Recently I finished writing a “memoir” for my children: memories of my childhood home and school and family ~ information which I thought they would enjoy. I have worked on it over many years, but finally got to the point where I realized I could go on tweaking it forever. It is what it is. I printed it out and they each got a copy. I also sent a copy to my brother.
I cautioned him that my memories and his might not be the same. He is considerably younger than I, and we were raised almost as two only children. He responded, “Yes! And I can always tell myself, ‘What does she know ~ she’s only a woman!’ ”. I smiled ~ I know my brother ~ but afterward I also realized that he was joking about something he believes. I have been thinking about this for several days. He is not alone in the Christian world. I have known far too many men who believe they are small gods and that wives are merely here to provide free sex, supply domestic services, and to bear children. In my opinion, this comes from a distorted interpretation of “submission” regarding the role of women …perpetrated by men, of course.
What is needed is a clarification of the word “submission”.
Men and women are definitely different. God has given us different emotional strengths, physical strengths, and ways of processing information, although Intelligence and maturity are not gender specific. At our best, we complement each other and together form a whole greater than the sum of our individual two selves. A husband is not a law unto himself; he is also subject to submission. He is to submit himself humbly to the primary authority of God, with all that this involves in representing the characteristics of God: primarily love, justice, and all the fruits of the spirit. His conferred secondary authority is not a privilege by which he can justify being a petty tyrant, but a deep responsibility for the welfare of the family: providing the primary income, spiritual guidance, and protection.
The wife is to respect this responsibility and his authority, and it helps if she can willingly accept the third place in the chain (God, husband, wife). This certainly does not mean that the husband is superior to the wife or that his position gives him license, or that he can treat her like a servant. It does mean that his is the greater burden for the welfare of the family, and the wife is to respect that. It also does not mean that the wife is to have no input or authority within the family. They are to honor and nurture each other (and mutually nurture the children). She is to have dignity and input, with her own opportunities for ministry and responsibility. The “good wife” of Proverbs 31 does not describe a childlike, subservient, and self-deprecating person who is unable to think or act with confidence.
Unfortunately, there are very few marriages which can match the ideal. Reality calls for compromises and flexibility. In today’s culture often both husband and wife must work, and childcare is shared or assisted by outsiders. This does not change the order of authority, but it does complicate things, calling for even deeper maturity.
In a Christian marriage, as in all marriages, it is to be hoped that the partners genuinely love one another. Love gives rather than takes. However, one word of caution here. It is possible for women to give so much of themselves to the role of wife and mother that they lose their own identity. There is nothing wrong is consciously choosing to give ourselves away as long as we maintain some objectivity and space for ourselves. In God’s eyes, we are individuals, with individual souls, spiritual journeys, our own gifts ~ and I believe He wants us to develop and use these gifts as well as raise our families. He did not give us these talents just to have us throw them away because we are raising children for a few years. It is great to be cookie-baking moms if we choose, but we should still contribute to the life of the church, or use our educations and talents. Someday (far sooner than we wish) the children will be grown and gone, and who will we be if we have neglected to develop our own inner resources in the cause of being “Mom”? Just a thought.
When we are married we make many promises to each other before God. I believe we need to act on these promises: to love for better or for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health. We are told to submit to one another. These are mutual promises and that is why those men who assume the right to demand that their every whim be satisfied are not in the will of God. Those women who feel entitled to be carried around on a little silk pillow and don’t want to have to pitch in with some hard work are also not doing the will of God. A good marriage takes two emotionally mature adults, both contributing, both dedicated to the good of the family and to each other, and each respecting the work of the other. Love is a reciprocal thing. When we give first to each other, everyone’s needs are more likely to be met. When only one person gives, it is eventually not enough, and love begins to evaporate.
Unfortunately, I know very few ideal marriages. People bring themselves to marriage and living in close proximity to another human being takes some major adjustments. We each have our own ideas of what a marriage should be. If I expect him always to act like my beloved father and he expects me always to act like his sainted mother, we may have problems. Marriage is a process, with periods of growth or retrogression or coasting, and even moments of occasional enlightenment. Unfortunately, most young couples seldom look much farther ahead than the bed, assuming that “love” will take care of everything else.
Problems come when partners have different agendas. How do we come to a compromise? Even though every cell in my independent mind resists the idea, I believe this is where the husband has the responsibility to make the final decision. However, his decision process needs to include much prayer, and listening to and lovingly hearing the input from his wife. When either partner assumes an attitude of entitlement, or where there is no sense of teamwork, or where either is not appreciated or respected but simply used, there will never be happiness. There is no room for self-centeredness in a marriage. There is too much work to be done for one partner to have to do it all. Couples need to be teams, with responsibilities clearly defined and the terms acceptable to both partners. Everyone needs to be able to be flexible so that when situations and circumstances change suddenly, everyone can make the necessary adjustments.
Bottom line: everyone, men and women, needs to believe we are loved. Do we remember what it was like as teenagers and being afraid that no one would ever love us? How alone and insecure we felt? Then along comes this wonderful man or woman who looks at us and sees us, we believe, as no one else has ever seen us; sees deep into our soul and says, “You’re wonderful! I love you!” Hallelujah! We dream of spending the rest of our lives with this incredibly astute person and then we marry… and soon begin to realize that they are very human and not gods or goddesses. They are real people who snore or leave their wet towels all over the bathroom or who put their hair up in curlers and wear flannel pajamas instead of beautiful nighties; who may occasionally burp or forget to put their dirty clothes in the hamper, or put empty milk bottles back in the fridge ~ and our elation withers and we come back down to earth. The thing is, though, we have made a commitment. We are just seeing things from a slightly different perspective. That person, now asleep in the chair in front of the TV with the baseball game blaring out into an otherwise empty room, is still the same person who looked deep into my eyes and told me he thought I was beautiful (even though I know I am pretty ordinary looking). That woman with the white glop on her face and smearing cream into her elbows is still the same woman who saw past his inability to verbalize his feelings and heard him anyhow, with love and compassion.
Marriage is not easy. Families are not easy. I know this from experience; my marriage failed after almost three decades. I have had a long time to think about this and learn. The key to Christian marriage is bringing the Lord into the relationship at every point and allowing His Spirit to guide, strengthen, and help us to forgive. Submission to Him is the answer for all of us, whether we are men or women. Life would be so much simpler and happier if we could remember this.