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.
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.
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?
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.