The Feminine Callings of a Woman
About the Guest
What unique calling has God given women? Author Shaunti Feldhahn talks to women about the benefits and challenges of being their husband’s helpmate.
Shaunti FeldhahnShaunti received her graduate degree from Harvard University and was an analyst on Wall Street before unexpectedly becoming a social researcher, best-selling author and popular speaker. Today, she applies her analytical skills to investigating eye-opening, life-changing truths about relationships, both at home and in the workplace. Her groundbreaking research-based books, such as For Women Only, have sold more than 3 million copies in 25 languages and are widely read in homes, counseling centers...more
Author Shaunti Feldhahn talks to women about the benefits and challenges of being their husband’s helpmate.
The Feminine Callings of a Woman
Bob: According to author and speaker Shaunti Feldhahn, the wives today who are the most fulfilled, the most satisfied in their marriage, are the ones who have learned how to support and honor their husbands.
Shaunti: So many women say, “You know, am I just supposed to let him?” and “How can I tell him when he’s the one making mistakes?” And I say, “You know what? Most of the time, it’s not that he’s wrong and you’re right. It’s usually a difference of opinion and a difference of judgment.”
“This is where if you will practice saying, ‘OK, I would do it differently, but go ahead,’ you will see him blossom. At that point, you end up with the relationship that you wanted as well.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine. Is your marriage relationship leaving you sometimes feeling drained and depleted and exhausted? Shaunti Feldhahn has some thoughts for you on that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Have you watched this whole DVD series about this woman thing?
Dennis: I have not.
Bob: Are you going to?
Dennis: I don’t think Barbara’s going to make me.
Dennis: I want to.
Bob: Do you?
Dennis: I do want to see what Shaunti Feldhahn has done in the LifeReady Woman.
Bob: But don’t you think there’ll be some times where you’ll pause and check what the score of the game is and then get back to it?
Dennis: Of course.
I’m really sorry, Shaunti. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today. We’re revealing too much here.
Shaunti: I love it.
Dennis: Well, Shaunti Feldhahn is the featured speaker in the LifeReady Woman, which is an eight-session, video-assisted curriculum for women’s groups. This is a Bible study. It’s going to have a manual that’s full-color. All kinds of life application, not only within the message, but also you break-out at the end of each of these sessions in a small group setting with these women. Is that right?
Shaunti: Yes. So you go through the teaching and then you break out into small groups and you’re able to talk about it. You actually do a lot of the application stuff in the middle of the session so you don’t have to do any homework if you don’t want to.
Bob: Now wait; can you have a manual for a woman’s session? Wouldn’t it be a “woman-ual” or something?
Dennis: Bob, Bob, Bob
Dennis: Bob, you’re insulting her. . .
Bob: Just couldn’t let that one lie. I’m sorry.
Shaunti: We call it the “workbook.”
Dennis: It’s the workbook.
Bob: Well, and I know I’m joking about it here, but as we’ve been talking this week about the core responsibilities that God has called women to, you’ve really isolated those around three primary responsibilities found in Genesis, right?
Shaunti: Yes, for both men and women.
Bob: And they are?
Shaunti: To leave and cleave with a spouse; To be fruitful and multiply, you know, raise up the next generation and launch them into the world (not just your kids, but be part of that for everyone else); and To subdue the earth and rule over it, to advance God’s purposed beyond the home and into the world – for both men and women.
Bob: So, if that’s for both men and women, then what’s the uniquely feminine aspect of each of those?
Shaunti: Well, we basically, with the way that we show a biblical framework for this and a biblical blueprint, we essentially say, “Look, we all come to a place where God wants each of us individually.”
And you get there by looking at these three core callings, we call them (the leave and cleave and so on), and then we narrow them down to say, “OK, so what’s unique for us as women? What does that look like?” And then even further narrow it and say, “What’s unique for you as an individual?”
So, what’s the big picture design and calling for everybody? For us as women? And then narrowed down to what’s your individual design and callings? That place, where those three intersect, is going to be where you as a woman thrive in a “do-it-all world,” which is the subtitle of the book and the study.
