The Missing Head

In my post on Thomas Jefferson and headship (which a commenter rightly pointed out is NOT a word that the Bible uses), I briefly mentioned addressing in the future women operating in the kingdom with an absentee head (a word the Bible does use). I’ve been slow to address that, but it is certainly worth exploring. If you haven’t read the other article, this one won’t make much sense.

I know many men whom I respect as kephale cornerstones in their homes and churches. Christ is the chief cornerstone in the household of faith, but these men image Christ out in their little households within the Big Household. They are load bearing men, who leverage their privilege to provide support and direction to those in their care. I love and admire these men. I won’t walk up to them and say anything, because that would be weird. But I note it from afar, and I thank God for what they bring to the household of faith.

I also know a number of men who have walked away from their load-bearing responsibilities. Some call it mid-life crisis. I think many men, including Christian men, reach a fork in the road a few years into the load-bearing responsibility of family and ministry. The naivety has worn off, and the responsibility is hard. And they must choose. Do they lean into their head, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:3), for the strength to persevere under the weight of responsibility, or do they extricate themselves from the household altogether? Many men choose the latter.


When a man removes himself from the weight of responsibility for his home and family, what happens? He was a load-bearing cornerstone, and the house sags in his absence. It will fall to pieces if not for a woman of courage and virtue to bear up in his absence. We see in Scripture such women of virtue bearing up in the absence or abdication of the men who should have been bearing the weight with and for them. Hagar. Abigail. Ruth. Esther. Lois. Eunace. These are the main ones from Scripture who come to mind. But they are joined in my head by the many women I know here on earth who bear up similarly. Felicia, Beth, Christine, Katherine, Louise, Tracy. Women who initiate devotions with their children when no one initiates with them. Women who must figure out how to earn an income after taking years off of their career path to have children. Women who tirelessly rally themselves and their children to church week after week with no reward or pat on the back. Women who spend their Mother’s Day serving others because no one is left to serve them.

The Bible calls these ladies women of virtue or capable women. The Bible looks at their role in their homes and praises it. In Proverbs 31, the woman of virtue bears her weight within the context of a marriage in which her husband bears his as well. Scripture implies that he is well respected in the community. This is a man who is a kephale cornerstone, levering his privilege as a load-bearing foundational element of the household. But Ruth was also known as a woman of virtue. Her reputation as a capable woman of strength preceded her (Ruth 3:11) when the kephale stones in her household of husband and father-in-law had died. Ruth was a load-bearing wall, a necessary cross-beam, in Naomi’s life. She couldn’t replace her father-in-law, yet she carried much of the weight that he would have been bearing if he had still been alive. Yet we see clearly from Ruth and Naomi’s life the profound loss in their lives from the death of their heads. Ruth in particular persevered and brought comfort to Naomi, but that did not make the sense of profound loss go away. In fact, it was a new head in the form of Boaz that helped restore Ruth and Naomi’s household and family.

Now, depending on our backgrounds and doctrinal inclinations, we are often offended by one or the other of Ruth’s states. Some are offended by her persevering independence when widowed. She did it on her own, providing for her family, even leading her mother in law in perseverance and hope. Some would say her independence would make her a bad future wife. On the flip side, some are offended by Ruth’s rescue by Boaz. Did she really need a white knight riding in to save her? Could she have not persevered on her own? A woman doesn’t have to have a man, right?

We might recognize this tension better in a modern situation. Consider the divorced woman in your church, a divorce not of her own choice, who rises from the ashes to make something of her life. Is she too independent? Is she perceived as unwilling to submit to another man? Maybe other church members think she brought this all on herself and no godly man would have her. Or, on the flip side, is she too interested in finding a new husband? Is she needy and unable to care for herself? Would you tell her she doesn’t need a man? That she can do this on her own? That’s she’s better off not dependent on some other man who can hurt her?

