The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18 (NIV)
For whatever reason, God saw fit to surround me with women most of my entire life journey. My eldest brothers are twins, my sister came five years later, and I brought up rear. Most of my childhood the sibling dynamic in my family system was two pairs: the twins and Jody and me. When I was very young, I can remember times when dad and the twins would be off doing something and I was home with mom and Jody. It made an impression on me.
Further down life’s road, I find myself the father of two girls, and then was blessed to have Wendy’s sister live with us for a few years. I always seem to find myself in situations in which I’m surrounded by women. About four years ago I wrote a post with my first words to my grandson, discussing this very phenomenon.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I rather enjoy it most of the time. In fact, the experience has significantly changed my view and understanding of women along my life journey. For most of my early journey I loosely held a fairly fundamentalist view of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives. And, I confess that many of my views early on were downright misogynistic. My life experiences, my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, and the amazing women in my life, have led to embracing what I consider to be a deeper understanding of women and all the incredible things they are in creation.
In today’s chapter, God looks at Adam and makes a “helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew words are ezer kenegdo.Ezer simply means “help” or “assistance.” Kenegdo is made up of three words. The study text I read this morning stated that it suggests: “someone God fashions for the man who would correspond to him.” This does not imply inferiority, weakness, or submission, but rather one who “uniquely his counterpart and uniquely suited for him.”
And that brings me to Wendy, the woman who is the definition of my ezer kengdo. We couldn’t be more different in so many ways, and the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours (me) and Eights (Wendy) “the most inherently volatile” of combinations, though it adds the combination can be “one of the most creative relationship couplings.”
Wendy and I do everything together. We work together out of our home, we serve together, and we play together. There are certainly things each of us do and enjoy alone, but for the most part we are around each other 24/7/365 in our daily lives. And that’s a good thing for me. It’s a great thing for me.
I had a member of my company’s Board of Directors once ask me if I could imagine doing my job without Wendy. My response was immediate: “Absolutely not.” In fact, I can’t imagine doing it without her. I can’t imagine doing anything without her. She’s “uniquely suited” to make me better at everything I do in life, in community, and business as I like to believe I am uniquely suited to make her better in the same.
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. We’re not perfect. We clash. We have flashes of volatility as the folks at the Enneagram Institute describe. Sometimes sparks fly. Yet that, I believe, is inherently a by-product of ezer kenegdo. Not alike, but uniquely suited.
So, in the quiet this morning, I think there are a whole host of things that I could have blogged about from today’s chapter. It is chock full of truth on multiple layers. Yet, on this chapter-a-day journey, I often find that the thing that is most meaningful to me is the thing that rises to the top of mind and soul. To me, this day, that is ezer kenegdo; that is Wendy, and all of the women with whom God has surrounded me my entire life journey to teach me about manhood, and to make me a better man.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Those who are even occasional readers of my posts know that I often make reference to the Enneagram. We were first introduced the Nine Types by our daughter many years ago. As it’s grown in popularity, we have been asked to introduce it and discuss it with various groups. We are, by no means, experts. We have simply shared our personal experiences of understanding and how the Enneagram has helped our relationship as we have come to understand and appreciate one another in deeper ways.
Over the years we’ve had many, many conversations with individuals, couples, and groups about the Enneagram. Of course, one of the first questions that is asked is, “Do you know what type you are?” Wendy and I quickly began noticing a certain pattern among women who are card-carrying followers of Jesus living primarily in Christian community.
They almost all say they are Type Twos (a.k.a. “The Helper”). Here’s the summary description of Type Two from the Enneagram Institute:
Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not possible for 80-90% of Christian women to be Twos. Either only females who are Twos follow Jesus, or those who do follow Jesus are miraculously transformed into Twos by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Wendy and I pondered and contemplated this phenomenon, we came to the realization that “Twos” sound eerily similar to the ideal wife and mother described in the epilogue of Proverbs; She is otherwise known as “The Proverbs 31 Woman.” I have come to believe that many women project themselves to be, or truly desire themselves to be, an idealized version that both the church and Christian community have relentlessly told them they should be.
