Leadership Parenting Personal Growth

4 building blocks of consistency

Day 3, and I’m still thinking about consistency. Probably because I’m wondering how I’m going to make this habit of recording a daily video consistent, but I said I would try to do it, so here’s 3 days in a row. Here’s 4 ideas for building more consistency in any new habit that you are trying to create. For me, it’s recording a daily video, or writing daily, or reading daily, or whatever the habit might be.

The first idea is to stack it with something that you do daily. I hope most of you shower daily or brush your teeth daily, or something like that. Hopefully that’s part of your morning routine, it might be part of your evening routine, whichever. If you want to build a new habit, pair it with one of those things that you already do daily, and maybe even do it before you do that daily thing. That way, it’s reinforced by something that’s already a habit. Commit to it publicly. Those of you that are watching these videos or are reading the emails, you know that this is a goal that I have and I’m trying to do this because I’m hoping it’ll help somebody.

Make it measurable. Making one video a day for however long I decide to do this, that’s measurable. Walking 10,000 steps a day. If you wanted to do that, or drinking 2 liters of water a day, or whatever habit you want to establish, make it measurable just like would a goal. Also, reward yourself, do something that feels good to you, that is reinforcing and rewarding for being consistent. Doing what you said you were going to do, following through on your commitments. Maybe it’s a snack, maybe it’s, you get an extra coffee, do something to reward yourself, whatever it is.

If you appreciate these videos, if you like this new format, where things are going, please comment below, that is helpful right now. Tomorrow is going to be a harder day to make a video, it’s the day that I’m traveling, starting my trip to Ohio, to go and pick up my brother’s remains and bring him home. Not going to be a fun day, but I’m hoping that I will still be able to come up with something that is useful for anybody who is interested in seeing this. Thank you, and have a good night.

Leadership Parenting Personal Growth

The Power of Consistency

Skylar: I won’t laugh until you’re done.

Dan: You won’t laugh until I’m done? Okay. I’m recording with an audience of here. This is day two, and the reflection, or the thought of the day, is the power of consistency. On Saturday I was listening to Jeff Goins podcast, he calls it “The Portfolio Life”. He’s talking about, “If you write just a few words everyday, a hundred words, two hundred and fifty words, or three hundred words everyday that overtime you’ll end up producing, not only more content but a greater quality of content. As opposed to, if you just spend three to five hours writing as much as you can whatever you can think of every Saturday, you’ll just end up with more content, more and better content.”

Today, I was home. We were having some work done on our house and I was talking to an inspector and having general conversation. I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m making enough money that I can afford to pay somebody else to do the work on my house instead of having to fix it myself. He asked me what I did, I said, “Well I’m a marriage counselor.” “Oh cool, any one sentence advice?” I said, “Date night. Have a consistent date night.” Saying that partly because tonight was the once in a blue moon that Skylar and I could get out for a date night. We haven’t had very consistent date nights. Then the contractor was just coming up the stairs at the same time and he heard me say that, and he said, “Oh, so that’s why my wife and I have made it eleven years.” He thought that was pretty funny.

At our dinner tonight, Skylar and I were discussing different stuff and where we’re at with some of the things that have gone on for us, and there was a contrast. I’ve been in a very consistent bible study with pretty much the same group of guys for, at least, the last six years and I think maybe even the last nine years. Kind of fuzzy when I started going to that bible study, but it’s the same group of guys. We meet every Thursday morning at 6:30 unless it’s Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I think we’ve met on New Years one year. We’re very, very consistent.

Consistency is one huge thing. That discipleship … The way that I’ve been disciple and mentored by that group of guys, it’s been huge, been a huge blessing. We noticed that there’s not a women’s group at our church that has been as consistent, so the discipleship that my wife has received is lower over time. She’s got some pretty deep relationships with some really awesome people, but the total amount of discipleship is less because there’s lower consistency.

