How a Woman Thrives: Jen Wilkin
Are we making too much of the differences between men and women? Author Jen Wilkin knows how a woman thrives — and how to sidestep common marriage-role snags.
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Are we making too much of the differences between men and women? Author Jen Wilkin knows how a woman thrives — and how to sidestep common marriage-role snags.
How a Woman Thrives: Jen Wilkin
Jen: The breakdown in any relationship is when we enter into anger and contempt toward someone. You do that when you see someone as ‘other,’ not when you see someone as ‘same.’ So the more that we allow ourselves to focus on men and women being different, we should not be surprised when we see unhealth in those relationships. We have to remember that we share more in common than we are divided by.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: One of the struggles that I know Ann and I brought into our marriage early was this leadership-authority of me, and the submission-following of Ann, because she’s a strong woman. [Laughter] As we were trying to understand our roles as a young couple, 41 years ago, and now 41 years in, it still isn’t an easy tightrope that you walk in terms of “What does it mean for a man to be the husband and maybe the spiritual leader? What does that look like? What does it mean for a wife?”
Ann: Well, the first time I went to a Weekend to Remember®, a marriage getaway, I was a new Christian, new believer. I had never grown up in the church. I had an opinion and a view of what women were probably like, and it was unfounded. I really just had no idea, but I can remember sitting back with my arms crossed, thinking “Oh, these are the people that probably don’t want me to use my gifts, to not be a leader,” because I felt like I was a leader and I was strong, and I had strong views and opinions.
I thought as a woman, “Does that mean I have to just shelve all of those? Does that mean I just have to bow before men— ‘Oh, yes, you’re right.’” I really didn’t know. Did you ever have that struggle Jen?
Dave: Well, I was just going to say, “We have Jen Wilkin here and she’s going to answer all these questions for us.” [Laughter]
Jen: All these questions.
Dave: You’re going to give us the wisdom of God. You are a Bible scholar/teacher, so as you think about your own marriage—
Ann: And you’re strong as well. I think you’re a strong leader as well.
Dave: How do you approach this topic?
Jen: Yes, I think one of the mistakes that we’ve made too often in these conversations in Christian circles is to oversimplify the way that husbands are, or wives are, because marriage is between two individuals. Even if you are to hold the position that the husband is the leader—we’re going to apply leadership language to his role. One of the things my husband has always reflected on is, “But even when that’s said, it’s like the leader is the one that has all the strengths, and the followers are all the weak people.”
The idea [is] that a leader might have weaknesses that they’re looking for someone who has a strength in to offset their weaknesses. He says, “In a business setting I see this all the time. If I were the CEO of the company and I don’t know anything about finance or HR, I’m not going to get better at that and hire a bunch of people who are worse at it than I am. I’m going to find someone who’s really great at those things, and I’m going to get them on my team, and then I’m going to do everything I can to put wind in their sails.”
So, if you talk about leadership, that would be a healthy way to think about it. I’ve even heard people say, “Oh, if he’s going to be the spiritual leader, then he needs a woman who, if she’s spiritually further along than he is, then he shouldn’t date her or marry her, because how can he lead her?” I’m like, “Okay, you just said that a woman who is growing in sanctification will sabotage her marriage relationship. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
If your model of leadership is greater than over less than, then it means that you are setting people up for a lot of weirdness in marriage. Just for example, in my marriage I’m the Bible teacher. That’s not Jeff. Jeff has always done children’s ministry. There are things that he’s really great at, but when we would do family devo, he said, “Hey, Jen. Lead us through something.” That doesn’t mean he is sabotaged. That means that we’re working as partners.
Ann: And you didn’t think, “Wow. You’re not being the spiritual leader here.”
Jen: No. If I had a nickel for the number of times a wife has said to me, “He’s not leading in the home.” I say, “But what do you mean, that he’s not leading in the home? What is your checklist? Is it that he’s not having hymn song with everyone in the morning before you go off to school?”
Ann: Yes. Is there a checklist for a man being a leader?
Dave: I would say this: In many ways if he was doing that, like you said, in the corporate world, he would be applauded. Good leadership.
Jen: That’s right.
Dave: You’re not good at this; you found somebody that’s good at this. You give them authority and you give them a platform, and say, “Lead this part of the meeting.” You’re saying he did that with you because you’re a Bible teacher. Way to go! Rather than, “He’s not leading.” He’s actually leading very strongly. Is that what you’re saying?
Jen: Well, that’s looking for a way for everyone to thrive. I think that’s something that we’ve been missing sometimes in Christian circles. If my strength as a woman threatens your strength as a man; instead of you seeing me as an ally you see me as an adversary, that’s actually Genesis three. You see me as an adversary instead of as an ally. Let’s get to Genesis two, where you say, “At last! Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.”
