Recently, this scripture caught my attention: “Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.” (Matt. 12:29)
These words were spoken by the Savior in the context of casting out devils, but I wonder if a simple application to modern homes and families wouldn’t be appropriate. Isn’t it true that the best way for Satan to take down a family is to bring down the father? I don’t know, but it certainly seems true on too-many occasions.
Men are particularly susceptible to sexual frustration, addiction, and misconduct. Some struggle emotionally to cope with anger and other negative emotions. Men are also more likely than women (at least in my observation) to struggle with faith. A man’s divine tendencies toward the practical and logical can be a double-edged sword. Those thought processes may either strengthen or weaken his resolve to exercise faith.
Meanwhile, the good that can be done by men is truly awesome. Wives desire husbands who are kind and faithful. Like God, himself, many wives are willing to overlook a man’s imperfections when his heart is sincere and true. Children love fathers who are kind, loving, honest – and act like they’re going somewhere that is good and purposeful and includes the family. Not in every case, but generally, wives and children will follow such a man, wanting to be where he is and go where he’s going.
A man’s role is to protect and lead his family. Of course, protecting them means spiritually and emotionally and not just physically. Protecting them doesn’t mean over-protecting them. On the contrary, it means creating a safe environment through which they can increase their own capacity to protect themselves and others.
When a man is, as the Savior mentions, “strong” – meaning less that he has large muscles than that he is faithful, generous, devoted and accepts his role as a stand-in, of sorts, for the Savior – the family is far more likely to be safe in every important sense. If, however, the Adversary can find a way to “bind the strong man” through sin or faithlessness (or both), the risk of the family becoming “spoiled” increases dramatically.
May I – and all the men I know and love – be “strong men” as the Savior desires, as our families desire, and as our true, divine, masculine natures incline us to be. Doing so not only brings safety; it is a critical part of living after the manner of happiness.
A year or two ago, we administered an anonymous, on-line survey in the Highland 22nd ward among the adults. 62 people responded, including 25 men and 37 women. Most had been married between 10 and 25 years, but some less and some more – and a few not at all.
In the survey, we asked five questions, including these three for which they had to come up with their own answers:
- If I had a daughter, I would advise her to look for the following 1-3 characteristics in a potential husband.
- If I had a son, I would advise him to look for the following 1-3 characteristics in a potential wife.
- I appreciate these three things the most in my spouse.
After tallying up the answers and identifying the top three responses to each of the questions, it was interesting to note that all three questions yielded the exact same top three answers. The more I have thought about those three things, the more profound they have become to me – their simplicity contributing greatly to their profundity. It you want to be a good spouse, you should (in no particular order, according to our survey):
- Be nice
- Be committed
- Be productive
Recently I’ve wondered if these aren’t also three critical keys to being a good parent. I’m fond of thinking that parenting might be best measured using the same yardstick Preach My Gospel promotes for measuring missionaries – by our commitment to bringing souls to Christ. The three ideas of being nice (including a whole host of kindness-related attributes), being committed (to Christ; and also to our families), and being productive (demonstrating our commitment through discipline and hard work) seem like three important ways we can help our children know and love the Savior.
Here’s a quick look at what these three things do and don’t look like. Without beating yourself up about your imperfections (seriously! my goodness, ladies, give yourself a break – God does!), ask yourself if being better at something here wouldn’t improve your effectiveness as a spouse or parent (or probably fill in the blank for any other relationship).
Being nice looks like:
- Being patient
- Showing interest in their interests
- Being gentle
- Being affectionate
- Acting happy to be with the person
- Pulling your weight
Being nice does not look like:
- Being critical or sarcastic
- Using harsh language
- Ignoring people or being non-communicative
- Being manipulative or controlling – even with kids
Being committed looks like:
- Acting as well at home as we do at church
- Worshipping privately
- Attending the Saturday evening session of stake conference (and similar)
- Serving in callings; loving those we serve; and magnifying the calling
Being committed does not look like:
- Putting anything else in our lives ahead of the Savior, his gospel, and his church
- Worldliness, including the pursuit of things or excessive emphasis on our own appearance
- Selfishness or a lack of humility
Being productive looks like:
- Being busy / “anxiously engaged”
- On the things that matter to the Lord
- And that matter to our spouses and children
Being productive does not look like:
- Watching T.V.
- Living an unordered life in an unordered home
- Over-indulgence in hobbies and personal interests
- Being the person who never shows up to help someone move or clean their home
The Savior showed us these three things. Living prophets today also demonstrate them. The better we are at them, the better our relationships can be. And relationships are everything. Don’t you think?