"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Monday, 28 May 2012

The S-Word: Part II

(If you missed Part I of this series, please check it out first to get caught up.)
As a Christian woman, it's hard to escape the word submission in the Bible. It's there. It's in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and again in 1 Peter 4, and because I trust the Bible, I can't just ignore these passages and pretend they are not there. Here is what I've been learning and pondering on marital submission.

First of all, let me explain what I have been taught regarding this issue, so that we are on the same page. I know there are other strains of thought within different denominations, but this is what I've learned in my church. As I mentioned in Part I, when dealing with submission, we need to be cognizant that there are various areas of our lives in which we submit (e.g., to authorities, to employers, to parents, to each other as Christians, and ultimately to God). As well, submission of the wife to the husband is a part of the larger context of their interaction with each other and with God.

It is also important to note that while women are called to submit, men are instructed to love and protect their wives (also Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 4). Submission should also be offered willingly: The Bible tells men to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and Christ does not force the church into submission. If this relationship works as it should, submission should be joyful, as our husbands are acting out of love. Of course, this does not always go smoothly, because we are all sinful. Most of the time, if I have a non-submissive heart (to God, others, or my husband), it is not because I am being asked to do something wrong or unpleasant, but because I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. There are cases where abuse is involved and makes submission difficult and even dangerous; if that is your situation, I would encourage you to get help. For me, however, as for (I hope!) the majority of people I know, that is not the case and bringing up abusive submission is more of an excuse to avoid submitting than a legitimate reason to question these passages.

What submission means to me, is that my husband gets to be the “tie breaker” when we are at loggerheads. It means respecting his decisions as the head of a godly household. Now, my husband is a loving and intelligent man. He respects my opinion, and usually asks for it. We are normally able to talk through areas where we see things differently, and to come up with a compromise. Because Gil values what I think, I feel comfortable bringing up issues even when he has not asked for my opinion, but I try to do this with love and not to force anything on him. As in the case of submitting to the authorities, although I may seem to “lose” by submitting on a single issue, I also gain in the long run, because our marriage will be built on biblical principles and should also have less of the conflict and resentment that result from power struggles and un-winnable arguments. Gil and I will also gain because our relationship with Christ will be deeper as we obey Him.

As you can see from the above, what submission does NOT mean to me, is that I have no opinion or that I cannot raise opposition to something my husband has said, suggested or even tentatively decided. I do feel, however, that I should raise my issues in a way that shows respect for him as my husband, rather than being rude or acting superior. What submission also doesn't mean is that I get to criticize, say “I told you so”, or avoid responsibility. It's true that if my husband makes a decision against my advice, the outcome is not my fault, but that is not an opportunity to gloat or make him take care of the consequences on his own. The reality is, if I make a stupid decision, I am likely the first one to realize how wrong I was and to feel badly about it. If it is a sinful decision, the Holy Spirit is sure to convict me about it. I should be able to let the Spirit work in Gil's life if he makes a bad decision, rather than trying to take God's job from Him!

I promised to share a story with you, so here goes: As you may recall, a few weeks ago we had to postpone our move. Well, two days prior to the planned moving day, we discussed 1 Peter 4 in my Bible study. Like many a young wife who has recently gone through premarital counselling, I felt pretty secure in my understanding of submission... theoretically at least. Of course, God decided to test me on this! The following day, Gil told me that he did not think we could move on Saturday due to some joint pains. I was pretty upset, and presented what I thought were a few options we could look into rather than postponing. After he left for work, I realized that instead of fretting and mentally complaining, I should probably turn to prayer first. I also read my Bible study notes on submission. As this was going on, I started to see this as an opportunity to gracefully submit to my husband's decision. I was moved by these verses from 1 Peter 3: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” My husband is a believer, but what if the best way I could help him grow in faith was to living out godly submission? Am I prepared to do that? What if God was trying to teach him through this experience, and my selfish attempt to grab the reins was going to keep Gil from learning and growing? I started to think about a couple of areas where I think he needs to grow (and trust me, I could write a mile-long list of growth areas in my own life so this was not a pick-on-Gil session). Tears came to my eyes as I thought about how much more important it is that he has the chance to seek God in those areas, and the fact that I had been more focused on temporary comfort than in my husband's spiritual life. In the end, as you know, we were forced to postpone the move due to circumstances out of both of our control, but that whole day I felt at peace, and was so glad to be able to greet the moving news with acceptance rather than complaining.

I'd love to hear your questions or comments on this issue? As a new wife, I am still learning about this, and trust that God will show me lots more in the future! What have you learned about submission over the years?

Friday, 25 May 2012

The S-Word

Wait, no not THAT s-word! I'm talking about Submission. You probably like that word even less. :-)

I've been thinking about submission lately. In part, that's because we've been looking at various epistles during Bible study, and the topic came up at least twice. God really taught me a lesson on submission through one week's study, but you'll have to wait for my next instalment for that story. :-)
I am in no way trying to write a treatise on submission. There are far better articles and books on that for you to read if you are interested. I would, however, like to touch on some ways that God has called me to submission lately, and helped me understand it better.

