June 18, 2015

Expectations and Other Thoughts

It is a good Thursday in Phoenix, AZ. It is going to be another scorcher today, with highs projected to reach 115 outside. I plan on staying inside today and working on my school work. There is no reason to go outside, so I will be hunkering down and keeping my little self cool. I am praying our monsoon comes in like a lion this summer (like it did last year) so that we cool down very soon. Sigh!

Expectations: Real or Imaginary

I found this quote online this morning as I was searching for a graphic for today's blog post. I love what Ann Voskamp shares, and I think she is right on point. Our EXPECTATIONS tend to not align with our reality. This disconnect happens when we place our hope in something or someone, and when that person lets us down or the thing we most wanted doesn't appear, we end up disappointed. As humans, we tend to have "unrealistic expectations" with relationships, with events or circumstances, and with dreams and aspirations. What we expect to happen and what we think will happen doesn't always align with truth or the reality of our life.

To help frame this post, there are two verses from Scripture that address the nature of hope and expectancy.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Tim. 1 NIV).
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV).
With these verses in mind, it is important to understand, that for the Christian, our hope is to be placed in Jesus alone. There should be no other "thing" in which we hope for, save Jesus Christ. So while our expectations or the "things" we want or desire can be good, we must be frame these wants and desires so that they align with this Biblical mindset. We must remember always that Jesus is our only hope.

Hope and Expectancy

Hope is defined as "a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen" (Reference.com). Consequently, what we hope for or in, is also the "thing" we expect to come to pass. Merriam-Webster defines the word, "expectation," as meaning "a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen." Expectation or anticipation is the belief that "something" in the future will turn out a certain way or will come to pass. To put it more succinctly,
"An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. If something happens that is not at all expected, it is a surprise. An expectation about the behavior or performance of another person, expressed to that person, may have the nature of a strong request, or an order" (Wikipedia).
Expectations can be real or they can be imagined. The result or outcome can produce many different response ranging from disappointment to elation. It just depends on the expectation and the level of "hope" associated with it.

As a Communications scholar, I am more interested in human behavior as it relates to communication ability. I watch people as they speak, I read their body language, and I listen to their words. I am clued in to what they are saying because so much information (verbal and non-verbal) is being shared through the simple act of speaking. I love my new field of study, and I love the way technology either enhances communication or destroys it. There is so much to learn by listening to people speak, especially in deep conversation when important issues are discussed. How we respond to the individual or individuals during those conversations can make or break relationships. Thus, it is vitally important to recognize (to know and to understand) the language being used, the symbolism, the irony, the satire, and the psychological pain that often is associated with speaking. I digress...

On Point

Yesterday, my friend and I had a discussion on ways that a wife can encourage her husband. I actually googled the topic and found two articles that I thought were good and thought-provoking. I was curious to know if my friend (a man) agreed with them. One article was written by a well-known Christian radio host, and the other was written by a female Senior Producer at CBN (though she was reviewing a book written by a man - how confusing!) The topic produced excellent discussion on the nature of men and women, and set up what will be the follow up topic for today: what wives really want from their husbands.

Granted I am not married at this time (neither is he), but we both have been married so the topic is fair game. Furthermore, the topic is important for us to discuss since we are heading down the path toward potential marriage some day (Lord willing). As we take the time now to discuss difficult topics, we are finding that we are able to cover a lot of territory that many young men and young women do not understand, but need to understand in order to help them create successful marriages.

In both of our cases, we were in difficult marriages that ended in divorce. My situation is different from his, but I can say that regardless of the details, communication skill and general understanding of the differences between men/women and how they engage in intimate relationships or bonded relationships (that between husband and wife) was a significant factor. Thus, if marriage is expected (or desired) at some point in time, it is vital that we discuss these issues in order to avoid the mistakes of the past (if that makes sense).

With all this said, this leads me back to Ann Voskamp's quote about unrealistic expectations. You see, I think her words are specifically targeted to women because women are the ones most likely to place expectations on themselves and on others. I know that may seem harsh, but I believe it is true. I am a woman, after all, and at 52, I can tell you that I have been around and listened to a lot of women talk about their lives -- their husbands, their families, and their careers. I have heard their words, and I have felt their pain as they shared how this person or that person let them down, didn't live up to their potential, made poor decisions, etc. I have also listened to them share about their disappointments in every area of their life -- from unfulfilled sex to raising children to caring for aging parents to inequality in the workplace -- and how these disappointments eat away at them, gnaw at them, and make them feel as though they are devalued, unwanted, and unworthy.

