The Submission Myth Exposed

I wrote recently, in The Death of a Feminist about my struggle to live well in my role as wife and mother.  To get the first part of the story, start there.

Life looks more like this now and here is my attempt to share how I came to understand the part submission really has to play in marriage.  What I have shared here resembles nothing of what I had been told and this revelation has opened my eyes to more joy and fulfillment than I ever imagined possible within the garden where God has placed me.

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Part 2: The Purpose

When the feminist inside died, her death made room for a brand new kind of person to begin to live. It wasn’t sudden or even all that marvelous. It was a lot of little steps until, surprisingly, I was bringing life to our home instead of consistent conflict.

Even though I didn’t have a way to explain it and I still hated that word, submission, I had begun living according to a Biblical purpose that more closely honored God and the authority He had over me. I no longer resented authority in general as I began to recognize it flows from God and down through the family dynamic in an avalanche of potential blessing. I began to walk and exhibit a grace I had neither seen nor been capable of comprehending when focused solely on a selfish need to control, well, everything.

As my heart began to come alive toward my husband I didn’t even think about submission. I just wanted to see this incredible man smile and be cared for in the ways I was uniquely able to care for him. I let myself focus on him. I studied him. I learned HIM until I was an expert in all the things that made him tick.

It was fun. The payoff was huge.

Somewhere, through the years, I became stunningly aware that submission isn’t really what marriage is about at all. I had been focused on the wrong thing.

We’ve all been focused on the wrong thing.

Before I go any further, a caveat is necessary. Fundamentally, any discussion of covenantal relationship must be from a Biblical foundation. Marriage is only one of several significant covenants. That means this dialogue is pointed specifically at those who claim allegiance to the one true God.

Those who don’t hold to belief there is Divine Imperative for covenant relationships have neither the capability nor the capacity to follow a Biblical mandate. Which isn’t to say they get a free pass. Not at all. There is a price to pay for living outside God’s plan, lost in ignorance. These affairs will, sadly, always fall below the abundant beauty God intended for us to flourish within.

Am I saying those who aren’t believers in Jesus live absolutely devoid of any of the benefits of divinely inspired relationship? Of course not. Everyone has the opportunity to enjoy parts of God’s reflected nature in whichever measure they are willing to accept His truth. The Truth is truth and it resonates throughout cultural identity, beyond trauma, or ignorance because truth is Truth.

Those without heavenly insight will taste it, occasionally. Every once in a while beauty will trickle into their collective consciousness and light up the dinginess of their world. However, it will not stay with them. No matter how they might try to contain and retain it, they cannot. They haven’t the capacity to hold onto the truth.

Water is wet. Snow is cold. Things fall. Because of gravity. You don’t have to agree with it. Covenant is sacred. Because it is. Even if you hate it. Or hate me for saying it.

There is an undeniable Truth. Honor and integrity are critical to a solid foundation in any relationship. We have a specific purpose, Daughters of Eve and Sons of Adam.

At the dawn of creation, God gave a directive to all of humanity, men and women. “Be fruitful and multiply.” He said to our first mother and father. This charge hasn’t been lifted in all that time. If anything, it has been greatly amplified. In an additional bit of clarity given to the disciples, Jesus gave a very specific expression of fruitfulness and multiplication. He said, “Go and make disciples!” and therein exists the fundamental purpose for every person who claims to call on the name of the Lord.

The most primal aspect of our lives, as believers, remains constant: “Be fruitful”. This means we intentionally do all the things necessary for developing a sustaining strength. We purposefully live with obvious, visible nurturing of those roles most important to serving that goal. In fact, a bountiful expression of our existence gives evidence of deep roots and adequate nutrition. Yes, that is great, but being fruitful simply isn’t enough. One tree does not an orchard make. We are told to “multiply” as well. Obedience to this commandment means we recognize we are not created to be alone. We are commanded to add numbers to our existence. Provide enough to feed more than us. Spread the light. Grow.

