Monday, June 05, 2006

Manhood and womanhood

Today I resume my reflections on the class I am taking in Couples Counseling. Day 3 was a tough one in that the main topic was what it means to be a godly man and godly woman. I liked listening to the second half a lot better than the first.

Talks on godliness that I've heard (and given) usually take the form of "Here's what you need to do to be a holy person...get busy." Today's class was different. The emphasis was more on being than doing. After all, that's the emphasis of the Bible: we live out of who we are. If I as a man live self-centeredly, it's not just that that's violates my masculinity. God has created me as a man to take initiative, to be passionate about life and love, to take risks, to sacrifice for my wife and family. When I fail to do those things, I am living below my identity and cheating myself out of the joy that is mine as a man. I will be happy and fulfilled only as I am faithful to my unique calling as a man.

Similarly, when a woman tries to control her husband or manipulate him through helplessness or some such thing, that's not just wrong violates her femininity. God has designed her as a woman to be tender, to nurture, encourage, rest, respect, and trust in her husband. When she fails to do these things, she is living below her identity and cheating herself out of the joy that is hers as a woman. She will be happy and fulfilled only as she is faithful to her unique calling as a woman.

All that's well and good. But the question we still want to ask is, "So what do I do with that information? How can I be a godly husband or wife?" Here are a few things I want to ponder and apply, with God's help, as a husband and father (and I'll tack on a couple of things for the women out there too):

First, men need to stop being silent and passive. Far too many of us remove ourselves from tension; it threatens us. Here is something I wrote down that I think is true of most men: When faced with mystery, we flee, avoid, or withdraw, choosing the comforts of "management" instead of taking initiative to relate, listen, understand, and lead. Put another way, we want to "fix it" rather than enter into a woman's world and love her in the tension.

Second, a man needs to take responsibility for his wife's problems. Now this is really challenging. It doesn't mean that every problem a wife has is her husband's fault...but almost. Here's a strong statement that I want to meditate on some more: You can tell how well you are being a husband by the countenance of your wife. So often, a woman develops a sinful pattern of thinking or behaving because her husband is failing to love her as Christ loves the church.

Third, a man needs to study his wife. To "know" her in part means to understand what makes her tick, both as a woman in general and uniquely as a person. (This is what Peter meant when he wrote, " considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life," 1 Peter 3:7.) Reading and knowing our wives helps us predict how things will affect them, prepare them for trouble ahead, and provide them with needed security and protection. (One way I fail in this area is allowing my family's home life to get too busy and chaotic. Suzy needs me to recognize ahead of time when the stress load is getting too heavy and do something to relieve the pressure, so that we have enough time with each other and with our son. I forget so quickly how my schedule affects everyone else in the house.)

One last thing: a man needs to establish and guard priorities. As our professor put it today, "A man's wife is worlds more important than his children. Almost all parenting problems arise from a failure of a husband to love his wife." Whew! That's worth chewing on for a while. So many husbands and wives give up their dates, their sex life, their ministry opportunities, their worship life, and their fun for the sake of their kids' lessons, teams, parties, schools, jobs, friends, comforts, and appointments. I know some married people who hardly ever go out together, yet their kids have the best of everything. It's time for us men to put a stop to that and passionately pursue our wives as our highest priority besides God himself.

I said I would tack on a few observations for the women reading this. Godly womanhood means being tender instead of controlling...candid rather than merely "nice"...quiet rather than contentious...and restful rather than frantic. When a wife is "quarrelsome and ill-tempered" (see Proverbs 21:19), her husband does not want to move toward her. He's too insecure. We men need the respect and affirmation of our wives - it helps us do OUR job well. (Speaking from a man's point of view, women, I would encourage you to read The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. She has nailed it when it comes to explaining what men are looking for from their wives.)


Becky W. said...

Mike, I love this commentary! Do you think our LIFE group could somehow integrate some of these topics into our future group lessons and dicussions? I think it would be a great benefit to the married couples in our LIFE group (especially those with children, who often don't have as much time to focus on these things). I would LOVE to see our group (and I am sure other LIFE groups, as well) do some "studying" of these issues. A review of what men and women of God need to remember in their respective roles when married never hurts!

Mike said...

Good suggestion. I think I could work on that idea and come up with something for at least our LIFE Group if not other ones.