Women, in general, struggle with feelings of worth. In our upside down pro-feminist world, women are being told that they are powerful creatures, far more capable than their male counterparts, and that they possess innate qualities that make them a better leader, a better lover, and a better listener. In short, women are better than men when it comes to most anything. Women are encouraged to leave the home, forsake marriage and children, and pursue a career in order to show the world their power and their ability. In sum, they are to seek their worth through power, position, and authority. Their worth is estimated by their achievement, their drive, and their ability to succeed in a man's world. This emphasis is not Biblical, and it sets so many Christian women up for failure. It places undue pressure on them to succeed, and to find their worth in "things" outside the home.

The Church is caught amid the crossfire between what the Bible says and what the world says. And, because there are some Pastors that maintain the rightful place for the woman is in the home, behind her husband, supporting him in his career and dreams and some who support women's rights, and the idea of equality or shared responsibility in the home -- there is contention, confusion, and conviction -- with men and women drawing battle lines on this critical issue. The overriding approach of the church today seems to be a middle ground which says that women can have it both ways -- a career and a family -- and they can be successful at it. However, I believe that contrary to popular belief, women are not successful at playing both sides of the field. Working women are worn out, depressed, and devalued -- and in my view, they feel less successful and satisfied than their stay-at-home counterparts.

Thus, this bipolar approach, which is most popular in our mainline churches today, says to women that it is "normal" to desire a family and a career. This mindset skews what is Biblical, and sets the woman up for a life of unmet expectations. In her effort to succeed in the workplace, she heaps undue burdens on herself to be the "perfect employee." She expects perfection from herself and from her life, and when she arrives home dead-tired and feeling depleted emotionally, she expects her family to rally around her, to support and to encourage her, and to make her feel good about herself.

Moreover, as she longs for validation, for confirmation of her worth, she turns to her husband. She looks to him for his words, his actions, that will show her his love. Her husband may or may not support her in this way, he may or may not validate her with words and with actions. He may be clueless as to what she needs, what she wants, and he may respond in a way that tells her just the opposite of what she wants and so desperately needs to hear from him. If her husband doesn't "interpret her silent signals," her emotional pleas correctly, she will either fight or flee (withdraw).  As this pattern of interaction continues over time, the wife will eventually crumble under the weight of unmet needs. The constant disappointment, the constant feeling that she is not good enough at home and at work says to her that she is not worthy. She has failed at life, and she must work harder, strive more, and give up more in order to feel validated and confirmed. It is a vicious cycle, and for many women, it can lead to serious psychological disorders (eating, for example), depression, or suicide.

Counteracting The World's View

I read several articles today that I think speak to this problem in the Church. I say it is a problem in the Church because I really do think that it is an unspoken epidemic that is causing many problems in families and in marriages. The first is an article by Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife Radio. The second is a report on a marriage study (printed in Christianity Today back in 2006) that I think is fascinating to read (even if dated). The last is a very good sermon that was preached at Redlands Baptist Church. It generally aligns with my views on the topic.
  1. http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/marriage/staying-married/romance-and-sex/30-ways-to-love-your-lover
  2. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/october/what-married-women-want.html
  3. http://www.redlandbaptist.org/sermon/what-wives-wish-their-husbands-knew-about-women-2/
As I approached this study today, I read the Rainey article first. Now, in truth Rainey is not my "go to person" for relationship advice. I personally do not care for the man, but sometimes he does say things that are good, are founded on Biblical principles, and are worth considering. His article was entitled "30 Ways to Love Your Lover," which is a click-bait headline for certain, but that actually discusses nonsexual ways for a husband to demonstrate love and affection for his wife. The subtitle, which in my view is more appropriate, reads "Here are some nonsexual ways to cherish your wife through words and acts of affirmation." Rainey takes the approach that what a woman really wants from her man is affirmation. Merriam-Webster defines affirmation or the verb "to affirm" this way:
  1. validate, confirm
  2. to state positively
  3. to assert (as a judgment or decree) as valid or confirmed
  4.  to express dedication to
Interestingly, I would say that when we think of affirming someone, we tend to associate the word with encourage. Merriam-Webster defines "encourage" this way:
  1. to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident
  2. to make (something) more appealing or more likely to happen
  3. to make (someone) more likely to do something : to tell or advise (someone) to do something
Clearly, encouraging someone and affirming someone are two different things. To understand this difference, we need to look closer at what it really means "to affirm." Merriam-Webster says that to affirm someone is to 'validate or confirm' them. These legal definitions can be troubling so we must dig deeper to grasp the value of this word. Thus, to validate or to confirm means:
  1. to make legally valid :  ratify
  2. to grant official sanction to by marking
  3. to confirm the validity of (an election); also :  to declare (a person) elected
  4.  to support or corroborate on a sound or authoritative basis
  5. to recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of
WOW! Here we have another set of legal definitions, however, I think No. 5 takes us closest to what we think today when we affirm or validate a person. When I validate someone, I am recognizing their worth.

