I’ve never really discipled a guy, at least technically speaking, but here are some classic observations about the differences between men and women when it comes to ministry.
A guys’ Bible study is scheduled for an hour and is typically over in 45 minutes, while a women’s group scheduled for two hours will inevitably go three.
Success in a guys’ group is measured by actual number of words exchanged. A women’s group measures success in tears—both from laughter and heartache.
For women, group bonding happens over soul-baring conversation. For guys it happens via blood-drawing contact sport.
A guy’s dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer and he mentions it in passing three weeks after he finds out. A girl calls in a panic at 2 a.m. to process which dress to wear to the spring formal.
The points are obviously exaggerated stereotypes, but you can probably make some connections to your own experience.
These are just the surface level manifestations of hard-wiring differences. God created us uniquely, men and women, but both in His image. I want to explore the unique aspects of how women experience life-change and growth. How are we motivated? What struggles are unique to women? What are the ramifications of Eve’s gene pool in our soul and spirit?
It’s been said that the core need of a woman is to be wanted and pursued, as opposed to men, whose core need is for respect (from His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley Jr.). Some would say that’s a result of the fall and the curse of Eve to “desire after [her] husband” (Genesis 3:16).
Others would say that it’s because God created us with that need - to be wanted, pursued, and treasured, in order that He might draw us to Himself by meeting that need. I think it’s probably both. Regardless if it is by design or default, the result is that women in almost every culture and age have a greater felt need for emotional connection and intimacy in relationships, and apart from the ramifications of sin in the world and their lives, most are motivated to find that connection with a man.
That need is the white noise of a woman’s life. It’s always there. This is especially true for women ages 18 to 24. It’s what we think about when there’s nothing else to think about. It affects how we hear everything else. It’s the backdrop against which all other life factors are measured, experienced and tried.
The presence of, lack of, hope for, rejection by, bitterness toward, fear of, scars from—men or a man—is the context in which we live. For some the white noise in the background is a definitive hope—a tall, dark handsome husband, 2.5 children and an SUV. For others, it’s a much more abstract idea of “happily ever after.”
Whatever the backdrop, it is tainted and colored by our family and life experience. For almost every woman there is this ubiquitous and overarching assumption that whatever else life may bring, it will fit into the context of a life partner. No matter how independent and self-sufficient a woman is, the idea of who she will share her life with is somewhere in the mix. In most cases the “who” far outweighs the “what” of life.
Before you get on your feminist high horse, I acknowledge that most women expect and desire a career. But very few, if any, pursue that career to the exclusion of at least the hope of a husband and family. Granted it does sometimes cost a woman that, but I’d say rarely is it a conscious choice. We want both and if one has to choose one over the other—apart from the consequences of sin in the world or in the lives of women scarred by abuse, divorce or any other number of factors—at the most gut level, women first long for a life companion.
Ironically, even as I’m working on this article, the Today Show just did a story on a recent study measuring “happy quotients” for women. The overwhelming result was that “women measure happiness by company kept rather than money made.” Certainly there is enough evidence in the secular world that this is a driving factor.
The number of Meg Ryan films alone is a strong argument, not to mention the billion dollar romance novel industry. Often it’s been said that what pornography is to men, romance novels are to women—again, the longing to be wooed and wanted.
We’ve gone from Beverly Hills: 90210 to Friends to Sex in the City to Desperate Housewives . The common theme to every show is the search for the right intimate connection. I’m sure TV shows strived for the same before that, I just don’t remember ... Three’s Company ?
And why is it that in the history of music, 82% of every song ever written is about a romantic relationship? OK, I totally made up that statistic, but it has to be close to the truth. Take out hymns, nursery rhymes, national anthems and college fight songs and you’re at least at 98%. We can all relate to a sappy love song. You have to admit that at some point in the past decade you’ve sung along with Celine Dion, perhaps even loudly, in the car, by yourself, maybe even with a weepy tear or two.
Even within Christian circles nothing draws a crowd like a relationship talk. I happened to attend Denton Bible Church when Tom Nelson first taught the Song of Solomon series. Attendance went from averaging 400 to more than 1,200 by the end of that series and that was only limited by actual space. There were people sitting on cushions on the stage every week, because there were not enough chairs.
Recently at my church in Austin, we showed the extremely outdated video version of that series to our singles group and consistently drew 300 singles each week, in spite of the big hair, bad suits and the VHS quality of the tape. Anyway, you get the point.
What few people say out loud is that this longing or desire is perfectly normal. Kudos to Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt, the writers of He’s Just Not that Into You. They are one of the few popular secular voices who make such a blatant statement, “There is nothing wrong with wanting to get married. You shouldn’t feel ashamed, needy or unliberated.”
Often such a desire is perceived as a weakness. But that is how God made us—with a real and valid need to be wanted, to be pursued, to be treasured, to live in tandem with a soul-mate.