Bob: So, if we take leaving and cleaving, which is about the marriage relationship and how that’s supposed to be one of the core callings for a woman, then what’s the woman’s part of the leave and cleave that’s unique for her?
Shaunti: Well, it’s interesting. There are actually only a few places in the Bible where women are told to do something really specific that is different from what men are told.
One of the things that I’m looking at, that will hopefully help women, is that this is not so much “what is a women’s role?” I think a lot of us as women are kind of, unfortunately, up to here with “what’s the woman’s role?” Instead, to say, not so much “what is God asking us to do?”, but “why is he asking us as women to do it?”
Scripture says we are uniquely gifted to help and complete a man, just as a man is uniquely gifted to complete and cleave with a woman. In Genesis, God looked at everything He created and saw that It was good. But then He looked at the man He had created and said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him.
Some women kind of bristle at the idea of being a “helper” because they think it implies a lack of equality, but it doesn’t. The Hebrew for “helper” is “ezer kenegdo,” which literally means, a helper corresponding to him, or a helper who is equal in power and ability to him. Most of us instinctively know that being a helper is the way we’re designed. We see our kids or our husband struggling with something, and we want to help them. That is designed as a good thing.
So it’s this idea of you as equal in power and strength to your husband. You can do everything that he does, but you are designed specifically to help. It puts this perspective into our relationships and our marriages. When we look at what our sinful tendencies as women are and what we try not to do sometimes; sometimes, and I hate to say it, we say, “Honey, I was just trying to help you.” And it’s more like, “No, wait a minute.” You were just trying to use that power and strength to get your way.
So this sort of brings it back to say, “OK, what does that look like for us?” This leads into all the stuff that people misunderstand about what it means to submit and what it means for the husband to lead.
Really, what I realize is that, when God gave us as women this directive, He was doing something that’s going to bring us back into balance. So when God tells us as women, “Submit to your husband. Let him lead,” what’s happening is He’s putting us back into balance. He is overcoming our worst temptations and what our natural sinful tendency is going to be.
Instead, for us to say, “Honey, I’m going to let you lead. I’m going to force myself. I’m equal in power and strength. I could take over, but I’m going to force myself not to so that you can step up to be the man that you’re supposed to be.”
Dennis: What God’s wanting women to do and what I hear you saying here, is that a woman is to use her power to come alongside her husband and to use that to truly help her man.
Shaunti: Yes, truly help.
Dennis: What does that look like with you and Jeff? I want to bring this down to the practical aspect because for you to be a helper, that means what?
Shaunti: For me, and I think for a lot of us as women, what it means is to step aside and to say, “Honey, what can I do to support you in the leading of our family? As you lead our family, what is it that I can do to truly support you in that, rather than undermine you, rather than try to get my own way?
Dennis: Or compete for the leadership of the family.
Shaunti: Exactly. And that’s what we as women, I think, unfortunately, in our sinful tendency, naturally try to do. Which, again, is one reason why God has to say to us as women – and it’s not this oppressive thing that I think a lot of Christian women think it is.
That word ‘submit’ is so scary. We think of it as being beaten down and oppressed, and that’s not it at all.
It’s basically God saying, “I’ve created you to be equal in power and strength to this man. You could take over, you could compete, and in response he’s going to back off. But you don’t want that kind of a husband.”
And so, in response to what you said about me and Jeff, for example, I know that if I assert myself and I try to take over and say, “This is the way we’re going to do it,” I know Jeff is going to back off.
He is a fantastic guy, and I know that once I practice trusting him and I practice respecting him, he will step forward and take exactly the kind of responsibility that he needs to take; frankly, the kind I want him to take.
I don’t want the back-off, withdraw kind of husband. I want the guy who’s stepping forward, but that means that I have to force myself to not step into that place.
Dennis: So you have seen as a result of coming alongside Jeff and using your power to really strengthen him to lead . . . you’ve seen him step up, not step back?
Shaunti: Yes, exactly.
And for us, as women, there’s a great analogy that Robert Lewis uses – he’s the producer of this whole LifeReady series that FamilyLife is doing – one of the analogies that he uses, which I love, from a man is that he says: “Look, if a man and a woman are walking up to a door at the same time and the woman goes to open the door and walk through it, he’ll step back. But if instead she walks up to the door and waits, he’ll step forward. The guy will step forward and open the door and step up and take the responsibility.”
