Side-By-Side: Taking Responsibility For My Spiritual Well-Being

Katie Hickman

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Side-By-Side_ Taking Responsibility For My Spiritual Well-Being

  “…the mindset that leadership is someone else’s responsibility means that our guard is down and we may not even notice the kingdom battles God is calling us to fight.”  Carolyn Custis James [1]

My husband and I started dating when we were in college. We attended a small, private Christian university. We had a brief conversation not long after a couple that we were friends with broke up, mainly because he was not living up to her expectation of him being the spiritual leader in their relationship. “I don’t ever want that to happen to us,” said my boyfriend (now husband). “Me neither,” I said, never having thought much about him being my spiritual leader.

It was kind of a nice new idea to me. I’ve never been great with self-discipline, and the idea of someone else sitting in the driver’s seat was appealing. If he was responsible for my spiritual wellness because he is the man in the relationship, then that implies that I am somehow less responsible.

To be honest, our relationship never functioned that way. We both put effort into maintaining our spiritual wellness, and we both fell short at times. I started realizing that to put my spiritual well-being and the health of my relationship with God on my husband is not only unfair to him, it was the easy way out.

The more responsibility I take for my spiritual well-being and what my relationship with God looks like, the healthier our relationship becomes. It goes both ways.

Rachel Held Evans puts it well when she says,

The journey of faith is far too treacherous and exciting and beautiful to spend it looking at the back of another person’s head. Jesus leads us down the path, and we tackle it together, one step at a time.” What a beautiful picture of how married life can provide mutual encouragement when we decide to pursue a life of knowing and pleasing God together. I believe this life is meant to be a journey of seeking to know God, his truth, and his love that is so much bigger than we can even comprehend. And that kind of journey has a lot of ups and downs. With that kind of seeking comes questions and doubts, moments of frustration and moments of peace, times when you have an unquenchable thirst for God, and times when you feel numb and stagnant when you don’t want to be. [2]

We thrive when we mutually encourage one another through those ups and downs (Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:11). When we allow one another to be real and vulnerable about our spiritual journey. When we take turns carrying one another through the difficulties of our spiritual journey. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, there’s no need for one-sided leadership based on gender. Our marriage is a partnership, not an organization or business. We lead each other; we seek God together.

I am grateful to be married to a man who believes this, and that our relationship has grown into one where we journey together, side-by-side instead of front-and-back.

 

References:

[1] Carolyn Custis James. Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women

[2] Rachel Held Evans. 10 Marriage Reality Checks

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13 Comments

  • Well, amen and hallelujah! This is the most troubling piece of the whole complementarian argument to me. Although we are called to live in community and know, both scripturally and experientially that ‘iron sharpens iron,’ it astounds me that anyone can actually believe that someone else is ‘responsible’ for their spiritual health. It completely undercuts the whole idea of personal decision-making, the use of the free will God gave us and the call to each of us to follow faithfully. Thanks for this lovely piece and the irenic and invitational spirit to it.

  • I don’t think people realise how much pressure that puts on the husband in the marriage either. I spent a lot of years trying to ‘make’ my husband lead (I know… ) and being incredibly frustrated that he ‘wouldn’t’. The expectations put on marriages by churches and church ‘doctrine’ not only subjugates the women that God has called to a place beyond patriarchal notions, but it also puts many guys into a place of guilt and shame at never being able to live up to the ‘leader/head’ of the home myth.

    It wasn’t until I settled down and came to understand that we were who we were… and that trying to make one of us a dictator and the other a subject was never going to work. We are a lot happier since we got that worked out… look… 42 years later and still going strong. But the issue of husband as ‘head’ really needs to be addressed, for the sake of all the great, godly guys out there who just don’t want to ‘rule’ their wives, but who want o walk alongside and live life as though God created them equally, without a bunch of religious verbiage trying to orchestrate legalism instead of love.

  • This is such a great article. Thank you. I’ve always wondered what it even meant for a husband to be “a spiritual leader.” Would I like to marry someone who takes initiative in his walk with God? Absolutely. But the only person I want leading my relationship with God is God Himself.

    To be honest, I think the idea of one partner being the “spiritual leader” is dangerous. I’ve seen men (and women) use this to impose their idea of what God wants upon others, whether their partners and cohorts agree that’s what God wants or not. I think it’s important for all of us to be challenged when we believe God is telling us something; otherwise, it is so easy for us to project our desires onto God’s lips. One partner having a trump card, or being designated the “leader” of a relationship, breaks down the accountability and partnership that comes with a marriage, in my opinion.

    In the end, I do want to marry a man with leadership qualities. But not because I believe he must lead me; rather, because I want to lead with him.

