I had just finished a really stellar devotional reading on strength, self-control, and discipline. Nodding along, I came to the closing lines.
Now stand up and ask yourself: as a man, am I–
Wait, what? I skimmed back through the devotional, an entry in an anthology of multiple devotionals I’d started reading daily. I hadn’t realized it was a men’s devotional. I hadn’t realized it was gender-specific at all – and indeed, the material didn’t seem to be. It wasn’t until I squinted at the very bottom of the page that I saw it: Such and Such Devotional For Men.
But the devotional had been useful for me. And I found myself wondering: shouldn’t a few paragraphs on godly strength, self-control, and disciple be useful to every Christian? What in particular about this advice was for men only?
In the weeks that followed, I was able to repeat a version of that experience several times. The devotional anthology had devotions for mothers, for fathers, for men, for women, for kids, for the elderly, for teens. More often than not, I didn’t realize I was reading something not meant for me until I was too far along for it to matter.
What did I find? Well, topical clustering, for one thing. Parents’ devotionals focused on attributes like patience and sacrifice, and on issues like making time for other people, serving a family, and prioritizing what matters. Children’s devotionals centered on things like obedience, temptation, and cultivating an understanding of right and wrong. Devotionals for men almost always sounded the strains of strength, of leadership, of courage, of growth; many of the women’s devotionals focused on prayer, on giving, on service.
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for there to be different, keenly marked demographics in the church. Sometimes the elderly have different needs than the college students, for example. Women might be able to discuss particular issues in a women’s group that they simply can’t with a mixed crowd. And I’m hardly exempt from this; one devotional entry I came across was about talking to your children, and I read two sentences before I shrugged and skipped it. Childless me was getting nothing out of that. Sometimes we need group-specific advice, or a group-specific environment, or group-specific camaraderie.
But other times we don’t. And as I kept reading all those devotionals that weren’t meant for me, I kept thinking, I am really enjoying this! Sometimes I grow tired of women’s Christian literature geared toward the prayer life and the home and I want to read something for myself about leadership and boldness and boundaries and strength. Sometimes I look at devotionals for parents and realize that if I spent half my time making that much of an effort to cultivate patience, I’d be an entirely different human being. Sometimes the simple truths of a kids’ devotional really reach out and smack me in the face: it would do all of us well to return to the fundamentals.
So enjoy the demographic-friendly material that the Christian world offers you, but don’t be afraid to reach out and read the things not meant for you, too. A male CEO might have useful insight for a stay-at-home-mom. The childless couple might learn a lot from the family of seven. The single college student could benefit from some time with the church elders. Frankly, I know a lot of men who would benefit from some “women’s” studies I’ve read. There’s no requirement that says you only have to read the book or devotional for your particular age group, or gender, or family type. Look for all-purpose items, or get crazy and just read something that wasn’t intended for you at all. You might learn something great.
As I was putting together this post in my head, I received an email from a Christian shop online where I often buy books. The email listed some of the books in my buying history, then mentioned that it could better tailor offers to my needs if only it knew what gender I was. Help us help you, the email said. Guy or gal?
If I clicked on “gal” I knew I’d be opening myself up to a floodgate of “Devotionals for the Praying Woman” and “The Stressed Mom” and “How Do You Balance It All” and “Prayer All Day Every Day.” Click “guy” and – besides lying – I’d be asking for “The Father Dilemma” and “Strength, Discipline, and Courage,” or “Work Life Balance For The Believer” and “Prioritizing People Over Money.”
In the end, I didn’t click on anything. Better to have too many options, I reasoned, than too few. And that’s how I like to approach Christian lifestyle material in general. Sure, every now and then I need something just for women. Or just for a childfree couple. But I also like the choice to explore beyond those demographic boundaries to see what I can find.
So don’t feel hidebound. Whether it’s making friends, finding Christian literature, or joining Bible study groups, the world of God’s children is vast indeed. Go where you learn and go where you grow. If that’s within your demographic, great. But if it isn’t, don’t let those fences keep you out.
You can learn a lot from all the people who aren’t like you.