That is basically a simple picture. Of course we could take the responsibility as women. Of course we could. We’re smart, capable people. We just don’t realize how much that backs our husband off.
When I did the research for For Women Only and I found out the incredible need my husband has, and every man has, to feel that his wife respects him, and how much that assuages the secret question that every man is asking of “Do I measure up?” and “Am I good enough?”
Shaunti: And how much Jeff, like all other men, needed me to say, “Yes, I can make this decision. Absolutely I can make this decision. I can take it out of his hands. I can make it every day.” But instead, force myself to clamp my lips shut every now and then and say, “Honey, that’s OK. I trust you. Go ahead. You do it.”
That allowed him to step up and really, truly grow into the man that he wanted to be.
Frankly, we as women want that, too. We don’t want the passive, withdrawn, backing off, “whatever you want to do, honey,” checked out, “I don’t want to parent the kids,” kind of man. . .
Dennis: I promise you, women don’t. We get emails and letters by the scores from listeners who say, “Would you help me engage my husband in our marriage, in our family, in our spiritual growth?”
Shaunti: Yes. Well, here’s the answer.
Dennis: You said it.
Shaunti: Yes, it is allowing him to be the man that he wants to be. The problem comes . . . here’s that Eve thing again . . . when we want it the way we want it.
Dennis: Well, and the problem comes when you walk up to the door, like you described, and the woman stops and so does the husband. Then the woman’s going, “Will you open the door?” The question is: will she stay there long enough for him to begin to say, “Hey, that really is my responsibility.”
Shaunti: Yeah, and “She’s going to let me.”
Bob: Now, you didn’t like the word ‘submit’ early on in your marriage. That was a . . .
Shaunti: That was a big problem.
Bob: That was a fingernails on the chalkboard kind of word, right?
Shaunti: It was awful! I came to Christ when I was in my twenties; my worldview was already set.
Dennis: You had graduated from Harvard.
Shaunti: Yes, and let’s just say that the word ‘submit’ . . .
Shaunti: . . . when it comes to the idea of women submitting in marriage. . .
Dennis: That’s taught at Harvard, isn’t it?
Shaunti: Let’s just say that would get you drawn and quartered at Harvard.
Shaunti: I did not get that at all. I had always equated it with what we as women often do, which is “You’re supposed to stay under his thumb, and be the little woman, and let him walk all over you.” I hadn’t realized until I started doing a lot more biblical study that it’s actually the opposite.
It’s because we as women are so strong, that we would run all over him if God didn’t say, “You’ve got to let him lead.” And that puts us back into the biblical balance that God wanted from the beginning.
Bob: I love the illustration that you used about some guys who were starting a company. They were all going to be equal partners, right?
Shaunti: Yes. This is when I was learning this, and I was still really struggling with the idea of their being a leader. Like why does anybody have to be a leader . . . right?
Dennis: Oh, yeah. Well that is the popular viewpoint.
Shaunti: Yeah, you can be truly equal.
Dennis: You know, just co-equals in marriage. No one is really in charge.
Shaunti: Correct. And here’s the reality that I think all of us really know. When I was at my office and my boss was leaving to form a firm, he said it was going to be “all equal partners, and he was going to be sort of the head of it.”
I said, “Well, wait, if you’re equal partners, how are you going to be the head?”
He said, “Well, there always has to be a first among equals or there’s chaos.” You know, and it clicked. It was like, “Ohhhh.”
(And for us as women to say. . .) You know, here’s the problem: One person or another is going to be in that role. We, as women, would have the tendency to step into that role. As a result, he’d back off and check out.
Bob: Here’s how Dennis said it: “If two people are on a horse, somebody’s got to have the reins.” Now that doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t reaching around over behind going, “Wait, wait, I want to steer. I want to drive!”
Bob: But, ultimately, one person’s got to be at the helm; got to be saying, “Here’s where we’re going.” Right?
