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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Marriage Monday - What does Submission in Christian Marriage Look Like?

Today I'm linking up with e-Mom over at Chrysalis for another Marriage Monday...today's topic is a very controversial one... submission in Christian marriage. Many people misunderstand this biblical principle and the word 'submission' is like some kind of profanity and not to be uttered.

In fact, it wasn't until very late in my own marriage that I even heard about this principle. By then, I had already unwittingly started to apply some of its elements to my own marriage, but as I learned more about it, I came to understand more about myself and what I had done wrong and how to correct the patterns of behaviour, destroy the well of resentment and improve the application of submission to my marriage.

Looking back, my mother 'submitted' to my father all of the time. She never argued with him, she never contradicted him...even when he was clearly wrong. He called the shots on everything in our household and we grew up seeing our mother always allowing my father control over everything.  I now know that her way of 'submission' wasn't really what its all about...it was more a way of keeping the peace, but at what expense?

Even though she never stood up to him or contradicted him, she was very vocal in her criticisms of his behaviour when he wasn't around. Unfortunately, she said it all in front of us children and it exacerbated our already brimming cup of resentment. It was clear that she didn't agree with him, didn't respect him, despite the outward show and this just added to the gap in emotional distance between us and him. I learned later on as an adult that it undermined my own respect for her as well, as I believed that she allowed things to happen in our household that could have been prevented if she had spoken up, took a stand for justice.

So what is submission exactly?

If you examine Ephesians 5:22-24  "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."

I believe that the key to our submission in marriage lies in our submission to Christ.  What does it mean to submit to God?  For me, submission to God looks like this:  surrendering control of  my life to Him. Trusting Him with my needs, my problems and looking to Him for guidance, to lead me in all situations in my life. Tough to do!  Its a constant battle to relinquish my desire to plan and control what happens in my life, but I find that as I do, He gives me the necessary graces to apply the principles of biblical submission to my marriage as well.

What does submission in marriage look like? 

I believe that submission may look different in each marriage. Some husbands, like my own, may be more willing to listen to their wives ideas. Some may be willing to leave a lot of the decision-making to their wives, some not. Some don't need to control every aspect of the household, some do. Some wives are not required to submit blindly, but their husbands ask for their opinions and input.

Here's what I think. As women we are called to allow our husbands to be the heads of our home. Our jobs are to be their second in command, if you will. We are called to support them in decision-making and stand by them.   St Paul says we wives must submit to our husbands as the church submits to Christ. What exactly does that look like? Does that mean that we have no voice? Does it mean that we are to meekly go along with everything, never disagree with them or have ideas to submit?  I don't believe so.

I don't believe that God intended for us as women to submit to injustice or violence. I don't believe that he granted us with intelligence for no reason either. We have great ideas sometimes and we also have been granted the gift of 'women's intuition'. We see things in a light that our husbands don't. Our input is often vital. Our husbands are not always going to be right about everything...like everyone else, they're human and imperfect.  Sometimes our intervention is necessary. The key is to give our husbands the respect they need in our communication.

Throughout the early years of my marriage I noticed that whenever I disagreed with my husband he would get annoyed with me...that got my back up alot. I'd already come from a household where I'd had no voice at all...my father treated us girls and my mother as if we didn't have a clue about anything and couldn't possibly have an opinion to offer.  Eventually, I did like my mother and stopped having anything to say...which, of course, caused a well of resentment to begin inside me.  It took me many years to realise that the problem wasn't in my opinions but in the delivery of them.

 After reading Dr Emerson Eggerich's book "Love and Respect", I understood that my husband felt that I didn't respect him or value him because of the way that I spoke to him. I've seen many wives speak in disrespectful and degrading ways to their husbands in front of others. While I don't think I've ever done that intentionally, I know there have been a few times, especially in the early days, when I didn't choose my words carefully enough.

