It was a bridal shower for a friend, the first I had attended in my life. Clearly, I had no idea what these showers were all about. The ladies in attendance were looking like a million bob each, never mind back then showers were not color coordinated and a theme to boot. Many of us were single and, therefore, didn’t have much to offer in this area called marriage.
I still remember the advice given. To keep a husband, a wife needs to be devout to his needs. To be precise, the bedroom and the stomach. It’s a man’s world, I heard, and whatever he says goes. If the husband comes home late from work, the wife should be ready to serve him a hot plate of food and later be ready to fulfill his sexual desires when he asks. By the time I left the bridal shower, all I knew was this, my friend’s life was over. As for me, though I desired to get married, it wasn’t going to be under those circumstances. I wasn’t going to be a slave.
I am a first born. That comes with its share of responsibilities. I know what leadership is all about, having taken various roles and opportunities in my life. I am a lawyer by profession. I have a strong personality. Perfect recipes for submission disaster. And, trust me, they have been.
It is interesting how many women struggle with submission. Why does it have to be so difficult? What does it even mean?
My friend Google defines it this way; submission is the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person. We yield daily to those in authority, at work, to the cops on the road, in offices as you wait to be served ad infinitum.
I came across an article by Roy Milam, ‘The Biblical Meaning of Submission in Marriage for Wives’. He says, ‘I believe that submission….is not servanthood, not inferior or resigned to, not docile, not degrading, not a sign of weakness. It requires a great degree of personal strength of character. Submission in marriage is a spirit of respect a wife has toward her husband.’ Milam further notes that biblical submission in marriage is a wife making a choice not to overtly resist her husband’s will. I must add that, in equal regard, the husband’s will must also not contravene God’s laws and even the laws of the land.
In the Bible, there’s a call, an instruction, in 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.
You ask. Submit in everything? Like really, in everything? Is this even humanly possible, you ask. For instance, a wife starts a business. The husband supports her. She’s the expert in the said business. However, he wants to make the ultimate decisions concerning it, being the head of the home. Should she submit to those decisions he makes, even though he does not have the expertise or experience in that area?
Or, another wife knows that the investment her husband is about to make is not good. She has been asked to contribute financially into it. She expresses her concerns, it’s not a good deal at all. He still wants go ahead and make the investment. Should she submit?
The above examples can be argued out differently by different people. We live in a world that has made us believe that submission is a bad thing. Oppressive. Denying one of their rights. But what does God think about it? This should be the true measure for every wife. Is God happy with the state of your submission? Or is it based on the world’s standards?
You see, submission is not foolishness. It does not mean that, as a wife, one cannot air her views or concerns if she is of a different opinion. It does not mean that men are better than women.
Submission is a demonstration of respect by the wife in the way she deals with her husband. She is the helper. If the husband’s way fails, she shouldn’t utter those three famous words, ‘I told you’.
However, let’s admit. Submission is tough. We struggle with it, because of our sinful nature, perhaps due to misinterpretation of the meaning, or even because it is actually hard to yield to someone else. Also, in this era where women have been empowered, it seems as if submission takes us back to where we began.
One of my mentors helped me understand what submission looks like. Our taps in the bathroom were not working well. I asked my husband to fix them. He said he would look into it. After a few days, and after carrying enough buckets of water to the bathroom, I reminded him to look into the matter. He hadn’t fixed them. What should I have done next? Get a plumber to fix the taps? Yell at my husband because he wasn’t getting the urgency of the matter? Trust his leadership?
My mentor’s advice was straightforward. Do not discuss the matter further after the second instance. Trust that he will fix the taps. If you keep on asking, that’s called nagging. When I heard this, I thought that was sheer madness. Now I see the wisdom. I have tried out the advice a couple of times (including with the taps) and, though hard, it works.
A supportive husband benefits greatly from demonstrating his love in the way he supports his wife’s dreams and ambitions. If only husbands realized this. John Piper, in his blog What Will Submission To My Husband Look Like, writes, ‘When men are doing what God calls men to do in a relationship and they are doing it rightly, biblically, most women love it and are happy to respond to it supportively.’ This is so true yet doesn’t mean that submission is conditional and dependent on the husband playing his role.
Many times women get confused/feel burdened on this submission topic. The truth is, not much is being said about how the husband should love his wife. A balance is crucial in discussing love and submission, otherwise it can be overwhelming to one side. Both love and submission are liberating.
As for husbands, do not force your wives into submission. No. Ephesians 5:25 is clear about your role. ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ This is such a high calling and worthy of discussion.
Single men, please note submission is not for girlfriends! It is only beneficial in the context of marriage.
Finally, remember, men feed on respect. Women feed on love. Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5.21.
That is the baseline.