Link arms and move forward. Onward and upward.

In marriage, fruitfulness and multiplication don’t necessarily have to do with lots of babies. Although children are easily the most obvious and profound blessing of a united couple, that isn’t all it means. Fruitfulness and multiplication are the processes of living with and toward a common goal.

Which is to thrive. Live. Do all the things that contribute to life. Abandon, reject, and staunchly refuse to embrace those things threatening to destroy the object of our existence. Firmly hold onto those actions and intentions protecting and supporting the objective.

Pursue the good and productive at the expense of everything else.

Everything else.

Which leads me to the idea of submission as a wife.

It doesn’t matter. It’s not the point. It was never intended to be the point.

Marriage isn’t about submission. It has never been. It is about a man no longer alone and a woman who walks beside him sharing the load. It has nothing to do with who dominates and who abdicates responsibility, but with an unrelenting obedience and desire for fruitfulness and multiplication.

What if submission, like romantic love, is just the byproduct of a unified and purpose filled determination by humanity to obey a God-given mandate and a dedication to a holy purpose which super-cedes personal ambition?

When fruitfulness and multiplication are the purpose of all humanity expressed through lifestyle and practice, then the passion and energy originally poured into defining our own existence, living in rabid independence, and demanding to be served become the very strength we can apply to finding and pursuing goodness, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control… And radically, through this life-style, we learn individually and eventually corporately what it means to honor and respect authority. To follow, serve, and, naturally, to submit.

Submission. It’s not just for married people. It’s not a specific and solitary goal solely for married women any more than leadership and authority are limited to married men.

Entire libraries of books have been written on the subject. We have endured decades of discussion and both sexes have shed countless tears. Seriously.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been effected by those who should submit and won’t or the angry voices who demands submission without having the authority to do so. We’ve all witnessed the catastrophe of someone who tried to walk solely in submission and failed. How many have been damaged by a misguided submission that left the weak exposed to the domination of the wickedly powerful? Cults. Abusive spouses. Religious leaders.

Submission as the goal has become a weapon and a means to an end all by itself. Yet, imagine a world where the goal was not to demand others respect your authority but where your passion is to respect God’s authority above all others. What if your greatest achievement was taking what you’ve been given and investing in others, making you a leader worthy of trust and a follower worthy of an honorable reputation?

How?

To be fruitful you must care for your garden. Nurture your “seedlings”. Take the abundance and serve others so they might grow. Growth will automatically produce of its own kind. Don’t worry about making it happen by your own strength.   God makes the increase. He will bring the Multiplication.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

What does it mean for a woman to care for her garden? Nurture her seeds? Harvest and share the abundance?

It means taking the life in front of her and doing it with all her might in a way that supports the goal of the family. Not selfishly demanding her way. She grows in grace and integrity, not rebellion and defiance, inspiring the same in her children and her husband.

His goals only differ in application, not in purpose. He follows his Master and accepts His authority, growing in strength and determination. The lives put in his care know that he accepts the responsibility of their trust. His acceptance brings a strength and trustworthiness, in turn, inspiring the same in his wife and children.

Submission has nothing to do with who earns the money, does the dishes, changes the diapers, or wears the pants in the family. However, its absence or its presence will affect every part of our lives.

However, just as the smell of cake isn’t the purpose of baking a cake, submission isn’t even the point. It’s a byproduct of the goal.

The goal of marriage is to be fruitful and multiply.

Actually, it is the purpose of humanity. No one is exempt. What if women didn’t wait until marriage to focus on living a focused godly life? What if men didn’t wait until marriage to find out what it means to be godly men?

I have an ambition as both a woman and a wife. My driving purpose is to ensure, to the best of my ability, the fruitfulness and multiplication of our vision and goals according to the specific path now comprised of the four of us, at this stage, in our journey.