Ephesians 5:33 "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."   This is the biblical quotation that Dr Eggerich used to base his principle of love and respect. Basically he says that men need respect like they need air to breathe. So how do we submit as St Paul says we must do and yet disagree with our husbands?

First rule...not in front of others, especially our children.  When we want to disagree with our husbands we have to make sure we aren't undermining their authority or unmanning them in front of others.

Next is the delivery.  We need to make sure that our husbands understand that we believe in them and will support them, but in this particular instance, we disagree and give them our reasons. Tone is important as is timing.  If you choose to talk to your husband when he's tired, hungry (they don't say a hungry man is an angry man for nothing!) or distracted, you're already racking up some points against yourself.  My advice is to pray first, choose your words carefully and be as grace-giving as you can in your delivery.

Prayer is vital!  I have read on other blogs this quotation "You are not your husband's Holy Spirit". I agree with this, but I also know that there are times when God will use me to gently nudge my husband in the right direction. I share what I'm learning from the Holy Spirit ...I'm not forcing things down my husband's throat and I'm certainly not taking away his leadership role, but I will suggest things that I think we could do or change and I know that my  husband is always willing to listen. Sometimes I back down when I think that I may overstep my boundaries and pray instead that God will lead my husband to the right decision.

This happens very often with our children. Firstly, we have daughters and daughters can be a challenge for a father who doesn't always understand their moodiness etc. (Honestly my husband is a saint-in-training living with four menstruating women...one of whom is probably heading for peri-menopause soon!) Often times I sort of bridge the gap.

What happens if we believe our husbands are wrong about something?  We pray!! We ask the Holy Spirit to convict him and to help him to see the light. Of course, we must first be certain that WE aren't the ones who are wrong.

I praise God that my husband is willing to listen to my ideas and opinions and willing to discuss things with me. This is what I believe the correct balance should look like in a marriage. St Paul says in Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." 

I believe that the love and respect thing works both ways and that is what biblical submission should look like. Husbands love your wives, wives respect your husbands.... a husband who loves his wife should also respect her as a person, acknowledge her capabilities and knowledge and be willing to consider them and compromise if necessary. Wives must respect their husbands as the head of the home...in doing so she can give love and grace to him. In the end, we are called to give our husbands the final decisions...that is what it means to be submissive.

It isn't always easy to be submissive when you're a strong-willed, independent person and you like to be in control or take charge. Over time, however, if we submit ourselves first to God, He will give us the necessary graces to rein in our own desires. In fact, as I have journeyed closer with the Lord, the Holy Spirit often strikes a blow to my pride and I am laid bare. Where in the past I wouldn't want to apologize because I KNEW I was right...I now HAVE to because He has made me see that it is the right thing to do.

Linking to:


Nicole said...

Very nice post. I have still have a long way to go along these lines. But I did want to second the "not in front of the children." My in-laws do this constantly - bickering, putting each other down, etc. - in front of all of us and it's just awful. It makes my husband have less respect for them as well as bother him. We do try to stay away from arguing in front of the kids. But we are human and it happens so I always try to also apologize in front of them as well.

Lots of ideas to think on. Thank you!

e-Mom said...

There's a lot of very good thinking going on in this post.

It's interesting how much we picked up from our parents... both good and bad. In our own parenting, I'm thankful we can choose to yield to the Spirit, who guides our self-control.

Thank you for joining us for Marriage Monday, Lisa Maria, as always.

Blessings, e-Mom ღ

Craig said...

Yup - love and respect – it all comes down to love and respect – and I always say, where perfect submission meets perfect love there is no lesser or greater than. Jesus was submissive to the Father – but not less than the Father. I think you covered this really well – and I think your heart shows through – thank you for this – even though I'm not married – and even though I'm not sure I would really follow through on this in a marriage if I was – it's just so heavily ingrained in me that a marriage is a two-person canoe ride. But I understand – and I understand better because you made it personal. Thank you Lisa Maria, and God bless and keep you!