Tonight as we’re driving home from picking up our daughter and our son from the in-laws, we’re doing bedtime prayers which is one of the very few consistent things in my life that has, at least, survived recently. Our bedtime prayer routine is really really simple. “Keaton, what are you thankful for today?” Sawyer’s not quite old enough to participate, doesn’t talk yet. “What are you thankful for today? What did you learn today? Who did you help today?” That’s something … When did we start that, about a year ago babe?

Skylar: Maybe two years ago.

Dan: Maybe two years ago? Okay. We started that a while ago and it’s very important to Keaton. She will throw a fit or cry if we don’t do bedtime prayers, and of course I don’t have a problem with that because that’s something I want to pass on. It’s part of passing on my faith. Four things, talking about consistency and how that makes a difference in our lives over time. We produce more over time. We’re more poured into over time by things being consistent. That begs the question, well how would you build more consistency in your life?

A little while ago, I wrote about how to form and hold new habits. The things that I thought of then were: Start with something small. Start with a set of things that are sequential, they go in order. Make sure that each thing that you add is sustainable. You don’t add something that you can’t sustain for the long haul. If you want to do something really big, it has to be scalable. You can’t just be able to do it one time, you have to be able to do it ten times or a hundred times over the long haul.

That’s about consistency. How to build consistency, and as far as the change in format going from writing to video, this is a little bit of practicing what I preach. I’ve been telling a lot of people who struggle with writing to start with video, just talk on a video, transcribe it. I’m practicing what I preach doing that, and then also just because of the recent loss of my brother. This is easier for me. I can get in the space to record a video for five, or ten minutes as opposed to trying to sit down and write an article length piece of content. If you like this, let me know and thank you for your comments and your support.


Parenting Personal Growth

Behavioral Predictability: Safe or Boring?

Emotional stability leads to cognitive consistency. Cognitive consistency leads to behavioral predictability.

Unsafe people are like dice. Unpredictable. Safe people have behavioral predictability. @DanielTStephens

Predictability can be a loaded term. Some people think it is negative. Some people think it is positive. I think it is positive, within limits.

This is the third post in a series on basic needs in relationships. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2 if you missed them. The inspiration for this series came from two of my professors at Western Seminary.

Here are the basic ideas that I started with:

  1. Volatile people have no emotional stability. Reasonable people have emotional stability.
  2. Confusing people have inconsistent thinking patterns. Understandable people have cognitive consistency.
  3. Unsafe people are unpredictable. Safe people have behavioral predictability.

The Need for Behavioral Predictability

You will feel unsafe in a relationship if you think you are rolling dice every time you say or do something. You are gambling. Hoping that the dice come up in your favor. You hope the other person will like what you said. You hope the other person will appreciate what you did. But they might not. You might not know why.

Unsafe people are like dice. Unpredictable. Safe people are not like dice, they are predictable. Safe people are predictable, and not boring.

Limit Behavioral Predictability

Too much predictability is boring. “Variety is the spice of life.” So there is such a thing as being too predictable.

Too little predictability and you will be unsafe. Too much predictability and you will be boring.

Good Predictability starts with Stability

Emotional stability is the ability to feel intense emotions without coming unglued.

Cognitive consistency is the ability to follow a similar “route” from an emotion to an action. This route is your thought pattern. Given a range of emotions, you will think about them consistently, and act predictably.

The chain is feeling, thinking, doing.

You need to be able to fill in these statements:

  1. I feel _____ (emotion) because _____ (event).
  2. I think _____ (thought pattern) because I feel _____ (emotion).
  3. I do _____ (action) because I think _____ (thought pattern).


  1. What helps you to draw the line between unsafe and predictable?
  2. What helps you to draw the line between boring and predictable?

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Parenting Personal Growth

Emotional Stability Leads to Cognitive Consistency

Ever felt so out of sorts that you couldn’t think clearly? I have already talked about how emotional stability builds trust in relationships. But emotional stability has another major benefit. It builds “Cognitive Consistency.”

