Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's Talk About Men

I used to offer a workshop on how men and women communicate differently. Given that I worked for a woman's organization with over a million members and most of them worked with pastors, the majority of which were male, that made for a popular topic. Rather than use the pop take of the time that "men were from Mars and women from Venus", I pulled from Deborah Tannen's linguistic studies about communication differences between genders.

For instance, her research showed an inordinate use of the phrase "I'm sorry" when females were speaking. The key is that while women sometimes used the phrase as a filler as in ... "I'm sorry. Since you were late we started without you but you can catch up during the break" was often consider a sign of weakness on the part of a female leader of a meeting. The speaker may not have felt any responsibility at all for her choice to move forward, in fact, usually didn't. The apologetic greeting was simply a way of softening the blow of what could have been seen as a reprimand. However, men often heard weakness rather than control and strength.

I'll never forget the time I taught the workshop and a woman well past 70 years of age walked up to me and said, "Thank you." Thinking I'd given her the key to work with her pastor, I said, "I hoped it helped." She responded, "Oh my, yes, after 55 years of marriage I finally get my husband!"

I bring this male/female difference to your attention because as I think about the men in my life I truly am sorry. I'm sorry that I have sometimes chosen men who I thought accepted me for me -- when in fact they accepted me for the moment. When "me" showed up with all my loyalties, passions, and diverse viewpoints, they ran. I'm sorry that I settle when it comes to male companionship. And most of all, I'm sorry that I don't always know how to reveal how much I appreciate the men who stick by me, no matter what.

"No matter what" can mean a lot of things. Divorce is probably the furtherest end of the spectrum. And yet, my ex-husband recently and absolutely showed why I had good taste in men once upon a time. He, who is from Houston and now lives in my home state of Tennessee, drove 2.5 hours with his preschooler son to visit my mother and ailing stepfather in Greenfield. He did so because he had learned of Doc's illness and wanted to check in on them. After asking me in brief emails as to whether it would be ok and receiving the needed contact info, he made the journey.

My mother fell in love. I have no idea what she and my ex may have discussed but after checking in with her I can tell you in detail what she and the curious but respectful preschooler did for the length of the visit. She went on and on about his enthusiasm for her Christmas Village (wall to wall display cases filled with replicas of the perfect little snow-covered wonderland), his gratitude for the books she gave him, and his desire to stay with "Miss Margarett" when his father said it was time to go.

I'm not writing this piece with any kind of regret. I know that my ex is in a better place as the result of the fact that he's with a woman who can be who he needs her to be in ways I could not. I also know that I am in a place of wonderment and excitement that probably wouldn't have been possible had we tried to endure. But I am absolutely filled to the brim and possibly running over with gratitude that this man was part of my life, helped to shape me into who I am, and is proving to be the minister he always wanted to be.

I know in one long car ride he proved it to me. Ministry isn't about sermons, graveside prayers, and great programs. Ministry is reaching out to people who need you and providing at least a moment's relief.

I get that on a regular basis from the male friends in my life who check in with me, have dinner with me, make sure I get out to as many fun events as we can endure, and overall provide me with a male perspective that a single woman could sometimes lack. And this week I also got it from my ex.

I thank God for the men in my life.

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