I can’t do that if I am constantly vying for a position. Fighting with my husband creates an atmosphere that is an antithesis to fruitfulness and divides us at the core of our family. It never multiplies. We are shattered and purposeless in our anger, open to all kinds of temptation and fear.

I can’t accomplish our goals when I resent his opinions and defy him. When I am offended by and rebel against anyone restricting my entitlement to define my own existence I will always fail to love and honor the people to whom God has made me accountable.

In the simplest terms: I serve God, the vision, the team, the man. If I were unmarried, I would lack the opportunity to serve a specific man, yet I would never lack the opportunity to walk in submission to God’s plan by dedicating myself to living in a way He has laid out for us all.

I don’t submit according to anything I’ve ever read by well-intentioned vendors of marital bliss. I have no idea where many of the modern philosophers are coming from. I don’t understand half-measures of love. Quid pro quo doesn’t make for successful covenants.

I work with my husband at the expense of myself because, like the Master, I lay down my life for my friend.

That’s my MISSION.

It plays out with me lending all my strength to a family that is learning to produce lives capable of being fruitful and multiplying.

It just happens to look like Submission.

Death of A Feminist

Part 1: A Broken Neck:

The ladies at church used to say their husbands were the head but they were the neck. Then they’d giggle at each other and smile knowingly.

There was an inside joke I didn’t understand.

I thought they were weird. But, I was a just a kid and they seemed silly. Necks and heads and whatever. So 1954. Women and men are equals. My public school and Hollywood indoctrination informed me that the only thing differentiating woman and men is anopportunity and drive. All women had been denied opportunity to prove how we were going to rule the world and it was our right and responsibility to show up the men determined to oppress us.

But, early in life, I fell in love, married and promptly forgot all the things I had ever heard about marriage or men and women because we “knew it all”. Simply put, we just needed to “figure out our own relationship” and “define our own parameters”.

As time passed, I avoided any discussion about the term “submission”.  It seemed archaic and demeaning. Slaves submit. Sexual deviants submit. Weak people submit. It was more than a little embarrassing to hear older women talk of it as though it mattered.  Not to me.

I am woman. Hear me roar. Or something.

I equated being a submitted wife to those weak, mousy, subservient women who obviously lived in bondage to antiquated ideas of authority and identity.  They meant it when saying, “Yes, dear”,  faithfully making sure their husbands lived in tidy, orderly homes. Their husbands, always well-fed and cared for, were men I abhorred.  Surely they were domineering and abusive in order to turn my sisters-in-arms into their own personal slaves.   I despised these men as aggressive and overly masculine.  Too manly. Their unwillingness to serve their wives or do anything to make them happy made them incomprehensible and dangerous.

In retrospect, I was afraid of what I couldn’t control.  So I hated it. I hated them. And envied them with all my heart. I imagined their lives were easier than mine, from the comfort of their armchairs and board rooms.  I envisioned them looking down on me and laughing at female weaknesses.  Mocking my independence by opening doors and offering to carry suitcases.

I hid it well.  My small town upbringing kept much of that poison in check. But I’m sure it oozed and poisoned most of my perceptions of men and women throughout the years.

I did everything in my power to control my husband so he would be a version of manliness that didn’t threaten my authority over myself or the little kingdom in our home.

I believed I was a good Christian woman and, over the years, functioned as part of many church groups.  When the subject of biblical marriage came up I’d say my piece about submission being a very subjective ideal between two independent parties. Subjective. Husbands and wives should work out their relationship independently. However, anything that treated the woman as a person expected to serve her husband or anyone was nonsense. Outdated. Insulting.

“I am no one’s slave!” was the mantra on both my heart and my lips.

Yet, despite how loud I announced my freedom, I wasn’t free at all. I didn’t serve anyone. Not even God completely. I had determined it was my right to use the brain God gave me to pick and choose which rules to obey and which to disregard as a process of making sense of Scriptural information that clashed with my prejudice or cynicism. 

