For years and years and years, I had an idea in my mind – a carved-in-stone idea – of what a Christian man and husband and father looked like.
He, of course, was a Christian. Meaning, he could name the date when he asked Jesus into his heart. You know, because that’s what it says in the Bible. (No, it doesn’t.)
He took his family to church every Sunday morning. And every Wednesday night, if Wednesday night church were something his church offered. Which it should.
He served in leadership in some aspect at church, even if leadership were not one of his spiritual gifts, which he would know because he, of course, had taken the spiritual gifts class held at said church.
If he didn’t lead a men’s group (which he should, even if encouragement and teaching and shepherding weren’t his spiritual gifts), he at the very least participated in one every week. Along with, duh, participating in a couples’ small group weekly.
He had his own quiet time, in the morning before work, every day.
He did devotions with his wife, at least weekly, that he initiated. All his idea. No nagging necessary.
He did devotions with his family, at least weekly, that he initiated. All his idea. No prodding necessary.
He did not drink, heaven forbid.
He did not waste his time by watching too much television, even if his wife were perhaps a TV-aholic.
He worked on the honey-do list without being asked, as a way to die to himself like Christ died for the Church.
I believed all these things, whether I verbalized them or not, for many years. Not only am I not sure where I gathered these images and how I compiled this version of a Christian man/husband/father, but even as a Christian woman who loves Jesus very much, I not just cringe now, I almost think ew. That image seems flat to me. And so boxed-in. And where is his personality? And where is his life? And isn’t he exhausted? And where is the abundance in all of this?
I was once a woman who held this standard up as God’s truth and criticized and nagged a husband into the ground (who did a lot of things right but I was just such a Pharisaical b$#@! I rarely noticed) and who now is a woman who – as hard as it is for me to believe – holds so loosely to all of these things that they have basically fallen to the ground.
Because I have a sweet, sweet husband, and he loves God and is a hard worker and sits with me about once a week and reads a devotional with me and goes to church with me on Saturday evenings and I am overwhelmingly grateful for who he is and what he brings to the table and how God has created him and how he has added joy to my life and heart.
But he does not live his life based on my made-up list. (Thank you, Jesus.) First of all, that sweet man is being stretched so thin these days that he probably doesn’t know if he’s coming or going sometimes, so there absolutely must be grace flowing back and forth between us, especially right now in this transition and limbo season. But on top of our current circumstances, my perspective has shifted in important ways. I even believe now that sometimes you can miss church and lightening will not strike you dead. And I even believe now that people learn differently. And I even believe now that small groups are great, if you have the time and they add to your life. And I even believe now that you can serve wherever you are, using the gifts God gave you, and it can look like a thousand different things. And I even – wait for it – believe now that Christians can drink. Re-freaking-sponsibly. For the love. (Total side note: I shouldn’t even have to say this, but Christians – or anyone for that matter – who have an addiction and those who have a predilection to addiction should not drink and should get help for their addiction, because there is help available.)
I even wrote in my vows that I promised to accept him for who he is, and that I would remember that he already has a Holy Spirit and that I’m not it. That’s how paramount this is to me now, this idea of letting him just be who he is, making sure he knows that who he is right in this moment is more than enough for me, that he has what it takes to be a man and a husband and a father and a friend.
Now, some of you have husbands who fit that mold, that made-up list of mine. And you are now upset with me. To you, I am sorry. I am not trying to offend. I’m just trying to expand our thinking a bit. In fact, I will concede that some of you have husbands who fit this mold and who are also very alive men who aren’t being sucked dry but are being fed by all of these things that they are doing, and that is wonderful.
But some of you have longed for your husband to be and do all of these things, like I used to, and you just might be slowly taking apart and killing his manhood by implying – or outright telling him – that he needs to become this kind of man to be the man he’s supposed to be.
Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know then: it’s not my job to change my husband. It’s not my job to define what it is to be a man for my husband. It’s not my job to make him into the man God created him to be. That two-fold partnership belongs to God and my husband, alone. It’s my job to love him and respect him and accept him.
Caveat: I am not saying that if he’s got a rampant addiction or is a serial adulterer or is abusing you or your children that you just – la dee da – magically choose to love him and respect him and accept him. NO. In that case, you prayerfully tell someone and set boundaries and get the help that you and your husband and your children need.
But if you have a husband who is a hard-working man, who tells you he loves you and treats you in a loving way consistently, who goes to church, who reads his Bible from time to time – oh my lands – be so very grateful. Stop telling him what he’s doing wrong and start thanking him for every single thing he’s doing right.