Cognitive Consistency

This is the second in a series of three articles inspired by two of my professors at Western Seminary, Norm and Dave. Part one covered emotional stability. Part three will cover behavioral predictability.

Cognitive Consistency means a few things:

  1. You think about general situations in similar ways.
  2. You think about things in a way that people who are close to you can usually predict.
  3. Your thought process generally leads you to behave in a way that is in line with your values.

Cognitive Consistency Means Similarity

Imagine that you drive to work every day on the same route. You leave at the same time every day. You arrive at the same time every day. If the way that you think is like the way that you drive to work, then when you feel a certain way, you will think in a certain way, and do a certain behavior.

If you tend to be an optimist, then even when you feel bad, you will tend to think optimistically. But the opposite is also true. If you tend to be a pessimist, then even when you feel good, you will tend to think pessimistically. So if we stop there, then we haven’t really helped anyone.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

Cognitive Consistency Means Predictability

This type of predictability is a good thing. Not a bad thing. It means that someone close to you can usually predict how you will think about what they say or do. If you have cognitive consistency, then you are making it easier for people to be thoughtful of you.

How many people have you encountered (or perhaps its you) that are constantly thinking of others, but feel as if no one ever thinks of them. Those are usually complicated situations, so it would be simplistic to claim that more cognitive consistency is the solution. But it might be at least part of the solution.

Cognitive Consistency Means “Congruence”

“Congruence” is a fancy pants psychology term that means you behave in a way that is in line with your values. The opposite of this is “cognitive dissonance,” meaning that you behave in a way that is out of line with your values, and then don’t feel good about it.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:5-6


  1. What signals in your mood or body help you to know when you’re not thinking clearly?
  2. How does thinking clearly and consistently help your spiritual life?

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Parenting Personal Growth

How Emotional Stability Enhances Your Life

Emotional stability builds closeness and trust in almost all of your important relationships.

We all think, act, and feel. Some people feel more than they think. Some people think more than they feel. Some people act before they think and then feel lousy later.

All that means is that when we’re dealing with pain of some sort, there are three possible starting points for dealing with that pain:

  1. Emotions
  2. Cognition
  3. Behavior

When we’re children, the most important people in our lives are our parents. For better or worse, they are the first people that most of us learn to relate to. Later in life, it’s our spouses, the leaders we follow, and the people we lead.

What is important early in life, is important later in life, just in different ways. Aside from food, clothes, and shelter, children need three basic things from their parents:

  1. Stability
  2. Consistency
  3. Predictability

Likewise, spouses need stability, consistency, and predictability from each other to function well. And followers need stability, consistency, and predictability from their leaders in order to get the job done.

Giving credit where it’s due: This post is inspired by two of my professors at Western Seminary, Norm Thiesen and Dave Wenzel (now retired). This is the first of three posts.

Emotional stability does not mean having no emotions. It also does not mean that emotions are felt lightly. It means that strongly felt emotions won’t cause a person to come unglued.

Emotional stability does not mean that you’re Captain Spock, but it does mean that you’re not Chicken Little. It means you might feel insane, but you won’t act insane.

The problem is that since emotions are internal, you can’t know what people are feeling until they tell you. But you can make an educated guess based on their behavior.

Consider reading: 8 Things Emotionally Stable People Don’t Do (which inspired the points below).

Don’t take these lists as dos and don’ts to impose on others. Always check yourself first.

Leaders and Emotional Stability

Emotionally stable leaders:

  1. Don’t take things personally. Accept criticism with confidence.
  2. Don’t tolerate gossip. Refuse to listen to, or start gossip.
  3. Don’t panic. Learn how to lead in crisis.
  4. Don’t exaggerate how good or bad things are. Judge things realistically.
  5. Don’t confuse present emotions with past failure. Debrief past failures to learn from them.
  6. Don’t seek to escape change. Drive change.
  7. Don’t pretend to be perfect. Get comfortable with imperfection.
  8. Don’t self-hate. Build a team that compensates for your flaws.

