I got a call from a friend who had some extra time on his hands while he was at the airport waiting for his wife. “Hey, Gary,” he asked me, “why is it that when I came home from a trip, I’m always taking Uber to my house. But when my wife comes home, it’s assumed I’ll be there to pick her up? If I told her to call Uber, it would be a declaration of war!”
We laughed at the double standard and moved on.
Most of my guy friends live with double standards like that.
Another friend has served God and his family heroically. He paid for both of his kids to get through graduate school. He supported his wife while she got her doctorate. But he brings in 100% of the family’s income and he made a reasoned but somewhat risky business move. He still doesn’t know how it’s going to turn out.
He’s not worried about himself; he’s worried about his wife. “Gary,” he said, “I’m a bit old to start over. If this doesn’t pan out, or if I die before it does, what happens to [his wife]? That’s what drives me.”
He could live in a small apartment, but he can’t bear the thought of asking his wife to. He’s overwhelmed by the burden but he’s not responding to the anxiety with sinful behavior. I asked him about it out of concern, and he responded, “Gary, that’s what’s almost sad. I’m too old and tired to be tempted by besetting sin. I just want to go to sleep.”
A third friend, Kevin Harney, is a local church pastor, author, and co-founder of the Organic Outreach International ministry (with his wife). He has many responsibilities and a full life in ministry, but he also enthusiastically supports his wife in her ministry as a co-author on some of her writing projects and a co-presenter at some of her speaking engagements. In fact, one of his wife’s books, Praying With Your Eyes Wide Open is one of my favorite contemporary books on prayer (and I’ve read many books on prayer).
His wife’s younger brother died recently right before Sherry was scheduled to lead a conference on prayer. Kevin quickly volunteered to step in to speak for her at the last minute so that her conference would not need to be cancelled (which would have been a great loss to those who had planned, advertised, and organized it). With a schedule already bursting at the seams, Kevin didn’t have time to do this but he made time to protect his wife’s name and interests. Then, that same day, he got on a plane, flew to join his wife on the other side of the country, and stood by her side as together they delivered the message at her brother’s funeral.
Those are the kinds of guy friends I have. I am surrounded by men who heroically serve, honor, respect, support and cherish their wives.
But when I read Christian blogs and go on social media, I’m bombarded by how awful men are, how they are abusive, power-hungry, dismissive of those who prey on women, and misogynistic. I don’t doubt these stories; many of the readers of this blog have been deeply hurt by men in all those categories. I agree with the voices of many that there needs to be not just less tolerance but no tolerance for the way women have been mistreated by men.
But for this one post, I’d like to highlight and pay deference to some of the good guys.
When I taught a seminary class that was equally divided between men and women, we all laughed at the difference between Mother’s Day sermons and Father’s Day sermons. On Mother’s Day, women get handed roses and chocolates and are told that everything good in the world is good because they created it, touched it, raised it, and blessed it. Men are handed shame, guilt and blame for world events, the breakdown of the family, and the anger of women in general. I just about lost it one Sunday when a pastor chose to preach on Amnon’s raping of Tamar on Father’s Day, asserting that, “if we think about it, all of us men are like Amnon.”
As Father’s Day approaches, let me say that I get why so many women are so angry at so many men. They have a reason to be. I am not defending misogyny, abuse of power, chauvinism, or other male ills. I also get that men’s sins tend to be “creepier” than the sins women are more likely to commit. Of course there’s a double standard. If a woman exposes herself, some wives think their husbands are creepy for looking. If a man exposes himself, everyone thinks he’s creepy for exposing himself. And they’re right.
But can we do one post to celebrate the good husbands, the ones who heroically serve, authentically love, sincerely cherish, and sacrificially give to their wives and children? Can I do that without raising the anger of those who want to vent about how awful their husbands, boyfriends, bosses or pastors have been?
The challenge in doing this is the simple fact that since every man has his compromises and conflicts, the question arises, how perfect does a man have to be to be celebrated?
