The Essence of Men and Women
About the Guest
How do men and women differ at their core? Biblical counselor Dr. Larry Crabb and FamilyLife President Dennis Rainey talk about what parents can do to affirm their sons and daughters in their God-given roles.
Larry CrabbDr. Larry Crabb is a well-known psychologist, conference and seminar speaker, Bible teacher, popular author, and founder/director of NewWay Ministries. In addition to various other speaking and teaching opportunities, Dr. Crabb offers a weekend conference throughout the country entitled Life on the Narrow Road and a week-long School of Spiritual Direction held in Colorado Springs, CO. He currently is Scholar in Residence at Colorado Christian University in Colorado and serves as Spiritual Direct...more
How do men and women differ at their core?
The Essence of Men and Women
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. If you have sons and daughters, who you want to grow up to be godly men and women,—
we’re going to have a conversation about how you help make that happen today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you think your wife has ever wished God had made her a man instead of a woman? Or do you think that she is glad she’s a woman?
Dennis: Oh, I think she totally enjoys being a woman.
Bob: You think so?
Bob: Have you—I’ve met women who, I think, are kind of resentful of the fact that God made them women. I don’t know that I’ve met a lot of guys who have wished that God had made them women; but I have met women who, I think, are a little resentful that they are women. I think some of that is because, as a culture, we have not honored and valued femininity—
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Bob: —and womanhood as we ought to have.
We haven’t appreciated, fully, that the gender differences are glorious—both male and female.
Dennis: Right; and back in Genesis 1, it makes it real clear: “Male and female, created they, Him. In the image of God, He created them.” It takes both, men and women, to reflect the glory of God in its fullness. And that’s our assignment.
We’ve been talking, this week, with Dr. Larry Crabb—a great friend in the proclamation of the gospel—a warrior—been around in ministry, now over four decades; right, Dr. Crabb?
Larry: I think it’s been every bit that long, yes.
Dennis: He’s written a number of books. His most recent book is not the one we’re talking about today, but this will stimulate your thinking. It’s called Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women. This book—we are talking about today—is Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. This is a theme of your writing. You spend a lot of time talking about the gender differences that God has created in men and women.
Larry: It’s a topic that’s so poorly-handled, generally, in our culture. It’s a topic that creates such incredible opportunities to discover joy.
Dennis: You said, earlier, that you teach a series of lectures with folks over a period of a week. The one lecture that typically is where people are just—they’re with you, from start to finish, is the one where you are talking about this subject.
Larry: I was talking with a woman in our—a woman in our class that I teach. We were talking about gender issues. She raised her hand. It’s a very interactive kind of a class. She said: “I’m a missionary, and I’m a single woman in my fifties. I get paralyzed every time I talk to my supervisor, a male, who is rather controlling and not very encouraging. I just get paralyzed. I don’t know what’s going on! Can you help me with this?” Well, we talked about it.
She told the story, over time, that when she was five years old, a cousin was visiting with the parents.
The cousin, a nine-year-old boy, molested her, as a five-year-old girl. After that happened, nobody knew about it except the boy—the perpetrator, if you will—and the victim, the girl. After it was all over and the other family had left, she went to the couch. She was sitting there, as a five-year-old girl, just crying.
Her dad, a rather gruff man, came up and said, “What are you crying about?” She said, “I never thought of this before; but now, I’m telling you this story, I felt paralyzed then. All I could say was, ‘Nothing, Daddy.’” Daddy just walked away and said, “Well, stop crying, then.” She had a real struggle with believing that—if she made herself known / if she was open in any way—that nobody would be interested in her whatsoever.
But what she came to realize, during that week, in this school of spiritual direction—she came to realize that she had been protecting herself from any kind of hurt as opposed to putting God on display by being a feminine woman. When she saw that, it freed her.
She sent me a letter that said that, when she got back from the school and back with her supervisor, she said, as she was going in to see him again: “I feel this paralysis, but I don’t believe it’s a legitimate feeling that I should honor. I’m going to be more alive, as a woman, as I talk with him,”—not going to take over and be belligerent of any sort like whatever”—but she was going to be open, as a woman, with this guy. She thought—she said: “I felt like dancing! I felt alive, as woman, for the first time in my life.”
So, when—I believe this whole male and woman topic—which, yes, has been a real theme of my teaching for some time—it’s an opportunity for joy! It’s an opportunity for freedom. It’s an opportunity to come, fully alive, as a woman / fully alive, as a man. This is glorious stuff! It can produce good marriages, and good parents, and some joy in this miserable world.
Dennis: And what I like about what you teach is—you really call men to esteem and value women—calling them to be fully alive—
Dennis: —not to dominate them, not to be passive and ignore them, but to move toward them—
Dennis: —to initiate, to love them, to nourish and cherish, which is really their assignment, back in Ephesians, Chapter 5.
