“Hey pierogi Pete!”
That’s how my friend Donna’s dad, Bert, always greeted me when my group of high school friends played cards, cribbage, or some other board game that I didn’t understand at their home. He sat in his recliner in the next room over with a dim light by his side, a silent reminder to keep our hands to ourselves.
He wasn’t unfriendly, but he always seemed tall, imposing, and a smidge grumpy—the latter being a front according to Donna. On the other hand, Cindy, Donna’s mom, radiated warmth, hospitality, and cheerfulness.
She could get away with pinching the cheeks of a grizzly bear.
Cindy kept an immaculate home, cooked treats for us, and always looked beautiful.
If you wanted to describe Cindy within the Christian subculture, you could say she was a Proverbs 31 woman.
Cindy homeschooled her children, taught a ladies Bible study, and modeled a gentle and quiet spirit—though I hasten to add she was never lacking in spunk.
To a certain degree, I know that Donna aspired to be like her mother—staying home to raise the kids and living as a submissive wife. I never talked with Donna about the ways my egalitarian views diverged from her and her mother. We lost touch when I left home to attend seminary and got married.
Cindy on the other hand sat next to me in my Hebrew class.
Imagine this: in a room full of middle-aged Korean men, a few white guys in their 20’s and a few tired looking white guys in their 30’s, there’s this smiling, ferociously organized mother of five. She asked questions and completed her homework efficiently, often putting the rest of us to shame.
I can’t remember if Cindy was working on her MDiv like the rest of us or if she really just loved the biblical languages. What I can remember is the afternoon when I joined Cindy at our seminary’s lonely little picnic table under a sad pine tree.
My wife and I were plowing through our first year of marriage. Along the way we had unearthed my stupidity and negligence. At the same time I saw some sides of her that I hadn’t noticed while we dated. When I sat down next to Cindy, I was still distraught over our latest fight. I despaired about what to do next.
There, next to me was Cindy, the happy, calm, and “submissive” Proverbs 31 woman. Surely she would just tell me take charge and lead… right? What advice could she offer me?
It’s not every day that I ring up a friend’s mother for marriage advice—especially one with a more conservative view of the home than myself. OK, I’ve never done it before or since. Nevertheless, the weight of our fight became too much to hold inside. I spilled everything to Cindy, not sparing any details. Instead of recoiling in horror, she listened with kindness and concern.
Rather than chiding me for not being a strong enough husband or my wife for not being submissive enough—for these things cross through our minds with a “Proverbs 31” woman—Cindy began with a story.
Early in her marriage to Bert, she was making dinner and had become a bit overwhelmed with all she had to do. She really needed Bert to wash the dishes, but Bert stood tall in front of her, raised his hands and said, “These are not dish pan hands!”
“So,” Cindy continued, “I threw a steak at him.”
“I threw a steak at him.” She was beaming now with a proud smile. The memory was too delicious. I could only imagine the look on Bert’s face.
“What happened next?” I asked.
“Oh, we had a fight, but we worked things out.”
I can’t remember what else Cindy said that day, but it helped. She encouraged me to not worry—though she never offered trite solutions. I left our conversation with renewed confidence that our marriage would be OK. We reconciled, learned, and moved on without ever repeating that fight again.
Also, my wife never threw a steak at me. So there’s that.
Eight years later, I learned through Donna that one of her older brother’s had a rare form of lung cancer. While I mourned with Donna during the year-long ordeal that her family went through, I regularly prayed in particular for Cindy.
It’s not like Cindy saved our marriage. She simply encouraged me at a particularly low point, sharing her own story when I needed both levity and encouragement. She didn’t hold me up to some sort of standard for Christian household codes. She was comfortable in her own skin, and from there she just loved me.
And when I think about how we label folks with pejorative labels such as “militant feminist” or “Stepford wife,” I wonder if some of this is our uneasiness about not measuring up to someone else’s standards. To think I almost didn’t share my marriage difficulties with Cindy because I feared we were too different from each other.
The truth is that I ached, and she ached with me and shared her story.
As she mourned, I mourned with her and prayed for her family.
That is what it looks like to belong to the church, to the body of Christ, to God’s family.
Despite the labels we affix onto each other, at the end of the day, we’re just negligent husbands, steak-throwing wives, and suffering children whose time has come all too soon. We’re fearful, discouraged, and disappointed.
We all need prayer, encouragement, and sometimes a bit of humor.
If we can’t become the hope of God to one another, who will?