However, where this longing goes awry is in the why. Women both in the secular world as well as within the confines of conservative Christendom have come to believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that marriage is the purpose of life. Everything else is icing. It’s one of the many manifestations of the all-about-me gene innate to all humanity.
IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO THAT
You’re probably thinking what does any of this have to do with discipling women. It is and has been my experience that it has everything to do with it. Regardless of the topic you’re teaching, the application of the principles will come back to men, dating, relationships and marriage, whether it’s women who have been married for 30 years, a group of newlyweds or singles young or old. That’s where we live, as much as we hate to admit it.
Nothing has the potential to stop a woman who is growing in the Lord like a new relationship. We’ve all had a woman in our Bible study who showed promise and then the guy comes around and we never see her again. There’s something about the im- mediate gratification and tangibility that is so much more satisfying, apparently.
As frustrating as it is after years of working with women, I can’t say I don’t understand it. What woman hasn’t cried herself to sleep mumbling something about wanting “Jesus with skin on him.”
Because this backdrop influences our perspective and value of everything else, then it’s the one thing we need to hold in a right and true perspective. It affects our view of God, our view of our own body, soul and spirit, our willingness to trust God, and our willingness to be obedient.
At the most practical level it can determine whether or not a woman is motivated to go to a weekly meeting or go on a project and leave her could-be-the-one boyfriend at home or if she’s willing to settle for the not-so-godly guy. The good news is that God does work all things together for His good, even our poor motives. I know many a staff person, both men and women, who as students showed up at a weekly meeting solely for macking rights. And look at them now.
TO KNOW HIM IS TO LOVE HIM
God created us for a purpose—to know Him. The Old Testament is filled with God pursuing His people. Repeatedly we see some variation of the phrases: “I’ve done [this] so that you will know that I am God” or “know that I am the Lord” or “that you will know me.” The Psalms are filled with great promises for those who “know Him.”
One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 43:10, “I have called you to be my witnesses so that you will know me and believe me.” We evangelize so that others will know Him, but we also go deeper in our own relationship with Him when we do so.
The book of Ezekiel is a long list of warnings of what will happen to God’s people if they don’t return to Him. More than 50 times He says that such and such will happen and then “they will know that I am the Lord.”
The New Testament is a revelation of Jesus drawing us into a relationship with Himself. The book of John is an excellent picture of Jesus revealing who He is. He wants us to know Him as Paul describes, counting “all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). That’s the whole point of life—“to know Him and make Him known.” (Who was the first to say that? Very clever.)
Marriage is one of the most profound means to that end. The bride/bridegroom and husband/wife relationship is one of the most common metaphors in scripture for our relationship with God. The books of Song of Solomon and Hosea are examples. Psalm 45 is all about the king’s wedding and Isaiah 62:5 promises that “as the bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”
Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom in Matthew 9 and then there is the parable of the virgins waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25. John also refers to himself as the rejoicing friend of the bridegroom in John 3:29. Paul writing to the Corinthians expresses his godly jealousy “for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” and in Ephesians 5 there is the direct comparison of a husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church. Not to mention, the grand finale of Revelation and of the age is the ultimate wedding feast.
A marriage relationship is the most intimate of any, and it is just a taste of the in- timacy that God desires to have with each of us. I think it’s His greatest gift by which we begin to understand His love for us, but certainly not the only means.
Unfortunately, as the ramifications of sin in the world grow exponentially, the idea, purpose and context of marriage has been warped and distorted—undervaluing the vow and overvaluing having one’s needs met. So many are missing out on the fullness of what God intended in marriage.
Part of thinking about it rightly is to place it in right relation to God’s purpose—knowing Him. If we truly value that as the purpose of our lives, then marriage is not the focus, but a very fun and challenging means to that end—a fabulous by-product. But not everyone will take that route. Most will, but some won’t.
And for those who do marry but believe it to be the end rather than the means, I guarantee marriage will be painfully disappointing. But amazingly God uses that, too, to draw us to an intimate knowledge of Himself, just as He can use singleness to do the same.
DEAD END TO DOORWAY
Frankly, being single and 38 and having worked with single women from college to middle age for the past 20 years, I’m more than a little tired of talking about men, or the problems with men, or the lack of men, or the wonders of men. There is nothing new under the sun.
I have my share of cynicism about well-intending friends forward- ing me that “valentine from Jesus” email. I continue to wrestle with it personally, as well as with the women I work with. I wish it weren’t the white noise in my own head and heart, but it is. Certainly there are seasons that it’s louder than others, but it is always there at some level.
Sometimes it’s a resigned acceptance of the reality of singlehood that means deciding if I can trust this car mechanic or not, or thinking about a 403(b) plan that will take care of just me. Or sometimes it’s really loud, an acute loneliness when I sit alone at church or spend another night in the silence of my own apartment. (Pathetic, I know. Allow me some melodrama!)
