“For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man in which neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised.”
“To the degree that a woman’s influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.”
—John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
— — —
The crisp breeze brushed her cheek as she met the morning air and stepped out of her back door. Her giggling daughter Lila rushed on ahead and ran toward the bed of leaves piling up around their backyard birch.
It was Aimee’s day off. And she and Lila were planning to spend their morning raking leaves and jumping in the piles.
“Mommy! Look at this!” Lila called out, falling backward in her red, fluffy, cotton coat.
Aimee laughed, remembering back when she was young and would play in the leaves on her grandparents’ farm. “Just wait till we make the big pile,” she replied.
Lila’s imagination ran wild, not really knowing quite what to expect. She was four years old, and couldn’t remember the previous year.
When Aimee reached to pull the rake out of the garden closet, she felt the old, cool dirt from the wooden handle on her fingers and heard the crackle of spiderwebs separating as she drew the rake toward her.
The musty odor reminded her of her grandfather’s old tool shed, where she used to love to watch him work. She missed him dearly, and just knew he would’ve loved to have known Lila.
She turned toward the center of the yard, where Lila was anxiously waiting to see what her mom was planning.
“Will the leaves go all the way up to the sky?” Lila asked eagerly.
“We’ll see!” Aimee answered, while placing the rake down into the leaves.
As Aimee began drawing the leaves toward herself, she felt a small bundle of leaves tap the back of her head. Whipping around, she saw Lila laughing.
“Oh that’s it!” Aimee playfully warned. “I’m gonna get you!”
Lila turned to run, but couldn’t lunge past a step or two before Aimee scooped her up and began tickling her.
Then she set Lila down, pretending to let her escape. But just as Lila realized she had a step on her, Aimee reached out and scooped her up to tickle her again.
Lila howled. She loved being chased and caught by her mom.
With both of them out of breath, Aimee set Lila down and walked back over to the rake. Lifting it up, Aimee began gathering the leaves into a crescent moon and drew them closer and closer until they had collected a pile higher than Lila’s head.
“Hold up! Don’t go yet!” Aimee said, pulling her phone out of her pocket.
Lila backed all the way up to the house to get a running start.
Aimee pressed record. “Okay, on the count of three. One! Two! Three!”
Aimee’s eyes lit up as she smiled, watching Lila run full speed over the cool, bumpy ground. As she followed Lila with the camera, suddenly she noticed an old steely-eyed man focusing on them through his thin glasses from the other side of the fence.
Lila crashed into the leaves as the man called out in a stoic, preacherly voice, “Hello ma’am.”
“Mom! This is awesome!” Lila yelped. “Watch this!”
“Hold on honey,” Aimee answered back. “Stay right there.”
The man stood at their gate, waiting for her to come to him.
“Can I help you?” Aimee asked cautiously.
“Yes,” he answered. “My name is John. And I’m trying to get to the convention center for a very important meeting. But I’m unsure of where the freeway is exactly.”
“Mom! Did you get a good video?” Lila called out, running toward her. “Can I see it? Can I see it?”
“Hold on,” Aimee instructed.
“Lila, just go play for a minute. I’ll be right there.”
Lila looked up at the old man, who seemed to be studying her and deep in thought.
Aimee felt a bit uncomfortable, but had some empathy for John’s plight and figured she could help him get on his way rather quickly.
Turning back toward John, Aimee said, “The streets around here change names at times. And it doesn’t really make any sense. So it can be confusing.”
“I have a very keen sense of direction,” John replied. “It’s quite clear to me that if I turn right outside of your neighborhood that it should take me directly to the freeway. But I’ve been driving on that road for a while now and haven’t gotten there yet.”
“Don’t do that,” Aimee warned. “A lot of people assume that’s the case and end up getting lost because there’s no on ramp to the freeway off of that road. So then they end up driving forever.”
She sensed him tense up at her answer.
“I know freeways,” John corrected her. “I’m not just driving aimlessly. I just don’t have the time right now to figure it all out and am asking for some brief assistance.”
The two of them stood there awkwardly for a moment.
“Look,” John continued. “I have a very important conference to get to. But I will say that I think that your choice to be a mother is an admirable one that you should be commended for. I wish more women would choose to stay home with their children these days. That’s what women were created for.”
“Actually, I’m on my day off from work today,” Aimee clarified.
“Oh,” John responded, seeming a bit tense. “Is your husband around? Does he work?”
“How about if I just tell you where to go to get to the freeway?” Aimee responded.
“That’s fine,” John said. “I know that you have a knowledge for how to get to the freeway. So at this point in the conversation, I’m asking for you to be a helper and respectfully share with me how you would drive to the freeway if you needed to get to the convention center for a home show or something.”
Aimee bristled at this, but noticed the back door of the house closing as Lila walked inside.
“Sure,” she said with a note of irritation in her voice. “First, you’ll need to take a left out of my neighborhood. Then when you come to the first stop light, take another left. That’s the intersection with the barbecue restaurant on the corner.”
