What do women do that make good, timely marriages less likely?
Recently Martha, editor of Boundless, emailed me about the attention given lately on Boundless to men. "We’ve had a few articles telling men to shape up" she said, "maybe it’s time for an article to the women." I noticed the themes in "Your Friendgirl Deserves Better," "Where Have the Men Gone," and "How to Get the Men Back," while not male-bashing, said that men are struggling mightily in their relationships and in church, and are the source of much angst for women. Then came the podcast and the observation by Glenn Stanton that "women are more naturally good." He said,
…women left to themselves will develop into good women, more responsible women, just naturally, for various reasons and we could talk about that. But men have to be taught how to lead. They have to be encouraged how to lead. They have to be welcomed into leadership. And I don't think we're doing that today. We're not taking young boys and saying, "OK, we need to make men out of you." And I think that's the large reason for the man problem today, is that we have to be very intentional about man-making, man-creating. And I can hear all the women saying, "Absolutely!" It doesn't just naturally happen. It happens more naturally with women than it does with men.
These articles and podcast are right: Men are in trouble; they need help. But so do women. And that's the message that too often gets left out. The danger in all these articles and discussions about what's wrong with men is that women start believing their problems are the fault of men, that only men are flawed. That only men sin. But women are part of the problem. Rarely is that mentioned in our girl-power culture.
This article isn't equal time, but time for women to look at their own hearts and ask God what we can do to help what's currently a real problem for single Christians — male and female — who are hoping to marry. What do women do that make good, timely marriages less likely?
Women value the wrong things.
We want husbands who are good to look at, who love the way we look and who think the world revolves around us. It's not surprising given the selfish nature of our sinful hearts. Our romance-obsessed, materialistic culture encourages these expectations, saying this is what makes for good matches. But the Bible esteems a very different picture of love. It's not that the Bible ignores or denies beauty and attraction (see Song of Solomon; Psalm 45, note especially verse 11; the stories of Esther, Abigail, Rebekah), but the Bible is clear: Beauty is a bonus, and more often than not, it's a snare (Proverbs 31:30).
Saul was good to look at, so was Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25), but both faltered under the pressure of power and proximity to power. Song of Solomon praises the famous king's looks, but as the husband of 700 wives (yes, that's seven hundred) and 300 hundred concubines, his enviable visage got him more trouble than he bargained for. In blatant disregard for God's law, Solomon intermarried with all those foreign women, and as 1 Kings tells us, "his wives led him astray" (1 Kings 11:1-3). Joseph, too, was noted for his good looks, both by the author of Genesis and Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:6). Of all men in Scripture described as "handsome," only Daniel is presented as faithful, without mention of any major sin issue tied in some way to his good looks.
If we make a man's looks (and ours) the priority, other — more important — things suffer. It is godly to look at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Wisdom brightens a man's face (Ecclesiastes 8:1), And the fear of the Lord is wisdom (Job 28:28). When I'm tempted to fret about my appearance, especially in the morning when I'm spending a lot of time looking in the mirror, I think about my discontent in light of Psalm 90:14, "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days."
A man who is satisfied with God's unfailing love is on the path to growing in godliness. That's the sort of man who has the potential to be a good husband. Start getting to know the character of the men God places in your life, and stop worrying so much about what they look like. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that such men are far less dissatisfied with the way you look.
Women compete with men.
You see it in the formula for popular TV shows: Beautiful, thin, smart, sexy, together woman marries (or dates) oafish, overweight, dumb, irresponsible guy. He's the butt of every joke. She, the recipient of every word (and look) of praise. It's not true of all women, of course, but it is a stereotype based, in part, on reality. And that reality is the sin we women were warned about in Genesis 3. God said, "Your desire will be for your husband …"
There is more than one interpretation of this passage, but what's common in them is the idea that the woman will desire to be superior to the man. Feminist activists have long fought for power for women. And in many sectors, women have gotten even more than they set out to obtain. They have the power. They have the degrees. They're outperforming, outearning and outlearning their male counterparts. There is an increasing number of couples where the woman is, by worldly standards, better than her man. Ironically, she's not so happy about it. Turns out it's no fun to be married to a man who's less ambitious, less accomplished, less motivated, less interested and in any other way less.
The world says we're competitors. That only one can win. That one must be better than the other. And by golly, it better be me!
