My wife came to me and asked me what I thought of an article that she had been forwarded. It was a blogger responding to a reader’s question. The question dealt with the reader’s husband and her struggle with him not being a leader in her family. Since this is a common issue we run into I would like to address what I think is some heartfelt but misguided advice.
The question from the reader:
I’m at a loss. I love my husband. He is a good man, father and provider. But he is NOT a spiritual leader at all. We’ve been married for 5 years. I’ve prayed the entire time that he would step up. He goes to church with us and brings up something in the Bible maybe twice a year. He has been trained to know scripture very well though. I’ve tried to talk to him about it (he always goes on the defense and then declares himself a failure). I’ve tried nudging him in the right direction. I’ve tried leaving it alone and just praying. I don’t feel right taking his place in leading our family (kids). I sometimes don’t even want to grow in my walk because I don’t want to be the “stronger” Christian. I’m worn and I’m broken. I feel as though I can’t continue looking past this and pushing forward. What else is there to do?
Great question, right? Wives wanting husbands to be the family spiritual leaders has been an issue since the time of Adam. Our first failing as men and as husbands involved Adam sitting back and letting Eve handle the interaction with the Serpent. Men not leading has had huge consequences throughout history.
The author of the article though takes a different tact in responding:
Let me tell you a story of a family I know before I start to answer this. The dad is a very outdoorsy type of guy. He works in an office, which just about kills him, where he makes a good amount of money to support the family. Every chance he gets, though, he goes out in a canoe or a kayak. He takes the kids with him. His wife rarely goes.
The kids are in activities in church, and he volunteers to be there for the active ones (the kids’ club sports, for instance). He’s at church every Sunday in a suit, looking sharp. He greets people. He hosts Superbowl parties. His wife often looks miserable. She talks a lot about how he never prays or leads the family spiritually.
However, I wonder if her idea of a spiritual leader and his idea of a spiritual leader are just two very different things. He is an involved dad. He does make sure his kids are at church. And his way of experiencing God is in the outdoors; it isn’t in sitting around the table at night and reading a passage of Scripture and discussing it.
I think when we picture “spiritual leader”, we’re picturing a father who calls the family together for a time that we are now going to deem “our family devotions”. But many men prefer to just live out their faith on a daily basis, in the things that they do. It isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just different.
In this case, his wife is putting up a huge wall in their marriage, because he is starting to feel like he can never be good enough for her. She doesn’t like the kind of things that he loves, and the things that his kids now love. And so she increasingly feels like her family is “wrong”. But perhaps if she went out on the lake more with the family, she’d see things a little differently.
First, I understand what the author is trying to do here and I don’t think it is from a bad motive. She is attempting to point out the good things the husband is involved in. She is attempting to induce gratitude and love in the wives. That is great. I understand that there can be wives who are perpetually ungrateful for the good in their husbands. Regardless of what the husbands do they are not appreciated because the wife is always looking at their faults. They can be so obsessed with the goals they have for their husbands that they don’t praise Jesus for the good though flawed man that they have. It happens with husbands dealing with their wives as well. I get that, I really do.
But that is not the stated issue in both examples. The problem is not gratitude but a wife’s very clear, very understandable frustration and disappointment that her husband is not leading spiritually. He is not praying, teaching the kids the Bible, or sanctifying and washing his wife in the water of the Word. He is not leading his family like God tells men to lead his family. He is not fulfilling his clear requirements as a Christian and as a Christian husband and father. This is sad, disappointing and to some extent is flat out sin. We should never, ever agree that this is acceptable. While many men may prefer not to teach their families the Word, God says men should. So we must be careful not to excuse preferences when, in actuality, they are sin.
Why? Because it is God who sets the requirements out for us in the Word of God and in Jesus. If God tells us to do something and we don’t do it then we are disobedient. We should not be applauded for disobedience. Preferences that violate God’s clear direction are just sin in a nicer package.
The author responds by providing the example of a family she knows. The husband supports the family monetarily. He is also very outdoorsy. He is outdoors every chance he gets and takes the kids with him. He volunteers for things that he likes and takes the kids to church but doesn’t teach them, doesn’t study the word, doesn’t pray and doesn’t lead the family in spiritual things.
The author asserts that this is ok because this man is just built differently so he relates to God differently. He finds God in nature. Our view of leadership should just be adjusted to account for these men we are told.
It is an interesting claim and one that will give comfort to wives struggling with their husband’s lack of leadership. You will also have lots of husbands nodding and point to it in justification. “Yup, that is me, church and Bible reading make me uncomfortable so let me be.”
The problem with this approach is that it conflicts with Jesus’ approach. Our example on how to lead others came directly from Jesus. It is not sermons, courses, and books that set out the role of husband and father as spiritual leader of the house but the Word of God. It is not men writing Bible studies that say men should be the High Priest of the house but Jesus. If you have a different example or version of leadership than the father that prays, teaches and leads in following Jesus, then there is just a problem with your version. It is not a preference question, it is what Jesus commanded. The counter argument that the father is doing the best he can is based on feelings and human morality – he is a “good” father they say – and not on the Word of God. What is our standard?