We don’t need to pit the two stages of Ruth’s life against each other. We don’t need to pit the overcoming single woman without a man against the woman who has a husband who is bearing the keystone weight of his household. One does not undermine the value of the other. Both stages of Ruth’s life pictured overcoming gospel hope, Ruth as a widow bearing undue weight as she persevered caring for Naomi, and Ruth and Boaz as a couple who picture the coming kinsman-redeemer. At neither stage of life was Ruth without the consequences of the fall. Not only did Ruth’s first husband die, her second did eventually as well. She very likely was a widow on the back end of life as well as the front end. And at neither stage was Ruth without hope from her newfound God. These two stages don’t need to be pitted against each other to recognize the great help and structure that Boaz brought to both Ruth and Naomi as Ruth’s head. He provided a foundational fix to the household structure Ruth had been valiantly holding up on her own. We can both honor the kephale cornerstone that Boaz was and say with profound conviction that the house would fall without the woman standing alongside the man, and sometimes standing without him when he defaults on his responsibilities.

11 Responses to The Missing Head

  1. Persis June 8, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    Thank you so much for this, Wendy. We should rejoice when God keeps marriages, but God is also glorified, not in the uniformity of our experiences, but in how His grace can sustain us in different and difficult circumstances. As a divorced mom, not my choice, I've had to shoulder financial, practical, and parenting responsibility. I don't think I have lost out just because my life doesn't look like the ideal. God is bigger than that.

  2. Anita June 8, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    Ruth, to me, has always been a picture of faith that looked to God for help while actively doing what she could in a right and honest manner, much like James that talks about faith and works that cannot be separated. It was her actions that exhibited her faith. She didn't do nothing and wait around for circumstances to change but did what she could, based on her knowledge of God, given the circumstances in which she found herself. She was neither too forward nor too weak.

    Thank you for addressing the position of the women who find themselves single or divorced. They are not missing out on God's purpose or blessing. God is present and at work in every situation, blessing their faithfulness to His word in everything they do!

  3. Ken Farmer June 8, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Really enjoyed your article here and the earlier one cited (TJ and Headship). Thanks!

  4. Monica Thompson June 8, 2016 at 6:42 pm #

    Wow! I have never heard this explained so well before! My husband often needs to work out of town, sometimes for long stretches. I've been criticized both for “trying to take his place as head of household” when he's not here, and for “leaning on him too much” when he is here, and this explains what I'm going through so eloquently! Thank you from the bottom of my heart

  5. Ruth in NZ June 9, 2016 at 1:26 am #

    Anita, I love this sentence… She ” did what she could, based on her knowledge of God, given the circumstances in which she found herself.” Tome that is what faith is all about and you summarised it so concisely. Thank you. Thank you Wendy too, for addressing these things.

  6. Chloe Whitmore June 9, 2016 at 2:07 am #

    Here is my testimony.. I thought it was over for me when my ex left. I gave all i have for the relationship to work but it was all failure. 4month after my partner left me for another person, i was introduced to Dr Baba and he helped me bring back my ex in 48hrs. Now we are fully married and i am 2months pregnant. I promised Dr Baba that i will tell everybody about him if it works. I am very glad for living a happy life with my love. He did it for me and i am 100% sure that he will do yours. I am a living example. you can contact him on (realhomeofspell@outlook.com )

  7. Wendy K. June 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Bailey June 9, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    As an egalitarian, I would see that “sagging” not as the absence of a “head” but as the absence of an equal, a companion, another person to share the load in a unique way. But having said that, I loved this post! It highlighted both the courage of women doing the heavy-lifting and the necessity of companionship and not going it alone.

