Jun 17, 2016

What Does Headship Look Like? (Q and LA)

Sometimes our readers send us questions about which they would like to talk to other Lutheran women. Today’s question, submitted via our recent survey, is,

"What does the headship/helpmeet dynamic look like in your marriage and home? What has helped you learn and grow as a couple in this area of life?"

We’ve asked a few writers to respond. This Q and LA (questions and Lutheran answers) session is meant to be informal and conversational, rather as if we were all having coffee together. Feel free to chime in via the comments.

Rebekah Thielen (Rebekah has been married to her husband, Joshua, for thirteen years).

We are still figuring this out. For much of our marriage, the headship/helpmeet dynamic has looked like my husband doing his best to be a good husband, me doing my best to be a good wife, and both of us feeling like failing miserable sinners most of the time.

From a practical standpoint, my husband is the major decision maker. We talk together about family issues, money issues, travel plans, discipline, etc, but ultimately, he has the final say. This is a good example of learning what it means to trust a husband. As a wife, you do not know the outcome, you do not have all the answers, you are simply called to trust. This is not an easy thing to do. Walking into the unknown is a frightening thing.

There have been a handful of major decisions in our marriage where I submitted to my husband's lead even if I was unsure or would have preferred another way. I can tell you with full confidence, in every time I submitted and trusted, I have never ever regretted it. It is also true that my greatest experiences of turmoil or regret are the times when I ignored or fought against his counsel. There is a peace beyond measure that comes from resting in the care of someone who loves you. God grants woman a husband for her highest good.

The biggest struggles, I think, come more on a day to day basis, because the little things add up over time. It's a beautiful thing to be completely comfortable with another person, but we get too comfortable with each other sometimes. What has helped us, and what I believe makes all the difference in our marriage, is what Lutherans call putting the best construction on things. See the good things. Forgive the bad things. Marriage is not about changing your spouse, it is about changing the way you see him, and loving him for who he is.

Unconditional kindness and respect is the kind of love that changes us.

Dana Palmer (Dana is a convert to Lutheranism, a pastor’s wife, and mother of four)

Your question takes me back to the when I had negative connotations about the headship/helpmeet dynamic. I entered our premarital counseling session on the roles of husband and wife with no small amount of anxiety. Through our 24 years of marriage, I have learned that a loving husband listens to his wife, and does not treat her like a child. My husband tells engaged couples that a husband is foolish not to listen to his wife. We have learned to listen to each other's point of view, and almost always decide things together. However, if we don't agree, or I don't know what I think, we go with what my husband wants. He keeps the big picture in mind and watches over us, while I focus on carrying out details that keep our daily lives running smoothly. I try to keep him informed on what's going on with each of our children, since I am at home with them. With our finances, I keep track of our accounts and pay our bills, while relying on my husband to set savings goals and to give reality checks on how we are doing financially. I think what has helped us in this area is knowing that God's created order is best, while recognizing the need to be flexible and open to the details of what that looks like in our own marriage. We also keep the lines of communication open, while seeking to put the best construction on each other's motives. All of this requires patience, and of course, Christ's forgiveness!

Alison Andreasen (Alison has been married to her husband for almost 10 years. In that time, they have lived in four different states and have had three children. They are expecting their fourth in December. They have weathered their fair share of storms and have experienced blessings and provision at the hand of the Triune God.)