I do think in conservative circles, we have placed such an emphasis on the distinctions between men and women—
Ann: Meaning their roles?
Jen: Well, in many cases their roles, yes. He does this and she does that, and nary the twain shall meet, or you’re unbiblical. That’s another thing, is the way we use the term ‘biblical’ or ‘unbiblical’ attached to this. These are wisdom issues, and wisdom in this Bible as a category is applied situationally, according to the people who are involved in the relationship.
So, for example, if you think about in the Book of Proverbs where it says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly,” and then the next verse is “Answer a fool according to his folly.” They’re not contradicting each other. It depends on which fool you’re talking to, how you respond. So, when you think about marriages, it depends on which marriage you’re looking at how you would respond to whether someone is handling their role in the marriage in a right way or a wrong way.
Dave: So how do we understand that the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the Church?
Jen: I read something earlier today that said, “Anyone who’s drawn to the idea of headship because it means power is probably a narcissist.”
Dave: Wow. Where’d you read that today?
Jen: I don’t know. It was on the internet, where everything is true and wonderful. [Laughter] I think that’s something that we should be concerned about. If we have so emphasized the idea of headship as “He’s in charge. He’s the boss, applesauce,” then it’s no wonder that you have women who are afraid.
Ann: I think that’s why I sat in that conference with my arms crossed, because I thought, “He will rule over me and be more powerful,” and that scared me.
Dave: And yet, I’d love to hear from both of you, because you had to, we’ve had to figure that out. In some ways, Jen, what you just said, I realized—probably at first, I didn’t realize it because I was too prideful to open my eyes and see, but as I hopefully matured and stepped back and looked at Ann, I realized she’s a better leader than I am.
She’s gifted as a leader. I’m a good leader. I was a quarterback, and you get in the huddle and you lead, but I was not a great leader. She was a great leader, so I thought, “So I should not ever let her lead, because she’s female and I’m male?” I had to wrestle. “Okay, what does that look like, where I am being what God wants me to be as a man and as a husband and as a dad, but I’m also allowing her to thrive?”
I’m guessing that’s something you’ve both had to navigate in your marriages and in your ministries. I don’t know; I’m just throwing it out. Talk about that. Has that been something you’ve had to wrestle as well?
Jen: Yes. I married a guy who sees my strengths as something to celebrate. It’s funny, though. You know the whole ‘helper’ thing? There’s a passage that mirrors that one in Exodus that kind of slips past us. So [to] the people that will say that you are seeing that the woman is the helper—that’s set up for you in Genesis two—I say, “But what about Exodus eighteen, where Moses is trying to rule all of Israel by himself?”
You hear very similar language. His father-in-law, Jethro, comes along and he says, “This is not good.” Right? It’s one of those shocking “not good” statements like you heard in Genesis two. And then what does he say? He says, “You need helpers.” But the helpers aren’t women. They’re men who are going to come and help him run—
Dave: Delegate, yes.
Jen: Yes. So I do think we have to be really careful about over-emphasizing something that might be a note in the symphony but not a major theme.
Ann: The thing that I was thinking, Dave, when you were asking Jen, is one of the things that happened. You’re going to hate that I bring this up. We were in a prayer circle, and I might have been one of maybe two women, and there were mostly men. I just thought, “Well are we going to pray? Let’s pray.” So I said, “Hey, I’ll pray. Let me start us by praying.” So I did. But you came home that night, and you said, “Hey, you know. Could you not initiate prayer? Could you kind of just let me at least?” I remember that I was crushed.
Dave: When I hear that now, I’m thinking, “I was so insecure. I was intimidated by her leadership gift.” Again, it was better than mine. She had instincts that were right, and I should have celebrated that. I think it leads to a good question. How do we tilt it in a way that the power dynamic is rightly lived out? Does that make sense? I shouldn’t have said that to her. I should have celebrated, “Way to go!”
Jen: I do think it goes back to this question of whether headship and submission is the primary way we should be thinking about the marriage relationship. When you think about the way that Jesus talks about the Church, His family, His mother and brothers, come to Him in the Gospels, and someone comes in and tells Him that they’re outside. He says, “Who are my brother and my sisters and my mother? It’s anyone who does the will of the Father.” He redefines family along spiritual terms.
But He also is saying something that’s fundamentally true in human relationships. Marriage is not eternal from what we can tell, from the way the Scriptures talk about it. But siblinghood is. We will always be brothers and sisters. But I think that what can often happen is we get into the marriage and family relationships, so mother, father and children, and those can be the relationships in which we feel the most willing to exercise from a position of contempt.
These people who are my neighbors, who live under my roof, are the ones who I think about last when I think about loving my neighbor as I love myself. They are the ones who I can push on the hardest or neglect the most, because they have to love me because they’re in the home with me.