You might be wondering why it is so important to study the words at this level, but think about it this way -- our words are important, they are how we communicate with others, and they are the main vehicle we use to share what is inside of us with another human being. Words have value and they have meaning, and if we use incorrect words or we use them incorrectly, we send mixed signals and we can encounter communication mishaps.

For example, in this article, Dennis Rainey uses the word "affirmation" to mean validation. He is suggesting that there are 30 ways a husband can validate his wife through his words and actions. However, had he said "validate," it is quite possible that his listeners or readers would misunderstand his intention. Validating is often taken in its literal context like when someone 'stamps a passport or a legal document.' Thus to say that a husband should 'validate' his wife, well it makes it sound like he needs to be approving her for service, marking her as "official," or stamping her as though she were some possession. Affirming, therefore, is a much nicer word, more friendly, and less offending. I digress...

Rainey says that the reason husbands need to affirm their wives is because it is mandated in Scripture. He writes, "For some men, the thought of affirming their wives sounds like a lot of work. Others are anxious about being so vulnerable with displays of affirmation. Whatever the reason, they hesitate to step out and pursue the call to love found in Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV): 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her'" (Rainey, 2004).

According to Rainey, this is a biblical precedent to affirm your wife as an act of demonstrating love. It is also reflective of the command to the husband to love his wife as (or as Matthew Henry states, in resemblance of) Christ's love for the church. Gills Exposition of the Bible offers a detailed analysis of this verse, and I think it bears inclusion here,
Husbands, love your wives,.... Which consists in a strong and cordial affection for them; in a real delight and pleasure in them; in showing respect, and doing honour to them; in seeking their contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure; in a quiet, constant, and comfortable dwelling with them; in providing all things necessary for them; in protecting them from all injuries and abuses; in concealing their faults, and covering their infirmities; in entertaining the best opinion of their persons and actions; and in endeavouring to promote their spiritual good and welfare: this love ought to be hearty and sincere, and not feigned and selfish; it should be shown in private, as well as in public: it should be chaste and single, constant and perpetual; it should exceed that which is bore to neighbours, or even to parents, and should be equal to that a man bears to himself; though not so as to hinder, and break in upon love to God and Christ: many are the reasons why husbands should love their wives; they are given to be helps unto them; they are companions of them; they are wives of covenant; they are their own wives, yea, their own bodies, their own flesh, nay, as themselves; they are their image and their glory; and especially the example of Christ, in his love to his church and people, should engage to it: even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.
According to Gill the love a man must show to his wife is the same as the love the man has for his Lord, Jesus Christ. If you look at this list, I think you will see that men bear a greater burden in showing love for their wives than what women are called to do in their submission to their husbands. Ephesians 5:24 ESV states, "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands." In Gill's exposition, we read the following,
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ,.... Her head, being wholly dependent upon him, and entirely resigned to him, and receiving all from him; from whom alone is all her expectation of provision, protection, comfort, and happiness; wherefore she has respect to all his commands, and esteems all his precepts concerning all things to be right; and yields a cheerful, voluntary, sincere, and hearty obedience to them; arising from a principle of love to him, and joined with honour, fear, and reverence of him:  so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything: political, domestic, and ecclesiastic; that is consistent with the laws of God, and the Gospel of Christ. 
I know that some of you might question Gill's understanding of Scripture, and you might place it as "culturally accurate" given the time frame when it was written. Gill, was after all, a Puritan preacher. His Entire Exposition of the Bible was written in 1746-48. However, when I read Gill's exposition of these verses, I cannot help but think that his view is correct. I read his interpretation, and can only say that what was true in 1746 is still true in 2015 (270 years later). If men loved their wives in the way Gill explicates verse 25, and wives loved their husbands in the way that he interprets verse 24 -- I think we would see far fewer marriage issues or marriage failures. Culturally, within the Church as well as outside of it, we are still taking issue with these verses, we are still fighting about the roles of men and women, and the way in which husbands and wives relate to one another.

