Friday, October 26, 2012

The Loneliness of Leadership

(for Thomas, who asked me to write more about this subject)

All men enjoy being a leaders when things are good. When there is plenty of money, plenty of time, and plenty of good natured agreement from your wife. Imagine coming home with an unexpected bonus from work, "Hey Honey, you know that return trip to Aruba you've dreamt about since our honeymoon--we're going!"

Similarly, there's the easiness about the less dramatic decisions about family life. Is it Lavender Twill or Big Montana Sky Blue the right color for the living room of the new house? Your spiritual leadership role is clear and easy in this scenario, too.

a) its stupid to put up a color you both hate
b) you have plenty of time to discuss the matter and reach a mutual decision
c) a bucket of paint costs $28, not a huge investment if the final decision ends up being wrong.

When people tell you "That spiritual head of the family is stupid, outdated stuff, we have an equalitarian marriage..." don't believe them. If you choose your spouse well, (and I'd like to add have the benefit of grace from a sacramental marriage) 90% of the stuff in married life is "easy decision making." Either both spouses agree, or one cares and the other doesn't, or someone's in such a jolly mood they cheerfully give up their way.

Spiritual Leadership is about the husband stepping up to direct the other more messy 0.001% to 10% of married life.

There are some hard decisions in married life that have to made quickly--there is not enough time, there is not enough money, and there is no clear agreement between two people who however in love--remain different individuals with different tastes and preferences.

In those decisions, the husband takes the lead.

He doesn't get to make the decisions because he's better than his wife. He makes the decisions because someone has to do it--life is miserable if a husband and wife have to stop and debate the smallest minutiae of life--and the husband gets to do it because he is the servent of his wife and his children, and the Holy Spirit gives him some kind of special insight into God's Will "on the big stuff."

It's easy to do that when your wife gracefully acquiesces to your leadership.

But sometimes, a husband is urged to make a decision that no on in his family (his wife or his kids) likes. That is the "loneliness" of leadership. As a wife, (who often sports a disrespectful "Nobody is going to tell me what to do" attitude towards her loving husband) I want to encourage you to embrace the loneliness. If there is a decision that is important, that you've prayed about, that you are doing out of loving concern for your wife and your future kids, don't automatically default to the thought "this must be the wrong decision if she doesn't agree 100% with me..."

If you make a small step out to Him in faith He will bless you. You are like our Father Abraham, talking to God in your heart, as you bravely journey with your family, into a new land. You are St. Joseph protecting the family by fleeing to Egypt.  The uncertain is scary, but as a husband, you are uniquely equipt to lead your family out of danger and into safety. (There is a reason why you love to watch Action Films and Sci-Fi Adventure-it addresses that uniquely male question "What would I do if this happened....")

Here is a small sample list of things that I've only later agreed with my husband on:

Example One:
Jon made some sort of promise to God at our daughter's baptism never to miss another Sunday Mass. It's such a deep promise, he doesn't even tell me about it. Three months later we're going camping with our friends. As a new Catholic convert, I'm still on my old Methodist rule that it is perfectly okay to church for sickness or travel. We have this discussion in public with our friends, while me and two other people tell Jon he's being a stickler for wanting to go to Mass on Sunday.

My husband decides to drive 4 hours round trip to go to a 7 PM Mass in the capital city in our state, just so he fulfills his spiritual obligation to God. At the time, I thought he was dumb. I most likely even groused about getting left extra hours alone with our baby. The fact that he drove so far to go to a Sunday Mass, stunned me. It really spoke to my soul. I didn't change overnight, but I did start taking my obligation to go to Mass much more seriously.

(It was months and month later, that we discovered that missing Mass was a mortal sin. We had to go to confession for it.)

Jon was right. His leadership on an issue I thought was "unimportant" changed my life. I am a Capital "C" Catholic because I watched him drive so far to attend Mass that day. (As long as I kept making mortal sins, I couldn't get the full grace from God to change my life around and start growing into the person He wants me to be).

Example Two:
Winter is coming. As a new homeowner, my husband had this dream of getting our propone fireplace converted to burn wood. He's married to a timid girl who once had the misfortune of attending a Tort Law class. Last year --under the democratic decision making process model--I flatly vetoed Jon's dream.

I'd read somewhere that you shouldn't mess with a fireplace without a licensed professional. An entire year passed while we were waiting to save up the fireplace renovation fee. We had a baby instead-- no dice. This Fall we were no closer to our goal.

Then my husband said "I think I can do it. Let me give it a try." Totally begrudgingly I let the matter go. I said "Ummm, we'll see" without any enthusiasm. I totally expected the measure to fail. To my shock, the husband I would have formerly dubbed "unhandy" fixed our fireplace. It burns wood! The kids were overjoyed. I think the quote of the night was "Mimi, get off the computer and come downstairs, the fire is on!"