The Gospel turns that on its head and says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3). God made male and female in His image. Both are equal at the foot of the cross — male and female; both fallen; both in need of redemption; and when redeemed, both reconciled to God through Christ. What's different is the roles He assigns us.
This doesn't mean women should sit idly by, but to strive for excellence, doing everything in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17), in whatever circumstances the Lord places them in. We are not supposed to be living as if we're competing for one prize, but dying to self for the benefit of others, doing all for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23-24).
Women think their role is inferior.
Still, it's tempting to despise our roles given by God; to think being a helper is inferior. I did. For a long time. It's only recently that I've started to actually believe and live out the submission I've long said I believed. Ephesians 5 is a hard word. Paul doesn't say, "Wives, submit to and respect your husbands when you feel like it or when they deserve it." No, he says,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. …and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-24, 33).
Thankfully women aren't called to submit to all men, just one — the one they marry. That's why this decision of who you marry is so important (and why a man's looks are low on the list of what really matters). But even when you're married to a man who daily strives to live out the hard word Paul preaches to him in Ephesians 5 — to love his wife sacrificially, like Christ loves the church and to lead in love — even then, it takes supernatural grace to submit. But again, that's the hope of the cross. For women who are hidden in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit to help them do what the Father requires, to love God by obeying His commands, including the command to submit. And wanting to obey.
That's the piece I was missing — a heart willing to submit; glad to submit. For obedience done grudgingly is not truly obedience. True obedience flows from love. Christ said, "…but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me" (John 14:31).
The more I meditate on Christ's example, the more I see that He wants me to relate to Steve the way He relates to the Father. It's Christlike to submit to rightful authority, and biblical submission in marriage points unbelievers to Christ in a way no other relationship does. When a husband and wife relate to one another according to the model in Ephesians 5, their marriage becomes a ministry for spreading the Gospel.
If you're going to have that sort of ministry, and I pray you will, you have to embrace your part in the picture, willingly, gladly, humbly. You have to embrace your role the way Christ embraces His. If Christ treated submission to the Father the way most wives treat submission to our husbands, we'd still be waiting for a savior. It is there, in Christ's perfect submission, that we find not only our model for submission in marriage, but the power to do it.
What if you're a single woman who is outperforming, outearning and outlearning the men around you? Embrace opportunities to help. Look for and cultivate opportunities to serve. Ideally this will happen in your church, but also it may play out at the office where you influence other women. If you have leadership abilities, use them to lead others to Christ. And if you are in positions of leadership over men, be aware of how you relate to them, taking care not to emasculate or belittle them. Remember, they, too, are made in the image of God. Encourage and exhort them to lead in the areas of responsibility God has given them. How?
Author and Boundless contributor Carolyn McCulley has written about this more in depth and with great wisdom. She says,
Even before that gracious gift of a husband is provided, there are ways for the faint echoes of "helpmate" to be discernible in the lives of single women. One opportunity is on the job. Whether with subordinates or superiors, we can emulate our Savior by being oriented to helping others — but this is especially important for our immediate bosses. … This helper concept can extend to friendships, as well. We can express our femininity by encouraging single men to lead activities, while offering to assist them. … One of my friends coined the phrase, "presumptive followership." By this, he means the proactive approach women can take to encourage men to lead.
Certainly we should analyze our culture and pray for insight and wisdom to discern what's wrong with the way we're going about dating, relating and marrying at this moment in history. But we must do so humbly, aware that as equally fallen beings, women too are part of the problem. As we identify the areas of sin in the hearts of men — areas God warned them about in the curse (see Genesis 3:8-19) — we must guard against self-righteousness and thinking the solution is to improve men, or heaven forbid, make them more like women. That temptation is strong, and we know that because God warned us about that in Genesis 3, too.
We're quick to notice where men stumble — abdicating their responsibility, abusing their authority, being passive and failing at work — but in our culture, the thing that God said would be a curse on women — desiring to use their strength to displace men — is the very thing our culture esteems. We praise the achievements of women, even when they come at the expense of men. But life isn't a competition, a cosmic matchup of boys vs. girls. We need each other. And for those of us who believe in Christian marriage, especially so.
I'm glad Martha suggested I write this article, not because I wanted equal time to criticize women but because "we all fall short of the glory of God," "we all stumble in many ways" and most importantly, because we are to "consider others better than ourselves" (Philippians 2:3). The trouble with men, it turns out, is sin. And it's the same thing that's the trouble with women. Praise be to God that He didn't leave us in this troubled state.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.