“If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you. I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know you’ll make it a better place.” — Marmee, Little Women”
Having had a spectacular season of ugly cries and angry prayers, I was ready for some light at the end of the tunnel by spending time with fellow church planting wives; the only group of women I imagined would “get” me and this “cray-cray” calling to plant a church.
Which is why I was so excited about a track of sessions at Exponential 13 solely devoted to us.
When the first main session ended, I rushed to an air-conditioned cooled portable classroom where my sisters in arms were already gathering. The anticipation of forty plus women was almost tangible as we waited for the session called, “Finding Your Place” to begin.
After reading this description:
One of the most challenging roles in the church is that of pastor’s wife. Where do we fit? What is our role? Is our role solely to have our spouses back and love our families? Or is it more? Find out here.
I could sense the questions swirling around the room:
“What is my role?”
“What does God have for me in this plant?”
“How do I balance it all: having my husband’s back, planting alongside him, loving my family?”
When the speaker took the to the front, the first point she made in regards to “finding my place” as a church planter’s spouse was that I was my husband’s “helpmate”. She held up my faithful meal prep and housekeeping as foundational forms of “help-meeting” before say, fervently praying, wisely counseling, or even carefully discerning my gifts.
Being a reluctant housewife at best, and downright horrible on most days, this news was disheartening. The following advice though, was disturbing:
“Sex is important to our husbands” she continued, “he needs it, so we need to be available for intimacy and we need to be awesome at it!”
Available and awesome?
This advice reminds me of an observation in a recent post, “Smokin’ Hot Wives and Water To The Soul” by my friend Zach Hoag. Zach’s concerned that the American church culture is so obsessed with sex, that wives have become devalued and demeaned to the point of objectification:
“as soon as a woman is thought of as a thing — a thing like a “smokin’ hot Christian wife” — she becomes less of a person.”
What saddens me is, I could have easily substituted the words, “available and awesome” for “smokin’ hot Christian wife.”
In spite of how earnest, sweet, and passionate my sister was, those words “available and awesome” betrayed a buy in to that oversexed culture that has baptized the objectification of wives by calling it “complimenting her” or “enjoying the wife of my youth”.
Only this time, we’re encouraging each other to submit to a system where “hot” is the new holy. This time we’re bypassing the wonderful workings of our minds to praise the wonderful sway of our hips.
Such teachings reveal the malnourishment of a diet consisting primarily of Song of Solomon themed sex sermons and books, that misidentifies poetry as didactic teaching and says, it’s ok to have the manner in which you offer yourselves to your husbands dictated in quantity and quality because wives are just objects. Props. Tools to be used for the success of the church plant—like ProPresenter or Portable Church.
I believe from the bottom of my heart that this was not the speaker’s intention. From her warm, approachable manner throughout the teaching to her impassioned prayer at the end, I’m confident she only wanted to encourage us to be godly women, faithful wives, and suitable helpmates.
But, just like it’s impossible to make a decadent, satisfying chocolate cake with mud, it’s impossible to use lustful, worldly advice to encourage a woman towards Christ-likeness.
Before you think I’m all types of prudish, let me assure you, I’m not. I love having transparent, lively (spicy, even) Scripture-based conversations about the joys of marital good times—but within context— and never equating my success as a wife, ministry partner, or in this case “help-mate” with my sexual performance.
Sex is too deep a mystery, too wonderful of a gift to be harnessed as a device to keep my husband buoyed to do the work of God.
I think a deeply flawed interpretation of help-mate is at play here. Wives, especially wives in ministry need to have an interpretation of ezer kenegdo, (the Hebrew for “suitable help-meet” in Genesis 2:18, where this teaching is derived), that both affirms our intrinsic value as invaluable partners and empowers us to stand side by side with our husbands.
This excerpt from “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge, paints a beautiful picture of God’s intention for marriage. The language of adventure, mission, and battle really resonate with me as we’re planting, New City Covenant Church:
“Call it the Human Mission-to be all and do all God sent us here to do. And notice-the mission to be fruitful and conquer and hold sway is given both to Adam and to Eve. ‘And God said to them…’ Eve is standing right there when God gives the world over to us. She has a vital role to play; she is a partner in this great adventure. All that human beings were intended to do here on earth-all the creativity and exploration, all the battle and rescue and nurture-we were intended to do together. In fact, not only is Eve needed, but she is desperately needed.
When God creates Eve, he calls her an ezer kenegdo. ‘It is not good for the man to be alone, I shall make him [an ezer kenegdo]’ (Gen. 2:18 Alter). Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, who has spent years translating the book of Genesis, says that this phrase is ‘notoriously difficult to translate.’ The various attempts we have in English are “helper” or “companion” or the notorious “help meet.” Why are these translations so incredibly wimpy, boring, flat…disappointing? What is a help meet, anyway? What little girl dances through the house singing “One day I shall be a help meet?” Companion? A dog can be a companion. Helper? Sounds like Hamburger Helper. Alter is getting close when he translates it “sustainer beside him”
The word ezer is used only twenty other places in the entire Old Testament. And in every other instance the person being described is God himself, when you need him to come through for you desperately.”
My husband, T.C. needs me to come through for him—desperately. He needs my Type-A, details and timelines loving personality. He needs my pastoral, nurturing heart. He needs my encouraging words and discerning spirit. He needs my passion for prayer, my love for women, my intuition about kids, and of course, my southern hospitality.
These are all the qualities I bring to the table that could be quickly overshadowed by the sultry wings of “smokin’ hot”.
And while my exact role in our church is still nebulous to pin-point, I know this: T.C. and I have worked too hard to reclaim our sexuality from past mishaps to allow the church’s faddish obsession with sex to suck us back in—even if it promises a more successful church plant. And while I may not the “smokin’ hot wife” that would inspire tweets and sermons, I am the sustaining wife that inspires my husband as we do great things together in our city.
I’m linking up with Wifey Wednesday! Check out these great posts on marriage.