When this subject comes up, we tend to camp out on marital submission. In some sense, that is understandable, firstly because personal relationships tend to be closest to our hearts and take up a lot of our attention, and secondly because the issue tends to grate on us (see Genesis 3!) so we like to discuss it just as we like to discuss other topics that get us engaged. However, marital submission is only part of the Bible's overall teaching on submission. We are all called to submit to God, to our church leaders, to our employers (or masters if we are slaves), to our governments, and to each other.

What I find interesting, is that while I and other women can get quite offended about having to submit to a husband, I am – cheerfully or not – living out submission all the time in my daily life. Practically every time I go out of my house, I am subject to the authorities of my city, province, and country. When I drive on the road, I submit by obeying the laws (er, most of the time...) and when I buy something in a store, I submit by using legal tender and by paying tax. I may grumble at times, but I do accept these things as a given. Of course, you could argue that I submit because of possible punishment (see Romans 13); however, not to go into too much John Locke, most of the time we submit as part of a mutually beneficial relationship. I obey traffic laws because if everyone does, it keeps us all safer on the roads. I pay taxes, but I am okay with that because sometimes I profit from them personally (like getting tax returns), while other times I reap the benefit of living in a stable country with modern infrastructure.

I could go on and on about how we also submit to church authorities, our parents, our employers, etc., but I won't, because the main thing to remember is that all of this submission is part of our overall submission to God. God is our authority, so we submit to the authorities He has set up (Romans 13:1). Every day, even people who do not believe in God live somewhat in submission to Him, because He created the world and the conditions in which we live. He created time and the laws of physics, so really even my existence at this moment is in submission to His will. He decided when and where we should be born, which determines a lot of the factors of our lives, and He sets up government authorities.

As a Christian, of course, I am called to live a life of deeper submission. I am called to show my love for God through my obedience to His Word (e.g., John 14:23). I also show this submission by talking to Him in prayer and asking guidance. While God does not have to reward me for doing this (because it's what I should be doing regardless), He does so in the ever-increasing blessing of knowing Him better. Of course, one of the areas He asks me to obey is in the area of marital submission, which I will cover in my next post.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Long Weekend

Now that we're settled into the new house, we were able to spend the long weekend enjoying lovely weather and relaxing... sort of.  In fact, Gil worked all day yesterday and part of today, and I wrote a Chinese test over the weekend.  Other than that, though, we took some time relax, have a Saturday-morning brunch, attend a friend's barbecue, go out to a Thai restaurant (I'm seeing a food theme), and just generally enjoy the time.  Here are some images from our weekend:

My brother's kitty came to stay with us for a few days. 
I love this photo, as it kind of seems like he's laughing or really surprised. 

We have peonies about to bloom beside our garage.  So pretty!

Today I spent a lazy afternoon reading on my front porch.  It was delightful. 
Happy Victoria Day!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

We've Moved!

I'm happy to announce that we are *finally* in our new home!  I'll post pictures at some point when things are more organized, but so far I am enjoying the chance to get things set up at my own pace.  The move went great:  No injuries and no arguments, both by the grace of God.

After living in such a small space, being in a house is a bit of an adjustment.  Gil and I find ourselves frequently calling out, "Where are you?" as we are not used to losing sight of one another.  It is also lovely to hear birds outside and see the green of trees through the windows.  In short, life is great and we are very happy.

Since I'm a little nuts, I ran my 10K race with my mom on Sunday morning.  Yes, that would be less than 24 hours since we had begun the move.  It went well and I was happy with my time, and more than that, I got to share the experience with my wonderful mom on Mother's Day!  Now I'm giving my body a few days vacation. 

Thanks to all who prayed for us during this process, and for everyone who offered us assistance.  We appreciate it and we feel very blessed!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The View From Here

Well, friends, it looks like we are moving into the new house in just a few days.  I say "looks like", because we've had a lot of bumps on this road so far, and I don't think I'll believe it's real until that morning when we finally wake up in our new bedroom.

Yesterday, I was reminded to practice an attitude of gratefulness, even through difficult or stressful situations.  I've been trying to look around and note the blessings in my life.  Here are some things for which I am grateful today:

1)  I am grateful for the way God has been with me through the waiting period.  If you had told me back in January that we would still not be moved in by now, I would likely have burst into tears, but God has really taught me about patience and submission in the past few months.  The lessons have not always been enjoyable, but I am certain that one day I will look back at our first few months of marriage and be amazed at how much growth happened in a short time.

2)  I am grateful for this newlywed stage.  I was frankly a bit terrified of moving in together.  I kept hearing people say that the first year of marriage was so difficult; I had images of Gil and me tearing each other's heads off all the time.  In fact, although we have had arguments, the transition to marriage has been  quite an easy one, and I am accepting that as a gift from God, as I'm sure we will face trials at some point in the future.  Six months into our marriage, I can say that Gil has truly been a rock for me as I've gone through so many big changes at once.