Shaunti: Well, and this is the thing for us as women to know. That, you know what, if you’ll do this, no matter how hard it is –and I have seen this myself, because as you can probably tell, I’m a pretty strong, opinionated personality – that what I realized is that if I will give my husband the reins and if I’ll try my hardest not to steer from the back . . .
Not do all those things that question whether he’s doing a good job of managing the reins. It does empower him to be the man that I want. It empowers him to be this strong and trustworthy and respectable man that he really wants to be. It is so much easier at that point to think, “Oh, wow. I have this great husband who loves me and is treating me like Christ treats the church and he’s sacrificing himself for me.” But none of it would happen if I were to be the one who’s trying to be in the driver’s seat because it would trigger then man’s sinful tendency to back off and to withdraw.
Bob: But, Shaunti, if the husband has steered wrong in the past?
Shaunti: Oh, yes.
Dennis: Or he’s dropped the reins.
Bob: And you’re a wife, and you’re sitting there going, “If I just hand it all over to him, it’s going to be a mess. He’s going to lead us into the ditch, and then I’m stuck in the ditch.”
Shaunti: You know what? There’s something to be said for, as hard as it is, letting him make the mistakes to get you back on track. If you go into the ditch, and you say, “I know you don’t want to be in this ditch any more than I do. I know you care about our family. I’m going to respect you enough to believe that you’re going to get us out of this ditch.”
As hard as it is, that right there is what sets the stage for the rest of your marriage. There are always going to be times when sometimes you do need to set the boundaries. I know you guys have had some great psychiatrists and some great authors on who’ve talked about where you do need to say, “You know, what? In this one area, we do need to set some boundaries here.” Do it under a pastor’s authority and all of that.
But in the vast majority of cases, you are not talking about something that’s going to truly derail your life and derail your kids’ lives. You’re talking about, honestly, a difference of opinion. You’re talking about a difference of judgment. That is where so many women say, “You know, am I just supposed to let him?” and “How can I tell him when he’s the one making mistakes?”
We hear these at the women’s conferences. And I say, “You know what? Most of the time, it’s not that he’s wrong and you’re right. It’s usually a difference of opinion and a difference of judgment.”
“This is where if you will practice saying, ‘OK, I would do it differently, but go ahead,’ you will see him blossom. And at that point, you end up with the relationship that you wanted as well.”
Dennis: I’m feeling the need at this point just to put the cookies on the lowest shelf possible for the wife who’s listening, who is saying, “You know, Shaunti, I hear everything you’re saying. But you don’t know my husband. He’s been passive for years.”
Shaunti: Uh huh.
Dennis: “And I’ve given up hope.” Is there something? And we can’t make it a formula, because life isn’t a formula. It’s about the living God invading people’s lives, invading a woman’s life, and giving her the courage, the character, and the belief in her husband to call him out of that passivity.
Dennis: Even in her silence. How would you coach the woman who has heard all of this and said, “I’m losing hope in well-doing”?
Shaunti: You know, there is a principle that has meant an awful lot to me and, I know, to a lot of women. It is that sometimes you have to make a one-sided choice. You have to be obedient to God first. Whether or not you feel like your husband is doing his part, you can do yours. If God is who He says He is, and if He has organized our lives so that they work in this way, then even though it may take longer than you want, you are making that one-sided choice and being obedient and doing what you need to do.
For example, if your husband has grown really passive and you may look at it and say, “You know what? Some of it is his personality, but some of it is that I did take the reins so many times that he’s checked out.” If you ever hear as a wife, “I feel like nothing I do is ever good enough for you.” Most women, if we’ve heard that, it’s like the kiss of death statement. That is a man who’s feeling like a failure, and he has checked out.
Dennis: Should she apologize at that point?
Shaunti: Oh my gosh! You know, once you realize this as a woman, it’s like, “Oh, I had no idea. I just didn’t see how big of a deal this was, and I didn’t realize how much I was disrespecting you by taking the reins so many times.” So, it may be that she has to make that choice over and over for awhile, and just be obedient to God. It may take awhile for him to feel like he can even experiment with once making a decision.
At that point, you as a wife have to kind of see it for what it is and be willing to sort of go against the flow for you and say, “OK.”
