by Scott Sauls,Christ Presbyterian Church
When God first draws a man and a woman toward each other, it often happens through physical attraction and romance. But as the lover’s bond grows over time, the differences between male and female can serve to make both her and him into more completed, life-giving versions of themselves.
In his teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul confirms this when he writes that the goal of a Christian spouse is to present the other as “holy and without blemish” to Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:27). In other words, the highest ideal for the bond between the genders is for both parties to become more fully formed in character and the virtues of love. Both man and woman are meant to help one another along in becoming the best versions of who God created them to be.
After almost twenty-one years of being married to Patti, I can attest to this personally. As with two pieces of sandpaper, “rubbing off” on each other has led to moments and even seasons of irritation and heat. The clash of my maleness and my ‘Scott-ness’ with Patti’s femaleness and ‘Patti-ness’ has had a sanctifying effect on both of us.
Though sometimes uncomfortable, the occasional friction hasa been good for us. Like two pieces of sandpaper, we are now able to look back and see how the friction of our differences has made us both better versions of ourselves. We have both become less irritating, more smooth, and hopefully more like Jesus—not in spite of the friction between us, but because of it. In this, we have also both become better prepared to live and love in God’s kingdom, and to play our part in leaving the world better than we found it.
For example, my sense of adventure that got us into planting two churches, relocate ourselves and our children to New York City, and accept an invitation to lead the revitalization of a Nashville church, has helped to shape Patti into a more flexible, more adventurous, and less risk-averse image-bearer than she was when I first met her.
Similarly, being married to Patti has had a profound impact on me. Her tendency to press in deeply with and remain fiercely loyal in her relationships—a characteristically (though not uniquely) ‘female’ instinct—has taught me not to be satisfied with relationships that are merely transactional, one-dimensional or superficial. By the way she invests herself in others, she has shown me that it is much more important to have friends than it is to have ‘followers’ or fans (a temptation for anyone in a public role, including ministry). Her wonderful way with our daughters—her tenacious love for them, and her spot-on wisdom for how to help them navigate the complicated waters of being teenagers—has provided me with a beautiful picture not only of how to be a good parent, but also how to be a good leader and boss and friend and advocate. Patti has also provided a necessary check to my tendency to be driven and over-worked. She helps me to stop when rest is needed, to smell the roses, to make eye contact, to be in the moment instead of rushing toward the next thing. She helps me to be more present and more other-focused. She has taught me what it looks like to embody what Sally Lloyd-Jones calls the “never-stopping, never giving up” love of Jesus.
In all of this, Patti helps me to be more human. By the kindness and grace of God, I believe that she would also say the same about me.
For someone like me, the female helper/strength-giver dynamic (biblically, a ‘helper’ is one who provides for us a strength that we do not have in ourselves—in Scripture, God is also identified as our ‘helper’) happens mostly in marriage, but also extends beyond it. My mother was the first person to demonstrate to me the Christ-like attribute of daily self-sacrifice, as she poured herself into the well-being of my brother Matt and me. Mom has been a picture of the non-condemning, forgiving and affirming love of God, always believing the best about us, always glad to be in our company, always with a kind and encouraging word to offer.
Speaking of this, I don’t have a single memory of Mom saying something negative about her daughters-in-law. Both Patti and my brother Matt’s wife Laurel can do no wrong in her eyes. She has gone out of her way to let them know how smart she thinks her sons were for marrying them. From Mom, I receive needed inspiration to resist cynicism about other people, to love fiercely and without condition, to find my joy in bringing joy to others, and to be intentional about catching people doing something right and good versus pointing out what people are doing wrong. In Mom, I both hear and experience whispers and shouts of God’s often-undeserved, yet sacrificially secured, ‘Well done.’
Our daughters, too, have helped me learn more of God via their feminine influence. With a wife, two girls, and a dog who is also a girl, I am the firmly established gender-minority in our home. Virtually everything about our life at home is driven by their female-slanted perspective. We have never played games like Risk and Battleship and backyard football, which were the favorites of my boyhood. Instead, these have been replaced by Angelina Ballerina, a board game involving various dance moves, and activities like dress-up and prince and princess games. Now that both daughters are teenagers, the dress-up game usually involves other boys instead of Dad, for things like homecoming and prom. So much for the daily mantra I asked them to repeat each night at bedtime: “My Dad…is the only man…I’ll ever need.” Needless to say, that mantra has been replaced by other mantras.
Because of Patti’s and our daughters’ influence, I have also become a fan of The Gilmore Girls. I have watched several episodes without being forced, always by choice and sometimes even by myself…because there is something about the the comically serious, seriously comical feminine lives of Lorelai and Rory that teaches me a lot about trial and complexity and loyalty in human relationships…just like many of the other She’s in my life also do.
I have also found it greatly beneficial and life-giving to read and sit under the teaching of wise women. Long-time favorites that come to mind include the likes of Dorothy Sayers, Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliott, Jane Austen, and many others.
More recently, I have also turned to the insights of several thoughtful contemporary female thinkers, teachers and writers. Many years ago, I started reading things that Joni Eareckson Tada has written. Hers is a multi-layered perspective that reminds me that God our Father also supplies a steady, nurturing, Mother-like care for his struggling kids. More recently, Patti introduced me to the writing of Ann Voskamp, who, through the kind introduction of mutual friends, has become an influential and greatly valued friend. Ann and her husband Darryl, along with their children, present a humbling picture of what it looks like in real life to give everything for the cause of Jesus. Ann’s compelling writing and speaking tell the story of their life from the Farm—evangelizing the gospel virtue of thankfulness, championing justice for refugees and the homeless and other image-bearers experiencing vulnerability and injustice, advocating for orphans, and raising the consciousness of the western church that there’s also a whole big world out there—a world with a lot of hurts and sorrows in need of heaven’s peace—that Jesus also cares for and loves.
In addition to Ann, I have been greatly helped by the writing and teaching of women like Kathy Keller, Marilynne Robinson, Amy Tan, Anne Lamott, Jen Michel, Bethany Jenkins, Katherine Alsdorf, Nancy Guthrie, Michelle Higgins, Sarah Young, Katelyn Beaty, Angie Smith, Jennie Allen, Rebekah Lyons, Beth Moore, Kaka Ray, and Brene Brown. These and others (unfortunately, there are too many to list here) have helped to balance and enrich my perspective about God and about what it means to be human. To these writers and teachers, I could also add the amazing women who are in leadership at our church—Angie, Suzanne, Missy, Cammy, Jen, Cameron, Babs, Andrea, Mallory and Lynn in particular are staff Directors who, alongside our pastors, are critical to the mission and vision to follow Christ in his mission to love people, places and things to life.
I could say more. But maybe it’s better to simply stop here and summarize the point, as follows:
To be more fully Adam, Adam needs Eve.
To be more fully Eve, Eve needs Adam.
The image of God in female ‘helpers’–whether in or outside of marriage–gives me the opportunity, in learning from and being influenced and taught by them, to become more of a man, not less. Because the more a man allows what’s in the head, heart, vision and dreams of a woman to rub off on him, the smoother he will become. And the better man he will be. And the better woman she will be also.
Because “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
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