3)  I am grateful for spring!  The other day, I dragged myself out to run before breakfast.  It was a battle to get outside, and a battle to go through with the route I had mapped out.  I was so blessed through the experience, because I ended up turning onto a new (to me) street and it was lined trees that had beautiful magenta blossoms.  It smelled *amazing*.  What a gift for a Monday morning!  Yesterday, I picked up my bicycle from being tuned up, and am looking forward to enjoying this season with bike rides and time spent in our new backyard.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Expectations and Doing Hard Things

A couple of weeks ago, I took the opportunity of my husband being out of town to go to Ottawa and visit with some friends. I was also looking forward to attending my (beloved) former church... and I was not disappointed. The teaching that weekend was really challenging and relevant to where I have been at recently. The sermon talked about finding lasting satisfaction in God. Our pastor mentioned some surprising statistics, noting that in surveys on happiness, Canadians and Americans rated fairly low levels of happiness and satisfaction. In fact, Americans were even surpassed by countries with much lower standards of living, such as Nigeria and Afghanistan! With everything that we have in this society, we are not happy, and I wonder how much this is related to our expectations about life. We expect a life of comfort, one in which our work and home lives are meaningful, and we obsess over the many options and choices we have. Instead of making us happy, we are miserable because we feel like things could be better than they are. The pastor also noted that Christians who look for happiness in external things, even good ones like work and family, will be especially miserable. Our spirits know that we could be experiencing deep satisfaction in God, yet we are disappointed because our spouses, our families, our jobs, etc., cannot provide as deep a satisfaction.

This gave me some food for thought, and while I was pondering it, I decided to attend the Sunday school class with the youth group that I used to serve with. The awesome youth pastor PJ was in the middle of a series of Sundays on Alex and Brett Harris's book Do Hard Things. I don't know if I expected to be impacted much by the talk, because the book is written for teenagers, but PJ gave me a lot to think about.

I haven't actually read Do Hard Things, but the basic premise of the book is that our society has really low expectations of teenagers, basically assuming they will spend 10+ years being lazy and irresponsible before settling into adulthood. (Obviously, there are families in which this is not the case, but this is the general view presented in the media for sure.) Alex and Brett Harris argue that teenagers need something to strive for, and that they are at a place in their lives where they are able to take chances, to throw themselves into causes, and to do hard things. It's not about doing things just because they are hard, but to seek the tasks God would have for them and then do them; to make a difference. In so doing, they will have to fight against the expectations of their elders, their peers, and even themselves that they should be focusing on their own enjoyment for this period in their lives.*

I'm (obviously) not a teenager any more, but this talk really impacted me. I started thinking about the expectations society has for me at this point in my life. It didn't seem like they were particularly high either: get a decent job, focus on my new home, take some vacations, have kids in a couple of years. These are good things, but it seems like the expectation is to be always wanting more. People expect us to upgrade our home every so often, to get new cars every few years, to focus on comfort and on materialism. Not only that, but it seems that no matter what we have, it is totally normal to whine about it: Complain about how kids don't obey and their extra-curriculars are expensive, about things our spouses say or do, about the costs of living and the upkeep of a house, about how tired we are from working/raising kids/taking vacations. We live in a culture where the overall expectation is to be unsatisfied and self-centred! I don't think very many people outside the church would expect me to throw myself into meaningful service, or to continue to practice a frugal lifestyle, or to try to find real satisfaction in God and in extending grace rather than complaining. Thinking this through really encouraged me to keep asking myself, “What does God expect of me? Am I more concerned about God's expectations for my life, or society's? What expectations have I internalized rather than taking a good look about whether they are in fact distractions?”

PJ also stressed that if we are not spending time with God and trying to live out His commands, we should not expect to know what hard things He has for us. That really hit me hard. As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel a bit like I'm in the desert lately, knowing that there is something ahead for me, but unsure what that is. In truth, I have not been spending nearly enough time in prayer and reflection. How can I expect God to reveal open doors if I don't even have my eyes open?

As a reaction to this, I decided to do a (not so) Hard Thing. I took a good look at how much time I spend online. I'll often start reading sites, blogs, etc., in the morning, and end up spending ages online. Then I'll do it again in the afternoon. Since I'm at home a lot, the internet can eat up so much of my time, and honestly my time with God gets postponed. Sooooo, I'm not ready to quit the internet altogether, but I've started a new rule: I have to do my Bible reading and prayer time first, and for the month of May, I will limit myself to half an hour in the morning, and another 15 minutes in the evening. (This will not include checking my email as I get it on my smart phone, or any things that arise out of necessity, such as checking my bank balance or finding an address on a map.) I'm really hoping this will cause me to focus my time on God, as well as on other tasks that are getting pushed aside. I want to be accountable in this task, so if you do see me or talk to me, please feel free to ask how it's going. I'll try to post a few updates on this blog as the month goes on.

What about you? What expectations do you feel society has for you? Are you challenging them?

*As I noted, I have not actually read the book, so if you have, please let me know if there are some inaccuracies in this description.