John took a slow deep breath.
“Is everything okay?” Aimee asked, sensing his unease.
“I know what I’m doing. I’m just looking for a helper to assist me with some clarification on how to get to my conference.”
“Okay. So,” her voice trailed off for a moment. “Just take that road for about another mile. And then you’ll turn left again at the gas station. And that will take you right to the freeway.”
“Thank you for your kindness ma’am,” John replied. “By the way, I can tell you’re under a lot of stress trying to hold it all together. And I’m sure you’ve had a lot of disappointment and unsatisfaction in life. So here’s a little tract I wrote that presents six clear biblical truths to help you discover your greatest joy in Jesus Christ.”
She looked down at his trembling hand, outstretched toward her, holding a flyer with fraying edges. She could tell it had been in his pocket for a while. Something about John seemed helpless and weak to her, like he had something he was trying to demonstrate or prove. And she wasn’t really that interested in his Quest for Joy tract. But she reached out, accepted his gift, and watched as he walked back toward his car.
— — —
With the lukewarm air from his rental car beginning to greet his face, John sat silently at the stoplight. As he waited for the light to turn green, a woman in her 20’s began to jog across the crosswalk.
At first, John noticed her beautiful, sandy blonde hair surfing her shoulders as the breeze gently grazed through. In a split second that seemed like an eternity, his eyes caught the form of her legs in strong and steady strides, cloaked tightly in black yoga pants.
“Think about the cross!” John thought to himself as he turned his face away, forcing his eyes downward. “Think about the cross!” He told himself even louder.
He imagined the soldier’s sword, piercing Jesus’ side as blood and water spilled down Jesus’ bare thigh, over his knee, between his toes, and into the soil.
Beginning to calm his breath once more, he noticed a ray of morning sunlight shining through his window onto the floor boards below. As he watched, he caught the familiar dance of dust motes floating in the light just below the rim of the passenger seat.
“I’m breathing that stuff?” John questioned. “Yes. Yes you are,” he answered back.
“The dice are thrown in the lap,” John reminded himself. “And every decision is from the Lord,” he responded.
What seemed like random movements to most was evidence of glory to him. Supremacy. Sovereignty at the highest point of the hierarchy. The electrons, the sub-atomic orbiting like planets, every movement of each molecule tugged like puppet strings by the same God who willed the piercing of his Son and the jogging of this woman.
Suddenly, John jolted at the sound of a horn blasting from the truck behind him. He instantly darted his eyes up toward the green light and stepped on the gas, turning the wheel onto a different road in order to get out of the way of the angry driver.
He continued speeding along, heart thumping from the stress of being surrounded by a beautiful woman, an angry truck driver, and a holy, sovereign God of wrath.
As his breath began to settle, he remembered that he was supposed to be driving downtown to preach at the convention center. Thousands of men and dozens of women would be there, with hearts prepared and minds intent on hearing how he may direct them.
But amidst the panic, John began to realize that he had gotten turned around somewhere along the way. “I need to find the freeway,” he thought to himself. “I can’t be late.”
With each turn he attempted, his heart sank deeper, knowing that he might have to stop and submit himself, in a way, to someone else’s direction. And he couldn’t be sure if it would be another man or perhaps, a woman.
As he crept his way slowly through a neighborhood, he noticed a woman reaching for a door on the back corner of her small house. “I don’t have time for this,” John thought. “This could be dangerous.” But he also didn’t have a choice.
He pulled over to the side, looked at his dark, walnut eyes in the rear view mirror, turned the ignition back, and stepped out.
Hearing the scrunching of stone under foot, John maneuvered his way up the short driveway, and over toward the side fence. Amidst the sounds of laughter coming from around the corner of the house, he inched his way closer and saw a mother and daughter playing in the leaves together beneath the bare branches of a birch tree.
“Think about the cross,” he reminded himself. “Noticing a woman is what got us into this mess in the first place.” Intent on seeing only her eyes, he stared directly at the woman.
“Hello ma’am,” he choked out.
“Hold on honey,” he could hear her say. “Stay right here.”
When she approached the gate, John began explaining to her that he was on his way to his conference and wasn’t totally certain how to find the freeway.
Just then, his words stopped as the girl came running up, asking to see her mother’s phone.
“Now how is she going to handle this situation,” John wondered to himself. “Interrupting her mother? Cutting off an adult man?” He pursed his lips. “A soldier would never behave like this toward their superior officer. Whoever this woman is, she isn’t training her daughter to be a soldier. She is lost.”
Looking down at the little girl, he thought, “Bloated jellyfish floating with the plankton into the mouth of the whale called the world.”
“The streets around here change names at times,” Aimee had turned to speak to him again.
Feeling a bit patronized, as if she thought he might have been confused, he corrected her, “I have a very keen sense of direction.”
