Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Biblical Femininity Part 4.0: Conflict

If you've been reading along through Parts One, Two, Three and 3.2, thanks for hanging in there. I know it's a lot, and I pray you've been blessed.  I was planning to do all of the conflict section as “Part Four,” but I think I’ll break it up into more manageable bites.

So we've made it this far. We trust God and believe the Bible. We are made in the image of God and realize that includes humility, service, and submission. We have some understanding of what submission is and is not, what it looks like.

But what if he _________?

We are fallen, forgiven, redeemed, undergoing sanctification, and awaiting glorification. So are our husbands. We live in a fallen world. Things happen. We sin against one another, sometimes grievously. Conflicts arise. Sometimes husbands lead badly, or make mistakes. Sometimes our husbands sin, sometimes they make foolish choices, sometimes they fail at loving us as they should. Sometimes we treat them poorly. Sometimes they make a reasonable decision but we just don't like it.

What then?

Here is one foundational principle. Remember we said that submission is not based on the husband's merit? If the reason for our submission is not that the husband deserves it, then it naturally follows that we continue to submit even when he so very clearly does not deserve it. Think of it this way: Do you want to be loved only when you are lovely? Then do not respect only when you notice respectability. We honor our husbands, including speaking honorably to and about them, even when we disagree. Even when they sin. Without following them into sin.

Easier said than done? I know.

The wife may feel she is placing herself in a position of vulnerability by submitting, and in some ways that is true. But she is not without protection. The Bible has clear protocol for relationships, communication, and conflict. (Please note: this is not limited to marriage! These principles are helpful in all relationships, with modification where appropriate.)

(Another side note: Does anyone else feel that modern women, maybe especially Christian women, are sometimes bad at resolving conflict? We are taught our whole lives to be "nice," as if that is the defining Christian virtue and trumps all others. So we try our hardest to avoid conflict, at almost any cost. When that's not enough, we just don't know what to do. We panic and get overly emotional, or ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Not very effective, is it? That's why this is maybe my favorite portion to teach. It's kinda fun.)

Here's where I get as practical and literal as possible.  I'm going to outline eight "layers" of protection for the wife in the context of conflict and sin.  Much of this is taken from Martha Peace's book The Excellent Wife.

1. Biblical communication.

This is the first layer of protection. When this is in place, very often we don't have to go further. We need to have the courage to be honest with our husbands. Think straight and speak carefully.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

If you have room to grow here, (and who doesn't?) I have enjoyed Now You're Speaking My Language or The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. These are basic, and maybe not extremely theological in perspective, but practical and helpful. A good starting point if you want to see growth in the area of communication.

For many couples, the communication skills are present, but for some reason good ol’ couple time is coming up short.  Lots of protected time for the couple to be present together in conditions that are conducive to conversation is vital marriage maintenance.  Keep in mind that your husband may define “conducive to conversation” very differently from you!  Women think of late night chats with lots of eye contact and emotional expression.  Men think of golf.  Keep his perspective in mind.  A Saturday morning drive in the country or walk around the block may be just what he needs to start talking.  And who says you can’t play a round of golf on date night?

For us, protected quiet space is hugely important.  For example, we cancelled our cable, and our television set is rarely turned on.  This environment of peace and rest is vital to our family rhythm. We make a point to be available to one another in the evenings, after the kids are in bed.  Most nights this is very casual, but the freedom is there if one of us needs the other.  You never know when someone will blurt out “I’m freaking out; I don’t think I’m cut out to be a mother of three.  What if I can’t handle this?”  Hypothetically speaking, of course.  If we don’t provide fertile ground for these conversations, they don’t tend to spring up on their own.

You may be able to provide that fertile ground and still watch lots of TV.  That’s just an example.  But think about what you can do to make room for conversation.  Evenings do not work well for some people; maybe you should strive to have breakfast together more frequently.  Figure out what works for you and make it a priority.

Hopefully you can build a habit of consistent communication into your marriage.   Routine communication; not just when there is an Issue To Discuss.  It’s never too late to start!  Invest in this habit everyday, and it will be a strong layer of protection around you both. When conflict occurs, you are in good practice for some honest, polite and helpful conversation about it.  The tracks have been laid.  "It hurt my feelings when you said that."  "I think you're making a huge mistake."  "I would like for us to spend more time alone together."  "What do you think is the best way to teach our kids about the Bible?"

Work on being a “safe place” for your husband.  While many women will reveal their deepest darkest secrets to any blog reader or sorority sister, men tend to be more private.  He probably doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to very many people, and if he’s like most men you are the only person with whom he’s completely vulnerable.  So respond in a worthy way!  If he tries to be fully himself with you and gets wounded in the process, he may not keep it up.  Do what you can to help him let down his guard with you. If communication is not easy for him, acknowledge his efforts and do what you can to make it more comfortable for him.  This blog post explores this concept beautifully.

2. Overcome evil with good.

1 Peter 3:9-12 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
So, in the context of immense frustration with your husband, when you have been wronged and feel justified in your indignation.....give him a blessing. A specific, tangible blessing.

Am I crazy? "for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." When we bless one who has not done us well, we obtain a blessing. Hey, I didn't write it. So instead of slamming doors and sulking, do something thoughtful. I don't mean "think positive thoughts in his general direction" although that's not easy either. I mean something like....pick a movie you know he'll like. Pick up his favorite snack or make his favorite dessert. Pay him a compliment. Overcome evil with good.

I don’t mean that you should pretend he did no wrong. It's just showing grace. As God so generously shows us.
Proverbs 19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
You find yourself at a fork in the road. Your husband said something thoughtless and hurt your feelings. He made a bad choice, and the family is suffering the consequences. He neglected an opportunity to love you well. And you have a choice.

Sometimes, you let it go.