Spouses and Emotional Stability

Emotionally stable spouses:

  1. Don’t take things personally before you understand where your spouse is coming from. Get context first.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.
  3. Don’t use threats or fear of divorce as a trump card in arguments.
  4. Don’t exaggerate how good or bad things are. Be clear and honest about how you feel.
  5. Don’t project pain from past relationships into the present one. Allow each other to make your own mistakes, for your own reasons.
  6. Don’t panic when seasons of life change. Encourage each other.
  7. Don’t pretend to be faultless. Take responsibility for your choices.
  8. Don’t accept all the blame. Take responsibility for your choices only.

Parents and Emotional Stability

Emotionally stable parents:

  1. Don’t expect too much of your children. No one benefits when you expect a 3 year old to act like an adult.
  2. Don’t expect too little of your children. No one benefits when you allow a 17 year old to act like a 7 year old.
  3. Don’t threaten consequences that you can’t impose. Follow through on reasonable discipline.
  4. Don’t protect your children from natural consequences. Be happy to let authorities outside the family be the bad guy.
  5. Don’t get surprised when they sound like their own parents. Be humble enough to admit mom and dad were/are right.
  6. Don’t helicopter parent. Let your kids learn from small, inexpensive failures.
  7. Don’t pretend to be perfect. Let your kids see you learning from your mistakes.
  8. Don’t dwell on every parenting mistake you make. They focus on getting it right at least half the time.


  1. Who are the examples of emotional stability in your life?
  2. How has emotional stability helped you preserve relationships?
Leadership Parenting Personal Growth

3 Leadership Lessons from my 3 year old

A little over two weeks ago, we celebrated my daughter Keaton’s 3rd birthday.

She’s growing up fast. I used to think that was just a dumb cliche thing that parents said whenever they talked about their kids. Now its happening to me. Kids growing up faster than you’re ready for them to grow up is no cliche.

I am learning that my heart needs to grow as fast as my daughter does if I am going to keep up. As I have reflected on this, I have come to think that leadership and fatherhood have a lot in common. Here are at least three similarities that I can think of.

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Humility

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Humility. @DanielTStephens

Left to my own devices, I am an arrogant, self centered narcissist. No one has helped me to see that more than Keaton. When we’re in public and she does what toddlers do, I’ve had no choice but to bare the glares from onlookers and do my best to create a teachable moment. All the while she is making messes, throwing fits, and asking socially inappropriate questions.

Arrogance, narcissism, and a self centered attitude lead to leadership failure just as much as they lead to failure in fatherhood. My job as a leader is to make sure that the people I lead have the tools they need and know what their task is. In order to equip and direct successfully, I have to be humble enough to teach and clarify.

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Patience

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Patience. @DanielTStephens

Even when Keaton has the skills and instructions to do what she is supposed to, she may not choose to. She knows how to clean her room. (Proud daddy moment, I think she’s better at chores than the average three year old). But she probably will never choose to clean her own room until she moves out from under my roof. (I don’t remember making that choice for myself until I moved out either).

Even though we have repeated the pattern many times now, Keaton still needs to be micro-managed while doing her chores. Our pattern is that I’ll pick an item that needs to be put away, and ask, “Keaton, where does that stuffed bunny go?” She’ll tell me where she thinks it goes, and I’ll respond with either, “That sounds good.” or “I don’t think so, maybe it should go…”

The whole process, even after Hurricane Keaton has made a level 5 landfall, takes 20-30 minutes. I still have not been successful in asking her to clean her room on her own. She’ll usually pick up one or two items and then get distracted.

The same thing happens in leadership. Even after expectations have been explained and tools have been provided, each person’s potential takes time to realize. Leaders need patience in order to draw out their team’s full potential.

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Presence

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Presence. @DanielTStephens

There are different levels of Presence. As a father, I need to be physically present so that Keaton will at least recognize my face. I need to be mentally present so that Keaton knows that I am paying attention. I need to be emotionally present so that Keaton knows who I am and feels loved.

