what being submissive really means

There are so many people outside of the institution of marriage, and even within that sacred union’s bounds, who despise the biblical idea of submission in marriage.  Many of those who aren’t believers decry the idea as misogynistic, outdated, bigoted, and shameful, always citing this verse:

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the LORD. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

I’ve heard this try to be explained away by fellow believers as a mistranslation, or Paul’s personal opinion, or something strictly grounded in ancient Jewish culture that no longer applies to modern life.

For a very long time – even in the early months of my marriage – I agreed with these people.  I mean, if there are no Jews nor Gentiles nor slaves nor masters before Christ, if we have all fallen short of the glory of God, if we are all truly equal, how can this idea of submission in marriage measure up?

But then, one day, I decided to read the verses that follow that so often quoted piece of scripture.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Ladies…ladies…ladies…. We so thoroughly and completely have the better end of the deal in marriage.

Men are asked literally to put their wives above themselves in every sense of the word: physically, emotionally, mentally. They are commanded to love their wives like Christ loved the church (in other words, to love their wives to the point of complete and total self-sacrifice). He is to cling to her, to see to her happiness and physical well-being,

Keeping this in mind, let me ask you: does this commitment not warrant our utmost respect?

The husband is to be the head of the marriage and of the family, if and when children make their appearance.  There have been so many men – past, present, and future – that have misused this appointed role, have used it as an excuse to abuse their wives and make them feel like inferior beings.  This is not a biblical marriage.

If the husband is submitting himself to the commandments and responsibilities laid upon him, he is not a dictator. Rather, he is like the head coach of a football team or a supervisor in a workplace.  Any good coach or manager will only make decisions based on what will benefit the group as a whole – not on what will make him personally satisfied. And when a football team or a department of a business does poorly, it is not normally the team members or the associates that are held responsible, either.

Men are given a tremendous load when it comes to their side of marriage. Not only that, but they are responsible for the outcome as well. If things do not go as they are intended to go, the wife will answer to the wrongs she has committed, but ultimately the husband will have to stand accountable for the success or failure of the marriage. That is a lot of responsibility.

I don’t know about you, but someone with that much love, that much responsibility, and that much to lose deserves every ounce of respect that my body can physically muster.

If you, like me, are a fairly young wife attempting to fulfill this role of marriage, you probably find it fairly easy to practice in private – at least if your husband is upholding his end of the bargain – but painfully difficult in the public eye.  Our lifestyle is not normal anymore, and that’s plain to see by the funny looks that I draw when I call to ask my husband if it’s alright if I take out some cash at the ATM, or if he’s okay with me swinging by Subway to get lunch.  I barely spend a dime without clearing it with him first.

I get the sympathetic headshakes, the quizzical brows, the passive aggressive comments, just as you probably do in similar situations. “Isn’t it your money, too?” I can almost hear them say.

Yes, it is my money – it is also my husband’s.  When I run things like purchases by him, I am not asking his permission to spend our money or following some kind of Draconian order he has mandated I follow.  He takes great time and care to plan a budget and track our spending, and because of this he is more familiar with our financial situation than I am.  Since he’s pretty much the expert in this arena, I defer to his judgement. Plus, making sure he’s okay with my spending before money changes hands is a lot less trouble than if I spend first and find out later that I caused our account to be overdrawn.

Oh, and he clears purchases with me, too.  On top of loving me like Christ loves the church.

You might be one of those reading this that thinks this whole submission thing is a load of prehistoric hokum, and if you are, there may be a smirk on your face as you think to yourself “Well, he hasn’t died for you, has he?”

No, he has not.  Not physically.  But I have no doubt in my mind that he would if it was necessary. In the meantime, he has made countless other sacrifices for me, several metaphorical willing deaths, just for me.

He has given up nights spent out with friends to stay home with me because I’m not feeling well, or even just because I don’t feel like going out.

He has gotten up in the middle of the night to fetch me a thermometer, a glass of water, and an Advil when I am ill.

He gets me through my panic attacks like a pro, ignoring whatever else he could be doing to calm me down even though these events are not medically threatening.

He goes to bed when I do most nights, even if he isn’t sleepy yet.

He eats whatever I prepare for dinner gratefully and with gusto, whether it is prepackaged tortellini or a homemade steak dinner. Nothing is ever too burned for him.

He loves me and cares for me at all times, even when doing so is detrimental to himself.  And I respect him and defer to his judgement. I don’t think either of us would have it any other way.

I suppose we could go back to the way we did things at the beginning of our marriage, if we really wanted to.  We could both try to hold on to our autonomy with petulant and futile grips.  I could start spending money without asking and assume a self-righteous indignation whenever he asked me where exactly our money went this month. He could start coming in late, leaving me at home by myself when I am sick or lonely or down.

And every ounce of joy would ooze its way out of our marriage.

Call this model of marriage old-fashioned, sexist, undignified, regressive. Encourage me to “reclaim my independence,” to be my own woman, to live like I did before I had this shiny trinket on my left hand.  But don’t be surprised when I politely (and completely) ignore you.

There is no longer a me, there is no longer a him.  In that, I find my true joy and happiness.  I could not and never would want to go back to the way things were before.

In the words of one of my very dear friends, “If a decent man has a wife that is willing to submit to his leadership, not in a  doormat kind of way, but a biblical one, then that man will be much more willing to walk through a fire for her if needed.”

Truer words have never been spoken.


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