Maybe you mention it, maybe you don't (see "Biblical communication", above). But after that, you choose to "overlook an offense."

Did that just rub anyone the wrong way? It would me too, probably. Perhaps an analogy will help. You have PMS. You had chicken nuggets for lunch with the kids, while your husband attended a catered business lunch with friends. You are wearing sweatpants and have unwashed hair; he looks dashing in a button-down. The kids have built 4 different forts in the living room, made mudpies in your good dishes, and played in the flour. Your husband comes in, "What's for dinner?" He is met with an icy stare and a rude, sarcastic comment from you.  You give him the cold shoulder for the next hour. How should he respond to your sin? A. "Dear wife, that was inappropriate. What did I do? Why would you speak to me that way?" B. "I see your attitude is even uglier than those pants." C. "Why don't you sit down and put your feet up while I wash these dishes?"  We want C, right? That's called "overlooking an offense," and it would be to "his glory."

Go back over the above example and reverse the roles.  Imagine the husband is rude to the wife after he had a bad day at work.  Does that make it worse?  Does the wife seem more entitled to grace than the husband?  Why is that?

I think one unfortunate effect of feminism is that women sometimes hold themselves to a lower standard than men.  Think about it.  Do you ever feel like only Stepford wives are actually nice to their husbands?  Do you appreciate your husband going out of his way to be helpful to you, but feel like a secretary on Mad Men when you do the same for him?  Do you feel "modern and liberated" when you sarcastically insult your husband?  Do you believe he has the "right" to treat you the same way?  If you read this advice, about overlooking an offense, in a blog directed to male readers, would it seem different? 

3. Biblical appeal. "Honey, we need to talk."

This is distinct from Biblical Communication because I hope the communication is an ongoing daily habit.  Now we're moving into the realm of the occasional "sit down."

Remember the fork in the road I mentioned before? Yes, this is the other fork. Option B, if you don't choose "overlook an offense."

*****Notice that there is no "Layer 2.5: pout, give the silent treatment and sulk. Don’t say anything, but put his offense on ‘the list’ to bring up later when you're mad about something else." Or my personal favorite, "Vomit all over him with a list of everything you don't like about him. Make sure to mention at least one thing that happened more than six months ago. Then say, 'I don't want to talk about this. I don't want to fight.' and walk away."*****

I'm a nice Christian girl. A Baylor sorority girl, for crying out loud.  Baptist. Blond. Short.  I know a thing or two about passive aggression, OK?

Don't you wish there were something in between?  So often when we're angry, we don't want to overlook the matter completely, but aren't quite sure we're justified in a full confrontation.  So we stay angry but pretend otherwise, or give a subtle attack that we can deny or deflect, or disguise our criticism as a joke.  "What?! I didn't say anything."  Or, "I was just teasing.  Can't you take a joke?" But I really feel like that is the most destructive way to handle it.  I think we have to choose a path and go with it.  Say something, or don't.

Let me ask you a question. Who is better suited to offer a man wise counsel than his "suitable helper"?   Is it possible that you were created with this sort of "help" in mind? So don't sell yourself short. Do it right.

First things first, girly girls pay attention here: You're not showing respect if you refuse to talk to him like a man. He's a grown man, right? Treat him like one.

Step one: lead with confession. Hey, I never said this was easy. If you can't handle this, you might want to rethink step two above and "overlook an offense."
Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Begin your conversation with humility and an acknowledgment of your own role in the conflict. I love this analogy: Let's say he is responsible for 75% of the guilt, and you are only guilty of 25%. Well then, apologize for your 25%, own up to it, and do your part to make it right. Only then will you be in a position to address his 75%.  And hey, if somewhere along the way you realize it may actually be more like 50/50 (astonishing!), then so much the better.

Step two: It may be wise to include a reassurance of your intention to submit, if there is no sin involved. "Honey, I wish you would reconsider. I think you're making a mistake. But after you hear me out, if you go ahead, I trust God and I'm with you completely."  "I really don't want to move to Wisconsin, and I want you to listen to the 37 reasons why it’s a bad idea.  But if you decide to go then I'll start packing."

Step three: Think through your approach. You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  If you attack your husband, he will retreat from you.  If he feels cared for and respected he is more likely to take your words to heart.   I don’t mean that you should be manipulative.  Just care for him honestly and thoughtfully.  Golden rule, again.  How would you like for him to speak when he disagrees with you?
Proverbs 16:21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Step four: Leave it in God's hands.
1 Peter 3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
If your husband is not persuaded by your appeal, and he is not in sin, then your part is done. Let it lie. It doesn't help for you to sin to avoid the consequences of his bad decision. If he makes a foolish choice, he will bear the responsibility for that. This is a weighty responsibility, and there is nothing you can do to relieve him of it. If submission is your "cross to bear," then this is his. And never forget the possibility that he is right. Remember we talked about expectancy? God may be leading through your husband, and it may not make much sense to you at the time. How must Mary have felt, being woken up in the middle of the night to flee for their lives to Egypt?

Remember the qualification "if he is not in sin."  We move forward to step 4 when sin is involved.  Stay tuned...


Homemaker, MD said...

That's a great discussion of these issues! I totally relate to the points you made about how we tend to avoid confrontation as Christians women...been there too often!

Traci said...

This is the 'meat' of this series. I am listening to a series on the book of Esther currently so this is a nice additive to my thinking. Thank you for posting. I did read about Martha Peace on her site, the source for some of these expositions, and I agree with her interpretations of women as role models for younger women in 1 Timothy. I struggle with that when I attend a woman pastor led wedding, for example but find it challenging to reconcile many things in an age post feminism. I have learned and believe in submission but have much to learn. Anyway, thanks again Brandi. More to say than would fit on this post. ;-)