When Husbands Don't Lead
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22). This verse spun through my head as I stared at the food on my plate, pushing it around but not eating it.
“Why are you so disappointed in me?” His question hung in the air, suspended there by my conviction and my fear of speaking the truth. We had been fighting a lot over the previous days, and weeks-- always over trivial things yet never addressing the real issue.
“I…I had different expectations of you. I thought you would be the spiritual leader of our family, and I am just not seeing it.” I wanted him to see it for himself. I didn’t want to spell it out for him, but I did. Passively at first, then more aggressively over time, until it felt like we were always at odds.
He was suffocating under my standards, and I was crushed under the burden of carrying a role that wasn’t meant for me.
Month after month, I sat next to him in church wondering if he was paying attention, hoping each sermon would be the catalyst to a stronger, more fruitful faith, only to see the words of the Gospel seemingly roll off his back. Like me, he grew up in the church, and like me he had a period of rebellion only to be followed by a profound, life changing encounter with the Gospel. Or so I thought. If that were true, shouldn’t I be seeing the fruit of his faith?
Over the course of our marriage, I often thought of the parable of the sower who tosses seeds, some of which fall on the path, others on rock, some among thorns, and some on good soil. Jesus explains in Luke 8:11-15 that the seed is the word of God, and as it is heard, some people are prevented from understanding and believing, some are choked out by trials, others are distracted by the world, and only those who hold fast to the word of God produce fruit. This left me wondering, which category my husband fell into. It would be presumptuous to assume that I knew the inner workings of my husband’s heart or the quiet work of the Holy Spirit in his life. I can only know what I see; and what I saw concerned me. As an observer, I can only guess that he had become apathetic to his faith, which left me wondering: what is the role of the Christian wife to a man who, it appears, has grown cold in his personal pursuit of God and as a result has abandoned his responsibility to lead his family to the foot of the cross? It is a lonely and hard road to walk as the wife of a man who has deserted his post as spiritual leader, but it is not one of inaction. It is vital for that wife to pray, support, and trust during this season-- no matter how long it may last.
We begin first by focusing not on our husband’s faults, but inwardly on our own propensity toward sin.
Romans 3:23-24 states it simply, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? All fall short, and his grace is a gift. I spent far too much of our marriage distracted by my disappointment in my husband’s apparent lack of Christian behavior that I lost sight of my own sinful heart. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus exhorts his followers by saying:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
“You hypocrite.” Those words pierce my heart, but even I can’t deny the truth in them. Who am I to discern the failings of my husband if I am blind to my own transgressions? Only by humbling myself in prayer and coming to the right understanding of my own shortcomings, could I begin to see clearly that my need for God far outweighed my need to “fix” my husband. I had become proud, believing my spiritual journey to be more authentic because of what I did and not because of the grace I had received. I was casting a judgmental eye on the spiritual maturity of my husband without first considering the state of my own heart. We must always go to God first in prayer for ourselves. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Psalm 139: 23-24). Only by first addressing my own sin could I begin the hard work of loving my husband in the way Christ called me to.
For so long, I had been attempting to force my husband into my idea of what a godly man should be, instead of relying on the living word (Heb. 4:12). By recognizing that it is through Christ that he is justified, I am also reminded that it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that he is sanctified (2 Thess. 2:13) and I am released from the burden of changing his mind or his heart. However, it is up to me to live in such a way that his heart might be softened to the things of God (1 Peter 3:1-2).
While it is good for a wife to be concerned about her husband’s spiritual health and maturity, we should be vigilant in keeping Christ the focus and not neglect our own faith.
Ultimately, what is the role of the wife to a man who isn’t acting as spiritual leader? It is to be a prayer warrior, encourager, and supporter. Pray first for yourself and then for your husband, support the work of the Holy Spirit by taking care to cultivate your own faith and walking in a way that supports your husband’s growth.
Finally, trust that God is at work in your husband’s life. To trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in your husband’s heart and mind is to remember and acknowledge what God has done in your own life. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We are not immune to sin, and to remember God’s faithfulness in our own walks will bring hope to us as we labor for our husbands.
The truth is it may take months, and even years, before you begin to see a change in your husband. The harder truth is that you may never see a change in him. But faithfully remaining in prayer, you will notice your own heart fill with the fruit of the Spirit as you labor in faith for the glory of the Lord.