About the fear that drives us. Men and women- and difference of hearts.
Updated: 3 days ago
My dear friends,
I have written a lot about conflict, about spiritual direction, about unity, about following out of love, not out of obedience, not out of submissiveness.
But the greatest conflict that prevails in congregations, I have so far skilfully avoided: it is the antagonism between men and women. I have tried in vain to do what usually comes so easily to me - to find a hook that takes you away, that brings a light, lively example for this problem.
Alone, I realize, this is profound. Invasive. It touches all levels of how men and women interact-and especially the Christian community.
In the last two years I have dealt with the issue of men and women comprehensively for the first time.
The trigger was a marital crisis of the highest order. My husband and I had lost each other. While on the outside everything continued as usual, our conversations dwindled to a minimum. What are we eating today? Should I bring anything else? Do you know where my shoes are? Can you just proofread this? Do you have a Christmas wish list? The frustration was up to the tips of my hair. If he doesn't even know what to get me for Christmas...
We had to face the facts:
Somewhere between the stress of everyday life and raising children, something had gotten lost. The view for each other was clouded, the conflicts inevitable. We were different - and while I felt unseen, I was confronted more and more with a masculine trait that comes to the fore especially when men are stressed, and stressed my husband certainly was.
He was in the exam stress of the legal clerkship that followed his doctorate in his early forties and his long tenure as a university research assistant: from a well-deserved position, he was thrown back into the dependency of assessment and learning status, with everything that hung on it. Less money, never-ending class preparation, and loss of prestige and security in himself were the result. He was working - always.
My once-so-affectionate, attentive, funny, and lovable husband became more and more taciturn and focused on the tasks before him. And more and more harsh in tone towards me and our son.
My husband calls this behavior "chasing the mammoth."
It is an apt description of when men commit themselves to a goal that must be achieved absolutely and unconditionally. Everything else becomes secondary, it only overwhelms and fades far into the background.
When men are focused, facing new challenges, they are indeed warriors and hunters. Nothing becomes more important, nothing more essential, than doing what they do well. To pull through, to accomplish. Mediocrity is not an option. It has to be special, it has to show they've got it, as John Eldredge calls it, and it's true - it does.
Meanwhile, what gets lost in such masculine behavior is relationship.
It's all the beautiful details that make life worth living. And the more fear-driven men are, the more aggressively they will try to achieve their goal by any means-because failure is a man's worst fear.
I recently read an article that raised an interesting thesis, although I didn't follow the (Jewish) author* any further than this approach, but it grabbed me because it actually reveals a lot:
She said that Adam was created out of dust. Created out of dead matter, Adam was alive solely through the breath of God, and with death he would become nothing again, the breath left him, and he crumbled to dust. (Genesis 2:7)
Then she elaborated that Eve was created differently, from Adam's flank/rib (depending on the translation), from life - not dust and earth. (Gen. 2:22)
Eve came from life and later becomes a life-giver herself.
I find the thesis she derived from this most exciting:
Adam, she said, is driven in connection with death by the fear of being nothing, of losing everything, and must therefore strive to achieve, to master, to create something that has lasting value and proves its worth.
Eve's fear and association with death, on the other hand, is the fear of losing herself in something else, of losing herself again in Adam - but she knows she is not nothing. She knows she comes from life itself. Therefore, she struggles not to build self-worth, but to not be devalued, to not be hurt in her worth.
I have rarely read a more fundamental truth, to be honest.
Women, we are often told, need to "discover/develop their self-worth."
Something always struck me as skewed about that. Because we women know, deep down, that we are valuable.
What we fight against is the permanent devaluation, the humiliation, the not being seen in our value - but not with the feeling of being worthless.
We are hurt by all the statements that we are worthless - a statement that is a death weapon in the hand of a man towards a man - but not towards a woman.
The inner struggle of women - it is the struggle for recognition and not to lose what we want to protect, carry and share as a value deep inside us.
The inner struggle of men, on the other hand, is actually the fear of failure, of not achieving goals, the fear of not being more.
In Genesis 3:16 we find the curse, the consequence of the Fall, which has been used and abused for centuries, even millennia, as the new order of things:
"And your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall be your master."
What Adam said to his wife when he first saw her was a statement of joy, exultation, and wonder:
"Then said the man, This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: this shall be called Maiden; for of man is she taken." (Genesis 2:23)
Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She is of my kind, she belongs to me. She is a wo-man! In Adam's amazement, his mate recognizes not only her equality with him, but also her otherness. That is why the woman longs for the man.
But he will rule over you.
Out of the fear of becoming nothing, because the consequence of sin is, after all, death, the man will rule, mercilessly even over Eve.
"He will devote himself to domination, to control, to superiority. To the attainment of goals, and thereby become unattainable for you."
A curse, a passage that has far-reaching consequences for our society, for the hierarchy and for the position of women.
But the death of the cross, and this is the good news, the sacrifice of Jesus contains a promise:
It is the promise that neither man will be devalued to nothing nor woman-it is the promise of eternal life in Christ himself. The restoration of all things.
Have we experienced this restoration, my husband and I?
Oh, even the longest clerkship comes to a conclusion sometime, doesn't it? There was a day when my husband shook himself and said he had not been himself at all. There was a day when I stood in front of him crying and said I should never have questioned our marriage and begged his forgiveness.
You know, a marriage, it doesn't break so easily when Jesus holds it together. Not even when all the dark forces of the spiritual world oppose it. God will intervene.
And in our case, he did, saying one day just two sentences:
"Buy him Wild at heart. He needs to read it. Now."
An announcement that came out of the blue. I had forgotten all about the author and the book....
And then you better do what God says. Because sometimes a crisis is a beginning of a calling, a call, a journey.
Next week we'll begin with what the Eldredges teach- and the higher meaning, that is, what God is showing me for the communities, for us, in larger contexts, that complements and expands on their message.
The first article of the new series- will deal with the concept of Eser kenegdô, our power, our calling- and with the reason why women are so important and irreplaceable in communities- and better perceived and taken seriously. Because we are all on the way to sanctification and restoration in Christ:
"But we all, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord and are being transformed ⟨so⟩ into the same image from glory to glory, as ⟨it⟩ is done⟩ by the Lord, the Spirit⟨" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
As men and women. Different and yet complementary.
Sibyl/ Daughter of Zion.
Bible passages, quoted here according to rev. Elberfelder translation 2016.
Worship: be unto your name- Robin Mark.