Can we be anecdotal for a few moments? To be clear, TGC and the women represented in this article believe what they believe about marriage not primarily because of experience but fundamentally because of God's Word. But I've been impressed lately by a host of strong, gifted married women who actually, joyfully, and productively give witness to the beauty of Scripture's pattern for marriage—headship and submission and all!
Complementarians often hear that women's gifts are being ignored or unused. Certainly in some cases this is true. However, in an effort to soften or eliminate biblical distinctions between women and men, women's hardships are too often blamed on those distinctions rather than on sinful human hearts that—whether they lean toward complementarianism or egalitarianism—so easily pursue selfish gain rather than the other's good. Might it be possible that the gospel lived out in marriage can by God's grace restore to the headship and submission of husbands and wives their rightful, Christ-reflecting beauty?
The following words from women are not proofs but glimpses of such grace. The focus here is limited, as we peer briefly into the lives of a few married women—acknowledging that such stories of grace, strength, and productivity emerge from all kinds of lives, married or not. But marriage has been on our cultural minds lately, in many ways, not just in the church. All the forces battering this institution have actually brought it vividly onto the public stage for a hearing. Because of these cultural battles, but especially because of the way the Bible talks about it, marriage is a crucial subject for all of us no matter what our relational status.
Kathy Keller has offered one clear woman's voice, along with her husband Tim, in their new book, The Meaning of Marriage. They certainly don't make marriage sound sentimental or easy, but their voices achieve a firm, joyful clarity in affirming the gospel of Jesus Christ as the power and the pattern for biblical marriage as taught in Ephesians 5. But that's Tim and Kathy Keller! Let's add some other voices from women in Christian marriages aiming by God's grace for that gospel model of loving headship and respectful submission taught in the Scriptures and acted out by Christ himself. I asked this group of ten women one question: How has your husband encouraged you to grow and use your gifts for the kingdom?
These women are all different and certainly don't offer one particular lifestyle to be emulated. They all know they and their spouses are far from perfect (as do the Kellers!). They've known struggles—with illnesses, handicapped children, untimely death, hard stretches within good marriages. But they're confident in Christ's love first and in the love of husbands who in obvious ways give themselves up for them. I hope husbands will be encouraged, noticing what wives say and appreciate about godly husbands. I hope wives will be encouraged, seeing that God's gospel pattern grows and nurtures us in joyful directions when we even haltingly follow it. I hope unmarried people will be encouraged, believing that marriage is God's good gift through which we are meant to live out gospel beauty and truth.
Word of Thanksgiving
Mindy Belz, editor of WORLD magazine, lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She and her husband, Nat, both work in writing and publishing—and in raising their four almost-grown children. She told me she could have written about Nat's changing all the moldy shower curtain liners while she was recently in Afghanistan, but instead she sent the following.
One of the most important ways my husband encourages me to grow and use God-given gifts for Christ's kingdom is first to recognize that any traits or talents I have are just that—gifts. The Lord gives them. So we use them with abandon, with joy, in sickness and health and sometimes only for a season (as the Lord also takes away). My husband has led with thanksgiving for all that's in our household and in and out of our lives, and has put serving the kingdom first in ways that are appealing and enjoyable. Nat has also hugely helped me in setting priorities. Too often I am driven by tyranny of the urgent, the loud, the emotional, or the plain selfish, but my husband is and always has been a steady, trustworthy guide to what comes first, even down to whether to see the school play or head out on a business trip.
Anne Harley Duncan has taught, administered, and counseled in educational contexts from elementary to grad levels. She presently describes herself as the best taxi driver around, ferrying her pre-teen and teen children all over Jackson, Mississippi, where her husband Ligon pastors First Presbyterian Church.
Early in our dating Ligon made it clear to me that he celebrated gifted women with leadership gifts, having benefited from the example of such celebration in his own father and mother. While he very much wanted a complementarian home, as I did, he sees his ministry to me as one of guidance, consultation, and protection, making sure I do not “overdo it” in my zeal to serve. My first priority has always been our home. As God has provided opportunities and as we have prayerfully and mutually evaluated them, during the years of our marriage I have served as university professor, seminary professor, counselor in a private clinic, and director of community service at a local high school—as well as in various leadership capacities in our children's schools and in our church. Ligon has encouraged and helped me to maintain professional licenses through workshops and clinics. I have also stayed home, in certain seasons, with only “wife” and “mom” on the schedule. In all seasons my husband's main desire is to prayerfully enable me, as I am led, to use God-given gifts in creative, joyful, and missional ministry. If I feel that it is time for me to serve somewhere, Ligon makes it clear he will “help make it happen.” That has meant he has tried his hand as “chef, bottle washer, and chauffeur”—and always with a smile! Ligon is an honest encourager and while so busy himself has always been concerned that I experience settings of significant contribution.
