How women can end the gender war
In the broken world around us, there's an all-out gender war. We see it in the news: male chauvinism, militant feminism, and a constant tug-of-war over educational and professional turf. We see it in marriages and divorces. Sometimes we see it in the church, where it's easy to blame prolonged singleness on women's pickiness or men's passivity.
None of this is new. The he said/she said cycle is as old as the serpent and the Garden of Eden. I've been on that wearisome treadmill myself, but it's based on an illusion, an underlying feeling that the other gender is my enemy. Here is the truth: We don't have to put each other down in order to gain status — something we've already been given by the Creator and the cross. We are two halves of the same image of God: equally loved, planned for and longed for by our Father in heaven.
Yes, in many things we all stumble, men and women alike. Even with the best of intentions, we find ourselves clumsily treading on the most sensitive areas of others' lives — and they on ours. With all the hopes and dreams, expectations, desires and differences involved in our interactions as men and women, with all the pressures, bewilderments and disappointments, there's a lot of potential for pain — and for blame.
Have you ever seen a tree grow through pavement? First small and hidden, roots grow huge, twisted and powerful. They crack, heave and crumble mortar, concrete and stone. That's how bitterness works.
That's not how God works. He tells me to pray for whoever causes me pain. The reason is three-fold: to change him, change me and rescue us both. In short, someone has to be the first to bail out of the blame game.
Well, why not me? I'm the one God loved while I was still busy breaking His heart. He made the first move — for me.
So I pray for the men in my life. This is not a chance to complain about them to the Lord. It's an opportunity to gently, tenderly bring their perceived faults to God as I would want someone to pray for me. I find out how hard it is to live as a man in this world, and then help them succeed — just as I would want them to do for me.
Praying for a man prepares me to respect him, even when I don't like his decisions. It makes me softer, more approachable and more apt to hope. It gives me great — and contagious — confidence in the man he can become. But I cannot pray my agenda for him; I must pray God's. I may, for instance, unconsciously wish him to be more like a woman: quieter, perhaps, or more likely to read my mind. But that's not the way God designed him to be.
What did God mean for men to be? Blinded by our own feelings, bombarded by a bitter world, it's no wonder we see so few signs of His design. Here’s a way to clear our eyes: Go on a negativity fast. We may still notice things we don't like about men; nobody's saying they're perfect. But for a season, focus only on what they are doing right. Ask: What is delightful about godly masculinity? What is God-reflecting about this man in my life, today?
But don't stop there. Also notice and enjoy specifics of godly femininity. What do you love about being a woman? Perhaps it's the bond with other women, sometimes an almost effortless empathy and communication. Perhaps it's the beauty and variety of the things you get to wear. Maybe it's the immense privilege of showing God's character of compassion: being spiritually and emotionally wired to comfort and encourage.
Thanks to the Creator, women come equipped with empathy and affection. With children, we can be bemused, protective and indulgent; with other women, we tend to instinctively understand. These things don't work so well with fathers, brothers, husbands and male friends.
"Make every effort," says the apostle Peter, "to supplement your … brotherly affection with love." Affection is a homey, comfortable relationship based on natural human feelings. It can be very caring — and very clumsy. It's alternately warm and tender, demanding and jealous. In fact, it's just as limited as the human heart. But love springs from God's character at work in our hearts. It's as wise and as inexhaustible as God himself.
Love has long patience, and is kind. It doesn't burn with envy, does not brag, is not self-important. It does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily exasperated, does not take inventory of worthless things. It is not happy about injustice, but gladly sympathizes with truth. Wholly enduring, completely faith-filled, fully confident, and thoroughly persevering, love is never driven off course.
When your human love begins to go flat, don't worry. Look beyond a man's relationship with you to his worth in the eyes of God. Confidently ask for a love transfusion from the One who loved you first. Then go ahead: Love without knowing the result.
Perhaps the best indication of true love is the way you treat those who can do nothing for you. Here's a practical (and slightly whimsical) example for single women. Imagine, for a minute, that instead of discussing treatment of the poor in the church, the apostle James was encouraging us to show common courtesy to all men, regardless of marriage potential:
My sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if you meet a handsome, eligible bachelor, and a shy or ordinary-looking man is also there, and if you pay attention to the fierce catch, while you completely ignore the other chap, have you not discriminated unfairly and become judges with selfish thoughts?
Listen, my beloved sisters, has not God chosen those who seem like nothing in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.
Love does to others what I wish others would do to me.
I wish the men in my life would see and accept me as I am, and make an attempt to understand how I feel. There's plenty they could learn simply by asking me.
So I asked them.
How Do We Encourage Men?
I was honored by the men who opened some sensitive areas in answer to my request. "Men feel things as deeply as women do," one said. "I think the difference is in how it gets expressed or not expressed." Another agreed: "Normally women are more social, more prone to talk and to express their feelings." They're more verbally adept. "That's why some women, even inside churches, treat some men like they are inferior, even silly, simply because they don't have the ability to express themselves so well. They start to talk in a maternal way to those men: the nice guys, whom they would never, ever date." And that hurts.
Love, one man told me, means learning to walk in his shoes, being willing to get past my own feelings enough to see him with the eyes of empathy. Yes, men and women will always be somewhat of a mystery to one another. But let's turn that into a reason to give one another the benefit of the doubt. Be careful to differentiate between actual lack of love and a man's inexperience at showing love to you, just as you want him to differentiate between active unkindness and your inadvertent disrespect.
Since to men disrespect feels like lack of love, begin learning how to effectively convey respect. I'm told the process is a lot like learning a foreign language. Respect comes across in your attitude, tone of voice and body language. It's also communicated like this:
- If he offers help, don't be offended. Gladly accept his assistance, even if you don't "need" it. If you refuse, do so kindly.
- If he has an idea, take it seriously. Hold your initial rebuttal or counter-suggestion long enough to consider what he said.
- Acknowledge his efforts, even when they aren't yet perfect.
- Show admiration of his specific skills and characteristics.
- Purposely ignore small irritations.
- If he's really wrong, confront him with dignity, not anger.
- Refuse to compare him to other men.
- Show genuine interest in spending time with him, including him in your activities and life.
- Be willing to invest time in his interests. They may seem like doing "nothing," but he highly values the fact that you are with him.
- Give him your full attention when he's talking.
- Help him give you his full attention: Dress to emphasize yourself as a person, not an object.
- Have genuine faith and be open about it with him.
- Acknowledge and value him as a person, even though he is different from you or from what you expect him to be.
Whether we like it or not, we women are powerful in our potential to encourage or bring a man down. My male friends agreed that a man is more vulnerable to a woman than to other men, because he lets down his defenses in order to be gentle and friendly with her. His ability to be more open and articulate in expressing his feelings comes with more space, time, confidence and encouragement. That same ability can be withered in an atmosphere of careless indifference and disrespect.
One single man told me that he sees caring for and protecting a wife as a precious opportunity — a way of living and understanding Jesus' love for us. "That is why we don't need a gender war," he said. "We need women. Desperately."
There may be a gender war in the world, but there is no such thing in God's kingdom. So please, let's not buy into the rivalry. Let's keep right on laying down our lives for each other. Let's keep living like our Creator and Redeemer, the one who loved us first. It's an image the world desperately needs to see.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2011 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.