Samson comes off in the Bible as a man driven by his lusts—for foreign women (including a prostitute), for gambling, and for violence. Samson murders thirty men for their clothes, just to pay off his gambling debts. When I preached on his life recently, I couldn’t use him as a positive example because he’s not. Yet…when you read Hebrews 11, he’s listed among the heroes of faith. Some contemporary bloggers would lose their minds at the writer of Hebrews if he was writing today. They’d boycott his books, demand he be fired and chased out of ministry forever until he is sufficiently shamed for being so insensitive as to imply there was anything positive to say about Samson.
Socially, it is open season on men in general and evangelical men in particular. Sadly, men and evangelicals have given their enemies many easy (and justified) targets to shoot at. But my nature is to be an encourager, and I see so many men and so many churches trying really hard, harder than anyone could imagine, to be among the “good” ones; to serve with good motives; to bless and lift up, not to exert power and authority for the sake of their egos; I see men who have given their wives very comfortable and pleasurable lives at great sacrifice to themselves; I see hundreds of pastors who love God’s word and want to preach it compassionately and fearlessly not for fame and certainly not for fortune, but because they genuinely love God and want to serve people. Yet, if there’s one sentence in a decades’ worth of sermons that could be misconstrued, or one decision in a thousand that may, in hindsight, have lacked discretion, they get pilloried and shamed.
I’m not challenging those who have been deeply hurt by husbands and male pastors, but I do want to encourage the men who feel taken for granted and who often get lumped in with those who deserve censure: God sees your service and your sacrifice. While he hates your sin, he’s on your side and wants you to be forgiven and redeemed, not shamed and shunned. If God can find something to celebrate in a repentant Samson, and then honor Samson for that one small step, he can celebrate you in your repentant brokenness and quest to live a new life.
When I was preparing to preach on Samson (which you can hear here if you want to Samson: for just the sermon, scrub to 22:38). I came across a remarkable book written by Nate Larkin in 2006: Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood. With almost unbelievable candor and honesty, and astonishingly good writing (I’m surprised he hasn’t written another book), Nate writes about his horrendous fall into serious and addictive sexual sin, and the road out of it to a life of sacrificial service. I picked up the book hoping to glean something from the life of Samson but that’s not what the book is about. It’s a call for men to stop living independent lives, to form small societies of mutual support and encouragement. We’re not meant to live this life alone and an isolated man who feels shamed and alone is walking toward a fall.
Guys, you know we’re in an open season on men—for some understandable reasons. We’re not going to get a lot of empathy from “the crowd” or on social media. But we can support each other. We can let down our guard with other men and encourage each other to become the kind of men we aspire to be, men who won’t define us by our worst moments, but who will affirm God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness, and inspire us in our aspirations to live, love and serve like Christ.
And for those women, sisters in Christ and wives like mine who genuinely respect us and even like us in spite of our failings and mess ups, bless you. I include Beth Moore in this, who, while challenging the extremes, finds words to affirm the good among those with whom she now has legitimate theological disagreements. Such wives, speakers, writers and sisters in Christ are an oasis of nurturing encouragement in a very angry world.
I’d love for this post to make Samson and the Pirate Monks a best-seller. There are some ugly accounts in it, so for that reason I’d warn traumatized (and I mean that in an empathetic, not judgmental way) women to not read it. But for men who are looking for honesty and a roadmap to encouragement in a world filled with condemnation, this book could be water in the desert.
For the good (not perfect) guys: thanks for your sacrifice. I hope your wives will even praise a few of you in the comments section below.
For those women who have been hurt deeply and traumatically by men: I’m not minimizing your pain. Your hurt is real and justified and needs to be taken seriously. You would have to be a robot not to feel angry and jaded. Just please, for this one post, don’t take offense when I tell some men, “Atta boy; keep it up, brother.”
And wives, if you want to praise your husband below as a message to single women that they don’t have to “settle” for a guy who doesn’t cherish his wife, feel free. I offer this as a very public “Happy Father’s Day” forum.