Nancy Guthrie is an author and Bible teacher, living in Nashville with her husband, David, and son, Matt. She and David together host the GriefShare video series and the Respite Retreat for couples who have experienced the death of a child.
David never grudgingly, but always gladly, sends me off for the week or weekend, assuring me that he doesn't care that I'm leaving him with nothing in the refrigerator. He waits patiently when people want to talk to me, when I know he'd rather get going. He celebrates with me when I read him an e-mail from someone who has benefited from my ministry, rather than acting like he's really rather tired of it. He carefully offers critique I need to hear (which is often painful for me because I respect his opinion so much) in a tone and context that lets me know that he is for me, not against me. He loves and accepts me for who I am, providing a safe haven in which I can be weak and needy, and a solid foundation from which I can give myself away with joy and freedom.
Lisa Helm enjoys managing a busy Hyde Park, Chicago, household with her five children as well as working for an investment firm. For more than 20 years she has been greatly involved in her husband Dave's pastoral ministry at Holy Trinity Church, especially in leading women and children in study of the Bible.
The biggest encouragement of my spiritual growth has been Dave's confidence in the truth and power of God's Word. Over 25 years he has faithfully opened God's Word to me through sermons, at the dinner table, and over morning cups of coffee. Not only has Dave's teaching the Word shaped me but so has his living it out. My husband loves me . . . sacrificially. Is he perfect? No. But I have seen him day in and day out trying to die to himself and demonstrate love to me. That combination of Word and deed has spurred me on in my faith. It frees me up to serve those around me. It encourages me to be more like Christ, to live selflessly, to build up the church. Because we all know that showing hospitality without grumbling is a lot easier when your husband washes the kitchen floor!
Patricia Lindley, mother of five and grandmother of seven, lives with her husband, Gary, on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Pat helped establish and for 11 years has served as the executive director of Chattanooga's CHOICES Pregnancy Resource Center. She is a founding board member of the National Memorial for the Unborn.
For more than 35 of our 40 years of marriage, my husband and I have had deep involvement in pro-life efforts. We see the need for Christians to address the abortion issue as a matter of both justice and mercy and also to take a stand in both word and deed. I have served on Chattanooga's pro-life coalition and also as a volunteer, member of the board of directors, and now executive director of our local crisis pregnancy center. None of that would have been possible without my husband's partnership in raising our five children and his loving care for me in years of health challenges. As a history teacher, he has brought perspective and insights. As a builder, he has willingly brought his carpentry skills to complete projects at the center. Most of all, he is my encourager; he has given me the confidence to face difficult situations and supported my efforts with faithful prayer.
Kristie Anyabwile is a pastor's wife, joyful homemaker, and mother of three in a household regularly filled with additional “adopted” family members. Living in the Cayman Islands where her husband, Thabiti, pastors First Baptist Church, Kristie is passionate about mentoring young women in the faith.
My husband constantly encourages me to grow and use my gifts for the kingdom. He values what I do and does not take my service/contributions to the family for granted. He enters my world by pitching in with things in the home—with joy and compassion to free me to pursue ministry relationships and projects, and to allow me to rest and refresh my body and spirit. He is concerned about my spiritual life, asking regularly about the ways in which I'm growing (or struggling), what the Lord is teaching me through his Word, how I'm benefiting from books, blogs, sermons, etc. He helps me discern areas of ministry to pursue or to pass on. He helps me to say no to “good” things in order to say yes to things better suited to where we are in phase of life, family, and ministry. He pushes me out of my comfort zone by challenging me to use gifts that he sees the Lord developing in me but that are not always apparent to me. He's my best friend, cheerleader, and pastor, and in each of those roles he sets his heart, mind, and actions on heavenly things, and inspires me to do the same.
Rebecca Painter trained and served professionally as a nurse practitioner, primarily in geriatrics. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband, Rob, an investment banker in New York City, and their five children. Rebecca presently serves as a trustee adviser at Covenant College and in various leadership capacities at The Wilberforce School, the classical Christian school their older children attend.
I praise God for a husband whose love for me is rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ and not dependent upon my appearance, domestic skills, or financial contribution. My husband is quick to remind me that the work I do in raising our children is more valuable to our family than a paycheck and that all of my education and experience is crucial for doing this difficult task. However, when ministry opportunities arise and allow me to use my gifts to serve the Lord outside our home, he supports me wholeheartedly. He is a hands-on father who cares willingly for our five young children in my absence. His delight in being a father frees me from worry and distraction when I need to be fully present somewhere else. He is eager to hear about my work and gives invaluable feedback. He encourages me to lead and participate as I feel called and will assist me in these opportunities as he is able. He understands how spiritual growth and refreshment in my life fortify our family's spiritual life.