It is not possible to be humble or patient with people when your head or heart are in different places than your hands. If you are going to lead, your head, heart, and hands all need to be present and available to the people under your charge.

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Leadership Marriage Parenting Personal Growth

The Power of Presence in Relationships

Independence gone bad is selfishness. So we try to be selfless. Selflessness gone bad is enmeshment. So we try to be Independent. Do you feel cornered yet?


Amie Patrick has written about this as Self Care vs. Self Denial.

This is a tricky issue to balance. If you go wrong on the side of selfishness, you feel guilty (and rightly so). People in your life can also lay on the guilt when you set good boundaries.

If you go wrong on the side of selflessness, you get worn out. Few people in your life will push back against your selflessness.

The irony is that you’re no help to anyone when you are so tired that you look like the walking dead. You need to be more than just physically present. You also need to be mentally and emotionally present with the people you care about if you are going to be any good to them.

To stop wearing yourself out endlessly, and still live meaningfully with the people you care about, you need to set boundaries.

Physical Presence

The power of physical presence is that sometimes it is all that is needed to bring massive encouragement to someone.

The problem with physical presence is that you can only be in one place at a time. If you have trouble meeting your commitments and being where you say you’ll be, the problem is boundaries around who or what you spend time on.

You might have more people demanding your time than you actually have time to meet. Prioritize the people who are most important to you, and who you need to set better boundaries with. This will help you be more than just physically present with the people most important to you.

Mental Presence

The power of mental presence is that it empowers communication. You cannot communicate when you have no mental energy.

The problem with mental presence is that it is only slightly less limited than physical presence. You may be able to “multitask,” but you are not at your best when you’re multitasking. You can only be at your best when you are focused. If you struggle to stay focused, the problem is boundaries around what you think and talk about.

Sometimes juggling work and life is required; but when you try to juggle more balls than you can focus on, you’ll drop at least one ball, if not more.

You need mental energy in order to slow down the pace of a conversation enough to keep it a constructive conversation. If you have no mental energy because you’ve had no boundaries, you’re actually holding your best self back from the people you love.

You can’t think if you are too tired. If you can’t think, you can’t communicate. If you can’t communicate, you can’t have much of a relationship.

Emotional Presence

Just as mental presence is necessary for communication, emotional presence is necessary for two super important things:

  • Remembering times you have felt good
  • Resolving conflict in relationships

The power of emotional presence is that it drives empathy. The more emotionally present you are, the greater capacity you have for empathy.

The problem of emotional presence is that it is the first to go when we get tired and worn out. If you can’t even feel your own emotions, one problem is low emotional awareness, the other is lack of boundaries around what you will spend your emotional energy on.

Being emotionally present is more than just feeling your own emotions and being able to slow down a conversation. If you are emotionally present, you can feel your emotions, and you can think you feel the other person’s emotions. At a higher level, it might even allow you to feel another person’s emotions.

When you think you feel another person’s emotions, that is empathy. When you actually feel another person’s emotions, that is sympathy. You need emotional presence for both. You need to have a capacity for both empathy and sympathy to survive bad times and thrive in good times.

Empathy will allow you to resolve conflicts. Sympathy with positive and uplifting emotions will help you to solidify happy memories, like graduating from school, getting married, or having children.

“Top Down” Presence

Physical presence is the lowest level of being in another person’s company. Emotional presence is the highest. As we get tired, emotional presence goes first, and physical presence goes last.

I can’t help you have more energy, but I can help you to set better priorities and boundaries.

To help you set better priorities and boundaries, I’ve created a simple two page worksheet that you can download for free by clicking the red button below.

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Leadership Marriage Parenting Personal Growth

How to Argue Without Anger

We all argue. Arguments are part of every relationship, including the healthy ones. But there are right and wrong ways to do it, here are a few guidelines.

Who wants to argue with this guy?
Image via Wikimedia

Argue Clearly

In order to be able to argue well, you need to be able to name and measure your own emotions. If you are angry or sad about something, then you need to be able to express it (without being misled, of course).

