you are doing and pay attention. Shut your mouth. Listen. Ask a moderate follow up question. Don’t give advice. Let him safely, securely, CARELESSLY share with you his inner concerns, fears, successes, and dreams.

I have been thankful for this first instruction in Proverbs 31 concerning the excellent wife. It has brought much clarity to my relationship with my husband. I hope meditating on it will be helpful to you today as well.