Can I tell you how warm, delicious, and sexy it is to have a wood burning fireplace in my living room? I was 100% against the decision to even let Jon "try" to fix our fireplace. Now he's got my enthusiastic support--so much that I'm telling him "a blizzard is coming, better take some of our savings out to buy a cord of wood this weekend!"

To get to this stage, my husband both times, had to risk my displeasure. Sometimes it's an unenthusiastic "well, if you insist..", sometimes it's a frown, sometimes its actually (as in the real life case of me coming down with kidney stones and refusing to bother the ER doctors with some of my quote "stupid" PMS pains) my husband stands strong in the face of such opposition as when I start screaming "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE to order me around? I told you this is no big deal! Leave me alone!"*

Yet my husband risks the loneliness of leadership-because he's acting out of love. He knows in his gut that he's got a divine connection to the Holy Spirit, and he can make the hard, unpopular decision because he's acting in the best interest of his family. God doesn't just issue you a wife--he entrusts you with a precious treasure. The more you act with courage to protect and safe guard your wife, the more she is going to trust your leadership, in the few times that you disagree on your joint journey to heaven.

Prayer is the fast-track to spiritual leadership.

Many prayers and best wishes to Thomas and all the Holy Christian Couples out there. We are all fighting the good fight!


  1. You know, this post touched me in a way I can't quite describe. Let me try...

    We have an almost entirely egalitarian home, but sometimes we do disagree, and reach an impasse. We have reached one now.

    My husband is very likely about to be transferred overseas, perhaps to the U.S. again. He of course wants to keep the family together, and he wants us all to move with him. I believe this would be wrong.

    Even though I sometimes struggle, living where we do now (in his country, where I am a stranger, another race, and I still speak Japanese imperfectly even after years living here), and even though moving back to my own country seems so comfortable and SO tempting, plus it would be good for the kids' education, I know in my heart that I will not be going with him.

    I will be staying here. And I will be facing the "loneliness" of my leadership. And I know in my deepest heart of hearts that I will be making the right choice.

  2. Ouch for being separated L!

    You've got to come home to the US L! You need to come over sip ice-tea at my house and tell me how wrong I am in my philosophy. Besides a technically unemployed Smithee can cause so much delightful trouble in the US--give yourself a chance to really create a stir outside an office.

    Many prayers for your family's move and your heartbreak for being far from your wonderful husband.

  3. The loneliness of leadership for husbands also entails accepting that you will sometimes be wrong. It may be through circumstances beyond your control or because of other people's sins, but it may also be because you have taken on more than your skills or time will allow. Or it may be because you didn't seek or listen to good council. Or perhaps because your own poorly ordered attachments led you to chose something for your own good rather than your family's - or perhaps no one's good, but simply the easier path. The loneliness of leadership means you have to accept the reprocussions of bad decisions, apologize, learn and grow from bad decisions and be brave enough to make a tough decision again - not hiding behind your wife, forcing her to make the decisions or causing your family to fall into a decision making paralysis because you are unwilling to perhaps make a bad decision again.

    And wives? We have to never, never say "I told you so"! Because, really, would you want to hear it? And does it help?

    This is a hard road to follow, especially in this age and culture. But I am convicted that it is the right path.

  4. Ha, that's very kind, and I would surely love to sip ice tea with you someday. I don't think you're wrong in your philosophy at all -- I am living my life differently, but you seem to be doing very well, and living yours in a way that you think brings you close to God. I enjoy reading your blog & sharing your very different life.

    I was an "unemployed Smithee" in the U.S. before, when I quit my job in '94 and moved to LA, following my husband's job. Instead of finding employment, I got pregnant, and had two babies before we moved back to Tokyo in '98. I was so desperate and lonely to meet other moms that I joined a mother's group that met at a Southern Baptist church, which was open to moms of all faiths (or none). I went with an open mind, and made some great friends. In some ways, reading your blog takes me back to that time.

    Stay safe in the storm - may all your trees remain upright!

  5. Thanks Abigail! Definitely something "to chew on."

  6. Decision -making paralysis--I love that!

    I'm learning to embrace that more as a Mother--making the quote "wrong" decisions, or having deep flaws--God uses everything, especially mistakes.

    If my husband doesn't quote "fail"--how can he experience God working, how will his trust grow, how would I get an opportunity to be graceful, forgiving, and cheerful in adversity?

    Most important, how will my son gain confidence to be a leader--and leaders must not be afraid of failure--if he never sees his Dad fail and pick the whole family back up again?

    Paralysis is bad. Making honest mistakes is great because it leads to humility and great Trust.