Sometimes I’m so grateful for my singlehood. It is so obvious that God has protected me from choices I would have made in the past and I’m grateful for the wealth of friends that fill my life. That too influences my perspective of life factors. The white noise is not always a negative influence, it’s just always there as part of my reality. I’ve realized that often the nature of the white noise is indicative of the health of my walk with the Lord.
I’m finally beginning to see this ubiquitous issue as a doorway to spiritual growth, rather than a distraction or dead end. Talking about guy relationships is a fast track to connecting to the heart of a woman. Just like in my own life, the attitudes and perspectives around that issue can be indicative of where a woman is spiritually. How a woman talks about men or the relationship she has with her boyfriend or husband usually gives some clues to her views of God and her relationship with Him.
In the past few months, I’ve had two significant conversations with women—one with a non-believer and the other with a very young believer. Both conversations began with guy trouble, but led to great discussions about God’s heart for an intimate relationship with them and a clear gospel explanation. We talked about God’s intent for marriage as a reflection of our relationship with Him. We discussed the hopes and needs they’re expecting men to meet that only God can. We talked about God’s idea and purpose of marriage versus the world’s ideas.
It is not about having needs met, but rather fulfillment is found in giving yourself for the life of another. The parallels between marriage and the Christian life are extensive—that’s a whole chapter in and of itself. But the point is that by talking about this very real felt need with these women, they were able to begin to comprehend God’s heart and redirect some of their longings and expectations toward Him. Both have made some significant decisions to start walking with the Lord.
A friend who is a mature believer is in the midst of a dating relationship for the first time in awhile. It’s brought up all sorts of issues about fears and her view of God and ability to trust Him. These issues would have otherwise gone untested were it not for her relationship with this guy. In my own life, God has used relationships with men to bring me to the most broken places I’ve ever been, but so needed to be, in order to know more fully how good and faithful and kind and secure He is.
NO MORE ROLLING OF THE EYES
Instead of fighting the inevitable, run with it. Instead of trying to get back to “the topic at hand,” connect it to where we live. Learn the passages about God’s desire to know us and the marriage metaphors. Use them to get at the root issues for the women you work with—their view of God and longing for Him. Asking the right questions and making the connections can be a doorway to growth, whether it’s a one-on-one discipleship relationship, leading a small group, or in sharing your faith with a woman.
I confess to being one of those who mock the popularity of Beth Moore by responding to almost any trivial problem with a sarcastic, “Have you done the Beth Moore study on that?” But I also have to confess that I gave in and actually did one of her studies on my own, Breaking Free .
One of the chapters talks about the longings of a woman to be a bride and to be fruitful and to live happily ever after. I confess I started the week with dread and cynicism, but I ended up weeping everyday. The study forced me to deal with these longings in my own soul and experience how God really can meet them.
I don’t want to communicate that every small group should be about addressing guys and dating. But the topic can be a doorway to talk about other issues of the Christian life or a point of application from other topics. However, with a college women’s group, sooner or later you will have to throw them a bone and do an actual study on dating.
There is a whole litany of relationship books out there. Henry Cloud’s Boundaries in Dating is always one of my first recommendations. Then there is Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Ethridge or Paula Rhinehardt’s Sex and the Soul of a Woman , and of course the classics, Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliott and Lady in Waiting by Jackie Kendall and Debby Jones.
I also recommend Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She’s not one to mince words and you may even disagree with some of her conservative viewpoints, but she offers great insight and conviction for putting these longings in proper perspective with God’s intent.
And as one friend said, “I suspect she’s probably right on the controversial issues, but I don’t really want to study it for myself, because that will only confirm that she is right and I’ll have to change.”
Speaking of Nancy Leigh DeMoss, at a recent Winter Conference, she was one of our keynote speakers. At the beginning of the women’s time she did an informal survey. Like all good staff, my friends and I sat in the back of the room and looked through the results.
In response to the question, “How important is marriage to you?”, literally every response was a 4 or a 5, the highest values of the fifty or so cards perused out of 500. On the back of the card, Nancy asked the audience to list their greatest struggle. Perhaps as many as half the women responded with “knowing that God loves me.”
That is a frightening combination. It’s not surprising, but I guarantee if we don’t help our students find and experience the security of God’s love, then they will look for and expect a man to meet that need and the ramifications of sin will be multiplied in another generation.
Life-change and growth for anyone happens at the heart level, where strong emotions reside. Nothing is closer to a woman’s heart than the need to be wanted, loved, valued and treasured. It’s common to all of us. Instead of fighting the ever present, I encourage you to use it as a doorway to her spirit, connect it to what God wants to do in her heart and introduce her to the Bridegroom that will not disappoint.
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