Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Does Submission Look Like?

Jodi commented after yesterday's post:

"If you think about it, I'd be interested in what submitting to your husband means to you in everyday life. What are some examples of circumstances where you would submit but someone else might refuse to? As I said, I'm still learning..."

First, Jodi and everyone else, I gotta tell you that I am not the poster child for this. I just feel like I have so far to go, many times (kind of like what Christy was saying about feeling like you're at "square one" after a petty quarrel). So I write this to all of us, to encourage us and challenge us, not as someone who's got it all figured out and does it right every time (I know, shocker).

To me a big part of submission is recognizing that Ryan is the leader and acting accordingly. He is the head of me, as Christ is the head of the church (1 Cor 11:3), and the Word instructs me to obey him as unto the Lord (Eph 5:22), a phrase you do not see applied to the husband's submission to the wife (the mutual submission referenced in the preceding verse). I am charged with helping him (Gen 2:18) fulfill his calling before the Lord. Part of that calling, de facto, is leadership over his household.

Okay, that's still abstract, and you wanted to know how it works out in real life. I can only speak for my own situation, but for us things come up daily--situations that need to be resolved, decisions that need to be made, plans that need to be implemented. Ryan trusts me, for example, with our finances, and I am the one who enters everything into Microsoft Money. We've worked it out where we don't have to "ask" each other about every little thing we buy ("Honey, can I go to Starbucks this morning? Thanks!"), but in bigger things, we do. He wouldn't buy some pricey gadget without talking to me first (um, generally). ;-) Ryan and I are both satisfied with this arrangement. But let's say that he felt we were spending too much money, and he felt led to take the financial "reins" and (horrors!) halt our Starbucks forays. Sure, I can tell him what I think (respectfully), but ultimately it's my duty and role to say, "Okay, sweetie--we'll do what you think is best." It is his duty not to be unloving and harsh, and to make decisions he thinks are the best for our family and are in God's will.

So many of the specifics are going to depend on the personality and preferences of you and your husband. Some men much prefer for their wives to make the "little" decisions, like where to eat when they go out, what's for dinner (can you tell I am hungry?), clothing, and bigger ones, like keeping track of the finances. Other men like to have a say in what goes on even in little things, and that's okay, too, as long as he is loving to his wife and she respectful to him.

The hard part is being obedient and loving when the other person isn't, er, being everything God calls them to be at that moment. If I am selfish and petulant, for example, it doesn't automatically throw God's Word out the window and give Ryan license to be harsh and unloving. Loving one another with God's love means that even when your spouse is stumbling, you're looking to Jesus (not your spouse) for strength and guidance. We are all responsible to the Lord for our individual walk with Him (we can't blame bad attitudes and disobedience on anyone else, even our spouse who is dropping the ball). Ryan and I have had talks about this recently, as at times (GASP!) one or the other of us drops the ball. We HAVE to be rooted in Christ, deny ourselves, and take up our crosses to do any of this according to the will and Word of God.

I don't know if I gave you instances where others would "refuse to submit." The whole thing is a heart condition: how willing is the husband, and how willing is the wife, to be like Jesus? Many times, either you realize what God is calling you to be as a man or woman in Christ, and you're willing to do as He asks, or you're going to demand your "rights" and, basically, not do things the way God lays out.

Rachel had some incredible answers to her friend Jenn's questions about Christianity--and her response related to this topic, which is far more stellar than my above ramblings, can be found here (the last comment posted so far).

Also, Molly had an incredible series on marriage that had a huge impact on me. It's one of the first posts I read of hers.

Addendum: Matthew McDill also has some insights in his March 14th post.

Guys, I don't know if I presented this one clearly, so please ask for clarification if something seems wack. I am a little foggy and not feeling tip-top, so go easy. :)


Atlantic said...

Wonderful post!

“The hard part is being obedient and loving when the other person isn't, er, being everything God calls them to be at that moment.” You’re right! This is a hard part. However, there are two other really hard parts:

First, it can be very tough when you disagree on something really major, especially when compromise isn’t an option. I would initially agree with Jodi’s teacher’s suggestion that in such cases, a married couple should try to seek unity – but that’s not always possible. For instance, sometimes the situation demands that a decision must be made quickly.

Furthermore, it is in cases of serious disagreement that the virtues of submission and obedience are really needed. In fact, I don’t think submission is fully possible unless there is disagreement. Otherwise, we are saying to our husbands, “I will be submitted to you as to Christ…as long as I understand and agree with all your major decisions.” This isn’t really submission – it’s a veneer of submission over a core of modern liberal feminism. I don’t think there’s much of an issue of waiting for God to “speak gently to one to surrender their point-of-view” – God has already spoken to us wives about this!

