My Husband is Not My Spiritual Leader
Here is a little timeline of my attitude toward the concept of husbands as spiritual leaders:
Ten years ago:
“I just really want a man who can be my spiritual leader. And I hope he plays the guitar.”
Eight years ago:
“I broke up with him because I just can’t see him as my spiritual leader.”
Six years ago:
“I’m marrying him because he is a wonderful spiritual leader.”
Five years ago:
“This marriage will never work if you don’t step up as my spiritual leader!”
Four years ago:
“This is all your fault. You were supposed to be my spiritual leader.”
Three years ago:
“Forget it, let’s watch TV.”
Two years ago:
“Wait, maybe you’re not supposed to be my spiritual leader.”
“My husband is my best friend.”
Five years ago or so, I was about to marry a man I thought would be my spiritual leader. He was a working youth pastor. We were on track to have the marriage I’d always heard praised in my Christian circles, and it all seemed so good.
But two weeks before we married, Joe was abruptly expunged from his church and everything turned upside down. Instead of marrying the perky, Youth Pastor Guy I signed up for, I got a brooding, scared and confused man. Did I mention he was unemployed?
He was not the spiritual leader I prayed for and pined after in my journals. This was a problem for me.
It shouldn’t have been, because I had been raised to be an independent, educated and strong woman in all other areas of life. But bizarrely, the one exception was my spiritual life. I had this picture that my husband should be at the helm, holding my hand and leading me into the deep places of God. This is what I was taught to believe.
This expectation put our marriage through some difficult times. Joe didn’t bounce back right away from his severed church relationship like I thought he should. He wanted to leave the ministry entirely. He was angry and confused, but didn’t like to talk about it. Meanwhile, the Questions started coming at me, and I blamed him for my own spiritual unrest. After all, he was supposed to be my leader.
Then one day about two or three years into our marriage, in the middle of another why-aren’t-you-my-spiritual-leader argument, I heard just how whiny, weak and manipulative my own voice sounded.
“I’ve been saying this for years, and I don’t even know what it means,” I confided in him. “It was just something I’ve always heard.”
Our marriage got better after that day.
Joe did leave the ministry, and is now killing it in a totally unrelated field. He’s happy. He still doesn’t like to talk about spiritual things much, or suggest we pray together, or do those things that other Christian couples always talk about. But I’ve stopped pestering him about it. Joe is relieved and has been freed of his guilt for not living up to some mythical concept of what a spiritual leader looks like (see: Todd from the Christy Miller series).
Later, I put more thought into why I believe in egalitarian marriage, and I debunked the concept of the male spiritual authority in my life. But it wasn’t ideology that shaped my marriage. Rather, my marriage shaped my ideology. Complementarian ideals were getting in the way of an otherwise good union, so I finally gave up on them. I’m so glad I did.
And you know, now that I’ve let go of that narrow picture I clung to, I can see that in some ways, my husband is my spiritual leader. He leads me to God by way of working hard, listening, caring, laughing with me, and sacrificing his wants for the needs of our family. And I am his spiritual leader too. We are equals, both leading and serving and showing each other the face of the divine in our own small ways.