Larry: Yes, absolutely. That’s what we are called to do. It’s a privilege. It’s an opportunity, and it does bring joy.
Bob: Yes. As parents, who are trying to raise sons and daughters to have an appreciation for—a value for—their gender, are there things we can be doing that affirm our sons, as young men, and our daughters, as young women?
Larry: I wonder how many dads and moms have a vision for what it means for their little girl to be richly feminine. Do they go beyond the cute, little dresses and this sort of thing? Nothing is wrong with that, but do they go beyond that? I wonder what vision men and women, moms and dads, have for their sons to be men. And I wonder how many times a superficial: “Well, I want you to play football. I want you to go lift weights. I want you to do all these things that are stereotypically masculine.”
No, no; no. If we have a vision for what it means to be relationally-feminine and relationally-masculine, that’s the starting point.
Bob: And if you are helping a young couple cultivate that vision—to have that vision—what is it we want our boys to grow up and be?
Larry: I would want, as a—I have two sons.
Larry: And they are 45 and 42. So, they aren’t exactly kids.
Larry: But my vision for them had to do with—when they get scared / when life presents challenges: “Are they going to back away and look to find some way that they can be comfortable—where they can feel adequate because of what they can do?” or, “Are they going to step up and move into the situations that are difficult?” Whenever they would do anything close to that, I wanted to let them know how much it meant to me when I saw that.
Bob: So, you were affirming initiation, and leadership, and responsibility—taking up responsibility.
Dennis: And I’m wondering, Larry, just about a story that, maybe, captures an image of what you are talking about here—that would give a mom or a dad a picture of what you are talking about.
Bob: A time when you saw one of your sons taking that initiative and you affirmed it.
Dennis: And you were that coach—that cheerleader, off to the side—
not doing it for them—not rescuing them from the pain / from the fear—but instead, charged them to move forward?
Larry: Let me tell you a very difficult story. Our younger son—his wife left him a number of years ago. It was a very, very painful time in our family—very, very painful for our son. After the divorce, our son was dating a little bit—very slowly.
One time, we were having lunch together. Ken was talking about the possibility of getting married again, after his first wife had left him and filed for divorce. He said, “I’m not sure if I have the courage to take another risk.” I said to him—and this could sound a little bit unkind on my part. If you were there, I don’t think you would have heard it that way. But I said: “Ken, I’m not sure if you felt that the first marriage was a risk. You were very young. I think you were moving into marriage with somewhat naïve,—
innocent eyes, assuming everything would be fine. I think it’s time for you to step up to the plate and take a relational risk that I don’t think you’ve ever taken before.”
He was furious with me! He was angry with me. He said: “Dad, what are you saying?! That I never took a risk?” I said: “You have the potential to take every risk God calls you to. You have the potential to move into relationships when there is not absolute certainty as to what is going to happen because I believe you’ve got the makings up there of being a man.” It wasn’t long after—he met his current wife. They are very happily married today.
Dennis: Interesting, but it was that man-to-man exhortation—
Dennis: —of challenging, charging, encouraging, and not rescuing.
Dennis: And that’s what I’d want both moms and dads to hear, as they raise boys—
Dennis: —into adulthood. Be careful about rescuing them from the pain and solving the problem for them.
Bob: You didn’t have daughters; but if you had had daughters, how would you have tried to affirm and nurture femininity in them?
Larry: I would like to think that any time that there was—oh, how do I put this well?—every time—since I don’t have experience with this—daughters—but I have four granddaughters. So, I’ve got some experience with little girls.
Dennis: Well, then, you’ve got two daughters-in-law, too.
Larry: Well, I’ve got two daughters-in-law; and let me tell you. We’ve had some great conversations with those two daughters-in-law. They are wonderful ladies; and we’re doing very, very well.
Whenever there has been something in any of these women that we’re talking about—my granddaughters and my daughters-in-law—where there has been the—and I like the word, risk—when there’s been a risk of revealing the tenderness that is within them—when there’s been the risk where they say, “Let me let you know just exactly what’s happening in me and let me let you know how warmly and deeply I feel about something”—when I hear that from any one of these girls, then, my response is to get very, very engaged.
My response is to be incredibly affirming because they’re taking a risk. The risk they are taking—of when they get open with their tenderness—
“Is anybody going to feel encouraged by it? Are they taking a risk to be seen? Are they going to be worried that ‘At my most feminine, nobody is going to want me’?” When they are most feminine—as I define femininity / as I think the Bible defines femininity—profound openness for the sake of nourishing another—when I see any evidence of that, that’s when my eyes light up. I’m just very, very engaged and affirming.
Bob: I do think, for women, the issue of safety and security—feeling safe—that’s at the core of what drives everything about them.