So What Do Married Women Really Want?

If we look to the statistics, we see that marriage problems and failures often are the result of unmet needs.  This leads me to the Nock and Wilcox study printed in Christianity Today back in 2006. Yes, this article is dated, but I would hazard to guess that if the study were conducted today, the results would be eerily similar.

I guess I should add this caveat first. I read the Rainey article, and part of me simply shuddered at some of the things he was suggesting husbands do to show their wives that they love and affirm them. For example, #8, #9, #12, #17. There are more, but these one's made me want to wretch. Sorry, but I don't need a man brushing my hair. Maybe this is affirming to some women, but to me, it is rather sickening. I also don't want a man stroking my face and cooing into my eyes. This is not something that will make me want to say "Honey, take me away to the bedroom!" Rather, it will probably make me want to say "Honey, go away!"

So with that said, this next part may be difficult, but it is really the crux of this whole post. Nock and Wilcox, both sociologists conducted a study based on the findings of the National Survey of Families and Households. This article or interview was with Wilcox and dovetailed with his book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (University of Chicago Press, 2004). I haven't read this book, but the study results and this interview are suggestive of something that I think needs to be addressed in the Church, and that is what role should husbands be taking in the family, and why it is important for them to do so.

Without going into the full article, this summary by Wilcox says everything to me:
My theory is that women are looking for, in general, husbands who provide them with emotional and financial support, and support to make the choices that they think are important for them and for their children. Women who have husbands who are good breadwinners have the freedom to decide what they want to do, whether that's to stay home with their kids, whether that's to work part time, or whether that's to pursue work that might be more meaningful but not particularly remunerative. Having a husband who is a good breadwinner gives a woman more options. It's not necessarily all about traditional roles, per se. It's about having the financial security as a wife and maybe mother to act in ways that you think are best for you and for your family.
Not shocking, really, when you think about it. It aligns with the Biblical precedent stated in Ephesians 5 where Paul states that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (re-read Gill on this part to see why it is vital for the husband to have this role in the family). In my view, Wilcox is saying this:
Wives want a husband who will provide for them and protect them emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. 
In short, women need a man who can do both, provide and protect, in order to feel safe, secure, and stable. Women draw their life from men, and men have an a God-given ability to care for their wives and their families. When we reverse this order, negating the role and responsibility of the man, and elevating the role and responsibility of the woman, the entire relationship gets whacked out of shape. Women act like men, and men act like women -- no wonder our ability to communicate, to love, to honor, and to respect takes a hit. We are confused about our roles, and our responsibilities and thus, we are unable to meet the needs of our partner. Until we get our heads straight, our roles right, and take responsibility for what God has given to us based on our gender -- we will continue to struggle, to stress, and to strain in our marriages, and in our families.

My view might not meet with agreement from many pro-feminist Christians out there, but I think it does make a lot of sense to me. I see women who are so tired, so weary, and so worn out because they are playing a man's game. They are trying to Mom and Dad, husband and wife, and they are thinking that this is what God has created them to do. The Bible, as many will say is culturally deficient and out of touch, really does get it right. Husbands and wives are given their roles by God, the One who knows exactly what is best for each of them. If God made an error and said "Oops, man, you need to serve your wife and let her be your head," He would have reversed the order. The truth is that He didn't do that, He didn't upset His design. Unfortunately, sin took care of that, and what we have today is a problem with sin and the results of sin. Women seeking headship and authority over men, and men cow-towing to women out of fear that they will be perceived as domineering, authoritarian, and unloving.

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