Dennis: And celebrate the choice!
Shaunti: And celebrate the choice – even if it’s completely different than the one that you would have made.
The problem obviously comes because we don’t feel like it. This is part of the study actually. This is part of what we talk about in LifeReady Woman. We are so used to, in this culture, saying that we feel a certain way so we do a certain thing. Instead, the way God has wired us is that our feelings actually follow our actions. If we will do something, eventually we’re going to feel it.
For example, the more that you will trust your husband, and stop yourself from criticizing him - force yourself to say nothing negative about him, for example. . .
I’ve had so many women say, “Well I don’t respect my husband.” OK. Here’s what you do: You literally don’t say anything negative about him. Pick a month. Say, “For this month, I am going to not say anything negative about him; either to him or about him to somebody else.” Then for the next month, find something you can affirm to him every day, and tell him so. You know what? You’re going to find your feelings changing.
Over and over, you’re refusing to focus on the negative, and over and over, you’re forcing yourself to focus on the positive. It’s Philippians 4 in action. Paul says, “Rejoice.” And he’s in a prison! How do you do that? Well, you think on whatever is lovely, and you think on whatever is true and excellent and honorable.
At the beginning, your life may feel like a prison. But you do this every day. You are not only going to be empowering your man to be the man he wants to be, you are also going to be changing your feelings.
I wish I could take credit for that challenge of focusing on the positive, but actually I stole it from Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Shaunti: Here at FamilyLife a few years ago.
Bob: Well, you steal from good sources!
Dennis: You really do. You know, the exciting thing to me, and for women who are listening to our broadcast, I think, is that this material found in the LifeReady Woman series is really going to bring, I think, the truth of Scripture in a practical way to the lives of single women, married women, moms, grandmothers. . .
Dennis: Women are going to find out they’re not alone in the struggles they’re facing, because a lot of women are struggling today in marriages like this.
Shaunti: One of the things that I tell every woman is that if you don’t believe this and you have a hard time dealing with what I’ve been saying, then don’t believe me. But just try it. Just try a couple of these things.
The reaction that you get, for example, from your husband is going to be the best possible incentive to continue.
Bob: Honestly, you may not see that immediately, and you may get discouraged, but the reality is you need to stay with these kinds of priorities and doing these kinds of things because it’s what God’s called us to. Regardless of how that’s working out and whether your husband affirms it or not.
Now, most cases, I would think a guy would go, “Yeah. This is great.” But, again, the reality is that you’ve got to do what God is calling you to do and be the kind of wife and mother and woman that He’s created you to be, even in the hard times. That’s where I think it’s helpful, if you’re going through material like this with other women, and it is hard and things aren’t going well. . .
. . . just to be able to share openly about what’s going on. To get the support and the encouragement of the women you’re going through the material with. This curriculum has been designed for women to go through together.
You can find out more about the LifeReady Woman video series when you go online at www.familylifetoday.com. Again, it’s familylifetoday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-358-6329. It’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” When you call, ask about the LifeReady Woman video series and we’ll answer any questions you may have or make arrangements to get the series sent to you.
Let me also mention that Shaunti has written a book on the things we’ve been talking about here called the LifeReady Woman, together with Dr. Robert Lewis. We’re making the book available this week as a way of saying thank you to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We are listener supported. This radio program is on the air because folks like you pitch in from time to time and say, “We want to make sure it stays on the air. We’ll make a donation. We’ll send you ten or twenty or fifty or a hundred dollars to help keep the program going.”
We appreciate those of you who support the ministry like that. When you make a donation this week, we want to invite you to request a copy of the LifeReady Woman book by Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis.
If you’re donating online at familylifetoday.com, type the word “READY” in the key code box on the online donation form or if you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make the donation over the phone. Just ask for the LifeReady Woman book when you call. We’ll send it to you. Again, we very much appreciate your support of this ministry and your partnership with us.
We want to encourage you to be back again with us tomorrow. Shaunti Feldhahn’s going to be here again. We’re going to talk about where the parenting priority fits into a well-balanced life for a woman. That’s coming up tomorrow. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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