Bob: And for them to take a risk—whether it is a relational risk or anything that makes them vulnerable—is a huge step; isn’t it?
Larry: That’s where we need to learn, as men, to be very safe in the biblical sense of that word for our women—whether it’s our wives, or our daughters, or our granddaughters. What does it mean to be a safe man for a woman? I think what that means—and you need to think about some related things here. Remember Aslan’s story—where: “He’s not safe, but he’s good”?
Larry: Well: “Is God safe, or is He not safe?” Well, He’s safe for us becoming all that He called us to be; but He’s not safe for us retreating from our calling to be all that we should be.
I want to be safe for my wife—I want to be safe for my daughters-in-law / for my granddaughters—in the sense that, when there is something going on that really reveals the beauty that Peter talks about in First Peter 3—the beauty of femininity, which is not external—hair-do’s, and jewelry, and clothing. Those are fine things, but they aren’t the essence of it—but when there is anything in them that they do that’s risky, am I safe in the sense that I’m not going to judge them—I’m not going to be bored by it?
One story comes to mind that’s just awful, but it makes the point—a woman, who I was working with some years after this particular incident. She was borderline psychotic, at the time. She said that, when she first got married, that she was so looking forward to her wedding night. She came out of the bathroom in the hotel room their first night—dressed with a lovely lingerie kind of satin nightgown—kind of thing for their first night together.
Her new husband was watching a ballgame. When she came out of the bathroom, he looked at her and said, “Hey, you look great,”—went back to the ballgame.
Larry: And she just began to sob as she told that story. She was taking a risk. She came out and said: “Am I desirable? Am I wanted? Is there no beauty that you would desire me?” Well, the Lord knew what that was about. Maybe, that woman can say: “You know what? I do have a beauty that God sees and God enjoys. I’m going to put that on display, for His glory. I hope you respond. If you do, I’m going to feel really good about it; but if you don’t, I’m not destroyed.” See, it’s very crucial to say to your spouse—either husband or wife: “You have the power to hurt me. You don’t have the power to destroy me.”
Dennis: Larry, there are a lot of moms and dads listening who have—maybe, it’s a child or, maybe, an adult child who is struggling with gender-identity issues—and perhaps, wanting to cross over to the other sex. What coaching, what encouragement, and what counsel would you give to that mom or dad?
Larry: [Sighing] Well, you heard the big sigh. I don’t think that’s an easy thing. I want to say, “Number one, if you freak out, at that point, you’re making the problem worse.” You cannot start by simply saying: “Oh, my gosh! We’ve got to straighten this out right away!” You simply cannot do that because, if you do that, what you are communicating to the child is: “There is something here that is incredible dangerous that he’s dealing with.” He’s not going to have any sense of advocacy from his parents. Therefore, that child—that boy or girl—is not going to feel any freedom to discover who they truly are because they are going to feel such pressure from the parent to be who their parent wants them to be. I think that’s a real problem. So, that’s number one.
Number two: “Can you have a vision for the essence of relational femininity and relational masculinity? Can you really have some view what it means for God to say, ‘That’s a boy; that’s a girl’?” It doesn’t have anything to do, centrally, with their clothing, or with their voice pitch, or things of that nature; but if you start understanding what it is to really be a boy or a girl—
then, you look for anything that reveals that and you affirm it. You spend time with it. You make sure that, as a mom and a dad, that the dad is revealing the joys of being masculine and what it means for that little boy; and the mother is revealing something about the joys of femininity.
A lot of people that have this gender dysphoria—they call it—this gender difficulty and thinking that they’re a boy or the girl—sometimes, has a lot to do with a mom or a dad who doesn’t have any joy in who they are, as a male or a female.
Larry: Modeling is a very important part of this process.
Bob: So, again, you’re going beyond trying to get your son to like football or trying to get your daughter to like helping in the kitchen. You are talking about—when you see a son, who initiates—
Bob: —when you see a son, who takes responsibility—
Bob: —you affirm that as the core of what it means to be a little boy.
Larry: And the way you affirm it is important. It isn’t just a matter of just saying: “Son, that was good. I’m glad you did that”—
but it’s much more a relational affirmation, which means: “Son, when you do that, can I tell you what happens inside of me? Can I tell you the impact you are making on me when you do that?”—because we are relational beings. We were designed to live in relationship and to find our identity in relationship.
So, when a daughter is moving in a good direction, as a little girl, rather than Dad saying: “Way to go, Honey! Keep it up!” it’s like: “Honey, can I tell you the delight that I have in you, at this moment? Can I tell you the joy that fills my soul when I see you doing that? That just means the world to me! What joy you are bringing my soul, right now.” Now, that’s affirming her soul. That’s not just affirming her behavior with a compliment.
Bob: That’s good.