Keri Folmar lives in Dubai with her husband, John, pastor of the United Christian Church of Dubai, and their three children. In earlier years, Keri was the chief counsel of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution in Washington D. C. She writes, teaches, and leads women's Bible studies at UCCD, working with women from every habitable continent.
I love this question because my husband is a gifted encourager, and I have been the chief beneficiary for the last 14 years. Looking back, I realize that John has been the main kindling God has used to ignite spiritual growth in my life. He has spurred me on to know God better by speaking the gospel to me and by loving Christ supremely in his own life. Living with him, I cannot help but love the Scriptures and reach out with the gospel to others because his love for God and people and his excitement about the expansion of the kingdom is contagious. John has always treated me as a co-equal heir to the kingdom. His priority for me has always been to have a close relationship with the Lord. When the children were young, John made sure I had time during the day to read the Scriptures and pray. He would remind me of the importance of the work I was doing, changing diapers and reading board books. (He changed many diapers and read countless board books too!) During seminary years, he carved a night out of our busy schedule each week and put aside his workload to spend time with our babies so I could audit seminary courses. He has spurred me on to share the gospel, study the Bible, disciple, and teach other women. He happily edits and gives valuable input for everything I write, even when he is crunched for time. He regularly affirms what I have written and prays with me for fruit among the ladies I teach. John wholeheartedly wants to bring glory to God and sees us as partners in the endeavor to see God's kingdom grow. In parenting and ministry, he gives me wise counsel and treats my counsel as valuable. I am so thankful for the gift God has given me in John!
Jane Hensel used her MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management for several years in banking in New York and Chicago, and in development at Wheaton College. She and her husband, Andy, have four sons and live in Chicago. Jane serves on the board of The Charles Simeon Trust.
My husband, Andy, has encouraged me in countless ways as I have enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom for the past 18 years. From the beginning we viewed rearing our four boys as tending eternal souls. Therefore, Andy has always highly valued my work within the home. During the early years it would have been easy to lose sight of the end goal of raising children who love the Lord Jesus. There were diapers to be changed, baths to be given, meals to be cooked, dishes to be washed, and laundry to be done—a seemingly endless cycle of chores. However Andy consistently prayed for and supported me with our shared belief that I was using my gifts to nurture our four precious children each day. Over the years he has repeatedly affirmed my spiritual input into our boys' lives, my organizational skills, my financial management abilities, and my culinary exploits. As I watched our oldest son head off to college this fall, I realized how quickly those years had passed and how thankful I was to have had Andy's love and encouragement through it all.
LaVon Buswell has been married for 62 years to her husband, John, a seminary professor and pastor for many years. For decades, LaVon taught school and directed church choirs. The Buswells have two daughters, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
In 1949 as John and I committed our lives together in marriage, I knew he was convinced of a clear calling from the Lord to ministry in the church. As we left college and seminary we were already serving together as a team. We were consciously striving to interpret 1 Peter 3 as our lives unfolded. Why would my husband, who prayed daily to be a faithful shepherd, not want to encourage me to use my gifts to further the goals the Lord had given us? Many exciting and challenging doors opened for me to serve alongside my husband in the church and community. After prayerful consideration John would encourage me to courageously walk through them. What a joy to teach different ages, help develop children and adult choirs, join in women's ministries, and often open our home for good fellowship. Over the years our love became even deeper as together we sought to train our daughters to grow to love and serve the Lord. The underlying strength and foundation of our home and work has always been God's Word and prayer together. John has truly been the spiritual leader in striving daily, throughout all these years, to read the Word and pray together. Now in our eighth decade as a team, what a blessing to begin each day reading the Bible aloud and praying for loved ones and needy ones around the world.
None of us should ever dream we've got this marriage thing down! That final couple in their 80s, who happen to be my parents, know better than ever how much they desperately need their morning prayer and Bible reading together in order to get through whatever the day will bring them. However, I believe we should be encouraged by the voices of those who are tasting the goodness of God's design for marriage. Many of us could join in to give testimony to the blessing of a godly spouse. Many women could add to these words of thanksgiving for a husband who celebrates his wife's gifts and does everything possible to see that those gifts are nurtured and used by God—from spiritual care to cleaning kitchen floors and children's bottoms! Many of us could be challenged to focus on these things even more carefully.
Most of all, I hope we in the church will be encouraged to protect and pursue God's good gift of marriage, so that we will increasingly live out the love of Christ and his church among ourselves and in the midst of a needy world.