It’s taken me over 5 decades of life, 3+ of these as a technical adult woman, to realize that submission isn’t a dirty word.
Submission is a reality in our human existence. We are required to submit to bosses, government, parents. These are generally non-negotiable. We may not always be willing, sometimes our submission is forced.
Submission to God is something that always has been hit or miss for me. There are moments in my life I feel completely submitted to God (as much as that’s humanly possible) and then there are other times when I just don’t feel like it. God isn’t a bully. He’s not going to force my submission. He wants a loving relationship with me, where I acknowledge that He is God, He is perfect, and that He wants only the best for me in His will. I realize that there are many blessings to be had by being in the good and perfect will of my heavenly Father. I know that I stand to bless others when I’m doing the Will of God. I also realize that God will withhold blessings and grace from me, and perhaps teach me some hard lessons to help me come back to His Will. I know all this, but I willingly slip from submission to God and His teachings on a regular basis.
In marriage, I hadn’t truly understood the concept of wifely submission, particularly in a “modern” marriage. I was quite familiar with the numerous scriptures about the relationship of husbands and wives, but I chalked these up to another time and place, not 21st century USA. Men and women were equal. I felt that it was important that we had mutual respect and trust, but I wasn’t about to let him “lead me” or “be head of his wife” or “head of the family.” By golly, we were going to have an “equal” marriage, and things would be done democratically!
Once I entered adulthood in my early 20s, I held a few jobs in which I was in charge of resources or people. I made big decisions. I was a leader both in my career and in my personal life. I became a strong woman, to be reckoned with. I vowed to not be seen as a doormat or as weak. When something affected me emotionally or even brought me to the brink of tears, I learned to control my “girlish” emotions, or else fear being viewed as weak or incapable. I often carried this over into dating relationships with men. As much as I wanted deep down to be vulnerable and cared for, I feared this would amount to giving up control, and subject me to abusive power. I set out to let men know that while I enjoyed being with them, I didn’t NEED them. My generation was very keen on not being seen as “needy.” At 34 years of age when I married SK, my attitudes were pretty cemented.
After 20 years of marriage, fighting tooth and nail to always be on top of my game, to be right, to have a voice, to prove I really didn’t “need” my husband, I had to acknowledge that we had only grown more distant. In my refusal to see my husband as the leader of our family, I constantly challenged him to defy my wishes. I came to not respect him. And, like our heavenly Father, SJ never tried to force me to submit to him and respect him. He had been a leader in ways I chose not to acknowledge. He had been our primary breadwinner, and provided us with a wonderful home and life. He had participated actively in raising our children, staying involved in their lives and activities, and showing them affection and love. We regularly attended church, studied scripture, raised our children with Christian teachings and values, and participated in the life of the church. I had every reason to trust and respect my husband implicitly; SJ even endured living under the roof with an increasingly bitter woman. “Better to live on corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” It took me thinking that I had to leave him, to consider that perhaps I shared some part in the blame of why our marriage had gone off the tracks.
I had a lot of rethinking to do, and a lot of changing, but it all started when I told him that I wanted us to try again, a second chance, and that I wanted to submit and allow him to be our Head of Household. I think he got quite a chuckle out of my acknowledgement of his leadership, which he had quietly been doing all along. Initially I don’t think he really believed I truly would submit and acknowledge his leadership, but as always, he extended grace and said he was willing to try to make things better. It took many months before SJ believed me, and lots of patience and grace on his part to deal with my many hiccups in the process of practicing submission and love and patience. The more I respected, the more I submitted, the more I became a helpmeet and his support, the more dominantly he led us. I felt like I was with a new man, when in truth it had taken ME becoming a new, submitted wife to allow this to happen. The true thrill came when SJ began to exert his leadership and challenge me to submit, when before he’d be bracing for a battle. I found that I liked being taken in hand by a loving and righteous husband. We were smiling more. We were happy and hopeful about our future together.
Here’s my little secret– a huge turning point for me in my attitude came when I was feeling bereft as the affection and intimacy had exited our marriage. I didn’t know if it was possible to rekindle that, and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to live on in a marriage without the bonding of the marriage bed. When I accepted the biblical roles of marriage, our physical bond flourished and grew even more intense.
I began to realize that submission to a husband does not mean a woman is to be a slave in bondage to that man, but rather it is to be a mutual submission in love. The scriptures say we are to submit unto each other. Submission means to yield or “to set yourself under.” From this definition we see we are to yield to one another instead of demanding our own way. Love should be the rule in our homes, and we should “prefer one another.” I had to also reconsider the words of 1 Corinthians 13 about love to check my own attitudes. SJ didn’t stop respecting me, or acknowledging my gifts and talents and contributions to our lives; but with mutual love and respect returning, so did affection and love.
Ephesians 5:22- 30 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.