When I first heard the presentation on family patterns and structure on Step Three I really struggled with it – and argued, if I remember correctly! In his latest article John writes, ‘This isn’t about any inadequacy in the ladies, this isn’t about them being poor, pathetic creatures who can’t do anything in their own right’ – yet that was exactly how I felt as I sat and listened to the presentation for the first time, alongside a whole host of other emotions, including indignation, pain and guilt! It has been quite a journey for me to get to the place where I am now, of valuing the security and responsibility the men in the church offer me and realising that it is within that structure that I can be free to be and do all that God is calling me to.
I have had to look at the roles the men in my like took, not in a way that undermines them as I loved both my father and late husband dearly, but in a way that has helped me to understand how their dynamics have shaped my own understanding. I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home but my dad was a very strong man who did fulfil that leadership role in a loving way, but also in an over-protective and quite domineering way which meant that my mum never had to take any responsibility or have a life of her own and I knew as I was growing up that I wanted my life to be very different from that. I became a Christian as a child, despite my parents’ opposition, am a different temperament from my mum and have been very fortunate in the educational and career opportunities that I’ve had and my life is very different from hers. When I married my husband’s family background was very different to mine – he came from a Christian home but one where his mother very definitely wore the trousers! She is a very strong and capable lady who was the main wage-earner and took the lead in family life. His father was a kind and popular man but didn’t take responsibility for his family. When we married my husband expected me to fulfil the role his mother had and, in the absence of his leadership, I increasingly found that I had to. I knew deep down that I wanted a strong Christian man to take the lead and take responsibility for me and the children but, in order to make family life work, I had no option. As my husband faced challenges with multiple redundancies and difficulties in relationships at work and church I had to increasingly take responsibility for leading the family, both practically and spiritually. Sadly I was also in a church where the male leadership was weak and failed to take the necessary level of responsibility and I found I was carrying a very heavy load, which did affect my health.
Looking back I can see why I struggled with terms such as ‘loving leader’ and ‘joyful submission’ on Step Three as it was so far removed from my experience. What I struggled to see was the difference between the ‘ideal’, the structure created by God to give strength and security to family and church life, and the reality and pain of making the ‘less than ideal’ work in practice. Having been on several Step Three courses since I’ve realised I wasn’t on my own! My situation is very different now as both my father and my husband passed away within six months of each other and I’m having to adjust to life as a single lady and seek to understand how these principles apply to life on my own. What I have come to see is that they are the ‘ideal’, it is the order that God created and it’s an order which is fundamentally important, not just within individual family lives but within church life, and the pain that might cause when that is not our experience, for whatever reason, doesn’t invalidate that. I’m very fortunate to be in a church now where the men do seek to take that responsibility seriously and that gives security to everyone, not just their own families. It’s not about being ‘a poor, pathetic creature who can’t do things in my own right' – I’m far from that! – but it is about having the confidence and security of knowing that there are men in my church who are strong enough and wise enough to hear from the Lord and walk with me as I seek to follow the Lord.