As he explained his theory for how to get to the freeway, Aimee interrupted him. “Don’t do that,” she stated.
At this, John began to feel his heart thumping again. “Who does this woman think she is now?” he rhetorically asked himself. “Here I am, humbling myself to ask a woman for directions. And everybody knows that there is a way for housewives to do this without compromising their mature femininity or a man’s mature masculinity.”
“I know freeways,” he spoke up. “I’m not just driving aimlessly. I just don’t have the time right now to figure it all out.”
Feeling slightly guilty for the way he responded so sharply to her, and knowing Jesus was crucified for it, he thought, “I should probably say something nice to her. After all, she is at least attempting to fulfill her commission as a housewife. That is the fruit of common grace. If only more women would do this.”
“Actually I’m on my day off from work today,” the woman explained.
“Oh, now I see what’s going on here,” John mumbled in his mind. “Our sovereign God has predestined this conversation to happen as a John 4 opportunity. This woman has probably had a number of husbands. And I bet the man she’s with now isn’t even her husband.” For a split moment, he imagined her in the throws of sex, sex, and more sex. “Oh the intoxication of sex!” He thought. “Colorful, impassioned, daring, free!”
But then he remembered the piercing penetration of Jesus. “If she doesn’t want to fess up to her sins, then it’s only going to increase God’s wrath against her, which will increase my joy as I witness the sovereign justice of God against her and realize that I’m not where I deserve to be!” Then as he took a breath, he remembered the importance of maintaining the biblical distinctions between men and women and decided to subtly and pastorally encourage her to submit to that.
After the woman shared with him the directions she would take to the freeway for him to consider, John was thankful and felt a hint of empathy for her. “We must not consider empathy,” an inner voice reminded him. “We must act for the glory of the King.”
He pulled his rigid, rectangular suit coat away from his hip, slid his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a tract he had written for men and women who are living in disappointment outside of what he believed to be biblical manhood and womanhood.
— — —
John drove with purpose while reflecting back on his conversation with the woman. Though he was happy to be on his way, he thought to himself, “She was being personal and directive.”
A feeling of offense began to well up within him. But desiring to find his satisfaction in the sovereignty of God, his eyes focused and his grip on the steering wheel tightened while he took the offense before the throne. “Father,” he stated aloud with his fingers clutching the steering wheel. “Before you spoke the universe into existence, you predestined every moment of this day. You even willed for her to trample on your will by how she presented herself to me with a kind of leadership. She felt her knowledge was superior. And so in her direction, she offended my good, God-given sense of masculine responsibility and leadership, and thus controverted your created order!”
Allowing his loyalty to God’s perfect holiness a moment to well up, John stepped on the gas, “And so, in your justice of infinite wrath oh God, I delight in knowing that you will punish her for eternity, and against the black backdrop of her suffering, I will see the light of your grace shining like diamonds toward me a sinner!”
Tears began to trickle down his thin cheeks as he cruised past neighborhoods and trees, considering how beautiful and good this justice of glorious retribution seemed. Then with a hint of humanity, John humbly requested, “But she is lost. She doesn’t know where she is or where she is going. So may it be so, if it is thy will, and for thy glory, may she repent and find glory at the foot of the cross instead.”
John began to imagine the woman being baptized, bringing her child to a local Reformed Baptist church, and eventually serving in the nursery. He dreamed of her changing foul diapers, pouring tiny cups of juice, and placing flood-themed animal crackers on napkins for the little ones to munch on while learning about Noah.
“Perhaps she could one day even lead a class,” he thought.
“Not as a pastor, of course. That’s restricted to men. But as a children’s church teacher.”
John’s mind then went to his own church. He was thankful to lead with such wise men who understood that men alone were to lead the church with the title of elder. “Of course, we are also balanced,” he thought since the men allowed a few of the thousands of women in their church to serve as deacons. “But biblically, a deacon is simply a table server, a servant or slave at the table of the Lord,” he reminded himself.
His mind wandered to the support staff. They did have women serving in some leadership capacities. But unlike egalitarian churches, John’s elders refused to call women “pastors.” And unlike other complementarian churches around the country, they didn’t call the women on their support staff “directors” either. No, the men figured that would be too personal and directive.
“Imagine what would happen if a man was visiting our church and didn’t know where to take his child,” he remembered the elders discussing in one of their meetings years earlier. “If a woman was called the Director of Nurseries, she might offend her mature femininity and his mature masculinity as she told him which classroom to drop his child off at.” The elders had unanimously agreed. “No. We call these women Coordinators or Assistants, while some of the men on the support staff can be called Directors.”
Looking ahead to his conference, John thought of the many complementarian churches who would be listening to his sermon at the convention center that morning. But his heart began to sink again, knowing how many of them still lacked full understanding of the created order as evidenced in calling their female support staff “Directors.”
“I should probably talk to Wayne about this,” John said aloud.
Then suddenly, his eyes widened as he realized that somewhere along the way, he missed his turn again.