It shouldn't be so hard because in the circles I most often find myself in, there are certain criteria that people use when they define a godly man. Words like "spiritual leader" and "love the Lord." Images of a man who leads family Bible readings or who prays daily with his wife. But truth be told, I sometimes find all of that hard to swallow.
Not because those things are not good things. But because those things often don't resonate with all women. (And I'm guessing more struggle with it than embrace it.) Many women are married to or are the children of men who don't do those things. It's as if the American church has created a mock up of who we think men ought to be based on a checklist of spiritual actions. Item 1: Lead family devotions. Item 2: Have lengthy prayer times with your wife. Item 3: Create an elaborate system of mentoring which will teach your son how to be a man and make sure to include some special coming of age event complete with a symbolic gift. Item 4: Manage your household finances. Item 5: Be the final decision maker in your house with every decision going through the man. Item 6: Memorize multitudes of Bible verses (maybe even whole chapters) and teach them to your children. Item 7: Participate in a men's small group. Item 8...really the list could go on and on. That checklist sounds wonderfully Biblical and is chock full of Biblical principals. Leading the house, over the wife, an authority figure for his children...all Biblical. And it's full of actions that are borne out of Biblical principals like memorizing Scripture, teaching your children Scripture, and praying with your wife.
Know that I am not mocking any family who has a dad who does those things. If that's who your husband or dad is, good for you. That's awesome.
But I am afraid what often happens is that this list is created and then becomes the measuring stick for all men everywhere. As a wife, I look at this list and yearn for a husband who will do these things and then am disappointed and discouraged when I don't see that happening. As a daughter, I look at this list and wish that my dad would have been more like the imaginary man the list embodies. It leaves women feeling like their families are failing spiritually. (And I'm guessing leaves men feeling paralyzed because they think they can't live up to the standards.)
I mean, let's be honest and call that list what it is: at it's worst, it is performance based legalism. Creating a list of spiritual works that are intended to make us measure up in the eyes of the world, the church or the Lord is legalism. That is what bothers me. I am not suggesting that we say to the men in our lives "it is okay to neglect the spiritual role you need to have in the lives of your family." What I am saying is that we as women need to reframe our thinking, to see and appreciate the godliness that is already present in the hearts of our spouses and fathers, rather than wishfully longing for a godliness that is based more upon a preconceived list of rules and expectations rather than the man's heart.
Rather than bemoaning a spouse who does not lead a family Bible study, can we as women chose to celebrate a spouse who faithfully attends church with us? And what if the compassion he holds in his heart for hurting kids is really the compassion of Jesus who gathered kids and hurting people of all ages near? Can I look at my dad's fidelity to my mom and see how that is an outpouring of his love for God, that he chose to love my mom as Christ loved the church? Could my dad's continual commitment to provide for the needs of his family really be not just about our physical needs but also about what God had laid on his heart? Can we as women choose to let go of our list and instead embrace the hearts of the men who walk beside us?
I will continue to rejoice when I find my husband reading a devotion, memorizing a verse, or discussing the sermon on Sunday. I will continue to pray Deuteronomy 6:5-7 over my husband, believing that the Holy Spirit will help my husband love God and His word. And when my dad died, it completely warmed (and tore at) my heart to hear my mom say she was just so sad because their marriage was really in a good place spiritually. But I think I have learned to put down my list and to find the bits of God that are a part of the present, those little bits of God that are pressed down inside of them, trickling or gushing out. Simple bits of God, borne out of His presence in their lives.
22-23But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25-26Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. (Galatians 5:22-26)
Incredibly thankful and blessed by my dad and my husband who daily show God's spirit at work in their lives, in original ways.