Larry: It’s a relational affirmation. That’s huge.
Bob: You know, earlier this week, Dennis asked you a question and said, “I’m going to ask you this later.” Then, he—I think he forgot or we didn’t—what happened with it? Do you know? Were you just saving it until now?
Dennis: I did not forget. I was looking at the clock.
Bob: Okay, and decided we didn’t have the time.
Dennis: I didn’t have the time, and—
Bob: Until right now.
Dennis: And we have time, right now. So, I’m going to ask you the question: “Out of everything you’ve done in your lifetime, what is the most courageous thing you have ever done?”
And not to give you more time to think—but to just explain what I’m asking for here—a lot of people say: “I’ve never done anything courageous. I’ve never been on a battlefield in a foreign country. I’ve never rescued someone from a burning vehicle.” No; courage is doing your duty in the face of fear. With that definition in mind, what’s the most courageous thing Larry Crabb has ever done?
Larry: As a kid, I had a major problem with stuttering. I was a bad stutterer. The first time I ever prayed, publicly, in a little church gathering, I stood up in the front of—I was 15 years old. Under the leading of the pressure of the saints, it was time for me to get up and pray. And I did. I prayed the most heretical prayer in the history of the church.
I was stuttering so badly. I had the Father on the cross. I had Jesus in heaven. I had the Spirit in the grave. When I realized that that was not quite orthodox, I had to repent and sit down. I made a determination then: “I will never embarrass myself like that again, as long as I live.—
Larry: —“I will never speak in public again because I know what death means—‘It’s making a fool out of yourself.’”
The most difficult thing I’ve done was to become a public speaker. I was terrified to get in front of groups. When I felt the calling to be a speaker, I resisted. I said: “God, it’s too risky. I don’t want to make a fool of myself again. I might get up and stutter. I might make a fool of myself. I’m not going to do it.”
So, that’s what comes to mind when I think about the most courageous thing I’ve done—is to get in front of groups and to make the decision to do it.
Bob: I know we’ve got listeners who want to know how you got over your stuttering, as a little boy.
Larry: I got over it in graduate school. It’s a crazy story, but it’s true.
You might have a hard time believing me, but believe me on this one. Some of the stories I tell are true. This one happens to be. [Laughter] We had a professor named Dr. Ate—A-T-E. He was—when I was in grad school, and in my internship, no student wanted him for a supervisor because he was kind of a crusty, old guy.
Well, one time, I was walking down the hallway. Doc Ray was walking the other direction. We knew each other. We didn’t know each other well. He said, “Hello, Larry.” And I said, “H-h-h-hello, D-d-d-doctor Ate.” He said: “You stutter? I used to stutter! I got over it. Why don’t you?” He walked away, and I haven’t stuttered since.
Dennis: No way!
Larry: Oh, yes—and I can explain it. Because I believe, up until that time, I saw myself as Larry-the-Stutterer. My stuttering was embedded in my nature—was how I saw it. But when he said that, I walked away saying: “I’m Larry; and by the way, I stutter. Maybe, there is some freedom in learning how not to stutter;” and I got hope.
As a result, I—and I had been through a lot of speech therapy. It didn’t help, but that particular sentence changed my life.
Bob: So, a parent, who is listening today, who has got a stuttering little boy—
Larry: Now, wait a minute. [Laughter] I’m not saying that’s normative. There are certain things that happened idiosyncratically; but that’s what actually happened. I think the whole point is—change of identity. That’s where it gets back to the gospel—God’s given me an identity. My identity is not stuttering.
Dennis: Well, I want to thank you for being a courageous man because you have said, and written, and done a few controversial things over the years—
Larry: Here and there.
Dennis: —as a result of shaking things up. As we laughed about earlier, there’s a gift in the body of Christ called the gift of disruption. And Larry Crabb has it. [Laughter]
Larry: I guess I’m grateful for that. Thank you.
Dennis: But it’s a great gift. Larry, we sure appreciate you writing this book and being on FamilyLife Today. You are a good friend, and wish you the best and God’s favor in the months and years ahead.
Larry: My privilege, entirely. Good to be with you both.
Bob: And let me encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more—
not only about the book, Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference, but also the book, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes.
Again, we’re grateful for your contribution to this ongoing dialogue because, more and more, this issue of gender is an issue that is being discussed in our culture. We want to make sure we get it right, biblically. So, thank you for weighing in on that. And let me encourage our listeners to get copies of the books you’ve written. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order the books from us, online. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or order by phone. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Mention that you’d like the books by Larry Crabb. We’ll make arrangements to get them sent to you: 1-800-FL-TODAY; or again, go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, I hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about giving. We’re going to talk about generosity, and how we model for our children, and teach our children to be generous, and to find joy in giving. Brad Formsma joins us here tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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