Once my husband confronted my behavior when it clashed violently with his own ideals. In an effort to appeal to my over-stated if not very often demonstrated love for him, he equated a wife following her husband’s lead to Wesley and Buttercup’s uniqueexchange of love in The Princess Bride.

As you wish.

“As you wish” became code for: “This is where you really need to buckle down and follow me!”

I tried for a while to make him happy with a mask of what I thought submission was supposed to look like.  But it was a burden.  It was too heavy and chafed against all my beliefs about my need to manage my own life, build my own destiny, and make my own rules. I walked two steps behind on the outside in a show that actually ridiculed him far more specifically than I had done in the past. I laughed about his old-fashioned and fundamentalist ways with my friends and we made fun of his outdated ideals of marriage. Inwardly I resented every single thing I did that he didn’t properly appreciate.

Ultimately, “as you wish” didn’t fit. But by this time, he didn’t argue much. He eventually quit trying to work with me and did what he needed to get by while I went on my merry way doing all the things that made me happy. I was striving to be the very best version of a strong independent woman with children to control and a husband on call when she needed a jar opened or an escort to the movies.

I genuinely thought nothing was wrong with our arrangement. We weren’t perfect, but didn’t everyone struggle like this? It wasn’t like I saw anyone around me doing better.

Despite all my manipulations and demands, the man I had been crazy about all those years ago had become a stranger. He was more and more distant and I got lonelier until we argued over the littlest things as they turned into the bigger things until I began to more than resent him, I began to look for reasons why he wasn’t good enough for me. Reasons why I deserved more, well, everything, and why he failed to give it to me.

I resented when he asked me to set a simple budget for household expenses, stick to it, and talk with him about it. Wasn’t it my job to take care of and manage the home? It was unfair that he didn’t trust me. I spat out sarcastic answers when he asked what we did when I went out for the evening with the girls.   Did he think I was some kind of reckless woman? Did he expect me to be stupid?

In fact, anything he did which I believed would conflict with my idea of my own autonomy was challenged and spitefully, vindictively, argued down.

Our children were small and I began to see them mimicking some of my more ugly traits. They picked up my anger and they picked up my fear of being caught doing something which I knew was questionable but I had justified it anyway.

Ultimately, our marriage came dangerously close to ending and that, finally, got my attention.   Mostly because I realized it was nearly completely all my fault.

Being face to face with my own flaws was painful but coming out of that and realizing the kind of person I had been to my husband, whom I professed to love, was a crushing blow. I was a liar. I couldn’t be trusted. I was ashamed.

For the first time in our married life I turned to God and asked Him to help me love my husband. Without caveats, without excuses for why I didn’t have to.   I didn’t know how to respect or follow him. But I wanted to at least love him. Simply, I thought love was enough. Although I soon found out, despite what Hollywood says, Love isn’t enough. It was never intended to be.

I didn’t ask God to help me submit to him, because that would be weird, but I did begin looking for information about good marriages and for tools that would enable me to be a better wife.

I wanted to be industrious, accountable, and, hopefully, trustworthy. But I couldn’t stomach being submitted.  Not yet.

We did rebuild. Slowly. 

As the years have turned into decades (over 23 years so far), wrestling with bigger and bigger ideas, my views of what it means to be a woman in marriage have changed wildly.

True submission was nothing like what I thought it was.

I was wrong.   We were all wrong.

Part two coming up soon.

The Currency of Kindness – A Fairy Tale of Sorts

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, lived a queen in a very small kingdom. She had two sons she loved very much but were, as young princes are wont to do, they were filled with energy and excitement about everything wonderful and unknown in their whole kingdom.  Every. Single. Day.

They could rise at dawn and run all day from castle to meadow, to valley, to hilltop, to pond… Determined to fill every day to its absolute limit, they barreled through life with joyful abandon. How could the queen keep up?  Even the castle puppy was overwhelmed!

