Like many new brides I entered marriage with rose colored glasses. Prior to getting married I had immersed myself in all things biblical womanhood. I was well-versed in the debates, I knew the biblical passages about marriage, and I thought I had the whole submission thing down. In fact, I couldn’t wait to apply all I had learned. God knew my pride needed a good humbling. And so I got married.
It’s easy to talk about headship and submission in theoretical terms. When we hear it unpacked at conferences and in Sunday morning sermons we nod our heads in agreement and think to ourselves “that can’t be that hard, right?” It can sound so easy sometimes.
But what about the times when it’s not easy to follow? What about the times when submitting to your husband feels like everything but a joy and a privilege? What do you do when he is asking you to follow him and trust him and you want to do the exact opposite?
Now I am not talking about times where a husband is asking a wife to follow him into sin or when a husband is sinfully exerting his own rights and leadership. This is so far from the biblical pattern for headship and submission.
I’m talking about when you have talked through the issue and you are at an impasse. You don’t know where to go from here. You want one thing and he wants the other. What do you do?
I can relate. We had only been married a few short months when my husband asked me to trust him with something that I held very dear. He was asking me to drop out of seminary. It wasn’t because he thought I wasn’t qualified or gifted for ministry. It wasn’t because he didn’t believe in me either. Instead he thought the exact opposite. Since the moment we met, no one had been a bigger fan of me or my writing than him. But he knew our budget. And he knew it couldn’t work with both of us in seminary. So he asked me to trust him. He asked me to trust that God would honor our desire to be financially wise and my ultimate trust in his leadership over us.
When he first approached me with it I was defiant. How could he ask me to abandon my dream? How could he expect me to support him through seminary knowing that with every theological book read, paper written, and Greek word parsed I was desperately longing to do the exact same thing? In my mind obeying him meant denying myself. It meant denying what I wanted and hoped for. It meant a life of working a 9-5 job I hated while he got to do the seemingly fun stuff.
In my deepest moments of despair over what my marriage was doing to my dreams I was missing something crucial about God’s call on my life to submit to my husband. Before I got married, submission seemed like such a noble thing. I wanted to be the godly wife who always submitted to her husband with joy. But when the rubber met the road, it was a lot harder than I anticipated.
Submission turned from a flippant idea to a hard-to-live reality. I learned that mastering submission is not one more notch to earn in my belt of biblical womanhood. Rather, submission is a lifelong process of daily dying to myself and my wants for the good of another.
Our pattern for submission is not a cultural construct or a throwback to June Cleaver and the 1950’s happy housewife. Our pattern for submission is our Savior, who for the joy set before him obeyed the Father all the way to death so we wouldn’t have to. We submit not ultimately to a man, but to the God-man. We submit to the very one who mastered submission on our behalf, trusting that the very work he is doing in our own life, he is doing in the life of our husband.
So why is it so hard?
God does not command things that are easy. If he did, then anyone could master his commands and we wouldn’t need him. Instead he commands things that are impossible. And that is what I needed to learn in those early days of marriage. The biblical pattern of submission seen in scripture is not to be done in my own strength—and no amount of reading about it was going to prepare me for the moment of truth.
The same Christ who gave us the pattern of submission is the very Christ who ensures that we can submit. And even better, he paid for every sinful tantrum we throw when we don’t get our way. I, for one, am thankful for that grace.
Submission is not ultimately about us, our husband, or even our little corner of marital bliss. It’s about God. It’s about the story we tell with our lives. When I submit to my husband I am telling a watching world, even if the only ones watching are my children, what I believe about God and his work. Do I believe he ultimately has my back? Or do I need to insist on my own way? What I was doing in those early days of marriage was really saying that my way was best. I was saying that getting what I wanted mattered more than anything else.
I wish I could say it was easier for me to yield to God and his plan for my life. But I am still a work in progress. While I may not have finished my seminary degree, and most likely will not finish it anytime soon (if ever), I learned a valuable lesson. My husband is not my enemy. He is my friend and my partner. When I got over the fact that he was leading us to do something I didn’t want at the time, I was able to see that our marriage was not some battle of the wills. I didn’t need to seek my own way. My way had become his way, and vice versa. We are in it together. And recognizing that had a tremendous impact on my attitude towards him and his leadership.
I’m a slow learner, unfortunately. But what I am ever increasingly thankful for is the truth that the Christ who obeyed to the cross will keep me until the end—even when submission isn’t easy.
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