  • Great article. It’s hard to convey how frustrating it is to communicate this perspective to people who believe the man is the sole leader of his household (99% of our church). We’re told it’s not so much a partnership, as much as it is an apprenticeship for the wife–one in which she’ll never graduate from.

    That point of view puts undue pressure on husbands, devalues a wife’s relationship with God (as well as her perspective, insights, wisdom, etc…), ignores any type of egalitarian view of men and women, and undermines the healthy interdependence within a marriage. Not to mention the fact that it can lead couples apart who are trying to figure out their spirituality together, by telling a man to do one thing and a woman to do another.

    I know equality is the popular thing these days (not that I’m knocking it at all), but it’s still shocking to me how often my wife and I run into this roadblock/mindset amongst so many believers.

    And thanks for the link to the RHE article as well! Great stuff.

    • Great points Ben! And you’re right- I too am always surprised at how often I run into that mindset, and how when I suggest anything otherwise I am looked at like a heretic. And yes, isn’t the RHE article great stuff?!

  • Yes, to this: “When we keep our eyes on Jesus, there’s no need for one-sided leadership based on gender. Our marriage is a partnership, not an organization or business. We lead each other; we seek God together.”

    Wives, and all women, need to understand they are primarily spiritually responsible for themselves and stand before God in their own right as female sons of God and are members of the kingdom of priests (Jo 1:12; Ga 4:4-6; Ro 8:14-17; 1 Pe 2:9, Re 5:10). Rather than imposing expectations on her boyfriend or husband for how she thinks spiritual leadership looks and for which he is likely very unaware, each woman should exhibit spiritual leadership in the relationship which most often will look like opportunities to reveal Jesus’ character, love, and wisdom as He is perfected in her. This is how spiritual leadership should look for both husband and wife towards each other.

  • thank you for this!

    my first year of marriage was really tough on my walk with the Lord, and I spent the greater part of that year blaming and resenting my husband for it. (Never mind that we’d moved half way across the country, started new jobs, joined a new church, had everything turn upside down, etc. it was HIS fault, obviously…)

    God finally shook me up and essentially told me “how dare you blame someone else for your failure to walk with Me.” It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m so thankful in retrospect for that difficult, painful season. Looking back, it was that exact season that God used to break down so much of the terrible theology I had about who God is and how God views me (as a woman) and what my purpose is.

    thankful for you and for the Junia Project as you continue to spread this wonderful message!

    • Thanks for sharing Megan! I agree that the kind of theology that states it is the husband’s responsibility to lead his wife and is responsible for her spiritual wellness creates an environment where bitterness and frustration easily thrives. We are all human and we all struggle. So why give this kind of unnecessary burden and privilege to one person in a marriage, which is supposed to be a partnership? There’s no need when we all take responsibility for our own relationship with God and mutually encourage one another with our God-given strengths (which aren’t given solely based on gender in my opinion). I’m so glad that you are able to look back and recognize all the hard things that contributed to your first year of marriage struggles- I have definitely been there! So glad to have you here at the Junia Project!

  • I think marriage requires the full participation of both partners in every sphere. I have no idea how two people could possibly run their lives without both equally plugged in to seeking God. That’s like two people trying to swim the English channel, but with one person on a flotation device tied behind the other and not swimming! It’s enough challenge to do your own swimming, but if you add in someone else who’s not even helping, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Whereas two swimmers going together can encourage and help each other, and also pull their own weight. Maybe that’s too utilitarian of a metaphor, but it’s all I can think of right now.

  • The whole concept of servant leadership, as it’s recommended to husbands, never really made sense to me. How is it a service from one adult to another to make their decisions for them and interfere in their very personal relationship with God?

    But more to the point, it’s really not possible to insert yourself into someone else’s relationship with God–something that happens inside the privacy of our minds and hearts–and it’s gross to make the attempt. God does not need men to help mediate His relationships with women. (Women, we should note, don’t need it either.)

    A spouse who constantly pulls me back to God? Wonderful. And I would hope he would have the humility and commitment to God to appreciate my doing the same in return.

    “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Not “A twofold cord dragging along a third cord.”

    • Great point Terri. I often find it strange that many Christians say that men are called to “servant leadership.” Aren’t we all called to serve others? Serving others does not equal leading them. Good leaders serve others, but they are still leading by making final decisions for other people and guiding them. Taking a lot of scripture at face value instead of learning about it’s context leads a lot of people to think marriage is supposed to be set up where the husband is the leader and the woman is the follower. I believe if we look deeper we see how this in not the case. That’s why I’m so excited about the mission of The Junia Project!

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