(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?