It was only a few years ago. We had three young daughters, a new church plant and a conversation one night that would forever change the course of our family.
She was ready for us to become foster parents. I was not.
It had been an on-going discussion for months. A very cordial one at that. We were on the same page, just different timelines. While I had been delaying it in the name of it “not being the right time” she had become prayerfully convinced that in fact it was. The conversation that day was a carbon copy of the many other discussions we had on the subject up to that point. She believed now was the time. I outlined all the reasons why I thought it wasn't. She patiently listened. That was it for now, so I thought.
Later that evening she brought it up again. Something in her voice told me this time was different than all the others. Not that it wasn’t serious before, but the tone was different – a new simplicity wrapped around this moment – through which she said the one thing I secretly knew to be true but selfishly hoped I would never have to hear:
There will never be a right time for us to do this; there will always be a reason not to. There are kids out there that need us. The time is now.
I don’t recall much that was said after that, if anything at all. I do recall, however, knowing she was right. She went upstairs and left me in the silent wake of her words. A few minutes later I followed.
A BROKEN LEADER
God changed my heart that night, in more ways than one. I’ve always wanted to be a husband that led his wife well. I grew up in a church tradition that taught men were designed to lead their wives and are responsible to use their positions of leadership not to be served, but to serve; to sacrifice themselves for the good of their brides. This is the model of Jesus and the means by which I’ve always strived to love and lead my wife.
But leading can be hard. Up to that point in our marriage I found the most difficult part of leading my wife was not necessarily making big decisions or being on the spiritual frontlines in defense of our marriage and family or managing money or even working hard to provide a home. Instead, I found that being the spiritual leader in my marriage was always most difficult for me when I sensed that my wife was more spiritually capable of leading than I was. Who am I, a broken and flawed man, to pretend like I can lead her? How am I supposed to model the leadership of Jesus towards her when it seems she’s actually walking more closely with Him than I am? That’s when it had always been most difficult and awkward for me as a husband to lead my wife – when she wanted to be led by God and I didn’t. Until that night.
WHEN LEADING MEANS FOLLOWING
One of the great misconceptions about leadership is that a leader always has to be out front, when in fact some of the best leaders I've known have at times been the least visible people in the room. They inspire, empower and steward others to flourish out front in the things they do well – even if they aren't capable of doing those things themselves. That's what makes them leaders.
When it comes to my marriage, I've realized there will be times when leading my wife will actually mean being willing to follow her – trusting her to step out in front in order to create space for me to catch up. I don’t think that makes me a bad leader; I think it makes me a smart one. On some level I’m convinced that’s what the scriptures mean when it describes a wife as a “helper” for her husband (Genesis 2:18). Sometimes, as a man, a husband and a leader, I need help. Most of the time, in fact. But I suppose that’s the beauty of how marriage is designed to work – to be a mutual sharing of the burden to help each other continue to take steps forward, together. Sometimes I can lead well in that, and other times I need her to take the first step so I can see more clearly where we both need to go together.
On that night in particular, leading her literally meant following her – upstairs – to tell her she was right; because she was. It was time.
I know this is not the story of every marriage – some are totally in sync on all points, some have real, hard reasons why now is not the right time, and so on – but it was the story of mine and I’m convinced the current reality of many others. Maybe even yours. There are many wives out there that believe the time is now and husbands who for various reasons aren’t quite sure. I can’t speak to every situation in every marriage, but I can speak very personally to that one. I’ve been there.
TO THE UNSURE HUSBAND
So, to the unsure husband: God may not speak audibly, but I’m convinced He does speak vicariously – no more clearly than through our wives. For me, it was most profound that night: There will never be a right time for us to do this; there will always be a reason not to. There are kids out there that need us. The time is now. She was right. And the truth is that there’s never really a perfect time to foster or adopt; just a lot of opportunities to say yes despite the many reasons we may have to say no. You’re aware of all the reasons you have to say no, but perhaps God is using the voice of your wife to help you say yes to His. He certainly did for me.
Some will say, “It’s important that both the husband and wife feel called,” and I would whole-heartedly agree. That is, after all, the point – perhaps God is making that call very clear to you through your wife. It's in those cases that leading your wife well will mean trusting what God’s put on her heart – like fostering or adopting – and following her into it, together. Maybe it starts small and simple; one step at a time. Attending an informational meeting at church or an orientation class at a local agency; going to dinner with a family that is fostering or has adopted to hear their story and ask them questions; reading a book or attending a conference. Relatively small steps that could go a long way in the heart of your wife and potentially do a big work in yours.
Husbands, lead well in whatever that next step is. For now it may feel more like following, but I’m convinced God wants to use your wife's leading to change your heart in ways you otherwise would have never thought imaginable. Perhaps she is the very help God knew you would need to become the husband He knew she would need.