(A long post that I finished late. Hopefully, it makes sense.)
My wife, Jana, is one of the leaders of MOPS at CCC. MOPS is an acronym for Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers, and every other Friday morning Jana’s MOPS group meets at the church. One of the things they do when they meet is discuss a topic that is pertinent to their lives. This morning, the women were able to ask questions to a panel of men. I was on that panel.
Now, the questions were submitted anonymously beforehand. Those of us on the panel received the questions a week ago. There were ‘only’ twenty-nine questions that we might have to answer during the panel. The questions covered marriage, parenthood, romance, sex, communication and more. So, you had to be ready for anything.
I know a few other men that have done panels like these, and they abhor the experience. Me? I was looking forward to it. I want to do what I can to help foster an environment where people feel comfortable asking questions like the ones that were submitted. There needs to be honest and vulnerable dialog, in the church, on these topics. Too often, many churches and pastors skim the surface on these topics. People are afraid to ask questions or share their own struggles because of potential gossip, shame and guilt. (The church does not have a great track record. I have experienced this firsthand.)
Also on the panel were Steve Walters, Dusty White, Mike Lienemann and Ron Cornwell. So, it was loaded with a good group of men. I work with Steve and Dusty, and they have plenty of experience in marriage counseling. I recently joined a journey group with Mike and I’ve enjoyed getting to know him more. (Plus, he’s a Pearl Jam fan.) I don’t know Ron all that well, but I’ve heard from many how much they appreciate him and the work he’s done leading various journey groups.
In answering the questions, I always tried to offer a disclaimer that my answers reflect my marriage with Jana. What works for us may be different for others.
After an introduction and a warm-up question, it started. Since there were five of us, we didn’t always answer every question. (I’ll do my best to recall the proceedings.)
Two of the questions I answered right away were:
What do men want most from their wives?
What is the best way for wives to bring up a potential conflict without making her husband defensive?
I think my answers were simplistic, but that’s how it is sometimes with these questions. What I want from Jana is that she loves Jesus. Cliche? Perhaps, but that’s important when you’re a Christian and you’ve made it your life to serve God. It would be near impossible to have been a missionary and a pastor if Jana was a lukewarm Christian. She embraces the calling God has on our lives. She doesn’t resent it. I don’t think you can be effective in ministry if you are married and your spouse isn’t 100% committed to the call and cause. I’ve nixed potential relationships, before meeting Jana, because it was apparent to me the woman wasn’t 100% committed to God. They had been nice, fun, and could’ve been a good friend, but I knew I couldn’t pursue a life of ministry with them if my spouse was reluctant to be along for the ride. They have to be all in, and thankfully Jana is with me.
After loving Jesus, I want Jana to love me and our kids. Everything else is pretty much a by-product of those things.
Regarding conflict, I remarked that I appreciate being told directly. Men can’t always read minds and body language that their spouse is upset about something they did. I think I said something like, “Doesn’t my husband know by the way I’m preparing dinner that I’m upset”?! Not always. What happens is nothing is communicated, the husband is oblivious and the wife stays upset. A few days go by and the wife’s anger grows while the husband doesn’t understand why they aren’t connecting in any way. Then, there is a blow-up over what was probably a menial thing that wasn’t dealt with when it should’ve been. That’s why I said it’s best to just deal with it as soon as you can.
Up next? Is it really true that men don’t notice the extra weight and zits but see the women as a whole?
Always a fun question. Along the lines of, “Does this shirt make me look fat”? As Dusty said, there usually isn’t a right answer to that question for a man. Most of the time, we do notice. Dusty and Mike had good answers, so I answered with a different perspective. There are times I do notice but don’t say anything because I want Jana to not worry about it before we go out on a date or somewhere else. I want her to be able to enjoy our time out, not whether or not people are going to notice a zit on her. Are there times I notice and say something? Yes, and Jana has pointed out stuff to me as well. It just depends on the situation for me.
When I ask my husband, “What are you thinking about”, and he says “nothing” is he really thinking about nothing? And every guy on the panel nodded his head in agreement. I wanted to reference the Jerry Seinfeld joke about this. I think some women were asking this wondering if men are thinking about sex when they say nothing. Dusty referred to this, so we would transition into the sex questions. (I can’t recall the exact order of the questions.)
How many times is a good week for men to have sex?
We would write our answers down on a piece of paper and give them to the moderator, Debbie Cornwell, to read. It was suppose to be anonymous. The consensus was three to four times a week. I put down 42, as a joke, and then said it depends on the week. A cop out? No. I’d explain my answer in another question.
How long should foreplay be?
We all answered this. I was the last one to answer, and the other men did a good job of answering it. I had some fun. I said, “Whatever it takes”. After the laughter subsided, I explained the double meaning of the answer. In one sense, men don’t care and will do whatever for sex. However, my expanded (and real) answer was that men should do whatever it takes to make it enjoyable for their spouse. There is no formula.
It was with this that I deviated a bit and talked about a lot of these questions are looking for a specific answer to them, but there isn’t one. It varies from couple to couple, from situation to situation. The best way to know these answers is to get to know your spouse better. Ask them these questions. I said it may be awkward at first, but over time it won’t be and it will improve and deepen your intimacy.
In loving and serving your spouse, you need to communicate. I said early on in Jana and I’s marriage I was selfish when it came to intimacy, and that a few years ago I apologized to Jana for that.
How often do men really think about sex during the day?
I answered this question and used it as a platform to say a few other things I wanted to make sure I covered during the panel. My answer? I think about sex throughout the day a lot less than I use to. I shared how growing up I didn’t get a lot of good teaching on sex, and the church avoided the topic like the plague. When I did become a Christian, I once asked a leader to pray for me regarding lust. Like a lot of young men, I wasn’t sure what lust even was. The response of this guy was to initially laugh at me. I learned quickly to not bring it up with other Christians.
I then shared how for the next ten years I battled with this. I talked about not knowing who to trust, if what I was dealing with was normal, not being able to get any biblical teaching on the matter, and dealing with my own guilt and shame. (Especially since I was a missionary and a pastor.) From there, I brought up how I talked with Steve Walters a few years ago about it because I knew I could trust him. Steve was a great help and through that process I got plugged into a men’s group. I’ve been able to deal with the issue.
I mentioned how Jana and I listened, studied and discussed the Mars Hill sermon series The Peasant Princess, which goes through the Song of Songs. We also did a book study, Intimacy Ignited. Both of these were a great help to our marriage.
And personally, I said, self-control is a “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), and I needed more of that in my life. By God’s grace, I developed more self-control. The result was a better marriage and a mindset better able to deal with temptations that are ever present in life today.
At this point, time was running out on the panel. I think most of the women in the room wished the discussion would’ve gone another hour. The last question I answered was a hybrid of these two. Do you defend your wife when your family is critical of her? Do you struggle with time spent with in-laws?
I said a husband better defend his wife. Are there times to refrain and not react to someone’s idiotic comments? Yes, but you need to communicate to your spouse your love and defense. It’s important for your spouse to know they are valued and you will defend them no matter what.
And that was the end. I really enjoyed my time doing the panel discussion. It was great to be with that group of guys. They answered questions astutely.
My hope is the panel discussion was beneficial for those in attendance. Hopefully it strengthens marriages, and fosters more healthy conversations about these important topics. The initial feedback we received was the panel was greatly appreciated.