A short time ago I wrote about how I had learned to embrace my dependence upon my wife and to celebrate my need of her. The Lord provided me with a helper for an obvious reason: I need help. There is still part of me that hates to admit this. I value independence and self-reliance and other such dubious virtues. Admitting dependence and need comes hard to me. Yet as life goes on, that need and that dependence become increasingly obvious to me and, undoubtedly, to those around me.
Just a few weeks ago I was at an event and due to speak just a few minutes later. Yet I found myself in my hotel room, in a state of near panic, unable to conceive of how I would cross that room and open that door. This isn’t quite the norm for me, but it also isn’t all that unusual. I called Aileen who immediately knew what to do: She spoke truth to me, reminded me of what I had been called to do and assured me that I could do it; she prayed with me and she prayed for me. And then everything was okay again. I felt like a building that had been about to topple, but then someone dug underneath it and poured a new foundation. It was still leaning a little bit, but now it was resting on something strong enough to support it. Or like an athlete (that metaphor is kind of a stretch for me, I know) who managed to hobble across the finish line only because he had someone else to run beside him, to cheer him on, to give him a shoulder to lean on.
And I realized in that moment that one of the most significant ways Aileen helps me is by strengthening me. She gives me strength I simply do not have without her. It drew me to this exploration of the word helper that appears in Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan’s Book Women’s Ministry in the Local Church:
God ‘helps’ by defending the weak (Exodus 18:4), seeing and caring for the suffering (Ps. 10:14), supporting (20:2), shielding and protecting (33:20), delivering from distress (70:5), rescuing the poor, weak, needy, and afflicted (72:12–14), and comforting (86:17). These are strong, relational, nurturing, compassionate words. They are covenant words. They characterize our relationship with God and with one another.
Supporting, delivering from distress, rescuing the weak, comforting: those are exactly the ways in which Aileen comes alongside me and helps me. These are exactly the things she does for me and the things she delights to do for me. These are the things I need her to do.
She helps me in other ways, of course. As we divide out the various responsibilities of life and family she takes the primary role in caring for and nurturing the children, for example. God has made her in such a way that she is naturally inclined to do this better than I can. A woman makes a better mom than a man does and she helps me by being an excellent wife and mother. I have always valued the ways in which she is complementary to me, in which God has made the two of us to fit together through our differences. But I think I have valued these things at the expense of other things–things that are of equal or even greater importance.
The help I have come to value in a whole new way is not only the kind that arises naturally from our complementary make-up and roles. Rather, I have come to celebrate that she brings strength to my weaknesses and competency to my deficencies. She helps where my character is weak, my maturity low, my ability inadequate. This is where I have come to be increasingly dependent upon her, to rely on her help, through those “strong, relational, nurturing, compassionate words.”
It has been difficult for me to accept this. My pride has been protesting, but there has been freedom in admitting it and celebrating it. The simple fact is, God provided a wife to help me because I am weak and in my weakness I need help, I need strength. She, the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), strengthens me.
(One clarification: I said in my previous article that a wife has a subordinate role to her husband. I meant subordinate as in “a person under the authority of another” and not “a person innately inferior to another.” I had assumed this would be obvious, but some people questioned it. In this way her role is parallel to the trinitarian role of the Holy Spirit who willingly takes on that subordinate role in order to be the helper.)