In today’s chapter, the book of ancient wisdom ends with a rather eloquent description of a “wife of noble character.” She’s the picture-perfect supportive spouse who is an asset to her husband’s public image and career. She’s the super-charged industrial homemaker and the perfect mix of Joanna Gaines and Martha Stewart. Her clothes, decor, and children are all Pinterest-worthy. She’s tireless and shrewd. She’s the undisputed CEO of the home which always runs with efficiency, organization, productivity, timeliness, and keeps the household budget always in the black. She is intelligent, spiritual, and practically wise; a combination of Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker. Her children think she’s the coolest mom in the world, and they all dutifully reflect her Proverbs-Thirty-One-ness in dress, appearance, and behavior. Her husband would never look twice at any of the “wayward” and “adulterous” women that Proverbs has been incessantly mentioning for thirty chapters, and this is because…well…while charm may be deceptive and beauty fleeting, “The Proverbs 31 Woman” actually has those, too! She’s the whole package.
Except, no woman is all these things. In my almost 40 year journey of being an adolescent-to-adult male and a follower of Jesus, I’ve never met a Proverbs 31 Woman. I’ve met women who seem to look like her. They project her image, but it’s never real. She’s just an air-brushed model on a magazine cover painted and lit to look like the ideals of maternal, marital, and spiritual virtue.
I’m probably going to get into trouble writing this, but let me share with you the observation of an old dude who’s spent his entire life surrounded by and in relationship with amazing girls and women.
Unintentionally, the book of Proverbs can easily do a disservice to the women in my life. The ancient sages Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel lived in a brutal, patriarchal society that developed out of a need for a strict social order (as I explored yesterday) to ensure survival. Women are presented in Proverbs in a binary fashion: bad (wayward, adulterous, contentious, quarrelsome) or ideal (The Proverbs 31 Woman). So, lady, what’s it going to be? You want to be good or bad? And, if you want to be good, then you have to be ideal.
I’ve observed along my journey that the women in my life often allow themselves to fall into these binary mental traps: fat or skinny, beautiful or ugly, sexy or lonely, smart or dumb, popular or not, trendy or so-not-with-it, and etc. So, what I’ve observed happening are perpetual cycles of pressure, hopelessness, despair, striving, depression, and never-ending comparison to others hoping “If I’m not ideal then at least I’m better than….”
So, I’m going to wade into dangerous territory this morning and I beg your grace and forgiveness upfront. If this old husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, employer, mentor, colleague, neighbor, and friend were to re-define what Proverbs calls a “woman of noble character” for all the amazing women in my life it would go something like this:
A Becoming Woman
If you find a becoming woman, you are blessed.
She is learning to embrace the individual, in mind, body (all of it), and spirit just as her loving Creator intentionally and uniquely knit her DNA together.
She has made an honest inventory of both her personal strengths and her intimate struggles; She is persevering in her efforts to build on the former while diminishing the latter.
She seeks roles and positions that make the most of her unique gifts and abilities, though they may not fit the dreams she once had, the norms of her community, or the expectations that others have placed on her.
She is learning how to accept God’s grace and forgiveness for all of the mistakes, faults, imperfections, and sins that she knows so well, even when others have not forgiven her; She is learning how to be gracious with herself, letting go of her own desires for perfection. She embraces the knowledge that she’ll still be learning all of these things when she reaches the end of this earthly journey.
She loves her husband and children genuinely, sometimes passionately, though often deficiently. She embraces the journey of becoming that is being a friend, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She presses on, neither denying the many faults and mistakes of her past nor becoming complacent in the onward journey of becoming that is always leading her further up and further in.
She is doing her best for her family even though it feels like a thankless task most days. She is struggling constantly against the lie that she is a hopeless failure in her role and responsibilities. She is learning to let it go when all that she has already done is summarily ignored while the incessant demands for more keep building up, seemingly with every moment.