  9. Wendy K. June 9, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

    Thank you for this, Wendy (we share a name!). I'm so saddened by the weird and harmful cultural hangups in so many American churches and this pitting of views (“too independent” vs “to needy”; though I would posit that in my experience many churches lean to the “too independent” accusation towards women who act as the unassisted load-bearers). What I find severely lacking in churches today is the remembrance of Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor. 7:8. Paul sees singleness as the ideal but recognizes marriage as the reality for many. The two are not pitted against each other. Strangely many churches (again, in my anecdotal experience) see male-headed marriage as the ideal, and women can come under human judgment when they don’t fit snugly into this pre-defined pattern.
    It's a very discouraging thing to experience when a church or congregants drive the problematic cultural views of single or abandoned women that you describe (i.e. “she's too independent and therefore probably unwilling to submit to a man”) while conveniently forgetting Paul's words that it is better for the unmarried and widowed to remain single. The picture and example of Ruth is a beautiful one, but a nuance should be recognized that in the culture of Ruth’s day, she needed a male kinsman redeemer to restore and take responsibility for her and the family (indeed, as you say, this points us to Christ, our kinsman Redeemer!). Christ’s work is complete, and Paul apparently does not see an absolute need for a male kephale to – through marriage – restore/protect/take responsibility for single, abandoned, or widowed women. I don’t say this to downplay the pain and gaping hole that the divorced and widowed feel in the absence of a male fellow load-bearer, but instead to make it clear to outside observers that they should not assume that marriage and male headship is 1.) required, 2.) a silver bullet that solves everything, and 3.) a standard that women should be judged by if they lack it.
    On the flip-side, some of these women should marry, “lest they burn with passion”; thus, as you aptly point out, we shouldn’t judge women for being “too needy” either, as Paul recognizes that marriage is wise in this case. Whether God’s plan involves marriage or singleness, His plan for His children is ultimately good.
    As an aside, I should add that if a woman is an unassisted load-bearer and children are involved, this is especially a time where the church should jump in and help instead of standing back and judging whether the woman is too independent/too needy/etc. If kephale is defined more as “taking responsibility for/protecting”, then that’s what the body of Christ should do for its vulnerable members. No mother should have to shoulder the responsibility of raising children completely alone. A woman glorifies God best when seeking Him and not some cultural ideal, and the church glorifies Him when they seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

    Heh, sorry I’m so long-winded 😛

  10. The Music Student June 10, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    “She did what she could.”
    This reminded me of another Scripture passage about another single woman, one who had never been married to our knowledge. When Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, poured the precious ointment on Jesus and was reproved by the disciples for the waste, Jesus defended her by saying: “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” (Mark 14:8)

  11. The Music Student June 10, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    Just wanted to address the statement that Paul held singleness, rather than marriage to be the ideal. By the way, speaking here as a single woman. I agree that churches can overemphasize marriage – the prevailing attitude in my church seems to be that a single man or woman who attends church must be in want of a spouse (to parody Jane Austen). Nevertheless, I wouldn't say that singleness was the ideal either. After all, the resurrection has not occurred yet, so we still operate under the rules of creation, under the words that God said in Genesis 2: “It is not good that man should be alone.” To put it another way, marriage is still a law of nature, while this present earth lasts.

    It is true that Christ raised the status of the single person, so that churches should no longer view single people as of lower status, as the natural tendency of society has been to do in the past millennia. But, if I might draw comparisons with another state which society has often treated as lower, Christ also raised the status of the infertile, but that does not mean that not having children is preferable to having them. What Christ did was show that those who were single or infertile were equally valuable as those who were married or had children. He didn't raise the single or infertile above the married with children.

    When Paul said it was better to remain single, he explained why he had said that: “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that (v. 28)… I want you to be free from anxieties (v.32).” He was saying it was easier to live the life of self sacrifice that a Christian is called to live as a single person. As much as I naturally bristle at the idea that I have it easy, I do see how certain things are easier for me than for my married brothers and sister in Christ. For example, when I felt called to go to the mission field for a season, it was quite easy to make that decision. There was no husband who needed to share that call, no children whose well being needed to be considered.

    That Christ, and Paul, did not intend to elevate singleness as the ideal is seen in Christ's quick response when the disciples, contemplating the stunning fact that divorce for any reason wasn't an option, said it was better to remain single: “But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” (Matthew 19:11). In other words, only for some people is singleness the better state. The implication in Christ's subsequent words about eunuchs is that the majority of people will want to marry and should get married. The church may be overemphasizing marriage, but the correction is not to swing in the opposite direction, as the medieval church did, and overemphasize singleness. All that is needed is a mutual respect for both marriage and singleness.