Each year I walk through deep hurt with an increasing number of Christian women who find themselves in either a sinful or dysfunctional relationship with a man. These are highly capable women, all coming with a need to believe that the Spirit within them is powerful enough to lead them to repentance, repair their broken heart, and restore their joy in Christ. The majority of my counseling time is spent admonishing them to take the reins and head on a path of righteousness regardless of any dysfunction perpetuated by the ungodly, unresponsive or unrepentant actions of another.
Though both genders equally battle with sin, the struggle of that sin differs as much as our design. The unwillingness to speak to these differences isn't helpful in understanding the spiritual warfare that we encounter as Christians. It's as harmful to suggest men struggle with sexual temptation more than women as it is to suggest they struggle similarly. We can argue all day about our dislike of generalities, but the fact remains that most men struggle with the temptation to desire, and women with the temptation to be desired.
The fact also remains that men struggle with the tendency to control, and women with the tendency to be controlled. If this stirs strong defense in you as a kind man, know that your silence controls just as powerfully as your severity. And if it stirs defense in you as a strong woman, know that being controlled doesn't always look like an acquiescent lamb quietly accepting its slaughter. Sometimes it looks like a vicious tiger bitterly pouncing in protest.
The Bible commands a husband to honor his wife as the weaker vessel (I Peter 3:7), and it has nothing to do with inferior intelligence or any inability to bring the world to its needs with her leadership. I'm a petite woman married to a man who could snap me in two, but it's not his physical strength that awakens me to my weakness. It's my spirit that awakens me, knowing I've given the full measure of my heart to a man who can crush me with a single look of disappointment. It's not that he's immune to being deeply hurt, it's that his emotional strength with its more compartmentalizing design affords him a layer of insulting protection that I will never possess. It is no small matter for a woman to surrender her heart, and it's a grievous blunder for any man to misunderstand the gravity of that.
The majority of women finding themselves emotionally entangled in relational dysfunction with men confirm this weakness to be an integral part of their struggle. Whether manipulated by the sarcasm of a berating husband, the surliness of a belittling employer, the seduction of a bewitching lover, or the silence of a betraying friend, it's not an uncommon occurrence for otherwise strong women to find themselves maneuvered into a dysfunction that leaves them feeling powerless. Helping women understand this weakness of the flesh that makes them susceptible to control is key in strengthening their heart and mind. Not because it absolves them of responsibility, but because it instructs them to take responsibility.
When I counsel a woman to take the reins, I'm not counseling her to meet the control of a man with control of her own. Nor am I counseling her with any relational advice to disgengage, though that may be best. I'm simply counseling her to humble herself with a heart of repentance that refuses to be drawn down any dark path of sin or selfishness. I'm counseling her to grab the reins as a redeemed woman and head on a path of light that has her resolved to follow hard after Christ. It's not counsel to lead, it's counsel to follow.
Every meaningful relationship comes with road bumps that emotionally disturb and spiritually disrupt. When the relationship is on a grace-paved course leading to Christ, those disturbances and disruptions are quickly brought into check by the bonds of humble love. But when the relationship takes a detour, bonds of love are replaced with cords of control that turn the relationship into an emotional tug of war. The beauty of the gospel is that these cords of control are no match for the power of grace. Even if we find ourselves in a relationship of dysfunction, we can remain free.
As redeemed women, we are free to stay on a path of righteousness that moves us forward. We are free to take the reins in the presence of any relational dysfunction and love more, not love less. Regardless of the actions of others or the depth of any relational hurt, we are free to travel a path paved too beautifully with the joy of repentance and the peace of reconciliation for us to enable sin. And we are free to trust the Spirit of God to untangle every emotional knot of our heart and show us how we ought to move forward as a grace-dependent lover of God and His Word.