Prayer, Bible study, fasting, church involvement and generally seeking the Lord are requirements on every Christians life, not just men or husbands. The husbands in both examples are not doing any of the above. A husband does not have to be street corner preaching to be a great leader, that much is true. But if a Christian is not doing any of the basic things that go along with being a disciple there is a problem.
A husband and father are given further very clear direction:
5 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies;
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. 1 Peter 3:7
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deutoromony 6:6-7
Are the husbands from the example doing any of the above? Can we excuse a husband from doing so because he likes fishing more than teaching the Bible to his kids or praying for his wife? Can you imagine the conversation between Jesus and the husband/father:
Man: Yeah, Jesus, I know that you said to love my wife as you loved the church but she didn’t like going canoeing with me so I left her home all the time. Was that ok? And those things that I thought were boring with my kids and with church I did not go to, that is cool, right?
Jesus: Do you even know me? What part of take up your Cross and follow me did you miss?
How would Jesus handle the same situations? He gave up everything and died in a horrible way for the people who rejected him. He served the needs of those He created even washing their dirty disgusting feet. The God of all Creation chose to put down everything and serve others and we attempt to excuse disobedience because it is too hard. He did uncomfortable things the He would have preferred not to do out of obedience to God. He denied Himself to love and teach others. He tells us to do the same.
And guess what? All men have something that they really like to do. Women have things they really like to do. I am sure that the wives in each of the examples have things that they would love to be doing at times instead of being obedient. Our flesh guarantees that we are pulled to abandon God when things are hard or boring to our carnal nature. That doesn’t mean it is good and it certainly does not mean that they are worshipping God through it.
I love the outdoors. I appreciate God’s creation when I am outdoors. Being outdoors doesn’t make up for not being in church or teaching my family. It doesn’t excuse not leading.
Is it loving to take your kids camping and canoeing? Yes, certainly! Spending time with the kids is awesome and underrated. It is not loving as a Christian dad though to have this be our only love. Not teaching the kids the Word of God is not loving. Not being an authentic Christian modeling discipleship is not loving. Not caring for the needs of your wife is not loving.
Just in case you are wondering if I am being too hard on the husbands. If you are seeing merit in the implied criticism of the author of pastors and teachers and their too hard standards. “Not everyone can be that type of leader, you don’t know my husband or my life…you don’t understand!”
Let me say clearly that I do understand. I was very much one of the husband’s described in the article. I was the husband who never prayed or read the Bible and made excuses why not. I was the Dad who did not teach and offered justifications why it was ok. I made up all sorts of reasons for my disobedience. The bottom line, though, was simple. I did not want to lead. I did not want to follow God because to do so I would have to submit my life to Him. I was disobedient because I chose to be not because God did not give me the ability to lead. True Godly leadership always starts with submission to God.
My wife loved me despite this and prayed for the day that I would lead like the Bible set out. Not perfectly, just seeking to follow God and His example. She trusted that if God put those standards in His book He meant them to be applied. She reasoned that if she stayed faithful to God and ask, ask, ask, He would work out the details with me. God did when He convicted me greatly of my failures and destroyed all the excuses and justifications that I had manufactured in a moment. He broke me down in order to build me and my family back up.
What my wife never did, though, was lie to me. She loved me, prayed for me, supported me and shed tears over me, yes. But she never patted me on the head and told me that I was good when I was not. If she did, she could have gotten in the way of the conviction of the Lord when I was finally willing to accept it.
Does the author realize how terribly unloving her approach is to both sides of her example? The husband is shirking his God-given duties as a man, husband and father and her approach is to tell him it is ok. Sin is pleasurable for a season but always leads to pain and consequences. A person stuck in their disobedience misses out on the joy and fulfillment that comes in following the Lord.
And the poor wives, they see the problem and are subtly shamed for it. Ladies, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your husband to be God’s version of a husband, father, and leader of your family. God wants him to be the very same thing. The one husband leaves his wife all the time to do what he wants and is now taking their children leaving mom behind. If the husband wanted to be Grizzly Adams all the time he should have stayed single or married a different wife. Since he did not, HIS responsibility as Godly servant leader is to give up his wants, rights and well everything in order to love his wife well. This is what a servant leader does because it was what Jesus did. Instead, he feeds himself.
My wife adds this advice to end this post. She walked this path for years dealing with a disobedient husband. She cried the tears and prayed the prayers. She yearned for so much more for and from her husband because God definition of a Christian husband was so much more that I was doing. She did not do it perfectly, but here is what she advises:
Ladies, love your husbands well and continue to pray for them. Appreciate them for what they do. Obey the Word, submit to God and trust God to change them. Don’t give up on them, get impatient or shame them for not being who you want them to be. But also don’t settle for a version of a spiritual husband defined outside God’s Word.