When you see something that’s out of balance in a husband-wife relationship, it’s usually not because they got the roles of husband and wife messed up. It’s because they forgot that they’re brothers and sisters. In a sibling relationship, there’s not a power dynamic at play. You’re not thinking about power. You’re thinking about mutual care for one another. If we operated in our marriages, whether husband or wife, just under that general rule of “Outdo one another in showing honor,” then we wouldn’t have to ask questions.
Dave: Does that happen? Is that what it looks like for you and your husband?
Jen: Oh, every day. All we do is say, “How can I lay down my rights for you?” [Laughter] “How can I do that today?” No. Obviously everyone has selfishness that lives inside of them still. We think the enemy has to do with who’s doing what, but it has to do with who needs what from what they’re doing. I could be giving the appearance of having a quiet and gentle spirit, for the purpose of manipulating you, right?
Dave: Yes, right. Totally.
Jen: I just think so often we’re saying, “Well, she’s doing this,” or “She’s not doing that.” Or “He’s doing this and he’s not doing that.” I’m like, “Well, right, but both of them are selfish. Let’s deal with the heart issue first.” I just don’t know that 20 or 30 years ago, or 50 or 70 years ago everyone was super worried about whether everyone was staying in their lane the way that we seem to be now.
Dave: I was just going to ask you, why do you think that is now?
Jen: I do actually think it’s just because we look around at what’s going on in the culture and say, “Oh, no. Not on my watch.” If the culture is talking about men and women being interchangeable, then I’m going to double down and say that men and women have nothing in common, and therefore in marriage they should not function in any way in the same capacity.
But we forget what the Bible’s first emphasis is. The Bible does not say men are from Mars; women are from Venus. That’s actually a book that was written for a secular audience. The Bible says something distinctly different from that. The Bible says that both men and women were created in the same garden by the same Creator, tasked with the same purpose, to co-labor with one another to rule and subdue and to have dominion and to be fruitful and to multiply.
And that when Adam sees Eve, his first response to her is not, “She’s completely different than I am.” It’s “She is like me,” and he sings a hymn about how she is like him. She is created according to his kind. The breakdown in any relationship is when we enter into anger and contempt toward someone. And you do that when you see someone as ‘other,’ not when you see someone as ‘same.’ You think about C.S. Lewis’s famous words about friendship. He says, “Friendship begins when one person looks at another and says, ‘You too? I thought it was only me.’”
So the more that we allow ourselves to focus on men and women being different, we should not be surprised when we see unhealth in those relationships, because the more I see you as different from me, the more I will objectify you, and the more I will want to push you away or push you down. We have to remember that we share more in common than we are divided by.
So a perfect example would be, “Do I have more in common with Dave or with a female cat?” Well, obviously I have more in common with Dave than I do with a female cat. My femaleness is not my fundamental defining characteristic. My humanness is. So, brothers and sisters remember to see each other first as people before they see each other as any other category after that.
Ann: So you’ve raised both boys and girls, men and women.
Ann: Any distinctives as you have raised them? Have you done any equipping for them as a husband or a wife? Is that different? Is it the same?
Jen: Well, I hope what they’ve seen a lot is that Jeff and I really like each other.
Jen: We are friends as much as we are romantic. We just really like each other, so I hope that they have seen that, because I think it does lead you to a lot of mutual respect in the relationships that you form with others. But we also encouraged them as they were growing up to have real friendships with men and woment, both boys and girls, teaching our children that all friendship is based on risk and reward.
So you test a trust barrier, and if it's a safe trust barrier, then you move deeper into friendship with a girl that you’re friends with, if it’s one of my daughters. If she ends up being manipulative or says something that’s off, then you back away. You realize that’s maybe not a trustworthy friendship.
Ann: But I mean in terms of a marriage, have you had a conversation and would you of “Son, this is what it looks like to be the husband of your wife, or to lead her.” Or “Honey, as my daughter, this is what a good wife will look like.”
Jen: Yes. We talk about it in terms of, “Hey, do you really like this person?” And then there’s a question of “If he says, ‘Hey, this is what I really think is the way that things should go,’ how are you going to respond to that?” They’ve seen us have robust dialogue. It’s not Jeff going into a room and making a decision and announcing it to the family, right?
I think it’s a question of “Is the person who’s the leader the one who sits in the highest place, or the one who sits in the lowest place?” The way that you view that, if you see it as a privilege instead of as an obligation, then that’s going to shape the way that your home plays out. So asking daughters and sons to think about what it means to lead—most good leaders that I know didn’t want to step into that role. They did it because it had to be done.
What we often communicate is, “Oh, leaders. Leaders get all the perks and everybody else gets what’s left.” So we have coached the kids a lot around what that does and does not mean. But every organization needs a person to be in charge. How you understand that—I always want to be really, really careful in the way we talk about it, because it’s been a misused idea.
