"I am a man and I need to provide for my family." These are the words that I've heard from more than one husband. From a man who was out of work and struggling to find employment and also from someone who was working but unhappy with his situation. Both shared the very real struggle that they felt that they were not a man if they couldn't provide for their family.
For John (not his real name), he had a job that provided financially for his family but he never saw his family to spend time with them. His job required him to work 6 days a week, and when factoring in traveling hours, there and back, they were 15 hour days. The money was good, the health benefits were great, but his family life was struggling. Working long hours meant not being home for breakfast or dinner. It meant missing activities and more often than not it meant coming home when the family was in bed. He had enough time to crawl into bed, kiss his wife, and then roll over to sleep only to start it over again in 7 hours. As I sat across from him on one of his few days off, he shared that he desperately missed family time. When I asked him what it would look like to quit and find a new job he shook his head. "I can't do that." I pressed him, "Do you have funds saved up to allow you to quit working while you search for something new? Would you guys be OK if you were unemployed while you looked for a better job?" His answer said it all, "Yes, of course. We have money saved up and we can swing it for a bit but I can't walk away from my job. As a man, I have to work and provide for my family."
For Ken (not his real name), it was a matter of struggling to find a job. He had skills and abilities but the market wasn't in a good place for someone with his skill set. As I sat across from him at a local coffee shop I asked him what he was doing with his time while NOT looking for his job. "I am able to help my wife out with her job, and do errands for the family. My wife has a very stressful job and so I have brought her lunch, taken her out to lunch, and helped out at her job and at home where needed." My response to Ken was, "That's great! I'm sure your wife appreciates that." "She does” Ken responded, “but as man I need to provide for my family and this is not providing for my family.”
I remember my own father being unemployed for a while. Looking for jobs, finding one and taking it only to realize it's not what he thought and thus quitting it to be unemployed again which had to have been hard on him. As a male, I want to know that my occupation brings in enough for for my family to survive and if it doesn't then I want to be able to fix it. Men are seen as providers and even instructed to be so. If we are not providing then we are obviously not men right? Our masculinity is tethered and dependent on our ability to work, bring home money, and pay the bills. And if any one of those is not taking place then we feel as though we might have to hand in our man-cards.
Society proclaims that men must be strong, courageous, and financial providers. And as you look around in scripture you'll be hard-pressed to find any that support this thinking, at least from OUR 21st Century perspective. 1 Timothy 5:8 proclaims that "anyone who doesn’t provide for their relatives is worse than an unbeliever." Paul’s words were meant to those who neglect the widows and people of their family. Paul’s words speak of intentionality of neglect and the harm that it causes. So there is a difference between the inability to find work versus the desire not to share and provide for those in my extended family. We also must understand what the word “provide” means in Greek. In essence to “provide” simply means to take care of.
Nowhere do we read in the Bible that being a man means I alone work, bring home money, and put food on the table. So what does the Bible instruct men to do?
But working long hours and not being home? Making tons of money but being extremely unhappy? Being unemployed and feeling worthless and not like a "man" because you can't find a job? Where is THAT in Scripture? It’s not.
Yes, our "man" card should say that we provide for our family but do not get stuck on the job aspect of it. "Providing" simply means giving what is needed. Things like love, joy, laughter, and encouragement. Providing means I help out with homework, help make dinner, and do the laundry. To "provide" means to care for. Is being able to provide financially for your family needed? Absolutely, but never should we think that this is the only thing we do or SHOULD do. John provided financially but failed at providing emotional support or any help around the house. Working long hours brought money home but didn't help out with chores, or make dinner, or do the dishes. Ken wasn't able to provide financially but he was able to emotionally support his wife, spend time with her, and do numerous tasks that needed to be done. Tasks that provided much needed support and encouragement to his family. Instead let’s remove this understanding that providing equals finances and move to providing equals care.
Maybe we need to take man-cards away until us men can prove that we are more than our jobs, more than our pay, and more than the hours we work. Maybe we should get the card when we prove that we've learned that being a man and providing simply means being available doing anything and everything needed for the family and caring for them. Maybe we need a checklist on our man-card that reminds us to love our family and tell them that daily. Maybe our man-card checklist would have the following (for those that are applicable):
There have been times in my own life where I have felt like I was failing the family. The income I was bringing in was not matching that which was going out. Looking for additional money I resorted to selling things, working a few additional odd jobs, but it was always at the expense of neglect. The money helped, but absence of me in the family hurt. What I learned over that time was that family needed me more than the extra money--and I needed them. Was it hard? Absolutely, but it was only as hard as I made it feel. Who I am as a man, as a husband, as a father, is only as good as I am at reciprocating godly character. I cannot bear the image of Christ to my wife and kids if I am actually not there for them to demonstrate it.
To provide, in God’s eyes, is to be loving and present in all ways. Maybe we simply need to stop looking in the mirror and start looking at Christ? See how he provided and cared. Watch how he loved, served and see the value he found in people, men specifically. Men who cared for people, provided and gave what they could, served, and most importantly: loved.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema