No idea who this author/organization is, but this is a really good article. He hits on two big points: moms/wives staying at home, and also the much rarer point of keeping one’s children at home and being actively, constantly involved in their rearing.
One of the most striking things about motherhood is how it consumes. One day, there you are, doing the things you want to do, on a schedule you choose (how much choice you really have you may not realize yet)–and then, suddenly, the next day, you’re completely at the beck and call of a small unreasonable creature. And the only break is one you arrange at the expense of those around you. (Baby naps, while they may be a refreshing pause in an otherwise busy day, are not “breaks” in my vocabulary, because you have to be quiet, observant, and restrained, and you never know exactly when the nap is going to end.)
And thus it is easy to lose oneself in the vastness. And it is hard at first. I read once a theory about oxygen in the depths of the ocean, that there could be a liquid (instead of gaseous) form that could help the lungs deal with the pressure of ocean depths. I think this was in a fiction book, because I remember very clearly that they talked about how hard it would be psychologically, because it would feel, for a moment, like drowning. Eventually you would discover that the liquid filling your lungs was oxygenated and life-enriching, but for that dreadful moment, you’d be sure you were going to die as your lungs lost their last tiny bit of air, all you’d ever known–only to be filled up by this alien liquid. That’s the best description of motherhood I can think of. One day air, the next day liquid. Different. Foreign. Scary. Drowning. But eventually, every bit as useful and good and maybe even better.
The common response this overwhelming transition: don’t give in! Take time for yourself! Be your own person! Have your own identity outside of motherhood!
Indeed, one must not allow one’s children to become one’s idols. But this response of unabated narcissism annoys me. I hadn’t quite put my finger on it until tonight, but after reading the umteeth blog about not losing yourself in your kids, I finally realized why this had been rubbing me the wrong way even more than usual: there’s a third way. It’s not either/or, me or my children. It’s not a split, some time for me, some time for them; a little energy here, a little hobby there. The thing all this pop psychology can’t account for is that some of us already lost ourselves long before we had kids. It’s hard to be overly upset about the reassignment of our time and resources when we didn’t count them as our own anyway. I’ve thrown myself into motherhood without too much fretting about my own lost opportunities because I recognize that this new calling of mine is one I’ve been given, and one that’s an honor.
I don’t mean that I don’t struggle–deeply at times–with the fact that so many of my old ways have been subverted. There are certainly things about life pre-kids that I miss; a good night’s sleep tops the list at the moment! But what I do mean is that I consider this a failing, in large part, when it distracts me or dissuades me. Complaining and grumbling in my heart about this job I’ve been honored to do is well, sin.
A happy mommy does make for happier, better children. That’s the mantra and the justification of the do-something-for-yourself crowd, and I have no doubt that it’s true. But the more important question is, what makes a happy mommy–and what should make a happy mommy? True happiness is not found in serving myself. The same One Who made me happy before children is the same One Who makes me happy today, and the happiest, most satisfying thing in the world is to be completely consumed, used up, obsessed, and burnt to a crisp in affection and service to Him.
Compared to that, children are about as much work as brushing my teeth.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
[Ephesians 5:24, ESV]
I can just imagine the hordes of feminists getting out their pens and crossing this verse out of their Bibles. Not only does Paul say that wives are to submit to their husbands, but he explains exactly what he means: in everything. Can’t really build any loopholes out of that! The Greek is equally plain and incontrovertible; everything means everything!
So, we have a command from God to submit to our husbands in everything. Let me the first to say that I fail miserably at this! Everyday, probably: very time I’m lazy and spend time on my own pursuits and the housekeeping goes a bit awry, every time I get unjustly miffed at Seth for some little thing or another, every time he asks me to do something–or I know it would please him if I did something–and I don’t do it, I am failing to submit in everything. In short, this is a hard command to follow! It infiltrates every moment of our homeworking, every breath of our marriages, our finances, our families… that’s what everything means.
While the command is clear, I find myself asking two questions tonight:
Are there exceptions to “everything”?
What motivates me to such a massive calling?
These aren’t exegetical questions so much as heart questions, so my answers are not theological so much as personal, although I hope they’re scripturally sound!
Are there exceptions to “everything”?
I think this is sort of a trick question, really, although I suspect it’s the most often asked. The only exception that’s is biblical is, of course, when one’s husband is asking one to sin. Clearly, Christ is our Lord far and above the position of our husbands, and submitting to Him is both first and limitless. And since Christ is Lord of our husbands as well (whether Christian or not), I think it’s fair to say that biblical wifely submission in such a case is to obey God rather than man.
But once we get out of the area of direct sin, things are far less clear. What if our husbands want to teach something we think is theologically wrong to our children? Again, there are times when this would be clear–if our husbands forbid us to tell them about Christ, for instance–but what if it was a more minor point of theology, or even something that barely even touches on theology, like politics? Especially for those of us who tend to be more opinionated, it can be a deep struggle to have a disagreement even in such a small subject.
The most helpful thing to me in these situations is to remember that unsubmission should always be a very sorrowful concept. If we are choosing to act contrary to our husbands, and if we believe that we are doing so out of righteousness, then our hearts should ache unbearably! Our husbands are choosing sin, we’re being ideologically completely separated from them, we aren’t happy with them, they aren’t happy with us, and we’re losing the opportunity to move forward in Christ together. In other words, there is no room for gloating, unholy glee, rashness, or self-centered anger. If our hearts aren’t breaking with every act of disobedience, then we’re not being unsubmissive for the right reasons.
To bring this home a bit–I remember one time when I told Seth something along the lines of I think what you’re doing is wrong, in the sense of sin-wrong, and I’m not going to have any part of it. Which sounds really good doctrinally, except that I was saying it because I was frustrated and you’d have been searching my heart for a long time before you found a holy motive. So was I right? Absolutely not!
Secondly, I think that it’s important to remember that nothing should be important to us apart from God. All of our wants and desires–whether mundane, like a fondness for chocolate sundaes, or serious, like a burning desire for motherhood–all these things we are called to subordinate to God’s will. All these things we are called to abandon to God. Not to stop liking them, necessarily, but to order them in our minds so that if, in God’s sovereignty, they are denied us, we find it joy to forsake them for His sake.
In other words, while submitting to our husbands involves varying degrees of self-denial, it’s nothing more than we should already be prepared to do (joyously!) as Christians. The wants we’re talking about abandoning are nothing in comparison to the sweetness of obeying God. And submitting to our husbands is obeying God. This strikes very near to my own heart, honestly, because I often don’t consider things that far. If Seth asks me to do something, I tend to consider it as him asking me to do something, me giving up something I like for him, when really I need to view it as obedience to God.
What motivates me to such a massive calling?
Submission isn’t natural–check out Genesis 3:16–and submission in everything can sound downright unpalatable. So why do we do it? This is one of those areas of theology that must sound absolutely batty to nonbelievers; we give up “everything,” and what do we get in return? What motivates us? Moreover, when we feel unmotivated, how can we learn to enjoy submitting to our husbands?
There’s the obvious answer: heavenly reward. God will reward us for obeying Him. But I think it goes beyond that, and so it’s the here-and-now I want to focus on tonight. As I was studying to write this entry, I came across the following passage in John Gill’s commentary on the verse:
Her head, being wholly dependent upon him, and entirely resigned to him, and receiving all from him; from whom alone is all her expectation of provision, protection, comfort, and happiness; wherefore she has respect to all his commands, and esteems all his precepts concerning all things to be right; and yields a cheerful, voluntary, sincere, and hearty obedience to them; arising from a principle of love to him, and joined with honour, fear, and reverence of him.
To be less archaic, Gill is saying that since a wife is dependent upon her husband for “provision, protection, comfort, and happiness,” she must therefore do what he says, agree with his opinions and obey them, because she loves/honors/fears/reveres him.
As I read, I thought, hmm, Mr. Gill, that sounds rather akin to the philosophy that we should do good works in an attempt to “pay God back” saving us. Like a cosmic thank-you note from us to God. And since John Piper rather throroughly debunked that idea (excellent book, by the way), I’m not sure that I agree with Gill here. Or maybe I’m reading him more chauvinistically than he intended. But while there is a sense in which wives do subordinate themselves to their husbands out of thankfulness for their provision, I think that motivation alone falls far short.
The parallel Paul makes in this passage between Christ/Church and husband/wife is unspeakably valuable. As believers, why do we do good works? Because they please God. And why does that please us? Because our delight is the Lord; pleasing Him is the sweetest thing we know. And yet that very truth is one that we have to learn a bit as we grow in Christ. Sometimes our thick skulls forget that there is no higher pleasure. Sometimes we do the wrong thing in pursuit of something infinitely less grand. And sometimes we do the right thing trusting that it will bring us the most delight, even though we don’t yet know it experientially.
Very similarly, in the sphere of marriage, pleasing our husbands is the sweetest thing we know. Just as we were created human to worship and glorify God, we were created woman to be a helper to man (Genesis 2:18)! As wives, the height of our gender, our identity as female, is to submit to our husbands. The church is the Bride of Christ to submit to and glorify Him; wives are examples of that relationship. Therefore, if submission doesn’t bring us happiness, our worldview needs changed! As Christians, we sin because we forget that our joy is in pleasing the Lord; as wives, we balk at submission because we forget that our joy is in pleasing our husbands.
But how do we get that truth into our minds? What can we do if we don’t feel joy in submission? I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I would like to propose two.
The first is this: earnest prayer that God would change our hearts. It sounds cliche, but truly, every step on the road to eternity teaches me more and more that God is sovereign, and that He delights in answering our prayers. When things seem hopeless–when we need a massive personality overhaul, for instance!–God is faithful.
The second is, very simply, to seek out and savor the joy when we do submit. Here’s an example: when everything’s going crazy and I really don’t feel like I have time to get dinner on the table, but I do it anyway, I’ve got to treasure Seth’s smile and appreciation; treasure his happiness more than I disliked the “inconveniences” of achieving it. Then the next day when the same thing happens again, I can anticipate that joy as I work towards it. The joy sweetens the work, until it becomes such a state of mind that the work begins to sweeten the joy.
How awesome the gift of submission becomes once we treasure and learn from it as God intended!
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.
So why is it that God has called one-half of all the people in the world to go against their rebellious natures and put themselves under the authority of the other half of the world? Does God think women can’t make good decisions on their own? Are women just not emotionally stable enough to lead? Are we stupider than men? Or, conversely, does the idea of women being in control just bother men so much that God knew they couldn’t handle it?
I’ve heard these sorts of arguments, and I think that many times when we’re struggling with submission–when we know we should and just find the desire lacking–these questions come to our minds. Submission doesn’t always seem fair. It’s easy to be resentful and think that joyfully submitting must be like asking a slave to be patriotic. And the world doesn’t help. They think we’re nuts. I went to a secular university, and let me tell you, my non-feminism didn’t always go over too well! I’m very sure that it cost me a few grades and made me a few enemies amongst the professors, especially in the English department. This is the world in which we live. “Women can do anything men can do–and do it better,” they insist.
Then there’s the standard legalistic reaction to the world’s errant philosophy, which takes a dollop of true misogyny and mixes it with broad generalizations, missing the beauty of femininity in an attempt to avoid feminism. Women were made in the image of God (Genesis 5:1-2 ): rational, emotional, soul-imbibed human beings. God didn’t decree that we would be the submitters because we’re dumb, irresponsible, and over-emotional! There are so many women in the Bible and throughout history that completely disprove that notion.
So why submission? Because God had a bigger, beautiful purpose to accomplish.
Paul equates the husband to Christ, and the wife to the Church. That’s the “for,” the ultimate reason why we are to submit. In creating marriage, God made sure that His divine love for us would be obvious everywhere we turn, lost or saved. We see marriages around us, and we see how God loves us faithfully! We see marriages, and we see what our relationship with Him is supposed to be! As wives, we have a solemn and joyful duty to illustrate in our daily lives the way that the Church adores and serves and is faithful to her divine Husband. As husbands, they have an equally solemn and joyful duty to illustrate in their daily lives the way Christ unrelentingly and selflessly loves and protects the church–a taller order than submission, if you ask me!
We are called to submit to our husbands specifically as a witness of the submission of the Church to Christ. Wives all around the world at this very moment are displaying in the universal language of action the way that the Bride of Christ submits to her Bridegroom! By His grace, God has written all over the world a great display of redemption and obedience, and this is our part to play. It’s exciting, not inhibiting. It’s part of our created purpose, not a millstone around our necks! God has planned this from the foundation of the world.
There is nothing less dehumanizing than godly submission. Submission is a very real part of what our humanity is at its very essence! God could have created us all to be alike, and left the world to flounder with no idea of how He works amongst humanity, but instead, out of grace alone, He made an illustration and put it in the middle of marriage–the world’s oldest and most abiding human bond–and then, adding grace to grace, He gave us the privilege and duty of carrying it out!
Every time we joyfully submit to our husbands, it becomes a little clearer in our hearts how the Church is designed to submit to Christ. And every time a non-believer sees us being submissive, they see beautiful truths in action that they haven’t seen firsthand. Our submission should be a continual lesson for us as well as a witness to the world!
The beauty in this transcends the merely theological: it affects our day-to-day living and gives us hope and encouragement. At times when submission “stings”–when I totally disagree with Seth–I can take comfort in the fact that even if the particular instance of submitting seems useless from my point of view, it is still serving the primary goal of teaching the Gospel to my heart, to Seth’s heart, and to the world.
Wifely submission is a beautiful illustration of an even more beautiful example of God’s grace. May we live it with thankfulness, not resentment!
Now, the question of a dictionary-like definition of submission. We could just look it up in an actual dictionary, but that would just tell us what G. & C. Merriam and Noah Webster think it means, not what God says it means!
The word here is hupotasso (plus some funny characters I can’t get to show up). Hupo is a preposition meaning “under” or “beneath,” and tasso means “to arrange in an orderly manner, that is to assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot)” (via Strong’s). Or to paraphrase and be verbose, the word literally means to deliberately and carefully arrange beneath.
The word is the same one used to describe Jesus’s relationship to his parents in Luke 2:51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (ESV) And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (ESV) (imagine being a completely perfect being submitting to imperfect parents!); in Luke 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV) Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV) Jesus uses the word to describe how the demons are subject to the seventy sent-out; in Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (ESV) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (ESV) Paul uses the word to describe how creation is subject to depravity; in Romans 13:1 [13:1]Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (ESV) [13:1]Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (ESV), he uses the word to describe how we are to submit to our government; in 1 Corinthians 14:34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV) the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV) the word is used in telling women to keep silent in the church; in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV) For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV) we learn that God subjected all creation under Christ’s feet and that Christ shall be subjected to God; Titus 2:9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, (ESV) Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, (ESV) exhorts servants to be subjected to their masters; in James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV) we are to submit ourselves to God; in 1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV) Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV) we are to be subject to our elders. All the same Greek word.
It’s worth noting that the word used to describe the relationship of children to parents is hupakouo, which means “to hear under… to listen attentively… to heed or conform.” The word is used in many of the same contexts as hupotasso (including in relation to the spirits obeying Christ, servants obeying their masters, the Christian’s relationship to God, and Sarah’s relationship to Abraham), but is never used to describe the “submit to one another” relationship of Christians, nor (except for Sarah) to describe the relationship of a wife to a husband.
Conclusively, then, we are to “submit” to our husbands in the same sense that:
- we submit to the government
- we submit to our masters
- we submit to our elders
- we submit to God
- we behave in church
- Christ submitted to his parents
- Christ is submitted to God
- demons submitted to those Christ sent
- creation submitted to depravity
- creation is submitted under Christ’s feet
To summarize: we are called to subject ourselves to the government, our masters, elders, our husbands, and God. All the same word, and all emphasized multiple times throughout scripture.
Sidenote: It has been suggested in a comment that I might define “submission” before I continue. So I’m going to do that in the next two posts. First, in this post, I want to define the depth of submission (how much do we submit?) and in the next post, I’ll be more grammatical about it and look at the meaning of the word in Greek, other uses of it, etc. The next post is already half-written and will, Lord willing, be posted sometime tomorrow. Now for today’s post…
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
As to the Lord. Wow. Intense.
If there is one thing in the whole topic of submission that I find both most insightful and most terrifying, it’s those four little words. I know to what extent I’m to submit to the Lord: totally and completely and unquestioningly.
This is the same sort of command qualification as “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s just so far out there–so extreme–that it’s really hard to wrap my head around it. It’s one of those instances where it becomes plain that it’s impossible to live Christianity as a simple rulebook… it’s too far-reaching… it’s who we are. They way we submit to God invades every aspect of our life, from sleeping and breathing all the way to decision-making. In the same way, Paul is telling us, we are to submit to our husbands.
When I think about submitting to God, I think about total, unquestioning, unwavering obedience. While I’m not perfect at achieving that level of submission, I do know very clearly what I should do. I don’t imagine myself talking back to God, or arguing with Him. I mean, if God were standing in my living room telling me that we are not going to buy a new coffee table, I think I’d probably give a frightened squeak and nod obliquely; end of discussion.
Of course, part of the reason for that is because God is scary, and also because He’s always right. Husbands, on the other hand, are neither! And the real question is, how does one submit to an imperfect husband in the same spirit as one submits to a perfect God?
I mentioned yesterday that I tend to endeavor to do whatever I think is right. I don’t mean morally (although that too!) but pragmatically. I do a lot of careful research before I make decisions, and I’m the sort of person who applies for scholarships and compares insurance companies. And sometimes, I know that I’m “right,” objectively speaking, but Seth doesn’t agree. And sometimes doing what he wants to do has negative consequences that I want to avoid for the good of both of us.
God doesn’t make bad decisions. Husbands do. And, unless it’s a moral issue, we’ve got to go along with those bad decisions. That’s our calling. That’s where the rubber meets the road! It isn’t just blind trust. It isn’t being brainless and not thinking for ourselves. Sometimes it’s doing something that goes against every fiber of your being! Sometimes it’s doing things that we know are stupid! And doing them cheerfully!