And then, and you’re not going to like this part, repent. Tell God you’re sorry. Because you are not God. You are not your husband’s God. And you just maybe have been acting like it each and every time you criticize your husband and tell him how he needs to change. Because only God knows what is best for your husband and only God knows what a man is and only God knows who your husband is supposed to be.
You love and accept and be outwardly grateful. You work on your own walk with God and you take responsibility for the life God has given you. And you let God be the changer, if any changing even needs to be done.
If this post resonated with you and you are struggling in your marriage, Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage can help you.
Elisabeth thank you so much for writing about this. I’m about to get married to a man I feel is as you described is your new husband. He is not the overly committed type of Christian, but he loves God and he wants to learn more about him… He wants to find his way with God and is thankful for the path he has had in life, which has not been easy. My previous husband probably filled all the description of the perfect Christian man, but was abusive and narcissistic. At the end of the day Jesus loved publicans more than Pharisees! It’s good to remember we can easily become a Pharisee when we think we are better than the rest. You have a wonderful husband. Congratulations, I am happy for you and for the fact that you continue writing. Thanks for following your calling and passion. Your ministry has been a blessing for my life.
I needed this EXACT thing today. I posted in our sep/div group last week about a wonderful man God has brought into my life. Your blog today spoke exactly into my thinking, I actually discussed this topic with my girlfriend this morning. I need to step back, support him, respect him, and let God and him do their own work together. I LOVE YOUR HEART Elisabeth and your writings. And I love that Buzz continues to let you “use” him to teach us. I never had “normal” in my 24 year marriage, so much of my thinking has been distorted.
Love sweet Sister!
What you said. What the other commenters said. Thank YOU, thank You Lord for my wonderful, Christian man who loves his God, his kids, his neighbors, and me.
This was very well said and totally beautiful especially considering knowing that you came from difficulty. But I have to admit I’m torn by it considering I’m in one of those verbally abusive marriages. I can’t figure out how to do this love him how he is, not try to change him, just tell him he’s fine the way he is but not get plowed over when things go bad. Do you just give up on someone if you can’t work with them? Ive never had any notions of wanting my husband to do any of those things, not one. All I want is for him to talk through a problem with me instead of exploding if I’ve said something even mildly critical. That would be enough Christian for me.
No, you do not need to just lay down and take it. Email me at Elisabeth@elisabethklein.com, if you’re able.
Thank you for putting the disclaimers in your post. A long time ago, I would have thought about writing a list like this about my husband. Early on in my Christian faith, my husband DID go to church. We DID read the Bible together and with our children. Then as my husband’s alcoholism progressed, those things stopped. I never had the opportunity to write on my list everything else you described. Toward the end of our living together, my list would have been “please stop drinking” and “please stop abusing me physically, emotionally, verbally, and mentally”. I didn’t even care if he was a Christian anymore, at that point. I just knew that I could not stay with him anymore.
Oh my…..the legalism reigned in my life too…..before and during….then we are faced with the grace that we all need when I decided enough was enough, after 25 years, on the porn, addictions, abandonment and abuse. I am glad that God allowed me to go through this to have the insight, as you have said in your blog, and to have grace for other sinners, including myself, to go through this life of hard times and struggles. And most of all to love and respect my current husband as he leads me and loves God with his whole heart. You said it so well Elisabeth….I was hard on my ex at times and have repented for this….thanks for being there for the many women who are in this horrible grey zone of our faith, to give them the courage to stand up for themselves and see them as daughters of the most high king.
I remember reading this the first time and it has touched me just the same the second time. Thank you! My biggest take-away — thank them for the things they are doing right. Simple but genius!
This may be good advice for those already in a marriage, but truthfully, would a woman accept this behavior for herself? Is it fine if a woman rarely reads her Bible or attends church only when the mood strikes? What if we don’t show up for family devotional time, even though the rest of the family has gathered for prayer and Bible reading? It isn’t business that keeps one from spiritual things, but rather misplaced priorities. The Pharisee is the one who thinks they can live the Christian life without the rest of the body, the church and without the spiritual food of feeding on the Word. It can be a woman’s pride that wants her husband in leadership but it can also be frustration from living with a spiritual baby for 20+ years. For those single or divorced, I suggest that it is better to remain alone rather than be unequally yoked.
Only ever wanted a fraction of all that.