In this situation, I would pray a lot and ask for the virtue of cheerful, wholehearted obedience. If you really feel that you can’t trust your husband on this matter, obey him anyway and then put all your trust in God! Oh, and I’ve just read Molly’s posts on not cultivating bitterness and they are terrific on this.

The other hard part is when you believe that your husband is asking you to do something against the Lord. This is a situation that we all hope we never have to face, but it happens to some people sometimes. In this case, you must follow God, not man. Personally, I believe that the submitted wife is better off than others when this situation comes up: her husband knows that she is not in the habit of opposing him on minor (or even major) matters, so if she finds it necessary to oppose him on a moral matter, the shock of it might help wake him up to the gravity of the situation! I also think in that in such a situation the wife should, if possible, consult with an older woman or other trusted elders (possibly with her husband) in order to check that her view of the matter is correct and that it is serious enough to warrant opposition.

(I would also discuss matters with trusted spiritual adviser(s) in extreme situations where full submission could be problematic – for instance, in cases of abuse or mental illness.)

In my personal experience, submission works, even when it is difficult. DH finds it difficult sometimes too! It is really tempting to want to share the responsibility and potential blame for a big decision. And I am not always being what God calls me to be, so it’s not always easy for him to sacrifice himself for me, either!

I only started submitting to him out of desperation for our marriage. We were going through a really bad patch; I had tried everything else our society recommends and I thought I was enough of a Christian wife. I honestly didn’t think it was going to work, either; at the beginning it was all external. (OK, God, it’ll just be a few weeks before I can say I tried everything and it didn’t work!)

But very quickly, once I starting showing even external respect for my husband’s decisions, I realised just how much I was self-centred and always demanding my own way on trivial matters – I had the habit of opposition. And once he felt I respected him, he found it easier to be loving and sacrificial, and it became a “virtuous circle” very quickly. And luckily, God made my heart submitted before He allowed me to need real obedience for serious disagreements.

There are some areas where I have expertise that my DH doesn’t – and in those cases, he either delegates to me (eg I have a food/garden budget that we arrived at together, and the rest is up to me, including telling him what to do in the garden), or I become his expert adviser (eg certain aspects of finance). Like Mr Spock to Captain Kirk, I give him all the relevant information and my best judgment – and he decides.

Kristen said...

Atlantic...Exactly. Thank you.

Shane said...

Being the Spiritual head is quite a responsibility. It needs to be handled in a mature and prayerful manner. It's not a time for a man just to exercise an arrogant dominance, but to lovingly guide his family. You are responsible for the decisions you make and the path your lead your love ones down. Especially when children are involved.

Luke 17:2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

From reading many of your posts, it seems you both have a good understanding of this role and its purpose in your family.


holly said...

I can think of a couple of submission issues from my household, retrospectively. six years ago my dh and I had just had our 4th child. We (at that time) felt we had done more than our share to populate the world, and had a vasectomy scheduled. As the day approached, an unexplained grief grew in my heart. God was working, I was mourning. My husband didn't understand what was going on in me. Bottom line for the sake of brevity...we did not have the vas., although I would have submitted to him if he had insisted. He was loving enough of God and me to call a halt to the surgery, to comfort my heart, to seek God's face. That brought us to our current place of trusting God with the number of children He will place in our home. If I had not been submissive, I am thinking his heart might have been hardened, and God might not have worked. On the other hand, if he wasn't extremely loving and tender to me, he would not have listened in the first place.

A second area that I struggle with CONSTANTLY is this: My husband is the pastor of a church. If I had my idea of a perfect life, this is NOT where we would be. I grew up in a pastor's family, and know the difficulties it can bring..the stresses, the loneliness, the lack of time (at times.) I KNOW WITH CERTAINTY THAT GOD HAS CALLED MY HUSBAND TO THIS PLACE AT THIS TIME. I can choose to love him, to support him, to build him up, to be his partner...or I can continually whine about how unhappy I am in since he is in this job. I choose submission, and joy...sometimes daily. In our case, it is not something that my husband demands. I submit in this area because I love him and want to help him be the best husband, father and pastor he can be. I could pull him down, and perhaps make him lose His joy...but I am learning to say nothing...simply to submit my poor thoughts, attitudes and actions and exchange them for obedience. By submitting to my dh, I am submitting to God. My deepest heart WANTS to do this, because I love them both so much. My fleshly self has to be whipped into submission. :)

Kristen said...

Shane--you're absolutely right. It is a sobering charge both to men and to women, and we are accountable to God for our actions.

Holly--I think yours is a really helpful example. The Lord has brought to my mind many times over the past year and a half that we are to take up our cross DAILY. That's the only way to live in Him, really. ((HUG))

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