She is realizing that the Creator has lovingly made each of her children as unique as she, herself, is unique. She desires that each of them becomes the individual God has made them to be. She desires that each child discover the unique purposes God has for them, even as she’s learning in fits and starts to let go of her own personal desires and expectations which can feel so instinctual and can be so strong at times.
She is learning to care more about the emotional and spiritual needs of her child than she cares about how her child’s appearance, actions, achievements, failures, words, and/or behaviors might influence how others, especially other women, in the community perceive her and her mothering skills.
She is purposefully mindful of her own needs and is learning that taking care of herself in mind, body, and spirit is necessary to manage every other role and relationship in her life.
She is purposefully mindful of her husband’s needs. She is learning to meet the unique needs that fill his love tank (though it may not fill hers), speak his unique love language (though she may not be fluent), and to be gracious with his unique shortcomings as she needs him to be gracious with hers. She is learning to encourage his own unique gifts, strengths, and purposes even when she realizes that they aren’t what she once thought they were or what she wants them to be.
She has surrounded herself with other good women who know her faults and love her anyway and who speak truth into her even when she doesn’t want to hear it. They are present even when time and/or miles create physical separation. They pick her up when she is down. They cheer her on in her endeavors and celebrate her in her accomplishments. They struggle through and survive relational strife with one another, learn to forgive one another, and graciously walk life’s journey together all the days of their lives.
She is learning, persevering, seeking, letting go, embracing, pressing on, realizing, desiring, purposeful, struggling, endeavoring, loving, giving, caring, forgiving, and she is surrounded.
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!
“I wish that all of you were [unmarried] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1 Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)
Paul was unmarried, and in his letters to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he expresses his appreciation for being “undivided” in his loyalties. He means, that as an unmarried person he could devote himself fully to the work of God without having to invest time, energy, and resources into a marriage relationship. I understand the common sense in his reasoning. Marriage certainly takes work and a large investment of time and energy.
Over my earthly journey I have observed that we as humans tend to err on the extremes of many earthly issues. I have come to believe that my culture often does a disservice in fostering a pervasive expectation of marriage for all young people. Marriage is a great thing when it is right, but many young people walk into marriage thinking it will solve problems when it can actually creates more problems (with greater complexity) than it solves.
The traditional marriage vows of the church state that “marriage should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but soberly, deliberately….” but I’ve observed that this is what happens more often than not. If the church wants people to heed that advice, then I think we need to do a much better job of communicating that singleness is a healthy, acceptable, and advisable life choice.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s clear that some find celibacy and singleness to be a better spiritual choice. While I appreciate much about the Roman Catholic traditions, I have always thought the blanket prescription of celibate priests a silly idea. Just as it is wrong to think that everyone would be better off getting married, it is equally wrong to think that everyone is better off spiritually by staying single. I understand that the Roman church wants their priests to follow Paul’s example and be fully dedicated to their work, but I’m not convinced that celibacy is universally better for serving God.
This past Sunday I delivered the morning message in two services among my local gathering of Jesus followers. While I could have done it without Wendy, I am much better off with her by my side. She takes care of my needs in the morning (all the time, really) so that I can be prepared. She is a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and helps me refine my message. She is quick and adept at helping me get wired for sound. She is constantly by my side providing relational and emotional support. She runs and gets me water or coffee if I need it. She gives me flawless and on-target critiques between services to help me improve. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest prayer supporter. After the service she helps me debrief. Paul may have been better off serving God without a wife, but I am certain I would not serve God as well were it not for Wendy.
This morning I am thinking of my unmarried friends and family, some of whom struggle constantly with the cultural (or personal) perception that there is something wrong because they are not married. I’m thankful for them, and happy for the good things in this life that they enjoy with their freedom. I am also thinking about Wendy this morning. Like all marriages, ours has its constant challenges. Nevertheless, I am constantly aware of the many ways she makes me a better human being, and a better servant of God.