I remember when I was in junior high or high school youth group, and we’d go on retreats. And there’d be all sorts of really silly rules. No hairdryers. No going from point A to point B without an adult. The buddy system. As an adult, I understand the reason we put such things on teenagers, but as a teenager I thought, hmm, I wandered all around the camp by myself before the rest of the kids got here, but now that they’re here, I have to follow this stupid rule, like I’ve suddenly lost my sense of direction. It didn’t make sense. But I followed the rules anyway, because they were the rules, and being obedient to them was the right thing to do.
I think submission to our husbands is kind of like that. Sometimes the “rules” are stupid. Truly, objectively stupid. Our husbands are wrong sometimes. And sometimes the we don’t understand the reason for “rules,” because sometimes our husbands see things that we don’t see. (Hopefully that happens more often!) But either way, sometimes we don’t get what our husbands are trying to do, and we don’t agree with them. And what we have to do at that point is recognize that just like our camp counselors, our parents, our government–whomever–we are under their authority, and we follow that authority because to do otherwise is to sin and to displease God.
When God commands us to do something, we have to follow it and trust Him even if we don’t see the reason in it. Similarly, we must submit to our husbands’ leadership and decision-making even if when we don’t see the reason in it! And by submitting to our husbands “as to the Lord,” we also submit to God. To return to the child metaphor, we obeyed our babysitters because our parents left them in charge, and in a sense, to obey the babysitter was to obey our parents. In the same way, the authority our husbands hold over us, the source of our submission, is ultimately from God.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Colossians doesn’t have much to say about submission. Paul doesn’t expound here on what submission is, or to what extent we are called to submit–he just commands it, and calls it fitting . That little word “fitting,” though, is an excellent place to begin talking about submission, because it answers a crucial question: why should we submit?
It’s not in my nature to be submissive. Even when I was a child, there were few times when I felt compelled by peer pressure to do anything. I remember very coherently in junior high wearing clothes that I knew were not in style, and I think I rather revelled in nonconformity. I’ve also tried to do whatever I thought was best regardless of what others thought. I don’t think I’m an overly domineering or bossy person, exactly, but I can be a know-it-all and I can also be pretty unyielding when I think I’m right.
So, bringing this into the sphere of marriage–I do quite well at being submissive, as long as Seth wants me to do what I want to do! But stray off that happy path and… well, there’s a reason I’ve picked submission as my topic du jour!
There do seem to be a few women out there who are more naturally submissive, stemming from anything from an internalized need to please or being “good-natured.” But I suspect that for most of us, we’re born rebellious and submission is continually a matter of internal conflict. So… we might think that being submissive is a virtue. We might think we’re doing pretty well. Conversely, if we’re not doing so hot on the submissiveness score, we might think we’re still okay, because, after all, it’s awfully difficult and so few women get it down pat. Maybe we’re not as virtuous as we could be, but it’s not like we’re living in sin, either, right?
But then Paul uses that little word, “fitting.” Not “submit as is a beautiful expression of love,” not “submit to earn rewards in heaven,” not “submit so others may see and learn from you,” but submit because it’s fitting.
I think that’s a bit of an archaic word in English, but the Greek is quite clear. The word is aneko (with macrons that I can’t get to show up), which carries the idea of attaining. In other words, do exactly what you’re supposed to do. Submission isn’t anything “extra,” it’s par for the course. If you’re submissive, you’re being what a wife is expected to be. Describing a Christian wife as “submissive” should be no more spectacular than describing a banana as “yellow.” Do green bananas exist? Sure, but nobody wants them. And when someone asks what color a banana is, the only answer that comes to mind is “yellow.” Similarly, “submissive wife” should be redunant; when we think “wife,” we should think “submissive;” and when we think of unsubmissiveness and wife in the same breath we should be appalled. It’s impossible to be a good wife without being a submissive wife.
Another thing worth noting from this passage: Paul doesn’t say “submit to your good husbands” or “submit to your husbands because they love you and deserve it.” He specifically sets the command in a very different context altogether: it’s fitting in the Lord . Our submission is unconditional, in the sense that it doesn’t depend on the character or actions of the man we’re married to. If we find it easier to submit to our husbands when they’re being nice and wonderful, then we’ve got to check that our submissiveness isn’t stemming from the wrong motivations! We submit because we are commanded and created to do so. And while it takes more endurance and strength to submit to bad husbands, or even to good husbands when they’re being unkind, God promises us the grace to do so.
There’s a reward that comes out of submitting when it’s difficult, too, but I’ll save it for a later entry. 🙂