You have been on my heart for some time, which is likely because I am one of you. I am a relatively young man (i.e. under 40), who is also a Christian, a husband, and a father. You are my peers. And I am writing to you today, because seldom a day goes by where I am not reminded that we all have a whole lot to learn.
Let me share a little more about myself before I get to the reason for this letter. I am fast-approaching 39 years of age and have been married for nearly 19 years. Yes, I married young. Too young, in fact. But God is sovereign and good, and so despite “many dangers, toils, and snares” in our marriage we are pressing on by grace toward another nineteen years and then some. I have made many mistakes along those 19 years as a husband (which I’ve written about in years past), some of them I’m still coming to understand and still trying to correct. You would think that there would be little grace left for a husband like me, but God is an infinite God and his grace is an infinite grace. For that I am most grateful.
In addition to being a husband, I am also a father of three, ranging from age 15 (almost) to age 3. Our oldest is in Driver’s Ed this week, while our youngest (whom we adopted in 2017) just spent nearly an entire morning playing with her new plush unicorn (pronounced wee-corn) pillow. On some of the more overwhelming of days, I admit that my parenting goal amounts to simply trying not to screw my kids up worse than they already have been by Adam’s sin, their sin, as well as my own. I won’t be writing any parenting books anytime soon, let’s put it that way. That is, unless the title of that book is, What Not to Do as a Parent, or something to that effect.
Now, to the reason for this letter.
Both personal experience and my observation as a pastor suggest to me that a lot of young(ish) Christian husbands and fathers could use some counsel regarding how not to blow it in their younger years as husbands and fathers. If you agree, I hope this letter will be helpful to you in some way. And if you don’t agree, perhaps you will by the end of this letter, assuming you keep reading beyond this point.
First, I’d like to point out some common ways young Christian husbands and fathers tend to fall short in their roles at home, and then offer a few words of advice for guys like us to help us do a better job at loving our families as God calls us to do.
Ways We Fall Short
Obviously not every man will be guilty of each of these things to the same degree – and some of us are perhaps even excelling in one or more of these areas. These are simply some common ways that we fall short as Christian husbands and fathers. Those ways include:
- We pour ourselves into our jobs and leave little for our families.
I get it; we are commanded to “work as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23) and part of our jobs as Christian men is to provide materially for our families. However, before God, your actual job is only part of your job at home, and it is nowhere near the most significant job the Lord has given you. Making money to provide for your family is important, but loving your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) and raising your children (if you have them) in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) – to cite two of the other jobs you have been given – is far more important.
Yet, it is all-too-common for young Christian men to go hard chasing after and building their careers and leave their families in the proverbial dust. (And to all you pastors out there; we can be just as guilty of this as anyone else.) I suspect this is probably usually because they feel more fulfilled at work than they do at home. But it is important for a Christian husband and father to understand that the pursuit of vocational self-fulfillment takes a significant toll on his family in ways that go beyond the house they live in and the clothes they wear.
- We don’t pay attention to the struggles of our wives.
I am assuming here that your setup at home is a more traditional one; you being the primary breadwinner and your wife being the primary caretaker in your home. In this scenario, a young Christian husband and father is often rather oblivious to the challenges his wife faces at home during the day. And that obliviousity (is that a word?) grinds on a man’s wife over time and can lead her to deep discouragement (not to mention anger and bitterness). Not to brag, but I’m speaking from substantial personal experience here. I know what I’m talking about.
I have seen this time and time again, both in my own marriage (about a decade ago) and in a number of other marriages since then. A young Christian man works hard at his job and is gone from the home most of the day, on most days of the week. He may even travel every now and again for work and have to spend days at a time away from his family on occasion. And all the while his smart and capable wife is spending her days in obscurity, changing diapers and cleaning the house and disciplining little sinners, while teaching them how to read and how to poop in the toilet, while also trying to have something edible on the table at the end of the day. And he barely even notices her efforts.
Many men in this situation actually think that they have a harder job than their wives! I know I used to think that. But brother, if you think your wife has it easy, you’re really not paying much attention to her. And many guys in our situation simply are not paying much attention to anyone but themselves.
- We spend too much time on our hobbies.
Okay, so you are good with your hands. You like to build stuff. You enjoy hiking. You take pleasure in hunting. You’re athletic and want to keep in good shape. Video games help you wind down at the end of the day. Great. But, can I ask you: What is your family doing while you are doing these things? Where are they when you go out for some “me time”? Or to get more specific, what is your wife doing when you are doing you?