If you can’t name and measure your emotions, the person you’re arguing with will have less chance to understand where you’re coming from.

If this is hard for you, try making your own emotional chart by following these steps:

Name Your Feelings Teaser

  1. Download the “Name Your Feelings” worksheet by clicking the button below and entering your email.
  2. Do a Pinterest or Google Images search for “Emotional Charts” to get some ideas.
  3. Fill in your chart with your own words, as many as possible.

Argue Compassionately

Once you are able to name and measure your own feelings, you’ll be better at recognizing the other person’s feelings. This skill is also known as empathy.

Empathy is fairly easy if you are paying attention to several things about the other person:

  1. Their posture
  2. Their eyes
  3. The corners of their lips
  4. The corners and ridge of their nose
  5. Their verbal tone, volume, and pace

Try this quiz from the New York Times to see how good you are at reading facial cues. If you score above 30, you’re doing amazingly well.

Here are two frustrating rules about empathy and compassion that you need to know if you’re going to use them well:

  1. The closer a person is to you, the more difficult empathy becomes
  2. The closer a person is to you, the more costly empathy becomes (whether good or bad)

You have to be really good at empathy when it doesn’t count – with people you’re not close to – if you’re going to be any good at empathy when it does count – with people that you’re close to. You have to be really good at empathy when it counts if you’re going to argue without anger.

The best way to get good at empathy is to use it often. You have the opportunity to use empathy and get feedback in every conversation with other people. Here’s a simple formula for a “positive empathy statement” that you can start using in conversation.

“You feel [measuring word] [emotional word] because [situation]

Some measuring word options (for a 1 to 10 scale):

  1. “A little” (for 1 to 3 intensity)
  2. “Kind of” (for 4 to 5 intensity)
  3. “Very” (for 6 to 7 intensity)
  4. “Extremely” (for 8 to 10 intensity)

For emotional words, start with just “sad,” “mad,” or “glad.” Wait until you’re right most of the time (like 80% or more) with those three before trying to figure out mixed emotions.

When you describe the situation, keep it simple and short.

Our culture is so bad at empathy that people will appreciate your effort even if you only get an empathy base hit. You don’t need to hit an empathy home run.

Still, if the person you’re arguing with is close to you, or the stakes are high in a particular argument, you don’t want to strike out. Here is a formula for a “negative empathy statement.”

“You don’t feel [emotional word], because [situation].”

Use negative empathy statements to get in the right ball park. Use positive empathy statements to get on base.

Argue Calmly

Keep your cool. If either of your emotions are at a 7 or higher, it will be nearly impossible to argue well. If you’re between a 3 and 7, it’s possible, but hard.

To be able to argue well, both people’s emotions need to be cooled off to a 3 or lower.

Here are some ideas for staying calm when your emotions are higher than a 3:

  1. Breath deeply and slowly
  2. Speak slower than you want to
  3. Speak quieter than you want to
  4. Speak more gently than you want to
  5. Take a break until you can cool off
  6. If you need a break, set a time limit

Argue Carefully

Think carefully about what you’re going to say. Think slowly about what you’re going to say.

Just like you’re more likely to crash when you’re speeding, you’re more likely to argue badly if you rush it.

Take your time. Recognize of your own emotions. Recognize the other person’s emotions. Stay calm. That’s how you argue with out anger.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, argue without anger.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

Add your voice (Comment below)

  1. Which of these guidelines comes most easily to you?
  2. Which of these guidelines comes most difficultly to you?

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Leadership Marriage Parenting Personal Growth

Loving Husbands are Encouraging Fathers

Since this Sunday is Father’s Day, I thought I would share a recent homework assignment – a sermon written on the issue of domestic violence. One of the first and most important places to apply your leadership skills is as a husband and father. One of the ways that some men go wrong in their leadership of the home is to become violent or harsh toward their family.

Don’t be one of those men.