The most obvious time the headship relationship comes into play for us, besides when my husband helps keep me accountable with my devotional life, is during stressful events. I tell him I need him to make a decision because I am just too overwhelmed to do so and he thoughtfully makes a decision. If I disagree, I tell him quietly after he is done speaking. Usually he is right on. He selflessly makes those decisions, often neglecting his own desires for the good of the family. He considers everyone's wants and needs and everyone knows that they have been heard and respected. Individuals sometimes don't like the end decision or that it wasn't them who got to decide, but they learn to deal with what the person that God put in authority over them has said. For me and my kids, it is a reminder that though we might not agree with how God is handling things in our lives, we know that He cares for us and hears our pleas. For my husband, it is a reminder that he, too, is under authority of the God who created all and sacrificed all to redeem it. At first, he wasn't used to this new found responsibility and I was not so sure I wanted to hand over the reigns, but he has shown time and time again that his non-emotional, long range (or spontaneous) thinking is exactly why I married him. Allowing him to utilize those gifts in our family has only brought joy and contentment to our lives.
One additional thing I have learned is that headship/helpmate distinctions are not confined to tasks in the household. While our family fits a fairly traditional format where I take care of the children, cook, and clean while my husband handles the money, cars and yard work, our tasks have changed frequently. At times my husband has taken on the majority of tasks because I had a broken ankle and was not able to do my tasks. Other times, he was very busy and I carried the load. Now that we have more children, he helps me with laundry and dishes. No matter who does the tasks, my husband is still the head of the household and will be held accountable to God as such. My constant task is not to demean him but to always respect him as he lives in service to us.

Penny Mechler (Penny has been married to Bob for 32 years. They’ve been Lutherans for 5 years).

My husband is the best Biblical example of being head in our home and loving his wife as Christ loves the church. He takes care of us not only by the daily grind of providing for us, but he is there when I really need him for doctor's appointments and when I'm under the weather. I have multiple health problems and if I cannot do my job, he takes up the slack without complaining. He is not demanding and patiently waits until I am physically able to resume my responsibilities. He loves and cares for me as he would his own body.

I began growing in my faith about 23 years ago when Bob and I began having daily devotions together. We take a chapter or two per day and over time we read through an entire book of the Bible. We begin with prayer and close in prayer. This has cultivated a dedication to staying in God's Word that I don't think I would have had had we not kept each other accountable.

Allison Kieselowsky (Allison is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother).

I think a nautical image might best describe our household: the captain of the ship steers the course and oversees the journey while trusting his first mate to make sure the rigging is properly knotted. The captain and the first mate both have roles essential to the smooth sailing of the household ship. Without the captain, the crew flounders around trying to keep things afloat. Without the first mate, the captain's goals and standard for cleanliness, safety, and order never reach the hands below deck. Without leadership, disease and discontentedness begin to fester and the whole family, er, I mean, crew, ends up with a bad case of mutinous scurvy.

The first mate should be as capable a sailor as the captain, able to jump in to assist in any situation. A good first mate uses navigational tools to double check to make sure the captain is staying on course and gives her honest opinion when she thinks they have strayed off course. In the end, the first mate learns to trust the captain to make wise decisions with the crew's best interest in mind.

I use the phrase "learn to trust" the captain deliberately because naturally, I would like to be the captain. I think the uniform looks cool. I like to boss people around, and I'm good at it. Suffice it to say, it took me years of marriage, with difficult, sometimes heart-wrenching decisions to anguish over, to realize that my husband is actually a really, really great captain. In fact, he makes a better captain than I do. He's good at seeing the journey in light of eternity; he willingly shoulders the responsibility of looking after a crew of souls.

I'm just beginning to realize the importance of St. Paul's admonition to wives to respect their husbands. It's not to stand in awe of the husband as a person--we're certainly both sinners saved by the same gracious Savior. But it's a respect for his responsibilities before God.

It's cause for disaster when the first mate starts taking over the ship. A friend once commented to me, "The next time a wife thinks, 'My husband isn't doing what I think needs to be done,' she should ask herself how long she waits until she jumps in and does it herself. Every time she does the job herself, she is telling her husband she doesn't need him to do it. And so he won't."

I think it takes faith to let someone else lead, but that's just the gift--the gift of faith--that Christ gives to spouses as they live and work together.


Want to send in a question or topic of your own for a future post? E-mail us at sister-daughter-mother-wife (at) googlegroups.com.

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