An Egalitarian Wife’s Submission

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On Monday I asked for your thoughts on a wife’s submission to her husband in an egalitarian relationship. I’m passionately egalitarian, and I am passionate about submitting to my husband. But this submission has nothing to do with his “authority” over me. My submission is about being Christ to him — showing him the grace, patience, and sacrifice Christ showed us in his Incarnation. I think marriage is sacramental, a conduit of grace directly from God’s heart to Erich’s and mine.

Before reciting our vows, Erich and I read this prayer together:

May we submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind; doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting the other more significant than ourselves; looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of the other; having this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Crazy, right? Egalitarianism did not make submission any easier or less radical; it just made it clearer to me the necessity of being a little Christ to my husband, just as he is to me. Egalitarian marriage is not each partner giving only 50% and no more — there, all equal and fair. We give 110% and more. My submission isn’t a part of a role; it’s an extension of living Christ’s life — an emptied life, a giving life.

As I empty and give for my husband, I’m learning to empty and give for others — and vice versa. The call to submit takes over my whole life and all my relationships.

When I look at Paul’s commands to husbands and wives, I am more rebuked by his challenge to the husbands. I live in an almost-post-patriarchal culture and post-cross reality; my husband has no societal or spiritual authority over me. But as the more visionary, talkative, and authoritative partner, I am reminded that my spiritual gifts are not for lording over my quieter, service-minded husband. I tend to demand respect and attention — my way or the high way — but Ephesians 5 tells me to lay down my pride. It tells me my gift of words is for “nourishing and cherishing” my husband as my own body, one flesh, not for hating.

Honestly, as a four-week-old wife, I’m still at the start of living Christ’s life of submission: I’m still asserting myself, afraid to be humble, scared of being double-crossed and controlled. I’m still insisting on my own way because I know better. I’m still stuck at giving 50% and no more — fair and equal. I’m still using my ease with words and abstract thinking as bludgeons of power, not instruments of healing.

For me, submission means having the mind of Christ, asking, “How can I serve you? How can I understand you? How can I love you?” instead of, “Is this fair? What will you give me in return?” It means viewing egalitarian marriage as 110% sacrifice, not 50% and no more.

When it comes to dealing with selfishness, I use this mindset, combined with “nourishing and cherishing” words, to probe our disagreements. Instead of shooting back a hurtful zinger when he spouts off a harsh word, I try to nourish and cherish, heal and love: “Why did you say that? Did you realize your tone came across like this?” Then I share my wounds: “I dislike when you say things like that or say it in that tone. Can you please avoid those words in the future?” I married a humble man, so in our relationship, unless there are underlying issues or misunderstandings, a gentle answer really does turn away wrath.

When we disagree, we think of all disagreements as unfinished conversations. I’m extremely opinionated, but I consider his ideas as good as my own, knowing he also considers my ideas as good as his own. (In theory. In reality, we say, “No way” and “That’s stupid” to our ideas until one of us hits on a good one.)

Sometimes when things get “off” and somebody’s been selfish far too long, one of us might end up asserting himself or herself bluntly: “Stop being rude. You’ve been getting your way all week without considering my opinion.” And in those cases, where one of us is being a selfish tyrant, a coup is necessary, and we assert ourselves and our opinion — but only to reestablish wholeness.

My tl;dr of Ephesians 5 is, “Husbands and wives, be united as one flesh just as Christ is one with the church by elevating each other and humbling yourself.” When I have the mindset of “equal and fair,” I’ll overcorrect and assert myself above Erich — tyrannizing the tyrant. When I have the mindset of Christ, I just tap him on the shoulder and say, “Knock it off,” and he humbles himself. We heal whatever wounds happened during the tyranny until our one flesh, our wholeness, and our unity is restored.

And that, to me, is ultimately what submission is for — restoration and redemption.

What experiences have you, as a wife, had in mutual submission? I’m only married a few weeks; I’d love your wisdom!

// More on marriage: falling in love and dinner for two

PC: Madeline Barry

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12 thoughts on “An Egalitarian Wife’s Submission

  1. johnalarson

    Madeline,

    I applaud you and your husband for your desire to follow the intent, not just the letter, of the New Testament passages about marriage.

    I recognize you are newlyweds and, judging from the photo, physically young. My husband and I were 37 and 38 when we got married, and although we were best friends for more than 10 years pre-marriage, it took some time before we got used to operating as a team.

    I urge you to learn to ask, when your husband does or says something that affects you in a negative way, “Honey (or other endearment), why did you say or do that? Have I hurt or hindered you?” He will most likely stop and try to find out about the problem. If you approach it that way, it’s not accusing, nor are you assuming “guilt”–you’re asking for input.

    Praying for you both to continue to grow in faith and love!

    Nicole

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  2. Joyce

    Hello, dear sister: and congratulations on your marriage! We have been married 26 years. And my take on the “roles” debate in marriage is this: love each other, work out your conflicts as grown-up adults, and don’t worry about the submission stuff. Really. About 15 years into my marriage — and we have a really wonderful marriage — I realized that my submitting to my husband, and him having authority or the “last say” or whatever it’s supposed to be, over me — actually has nothing to do with my marriage. We love each other — prefer each other, guard our relationship, keep short accounts with each other, forgive each other, and remember to have fun together. That is what is needed most of all.

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  3. Rebekah

    I think that passage from Philippians should be read at more weddings! What a perfect description of the unity and love that should be present between husband and wife, even as the passage also provides general principles for every Christian.

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  4. Katie

    I hope you don’t mind if my fiance and I steal your idea to read Philippians during the ceremony. It’s one of my favorite passages but that had never occurred to me before!
    Love your marriage posts, they have been a great resource :)

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  5. Cailin Jones

    I am not trying to debate on here, but I do have an opinion I feel should be heard on here. From what I have read, since I’ve been following what you have been writing since you got married, your egalitarian view makes sense, if you only use the verses you have been sharing. What I am wondering is, how would your views hold against Ephesians 5:23-24? This is a verse that very specifically says men are the head of the wife. I am trying to understand your viewpoint, but there does not seem to be any way of interpreting that verse to say men and women should be equal. I have been married for 2 years now, so I am by no means an expert on marriage, but what I’ve learned about submission by living it is, if a submission relationship is done biblically, it does not feel like submission. Instead, it is the wife giving the husband the opportunity to lead with the understanding that when he makes a decision for the family, he truly believes that it is the decision that will best benefit everyone, not just himself. I am curious to hear what you have to say about the Ephesians passage.

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