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Adding Some Nuance to the Awkward
Well, my most recent post has very quickly became one of my most viewed. While I was hopeful it might generate a bit of discussion, I wasn’t expecting it to get as much attention as it did. (And on that note, welcome to all my new subscribers! I hope you’ll stick around!). However, since it did indeed draw people’s interest, I decided that perhaps a follow-up post might be in order. So join me as we seek to add some nuance to the awkward!
I’ll admit that nuance is one of my favourite words. Some of my friends would undoubtedly tell you that it is one of my most over-used words. I’ll cop to that. In a contemporary world (and church) which encourages very binary and retrenched thinking, I think there is a real need for more nuance. But I also think that such nuance often tends only to possible if we’ve first unsettled the status quo a little. To put it another way, if we want to introduce nuance into the picture, we first need to create some room for it.
So, having attempted to do just that in my last post, in this one I want to offer some further nuance that I hope might be constructive in our (very often fraught) considerations of marriage, family and church.
A Tale of Two Comments
I received many different responses to my last post. Thank you! But I wanted to share two particular ones with you here.
This first was written by Australian Presbyterian minister, Vaughan Smith.
The second was tweeted by someone I don’t know. (Out of courtesy to them I have redacted their name/handle).
A tale of two comments indeed! And yet, what struck me the most was the people behind the comments.
I was humbled that my words had been received by the author of that second comment as being encouraging, liberating, beautiful and biblical. I was so thankful that he felt better able to delight in his masculinity as a result.
But I was deeply troubled that my words had seemingly brought about just the opposite for the two men Vaughan wrote of. The last thing that I want any husband—let alone any widowed husband—to think is that I am critical of them for having been too devoted or too loving to their wife. That I think they treated her too well. That I resent them upholding, rejoicing in and testifying to the unique significance of their relationship, and wish their marriage looked less… well… marriagey.
My heart sunk. My mind raced. Is that what I had said?
Once I had calmed those two organs a little, I was able to recognise that no, that is not at all what I said.
I’m genuinely grieved that Vaughan and the two men he speaks of took my words to paint a ‘pitiful picture’ of marriage and to flatten out any distinctives of that magnificent relationship.
However, my conscience is clear. That is not what I think of marriage. And it is not what I said of marriage.
I am confident that any fair reading of my last post (let alone of it in the context of my broader work) would hear my repeated refrains about how much I think marriage matters; how unique and significant it is; how husbands are called to love their wives in wonderfully distinct and profound ways . At the risk of repeating myself:
“Yes, your marriage is vitally important, significant, unique and meaningful. To you has been given the very high calling of loving your wife as Christ loves the church. That is huge!”
So, no. I’m not sure how any fair reader could conclude, as Vaughan did, that I left:
“…husbands with a flat, empty vision for what their marriages should look like. She also leaves wives with a husband who is confused about how to treat them as distinct from other women they know.”
Falling Prey to False Dichotomies
Though, well, actually, maybe I do understand it.
You see, as readers we’re not always very good at recognising nuanced thought. To put it another way, we’re easy prey for false dichotomies.
So for those those who may have felt grieved by what they thought I was saying about their marriages; for those who fear I hold a pitifully empty view of love in marriage; for those who think I’m trying to flatten that covenant out and somehow make it less special and distinctive… let me try and make the nuance more explicit. Let me have a go at making the false dichotomies more visible. Quite literally. 👇
I am firmly convinced that Christian husbands are called to love their wives in a very distinct, meaningful, profound and unique way (cf. all of Eph 5:22-33, plus the other passages I referenced). To love their wife in this way requires a husband to love them distinctly and differently to how they love anybody else. As I wrote:
“Scripture gives clear directives about how a husband is to treat his wife in ways which are different to how he treats his children, his parents, his neighbour, or any other person in his life.”
The uniqueness of marriage is a beautiful thing. I rejoice in the way God intends love to be distinctively and differently expressed in marriage.
But to love your spouse distinctly and differently does not mean you need to diminish your love for others. It’s a false dichotomy to think that loving your spouse requires you to love others less well than you love them.
Treating your spouse distinctly and differently does not entail you treating those who aren’t your spouse qualitatively worse. It’s a false dichotomy to think that treating your spouse well requires you to treat them “better” than you treat anyone and everyone else.
In Christ, the unique colour, texture, shape, even size of the love that sits in one relational dish miraculously counterbalances and complements the unique colour, texture, shape and size of love that sits in all the others. Each remains beautifully distinct and idiosyncratically expressive, without taking away from the other or seeing itself in competition with it.
In other words, Christian love isn’t a zero-sum game with one winner (i.e., your spouse) and a lot of comparative losers (everyone else).
And so, to those two men who wonderfully and faithfully fulfilled their promises to their wives and loved them in sickness and in health. Even to death…
Brothers, I honour you.
As a woman facing the very real possibility of growing old, getting sick and dying without a husband to love me as you did (and do) your wives, please hear me. There is absolutely no sense in which I wish you had recalibrated your relationship so you loved them less or treated them worse. Such a thing is unthinkable to me.
The truth I was seeking to suggest was not that a husband should love their wife less, but that loving them so well does not require him to treat others comparatively worse. Loving and serving your spouse in that distinctive and different way precious to your relationship with them, does not diminish your Spirit-empowered and Christ-focused ability to love and serve others in the distinctive and different ways precious to your relationship with them.
The objects of our gospel-compelled and enabled love are not in competition with each other.
Friends, I was going to continue this post with some thoughts on how we might nuance the relationship between household family and church family further. However, given the significance and poignancy of what I’ve tried to communicate above, I’ll leave this post here and continue my nuancing efforts in a second follow-up post soon.
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