I’ll just leave that question right there. It might be worth some thought.
- We waste opportunities to encourage our wives and kids.
While there are obviously words of correction and admonishment that must be spoken at times from the one who’s been charged with being the leader of the home; godly leadership is not merely about correction. We men are usually very skilled at pointing out the ways our wives and children are falling short of God’s (and our) expectations. But, we are not so adept at encouragement; at strengthening our families with words of kindness, and hope, and affirmation. We could all probably get much better at this and learn to be the chief encouragers in our homes.
- We fail to confess our sins and need for God’s grace.
If I understand the Bible’s teaching about the depravity of man and the deep-seated sinfulness of the believer, then I think it’s safe to say that we fall short of the Lord’s standards for us as husbands and fathers far more often than we actually meet those standards. That being the case, we ought to be the lead sin-confessors in our homes. Yet, this is seldom how it actually works in our homes. Far more common is a Christian husband and father whose mouth is at the ready to point out the sins and short-comings of others; but who is struck mute when it comes to addressing his own.
Yet, my suspicion is that we can probably teach our families more about God’s grace by regularly acknowledging that we need it ourselves, than we can by simply telling them that God is gracious after confronting them in their sin.
For the sake of time, let me offer a handful of other common failures, in rapid-fire succession:
- We focus exclusively on tasks and to-do-lists at home, and forget to build relationships with our wives and kids.
- We don’t help out much around the house.
- We don’t pray for our families enough.
- We neglect our own walk with the Lord.
- We develop a casual relationship with the local church, treating church life as mostly optional.
- We refuse to live under spiritual authority (i.e. local church leaders), wherein we can be held accountable for the structure and priorities of our lives.
- We treat our wives selfishly and impatiently when it comes to sex. (This may warrant a whole post at some point down the road.)
This list of failures is given in no particular order and there is obviously some overlap between each of these things. Yet, they all deserve our attention and personal evaluation.
Ways We Can Improve
Like the previous list, this one will be in no particular order and much will have to be left unsaid. Nevertheless, here are a few of the ways that Christian husbands and fathers – young ones in particular – can grow in their roles at home.
- Cultivate a close and growing personal walk with Christ.
Honestly, this should go without saying, but it’s too foundational and too-often neglected to go unaddressed. Brother, before you are a husband or a father or an employee, you are a Christian; and to be good at any of those other things, you must be devoted to living out the first thing. Your walk with Christ undergirds everything you do. Without Jesus, you can do literally nothing of eternal worth (John 15:5). If you neglect your walk with Jesus; everyone in your home will suffer for it.
- Do what it takes to communicate to your family that they are a higher priority than everything else you do.
You may have to engage in some purposeful neglect here. Neglect that promotion. Neglect that hobby. Neglect some you-time. Neglect that dream job. Your wife and kids need you more than they need your paycheck. They need you more than you need some time away from it all. They need you more than you need to reach your full vocational, physical, and or recreational potential. What do you need to lay down for them? Isn’t that much of what the Christian life is all about anyway (Mark 8:34)? Isn’t the way of self-denial the way Jesus calls us to travel until he returns? That call has enormous implications for family life and for your role as a husband and a father.
- Reflect on the good that you could do to your wife and kids by growing in your role as a Christian husband and father.
How encouraged could your wife be if you gave her more personal attention at home? How much more could you teach your kids? How much more Christ-centered could your family be? How much ministry could you do at home, or with your family? How much good could come to the family God has entrusted to you if you were to grow as a husband and father by the grace of God? Let reflection on these questions spur you on to great growth.
- Seek to encourage your wife on a daily basis.
She has a hard job, brother. Even if all she had to do every day was simply bear with you, she would have enough difficulty in her life. Don’t add to it by being a loveless, impatient, hungry, and oblivious bear of a man. Pay attention. Open your eyes. Notice her. Sympathize with her. Let her share her struggles with you. And thank her for her faithfulness to you and your children. Let her know that you see what she has to deal with and that you are grateful for all that she does (and mean it!).
So much more could be said, so perhaps I’ll write to you again on another day. I trust I’ve left you with enough to consider for now, however, so may the Lord use what I’ve said here to give us the grace we need to see where we are falling short and how we can improve. We have a long way to go, brothers. I know I do, at least. And the days are passing by very fast. Time is short. So let’s be seeking to grow in our roles at home with urgency and passion – for the glory of God and the eternal joy of our families.