Loving Husbands are Encouraging Fathers. @DanielTStephens

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18–21)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22, 25, 6:1-4)

General observations

Wives and children are told what to do, submit and obey. Only husbands and Fathers are told what not to do (don’t be harsh or provoking). What the wives and children are told to do gives men a lot of power. What husbands and fathers are told not to do is to abuse that power, giving wives and children some biblical protection. The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.

Biblical Love – The Husband’s Initiative

Let’s start by examining love. The Greek word used is “agape.” That is God’s love for us. It is unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Men, how are you supposed to love your wives and children? As Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her. Now, don’t be stupid or cutesy about this. A lot of dirt bag husbands and fathers can say and genuinely mean that they would take a bullet for their wives or kids. They have this inconsistent idea of protection that’s more like an older sibling than a Godly husband or father. Only they can hurt they wife, only they can hurt their kids, but no one else can. This objectifies people and makes them nothing more than a possession.

This is not about how we die for our wives or kids, it’s about how we live with them.

This sacrifice is not limited to something that might kill us, but things that make us uncomfortable. We need to be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the good of our wives and kids. If we’re doing that like Christ does it for us, then we’re doing it on an ongoing basis, and not based on whether or not they deserve it. Jesus doesn’t love us only if we’re good, he loves us even when we’re bad. He died for us even while we were actively sinning (Romans 5:8). So we need to love sacrificially even when our wives and kids don’t deserve it.

In this whole process of love and submission, love is the igniter, the starter. And it is specifically the man’s responsibility. Expecting your wife to submit or your kids to obey without loving them is like expecting your car to run without the key in the ignition. Just as “We love because [Christ] first loved us” (1 John 4:19), so wives submit and children obey because their husbands and fathers loved them first.

So that’s what you do. Here’s what to expect.

Biblical Submission (NOT Subjugation) – A Wife’s Response

Do not expect subjugation or obligation. Despotic kings and dictators get subjugation and obligation. Their subjects oblige them in behavior only. Their subjects do not submit or obey as a condition of their hearts.

Submission and obedience are voluntary. They are not the same as subjugation. When Jesus was a boy traveling to the temple with his parents, on the way back He initially stayed behind and freaked his parents out because they thought He was missing. When they found him and He went home with them, Luke 2:51 says, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” If Jesus the Messiah submits to his human parents, what does that say about the idea submission makes the submitter inferior?

So what does biblical submission look like. It is “as is fitting in the Lord.” One commentator says this phrase “points to the time of their entrance upon the Christian life.” [i] So, as submission to Christ is fitting for Christians (and not for non Christians), so submission to husbands is fitting for loved wives (and not for unloved wives). Another commentator says “Wives have rights and privileges, but recognition of the husband’s leadership is essential to a well-ordered home, only the assumption is that the husband has a head and a wise one.” [ii] Submission only works if the husband is loving, wise, and sacrificial in the way that he exercises his authority. Any man that would use this scripture to spiritually beat his wife into subjugation is not loving, he is abusive. Because he is not loving, it is not fitting for his wife to submit herself to him.

Another qualifier for what submission looks like is that it is “as to the Lord.” Just as a man’s love is supposed to be Christ like, so a woman’s submission is supposed to be like her husband’s submission to the Lord. Any man who wants his wife to follow him willingly had better be submitting his life to Christ. If he’s not, then he has no right to expect any submission from her. Remember we believe in justification through faith alone, not in justification through works. Submission in behavior only is not submission, it is subjugation. Submission that is heart deep is submission that comes as a result of the husband’s love in exactly the same way that our faith comes as a result of God’s love.

Women, is this what you have heard about submission? Or have you been taught about subjugation but heard it called “submission.” If so, let me apologize on the behalf of men and pastor’s who have hurt you and done a lousy job of helping you to understand scripture.