Ann: I love our producer, Jim. He always says, “A great leader is the first to: the first to serve, the first to care for.” I thought those were really good. Do you agree with that?
Jen: Well, I do, but I think that if the implication is that that’s what the husband does and not what the wife does, then I don’t agree.
Jen: Because there are areas where I lead in something first, and everyone is called to lay down their life.
Ann: We’re both called to do that. Have you ever prayed first? [Laughter]
Dave: You had to bring that up again. As I listen to you, Jen, I do think you are a woman that’s thriving.
Jen: I feel like it.
Ann: You seem like it.
Dave: Not only in ministry, but I can sense in your home—I don’t know your home. I’ve never met Jeff.
Jen: Jeff is great.
Dave: What would you say Jeff does, or what is it about the way he is as your husband that allows you to thrive as a woman?
Dave: Because I think we men could probably learn.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Wilkin on FamilyLife Today. I want to hear what Jeff does in the Wilkin home that helps Jen thrive as a woman, and we’re going to hear that in just a second.
But first, as I look around in our culture today, I come face to face pretty regularly with the fact that now more than ever hope is needed in marriages and families. That reminds me of a verse I read just a couple of days ago. It was Proverbs 21:31. It says this: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”
What in the world does that have to do with this month? Well, it’s basically this: God wants to involve us in getting ready, getting the horse ready, doing our part, doing the things that He is working at in the world. But ultimately, the victory belongs to the Lord. The battle belongs to Him. We’re not the ones who determine whether or not the victory happens, but God wants to involve us in the process by “getting the horse ready.”
Well I know that you are probably a person who wants to give hope to someone who might feel hopeless today. The cool thing is, this month we are looking for 350 new partners to join FamilyLife as a donor. With your support during our matching campaign all this month, any gift that you give will be matched dollar for dollar for the next 12 months. So that means if you make a $25 donation each month, it actually becomes a $50 a month donation. And if you make a $100 donation, it becomes a $200 a month donation.
The cool thing is, as a FamilyLife partner, you get to receive a ton of different benefits that you wouldn’t ordinarily get, including: a gift card to attend a Weekend to Remember event—that’s amazing; live FamilyLife events online with some of our talented authors and radio hosts; and then access to our brand-new curated content library of resources for some of life’s most important issues.
As a FamilyLife partner, you equip marriages, parents, and families to impact our culture for Christ, and I think that’s really the greatest benefit that you have as someone who partners with us. So, if you’d like to become a partner and have your gift matched dollar for dollar for the next 12 months, you can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329.
Again, the number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” You could also drop us something in the mail. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Alright. I want to hear what Jeff does in the Wilkin home that helps Jen thrive. Here’s Jen Wilkin.
Jen: He saw what in me was often characterized in Christian circles as being too much. He saw it as something he wanted to see grow.
Dave: What do you mean “too much?”
Ann: Every woman knows what that word means.
Jen: Yes. Yes.
Dave: Well that’s why I’m asking. Help us men understand “too much.”
Jen: I have opinions. I enjoy friendship with both men and women. This is something that I’m circling back to, because I think that it matters. I have some really good male friends. Jeff knows them; it’s not like I’m hanging out having coffee alone with some dude across town or anything. I have genuine good friendships with other men. He has genuine good friendships with other women.
He did not try to make me fit into a mold. He said, “The Lord has given you a particular set of gifts.” Another good example would be a question I’m often asked in interviews: “How do you balance doing the Bible study stuff and being a mom?” He cracks up at that. He says, “No one has ever asked me how I balance being the dad and going to work every day.”
It's this idea that there’s no such thing as dual calling for a woman, that anything she does that’s in addition to her work with her children is stealing from her children or stealing from her family’s well-being. That’s just never been his view. He says, “My children got the mom who’s also a Bible teacher, so it must be good for us to find a way to make that work,” in the same way that it’s good for us to find a way for him to be doing his job, or good for us to find a way for a child to explore a particular gift or talent.
Every decision we make regarding calendar does have an impact on our family. It does have a cost. The question is whether the cost is worth bearing. Jeff was really good at saying, “Yes, that’s worth the cost,” and not saying, “Mmm, I don’t know. You’re stealing.”
Ann: Dave, I would say you’re really good at that, too.
Dave: I wasn’t throwing it out to get praise.
Ann: No, I know you weren’t.
Jen: Hey, take it! [Laughter]
Ann: I totally know that you’re not. I made that comment about you being frustrated with me praying first. You don’t do that anymore.
Dave: I had to grow up. I didn’t know.
Ann: I feel like I thrive because you celebrate who I am.
Shelby: Now coming up tomorrow Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined in the studio once again with Nana Dolce, talking about The Seed of the Woman, as she traces the Gospel story line through the narratives of women all throughout the Bible. That’s tomorrow, and you don’t want to miss it.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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