On “Remember When Wednesdays” I look back at a post from yesteryear and re-blog one for newer readers. This was originally posted in August, 2006. Note to reader: If you read my previous post today, I would like to point out that I have actually gotten somewhat better at this!
Yesterday Wendy and I headed to Des Moines in my new company car. I was low on gas, but the car’s computer told me I had 58 miles left. I did the mental calculations to figure out if I needed to stop before we got to the Doctor’s office and then kept my eye on the odometer. As we trucked down University Wendy asked if we needed to get gas. “Nope, we’ll make it!” I answered. The computer told me so.
As we got off the exit at 22nd street in West Des Moines I had 10 miles left and a half-mile to the doctor’s office.
That’s when I ran out of gas.
Don’t trust the computer – trust your wife when she tells you to stop! 🙂
“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”1 Samuel 1:8 (NLT)
Trust me when I say that this was NOT the right thing for Elkanah to say to his wife as she struggled with infertility.
In my experience, men have a traditionally difficult time understanding women in general. When it comes to the depth of pain women experience when trying, and not succeeding, to conceive or bear children the complexity of thoughts and emotions becomes almost unfathomable for a man to understand or appreciate. Elkanah’s attempt at encouraging his wife, while I’m sure delivered from the best of intentions, only served to make Hannah feel more isolated and alone. His question convinced her that he did not have a clue what she was going through. As I read Elkanah’s question a second time, I imagined that I heard Hannah’s unspoken thought as it poured out of the anger and rage of her emotional pain: “No, Elkanah, at this moment I believe ONE son would be better than TEN of you!”
Walking with a spouse through the dark valley of something as emotionally wounding as infertility requires a tremendous amount of patience, compassion, courage, and perseverance. This is why many marriages to not survive the journey. I believe that no man is truly prepared for this journey and task. A pre-game pep talk doesn’t help. A pat on the back or a Hallmark card doesn’t help. Weak attempts at cheering her up doesn’t help.
Be present in the pain. Share the pain. Step into the pain with her. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. It is fraught with confusing moments. Even this will not help take the pain away and may not even make things better. She will, however, not be alone in the valley. There is hope in that.
One of the things that I love about the Song of Solomon is the way the relational give and take develops between the young man and the young woman in the duet. Like all relationships, there is a progression of the relationship from the beginning of the song to the end. There is the initial infatuation with one another as they look upon one another and are impressed with what they see. Then there is the growing desire for one another as they seek to be in one another’s presence. In today’s chapter we feel the growing desire and anticipation of sexual intimacy.
The young woman is having another dream, and this time she hears the young man attempting to unlatch the door of her bedroom. Her heart is thrilled (and, I suspect, other parts of her as well). When she gets up to let him in, she finds him gone. Disappointed, she runs through the streets in a frantic search for him. The night watchmen find her and beat her up. You can see in the dream the anticipation of intimacy, the disappointment that it has not happened, and the intense feelings of personal pain and injury that she has not been able to consummate her love.
I have learned over time that sexual intimacy in marriage is best built with anticipation, just like the progression in Solomon’s song. While sex occasionally occurs at the spur of the moment, motivated by a surprisingly sudden surge of hormones, the truth is that there is typically a subtle song and dance that happens between me and Wendy. A glance and casual touch at the breakfast table hints at the possibility that this day may come to a passionate end. Hints are dropped by the wearing of things that the other has commented pleases his or her eye. A dab of cologne on a day that none is typically warranted. There is the casual touch in public that lingers a moment longer than usual. The mind is engaged. The eyes are engaged. The sense of smell is stimulated. The ears hear coded messages: “I shaved my legs today.”
Playful thoughts flitter in and out of each other’s minds during the day. Anticipation builds. A regular evening dinner takes on new layers of sensual meaning as each become aware of what I mentioned in yesterday’s post: There is a connection between senses. The feeding of one appetite will invariably lead to another. The main course tastes so good. The wine seems downright decadent, and savoring the dessert feels almost sinful.