When your husband loves you and you submit to him in your heart, not just in your behavior, you make it easier for him to love you. I’m not a Greek scholar, so my technical understanding of this may need correction from someone with better Greek skills than me. The Greek word for submit is in the middle tense. Which means the person who is doing the submitting has an impact on both themselves and on the person their submitting to. When your husband “turns the ignition” by loving you like Christ loves you, you keep the engine running by keeping the spark plugs firing.

Men: no ignition, no spark. No spark, no running engine. If the engine aint runnin, you aint drivin. You only get to steer the relationship when you love your wife. Love is no matter what and submission is optional (but strongly recommended). Too often, we get it the other way around. When we do, it gets really easy for the man to become harsh with his wife. The exact thing that Paul says not to do.

Harsh Bitterness – a Father’s Folly

I want to examine this word “harsh.” In some translations it’s don’t be bitter. The form of the Greek word here is passive. What that means is that all it takes is complacency and we’ll fall into this thing that we’re not supposed to do. Just as it takes ongoing effort and discipline to love our families like Christ loves them, it takes ongoing effort and discipline to NOT be bitter, harsh, or provoking.

When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the same Greek word was used to translate Hebrew words that referred to intense, fuming, boiling anger directed at a specific person. This gives the idea of a man ready to explode, a man full of anger.

Here’s what Jesus says about anger. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21–22)

What does this say about a man who actually explodes?

What does this say about a man who allows himself to hold on to anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness about his wife’s flaws or things he’s given up for her?

Biblical Obedience

What does obedience look like? “…in everything” and “in the Lord.” Remember, the underlying assumption is that your parents love you. One commentator said, “This is the hard part for the child, not occasional obedience, but continual. Surely a Christian father or mother will not make unreasonable or unjust demands of the child.” [iii]

In marriage, there is a distinction between the husband and the wife. The man’s job is to love the woman no matter what, and the woman’s job is to submit as long as he loves her. With regard to the kids, there is no distinction between boys and girls and obedience. Obedience applies to boys just as much as it does to girls, there is no male privilege in scripture. I think it’s interesting to compare kids with wives on this note. This is just my observation, I can’t claim that this is what scripture is saying: it’s more obvious when kids are not obedient than when a wife is not submissive, but both are indicators of an unloving husband and father.

I hope you notice how much burden and responsibility I am putting on the man. I think the pattern for a long time has to put the burden on the woman and to let the man skate. If we’re looking closely at scripture and keeping context in mind, that’s clearly wrong.

Provocation Impairs Obedience

Paul started by talking about the relationship between the parents before he moved on to the kids. Parents are more honorable when they love and submit to one another than when they are provoking and harsh to one another. Expecting obedience from your children when there is poison in your marriage is like expecting your car to run with no gas in it.

Just as husbands are not to be harsh with their wives, so they are not to be provoking toward their kids. The ideas are similar, but there are a few differences. The reason Paul gives not to provoke your kids is “lest they become discouraged.” Don’t provoke your kids, so that they won’t be discouraged, disheartened, or depressed. In other words, don’t shame your kids.

I’ve been talking about the love and submission between husbands and wives, and this issue of shame is one of the things that can seriously derail biblical love and submission. Nothing predisposes men to be abusive more than a shameful childhood, especially when the source of that shame is their father. Nothing predisposes women to be abused more than a shameful childhood, especially when the source of that shame is their father.

Who is more bitter and harsh than someone who has, as a pattern of life, been discouraged, disheartened, and depressed?

Rather than shaming your kids, encourage them. Notice them as individuals. As often as possible, notice the good things that they put their energy into. “What gets noticed gets repeated” – Dave Wenzel. As often as possible, let your kids judge the quality of the results they produce. As often as possible, ask them what they’ll do differently next time instead of telling them what to do differently next time.

In a loving home, the wife is loved, safe, and what she feels, thinks, needs, wants is considered valuable, and of high priority. She is not subjugated. In a loving home, children are encouraged and built up. They are not shamed.

In a loving home, husbands and fathers are loving, encouraging, trusted, and honored.

[i] Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 507). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

[ii] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Col 3:18-21). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[iii] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Col 3:20). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

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