She said: This morning I was really blessed by this Scripture… which got me thinking about… and then I was praying through the whole issue of… which reminded me about the verse where it says…
He said: Yeah, it’s that whole theme of… isn’t it interesting how Paul says…
She said: Hm. (tight lipped, looking out window)
What’s just happened?
Well, if you ask me it’s a textbook example of how fallen men and women use words.
Yet, before we look at that, let’s think about how men and women should use words. To do so, I’m going to get a little lewd. The next paragraph is about verbal intercourse. But, informing it is… well, the other kind. You know – front botties, special cuddles, that kind of thing. Ok. Ready?
Husbands are designed to move towards their wives with strength, to enter their world for their wives’ benefit and not their own. Husbands have fruitful, life-giving words to bestow (note how often ‘seed’ and ‘word’ goes together in Scripture: Mark 4:14 ; 1 Cor 3:6; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:21). The wife is to warmly receive the husband’s approach and to be blessed by his words. The husband’s most common failure here is either an impotent retreat from her world or a selfish entering in where the words are given quickly and for his own benefit. The wife’s most common failure is either a tight refusal to let the husband in at all or an inability to truly enjoy or engage with the encounter.
Ok – lewdness over. Everybody alright?
I risk mild offence because I think the parallel between sex and words is instructive. It’s certainly not perfect. In the analogy there’s not room to consider the woman’s words to the man – which is a major defect! The words that have most blessed me in life have been my wife’s. Nonetheless, there is asymmetry in male-female relationships and it’s worth pursuing. So with that caveat I will try to tease out the parallels between sexual and verbal abuse. I think it’s instructive.
A woman has commonly (I’m tempted to say, universally) been on the receiving end of soul-piercing death-words. And they have experienced them as violations in a way different to how men would experience those same words. Stronger men (often fathers) have used their strength to either shout down, belittle, intimidate, out-last or otherwise out-argue them. There are painful feelings of being bullied and disempowered associated with the words of men.
Don’t men have similar experiences of being silenced by the words of others? Yes. Are they painful? Yes. But my contention here is that women experience those pains deeper and more sharply. I could be wrong but that’s my contention.
Something that’s confirmed my suspicions has been hearing three different women speak about conversations with men. All three conversations happened in the last month. And all three women said that the words of the man strongly reminded them of encounters with their fathers. “And it didn’t seem to matter what I said, he just kept on making his point… It reminded me so much of my dad – he was clearly in the wrong but he just kept going, bullying me with words. I was powerless, it made me so angry…“
And men for their part use words for their own benefit – not to give life but to self-please. This weekend I was away with a group of teenagers and youth leaders. My ears pricked up every time an older male ‘teased’ a younger female. There was a war of words (all in jest of course) and a truce was called only when the girl was exasperated, silenced and everyone had a good laugh. That was the dominant form of male-female communication over the weekend.
Question: What does a woman learn about a man’s words over time?
It is entirely understandable that a woman does not trust the words coming from fallen men. Experience has taught her that these words are not going to benefit her, only silence, shame and weaken her.
Now… back to our opening dialogue. Why did I (the man in this scenario) add my two cents to the words of my wife (the woman)? Well – mixed motives. There was a sinful impulse to demonstrate bible knowledge. But there was also a desire to bless.
What did this awaken in my wife? A deep fear that this was a power play. Painful memories of verbal bullying. A sense of resignation that once more she was being corrected by someone stronger. Powerlessness in the face of ‘the expert’ who had to be right.
How should the conversation have gone?
For one thing, I should have listened a lot longer. Maybe I should have just listened, full stop. I certainly should work on my problem of premature communication. Pride is at the heart of this.
As we spoke further, my wife confessed her over-riding fear of receiving my words. Fear that my words would not bless but silence her. Fear that I speak not to serve but to crush her.
Repentance is needed! Why should I seek to assert my ‘bible knowledge’ as a badge of honour? Who am I trying to impress? How small do I have to be to act like a 6 year old in assembly who knows the right answer: “Ooh, Ooh, ask me! I know this one!“
And why should Emma close up to a few sentences from her husband. Even if they were designed to hurt (and, to my shame, at times they have been) – she has an indestructible core and an undamageable beauty. With Christ encamping around her (Ps 34:7) she can receive my approaches – they won’t destroy her. And occasionally, by the power of the Spirit, they may just bring life.
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. (Prov 15:4)