One of the things that Solomon’s song subtly conveys to me is that the climactic, sexually intimate event of the day does not typically just happen. It happens when husband and wife learn and know one another’s subtle, sensory dance. It is me learning how to slowly feed multiple senses of my wife during the day in the ways she best responds. It is my wife learning just how to tease the deliberate build up of anticipation that will lead to a successful, intimate feast after dinner that night. There is an art to the intimacy between husband and wife that takes on the unique characteristics of the two artists involved in creating the intimate moment.
In contrast, I find that popular media (especially pornography) likes to portray sex like it’s most awesome when easily cranked out like one of those ultra high speed photocopiers at Kinko’s (yes, pun intended): Get it fast. Get it often. Get it easy. Everyone gets a copy. Sure, you get the picture – but it’s monochrome, impersonal, and unoriginal. Each one is just like the one before. It quickly becomes meaningless and lifeless. You crank out more copies hoping for something different in the output picture, but it will never be an original work of art.
My experience is that sexual intimacy does not become a breathtaking original work of art unless there are two people learning to create something together over time, learning to work together, make mistakes, erase errors, try something new, explore, play, complement one another’s individual style, and develop their own unique style as a couple over time together. As Solomon’s Song suggests, there is a progression. It gets better, deeper, more refined, and even more powerful in ways neither husband nor wife could scarcely imagine, even in the intoxicating infatuation of the early relationship.
Sexual intimacy between husband and wife is a work of art.
But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. 2 Corinthians 2:14 (NLT)
Cap-ti-vate (verb) from the Latin captivus 1. To attract and hold the attention of.
My friend John Homan recently sent me a self-published book of his essays and poems entitled Honest Haircuts (see link at bottom of this post). It’s been wonderful front-porch reading for these late summer evenings. One of my favorites (so far) has been this short entry:
What a Sucker
After 23 years, I am still helpless when I see the shape of her cheekbones, the softness of her eyes as she smiles at me, asking me to do something I don’t want to do.
I read that to Wendy the other night and we had a good laugh together. I totally identify with John’s powerlessness. He is captivated by his wife, just as I am by Wendy. Attracted to her constantly, my attention persistently held, I am compelled to love her even when she’s asking me to do something I don’t want to do.
Throughout God’s Message marriage is used as a metaphor for the relationship between Jesus and those who choose into a relationship with him. In fact, God goes so far as to call those who follow Jesus “the bride of Christ” which, even though it appalls my masculinity, I begin to understand more and more as I progress in my journey. What John describes in his essay is exactly the reason why God uses the metaphor. As is constantly the case with what God has created (artist’s work expresses the artist’s spirit), there is a parallel between the physical universe God created and spiritual truth which is at the core of who God is.
I have chosen into a committed relationship with Jesus for much the same reasons as I have chosen into my relationship with Wendy. I am captivated. I am captivated by this one who loved me so much that He willingly gave up His own life to pay the penalty for all of my stupid and foolish mistakes, and chose to forgive me. I am compelled to follow, to ask, to seek, and to be continually knocked over and knocked out by my daily relationship with him.
While we watched the game, one young man just wasn’t sure if he really wanted to step up to bat and have that ball flying straight at him. His parents each had to get down to his level and give him a good talking to. The boy finally got up there and gave it a try Parents encouraging their kid to get in there and do his best.
Everyone needs to be strengthened from time to time. Even Jesus, the night before He would be nailed to a cross, found Himself discouraged and despairing to the point of sweating blood. According to Luke’s account, angels were dispatched to strengthen Jesus as He prayed to His heavenly father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Everyone needs to be strengthened from time to time. We need to be strengthened as a child to step out of our comfort zone and doing things that will be good for us. We need to be strengthened by teachers and coaches in school. I need to be strengthened by my buddies who have the common experiences of being a man and can identify with the struggle. I need to be strengthened by my wife who knows my most intimate insecurities and will speak into my heart like only a woman and soulmate can.