This was all very tiring for the queen and, while she knew the good king would be happy to give her any help the kingdom had available, she was a proud queen and admitting she was overwhelmed felt like admitting defeat.  She began to resent all the time and effort the young princes demanded from her through the day.   She felt they only used her for access to the royal kitchen and to supervise their royal bathing times.

So she struggled through. Every day the same battles, every day the same frustrations, until she barely resembled the young beautiful, optimistic queen the king remembered from long ago. The regal and gracious tones one would expect from a queen were replaced by sharpness and coldness.  In their castle, her anger kept her all alone in the very center of their busy little kingdom. Her heart had grown so very hard.

The more she worked to control dynamite in princely forms, to somehow keep them from exploding throughout the castle,  the more the entire royal family fought until one day she felt she just couldn’t do it anymore! Much to the dismay of the subjects of the kingdom!  Even Lady Raspberry and Lord Scooby cowered in their chambers when the queen walked by.

Until one day.   One wonderful, terrible day…

Tears were on her face that sunny afternoon as the royal white coach rolled down Market Road.

The youngest prince, who was so very young at the time, spoke from the depths of his royal booster seat ensconced on burgundy velvet in the recesses of the coach.  Clearly ringing through the vehicle, in his high, sweet voice, he said,

“Anger rests in the bosom of fools, mama!”

It was as though a spotlight shone down from heaven exposing all that unsightly harshness and her heart melted into all the softness she once had shared with the court. In that moment, the weight of all she needed to control and the chains of anger slid off her figurative shoulders in a single movement like taking off the royal cloak at the conclusion of the holiday ball.

The queen raised her head, dried her tears, and began to smile again.

And that was how it all began.

She began to learn the value of kindness.  Like a miracle, in one tiny exchange of love from a very tiny prince to a very angry mama queen, she began to change.

And they all lived happily ever after.

 

Ok, not really. But we tried really hard.

I wish I could say that I (the queen, in case you haven’t caught up yet) never became angry again but that would be so far from true it’s not funny.

Being kind and gentle is more than a choice it’s a necessity for a kingdom, ahem, a home to run smoothly.

What it looks like to be kind to young children is a bit different than what it looks like to be kind to young adults but there are principles which resonate between hearts no matter how old we are.

  1. Stop trying to control everything and learn to just live the life you’ve been blessed to live.
  2. Take the time to listen to their words. Stopping your busy life for someone else is a gift that is felt deeper than we can imagine.
  3. Remember their special passions and learn about them then ask good questions.
  4. Give the advice that comes from the life you have truly lived. There is power in honesty. There is authority in sincerity.
  5. Don’t give advice all the time. Learn how to shut up sometimes too.
  6. Hug them when they hurt. Hug them when they fail. Hug them when they celebrate. Hug them when they win. Just hug them for no reason.  They won’t always be there to hug.
  7. Encourage them. All the time. Not just when it’s obvious.
  8. Stop talking all the time and remember to walk softly. Speak gently. Love wholeheartedly.

This is the currency of kindness and the dividends are endless.

Even 14 years later.

 

I’m Not Brave. I’m Angry. You Should Be Too.

Just in case you’re wondering?
I’m not all that brave. Seriously, being naked in public is not my favorite either.
 
Writing about abuse, about those who have taken position and authority, opportunity and manipulation as an opportunity to control others for their own personal satisfaction is a job long overdue.
 
Exposing this insidious and slimy evil creeping around us, barely hidden under a thin veneer of niceness and what is somehow, incomprehensibly, defensible or socially acceptable provided you have the right “credentials” is the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.
 
Know what else? It’s about damn time.

Continue reading

It’s Time To Say No

This is my no. You don’t have to like it.  You might not be used to it.  I’m not very good at it. But it’s way past time. 

This is the “No” I wish I would have been strong enough to say when I was 3, 5, 12, 16, 24, 32…

I’m ok that this is the time when I finally have enough courage to speak up and speak out.

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