Shall We Dance?
Something of a classic film buff, one of my earliest loves were the vintage Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger films. I loved watching them in their black and white elegance. The way they moved seamlessly together; the seeming effortlessness with which they twirled and tapped around the dance floor. The confident way Astaire showed off his lovely partner.
Only One Can Lead
If you know anything about ballroom dancing, you know that it’s the man’s job to lead and the woman’s to follow. When the couple is evenly matched, this happens quite naturally but for beginners, this poetry of motion takes time to develop. I experienced this personally a few months ago when my husband surprised me with an eight-week beginning ballroom dance class as a Christmas present.
Naturally, I was ecstatic. Not only with the lessons themselves, but even more with the thoughtfulness that made them possible. So, starting late January we began attending class together for one hour each week, learning the basic steps to the foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha, and waltz. For my husband (who had never done any form of classical dancing in his life) learning the steps was often a challenge. He was truly the greatest of sports as he watched the instructor demonstrate the moves (often with comical facial expressions) and worked hard to learn them.
I, on the other hand, had to concentrate on following my partner’s lead (which rotated frequently). This was especially difficult for me in light of the fact that I had already learned many of the steps in previous classes. As such, it took all of my self-discipline to let the gentleman lead, even if in error, rather than taking the stern myself and guiding us correctly through the steps. I had to focus on my role in the dance and to allow my partner to either a) learn on his own or b) wait for him to ask for help.
The Dance of Marriage
It occurred to me later that this was a perfect analogy for marriage and our roles as husbands and wives. What I love about dancing is that both are actively working together to achieve the dance. Though the woman follows, she is by no means passive or uninteresting. Rather, thinking back to Astaire and Rogers, she is what makes the dance so beautiful to behold. And it’s the man’s job to guide the woman safely across the dance floor, showcasing her grace and beauty. Yet to accomplish this, both partners must be in sync. They must be focused on each other, in tune with each other’s thoughts and movements.
Struggling to Follow in a Post-Feminist World
In today’s modern era, it can be difficult for us women to follow, both on and off the dance floor. Used to taking charge professionally or in other relationships, it’s hard to shift gears and defer to the leadership of our spouses. For us Christian women, I’ve observed that this can be particularly true when it comes to the spiritual life. More relational beings, our hearts naturally seek to give of ourselves completely to another. And though this sometimes leads us astray when we try to give of ourselves in a distorted way, when united with faith this leads us to naturally desire God. St. Edith Stein, female philosopher and martyr, wrote:
Once we women embrace our need for God and the call of the Gospel, we almost intuitively give of ourselves to Him in relationship.
For men, however, this can be a bit more challenging. Called to be the protector and provider, it’s often more difficult for men to assume that role of dependency and vulnerability with God. And this is only heightened by society’s portrayal of religion as effeminate. I can’t tell you how many faithful women I see at Church without their spouses: widows, divorcees, or married women whose husband’s “just aren’t religious.”
And even when we are blessed to be married to men who are committed Christians, it can still be difficult for spouses to unite spiritually because of our different temperaments and modes of prayers. This can cause frustration on the part of the wife when her husband doesn’t lead the family in prayer they way she wants or prefers. Which brings me to this post’s question: How can I call my husband to greater holiness, without nagging or dragging him there?
Behind Every Great Man stands a Great Woman?
“Wherever you find a great man, you will find a great mother or a great wife standing behind him” (Dorothy Sayers).
I’ve heard the above quote many times in my life. But the questions is, what is that great woman doing? How is she helping her man to greatness? To me, the answer to that questions rests with the Blessed Mother. When you think of her role in Scripture, it is consistently one of great humility and obedience. There are very few direct quotes from Mary in the New Testament, making the words that she says all the more profound.
When faced with the prospect of a miraculous, unplanned pregnancy, for example, Mary (after asking a few basic questions) wholly trusts herself to God’s will, saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Later, it is Mary who prompts Jesus to perform his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. At first, Jesus seems to give Mary something of a rebuff saying: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). Yet Mary is unperturbed. Instead, she directs the servants, and I think us too, with the simple yet powerful phrase: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
Through these two interchanges I think Mary shows us the key to achieving sanctity as women, and through that leading our husbands and children toward holiness.
Before we can lead or families to holiness, we must first obtain it for ourselves. This is impossible without prayer. Going back to Mary’s words above, “Do whatever he tells you,” we must be in sync with the Holy Spirit so that we can hear His promptings.
Though I recognize the importance of this, I admit that I often struggle with my own prayer life. It is so easy to get caught up with doing that I forget to stop and listen and interact with the Lord. How easily I become a Martha instead of a Mary (Luke 10:38-42).
2. Gentleness & Companionship
If I want my husband and children to seek out God, then I need to do a better job of reflecting His love to them daily. I need to become their confidant, their support, their cheerleader in all things. This is impossible to do, however, if I’m always pointing out what is wrong or insufficient in them. It’s my role as the mother to nurture what is good so that it can continue to bloom and grow to fruition.
“To be a companion, that means to be support and mainstay, and to be able to be so, a woman herself must stand firmly; however, this is possible only if inwardly everything is in the right order and rests in equilibrium. To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development” (Edith Stein, The Significance of Woman’s Intrinsic Value in National Life).
3. Allow Him to take the Lead
Going back to my beginning story of the dance lessons, if I continuously take the lead in the dance then my partner never gains the confidence or skill needed to do so. Instead, we’re stuck as mediocre dancers, “faking it” across the dance floor. But if I allow him to lead, even if it means mistakes or stepped on toes in the beginning, then over time my spouse becomes increasingly proficient and our dancing is transformed.
Similarly, in my marriage, I’ve learned the importance of allowing my husband to take the stern. He leads most of our prayers before meals, with the family, and at night before we go to sleep. That doesn’t mean that I don’t contribute or that I’m not partaking, but he remains our spiritual head.
And I’ll tell you honestly when you can embrace this in your marriage it is a freeing and beautiful thing. I feel treasured and safe, knowing that I have a husband that I can turn to for guidance and support in all things. Meanwhile, my husband gains confidence in the security of my trust and the knowledge that I’m always there supporting him.
I know not every marriage is the same, and that we each have our unique struggles and ways of interacting together. But I encourage you as wives to let go and enjoy the dance of your married life together.