Wise King Solomon said, “woe to him who falls down and has no one to help him up.” Today, I’m thankful for all of those who along the journey have strengthened me when I needed it.
In the book His Needs Her Needs, Willard Harley presents a very simple word picture to describe the give and take that happens within marriage on a moment by moment, day by day basis. He asks couples to picture an internal “love tank” that we all have. With our thoughts, words, and actions we can either make deposits in our spouses love tank that fill them up and produce an increasing sense of love and well being or we can make withrawls that slowly deplete the love tank until our spouse feels empty and drained, and depleted.
Wendy and I talk a lot about marriage. We talk a lot about our relationship and relationships in general. Like every marriage, ours is a union of two broken people living in a fallen world. We are in a unique situation. We work together for the same company out of our home office. We serve together in the visual tech ministry of our church. We re-create together as board members and participants in the local theatrical community. With little exception Wendy and I are around one another 24/7/365.
Ask Wendy or me about the other’s shortcomings and we can supply you with an ample list. We are far from perfect people, and being around one another all the time produces no shortage of opportunities to see one another at our worst. A good friend of mine recently asked me about his observation that there is a genuine loving-kindness he witnesses between Wendy despite the fact that we are around one another all the time. It’s really pretty simple I told him: she fills my love tank, and I do my best to fill hers.
Wendy has chosen in to the things I love. She’s joined the tragic ranks of Cubs fans. She switched allegiance from her Denver Broncos to make my Vikings her favorite team. To be honest, I know she really doesn’t care that much, but she knows that I do and that’s the point. She is considerate of the things that trip my trigger and makes an effort to trip my trigger on a constant basis. I am so knocked out, blessed that I want nothing more than to return the favor and consideration by discovering what trips her trigger and returning the favor. It’s been a process, but I think I’m getting there. When things get tense between us, and they do, the anger and ill feelings quickly drown in our love tanks which are overflowing.
I have observed many marriages which operate in a daily tit-for-tat game of competitive love tank withdrawl: “If you get to do this, then I get to do that. It’s my turn. Let me check the ledger and check the tally. You owe me. It’s time to pay the debt, baby and believe me the interest on that debt has been compounding daily!” Rather than viewing the fulfillment of their spouses need as a good thing for the relationship as a whole, they begin to view it as a diminishment of their own love tank.
I know that this is a simplistic word picture in the complex relationship that is marriage. Yet when I read the above verse, my soul says “That nails it. That describes Wendy. She makes constant deposits in my love tank that far outnumber the withdrawls.”
Today, I’m reminded that I can’t control my spouse, but I can control my own thoughts, words and actions. I want to do good, and not harm. I want to make deposits into Wendy’s love tank, not withdrawls.
The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions. Proverbs 10:11 (NLT)
There are two regular appointments on my calendar each week. Each weekday you will find the same person’s name on my list of people to call. I have three men in my life with whom I converse regularly. We are sharing the journey together. When life and schedules throw a wrench in our weekly get togethers I can feel the difference, and it’s not a positive one.
There is chit-chat and small talk with these men. Sports, movies, hobbies and interests are regular topics of conversation. But the conversations regularly meander into much deeper territory: marriage, children, fatherhood, children, parenting, work, manhood, God, sex, finances, and etc. There is no subject that is off the table. We cheer one another when there are things to celebrate. We share the burden when life gets heavy.
I thought about these men when I read the above proverb this morning, along with a handful of other men with whom I have less frequent but just as refreshing conversations. I thought about Wendy with whom I have daily conversations about everything. The conversations with my wife and these men a life-giving fountain. They fill my heart and life. They overflow into my daily life and work. Like crisp, clear water flowing in a fountain they refresh, soothe, heal, inspire, motivate and energize.
We all need good companions journey, along with the life-giving conversations that happen as we walk this life road together.