Friday, October 21, 2011

Submission? But What About My Rights?

As I was counseling a young couple who are about to be married, I asked the young bride-to-be what she thought about the assignment in their premarital counseling workbook. The subject was a biblical perspective of marriage. She replied that she disagreed with the premise of submission. This was not a surprise. I don’t know many women who don’t cringe at that word whether they admit it or not. I asked her why she disagreed and she said, “I am a feminist by nature.” I thought, aren’t we all? I grew up in an old fashioned household, where I was taught biblical roles within the family, yet I still struggled with the need to fight for my rights. Isn’t this what Satan had in mind when he deceived Eve? Adam and Eve had a great thing going. They lived in a tropical paradise, had plenty of exotic food to eat, played all day, and had such good body confidence that they didn’t even wear clothes! They even walked and communed with God in the cool of the day. What more could they want? Satan, because he wanted to be God, convinced them that they too wanted to “become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, NLT). They needed to fight for their rights. Unfortunately, this disobedience started a chain reaction that we deal with to this day. God explained the consequences of their choice:

Then he said to the woman, ‘You will bear children with intense pain and
suffering. And though your desire will be for your husband, he will be your
master.’ And to Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. All your life you will sweat to
produce food, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from
which you came (Genesis 3:17-19, NLT).

Thanks a lot Adam and Eve. If it weren’t for the two of you we would still be frolicking in Paradise with no belly buttons. For women, no 36-hour labors, no jockeying for position with our husbands. And for men, no 70-80 hour workweeks, or overachievement needed. The plan was for us to forever enjoy a perfect and sinless life, but because of the deceptive notion that if we could be God or at least be like God, they believed Satan’s lies and sinned. That sin caused us to think we are entitled.

If any of you has not seen the new movie, “Courageous,” please don’t wait any longer. Take the whole family and see it while it is still in the theater. It is a great film about the courage it requires for men and women to fully resolve and commit themselves to live for what matters most. Alex and Stephen Kendrick, writers and directors of the movie, asked the question, “What if we let go of the baggage of our past, clarified our convictions, and then pursued faithfulness to God, our marriages, and children for the rest of our lives? Many great men and women in Scripture and in recent history have defined and then lived by their own personal resolution” (Kendrick Bros., 2011). The book, The Resolution For Women, by Priscilla Shirer is the counterpart to the book, The Resolution For Men, which is based on this film. I highly recommend this book, which lists 13 resolutions “that will bring you all the blessings and joys of a life in pursuit of God’s best” (Kendrick Bros, 2011). In the chapter on being Purposefully Feminine, Shirer discusses the subject of submission. She states,

Throughout the first wave of the feminist movement, which began during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well the second major wave in the 1960s, the basis for each initiative was a clamoring for rights. And while some of these rights have been worth defending, such movements have primarily been crusades to position women not only on equal footing with men but above men- in some cases above God Himself. Yet in these various quests for recognition, each movement has failed to recognize the most powerful right of all women: the right to yield to appropriate authority willingly and with dignity (p. 44).

I’m sure I just lost some of you, but isn’t this exactly what God predicted? And, if you will stay with me, you will see that even Jesus, who was the most powerful man who ever lived, demonstrated this principle.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8, NLT).
Shirer goes on to say,

If One so great could display this level of humility in order to achieve a much, much greater result, then what excuse do we have for not choosing to do the same—to forego our supposed rights in order to acquiesce to God’s designated plan for humanity? To trust His wisdom and insight? To bring Him the most glory, whether we get our way or not?

Yet a role reversal has been perpetuating our culture. And its effects have been staggering. Women have usurped the authority of men; men have passively neglected their roles as leaders. The result has been broken families, unstable homes, unhealthy dynamics, and derailed legacies. Marriages have cratered. Living rooms have become war zones. Iron wills have clashed and sparked and fractured personalities, melting everyone within sight (p. 45).

God shows us in his Word how to live according to his designed plan. I can understand how it can be seen as controversial, but if you read it in context, you will see that the Creator God knows us and how we operate, and has given us the best way to live in harmony and peace. He says:

So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act
thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you…and further, you will submit to one another out of
reverence for Christ. You wives will submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the Church; he gave his life to be her Savior. As the Church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything. And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the Church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word…in the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. (Ephesians 5:15-28, NLT).

I know it is a matter of perception for each person who reads this, but it sounds wonderful to me. That is, if I can actually pull it off. I don’t know about you, but being married to a man who is willing to lay down his life for me with no hesitation whatsoever is an amazing feeling. And even though I sometimes don’t recognize it and often don’t appreciate it, my happiness is of the utmost important to him. Laura Doyle, in her book, The Surrendered Wife, puts it this way:

It may not seem like it, but your husband wants to shower you with things that you love. As long as he knows you respect him, all you have to do is tell him what you want or don’t want…Whenever he can, the husband of a surrendered wife will gladly respond to these words because one of his foremost goals is to make his wife happy (Doyle, 2001, p. 80).

Is that true husbands?

I kind of like this word “surrender” better than the other S word. It sounds a bit more like something I voluntarily lay down. I give up my rights so that I may serve my husband more. My husband will lay down his life to protect me. I think what Paul is teaching us in Ephesians is how to out-serve one another. If we can get beyond our own selfishness and think about the needs and desires of the other person, we can serve him or her more fully; and though we will do it without expecting any glory or anything in return, we might be surprised at how we are rewarded in kind. In a nutshell, John, the baptist, speaking of Jesus said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30, KJV). I like the way my friend, David, interprets this verse: "He must come into full bloom, and I must wither away." This is true servanthhood and surrender. And I have seen David and his wife Beverley model this for years by serving each other.

Doyle describes a surrendered wife:

A surrendered wife is:

Vulnerable where she used to be a nag
Trusting where she used to be controlling
Respectful where she used to be demeaning
Grateful where she used to be dissatisfied
Has faith where she once had doubt

Likewise, In the book, What Makes a Woman Feel Loved, Emilie Barnes encourages men: “one way in which a woman feels loved is when her husband puts down the newspaper, turns off the TV, and gives her his full attention. And, men, she doesn’t always want you to solve the problems she mentions. She just wants to know that you care enough to listen” (Barnes, 2007, p. 41).

Is this true wives?

Certainly, there are those who take advantage of their mate, especially husbands who are controlling and abusive. I’m not speaking to those jerks (you know who you are). That’s a subject for another blog. I’m talking to most people who really want to have a strong and intimate marriage. In my experience, I have found that most women want to respect their husbands and most men want to love their wives. They just don’t know how.

This is where Marriage Education comes in. Spend some time reading good books about marriage, hang out with other loving, committed couples, seek a good Christian counselor or marriage coach who will help you focus on the right things, teach you principles, and give you tools to help you build a strong marriage. I really applaud all the young engaged couples I have seen lately in my practice for their willingness to get premarital counseling. They will not regret it. They will have an advantage over couples who slide into marriage without preparation. But it’s never too late to start.

It is not easy by any means. And I certainly have not perfected the principle of surrendering to my husband, as he can tell you, but I know it is the godly and right thing to do. And I know, from personal experience, that it works to both our benefits and is a great testimony to our children, grandchildren, and a watching world. It’s a matter of giving up our rights, understanding our God- given roles in marriage, trusting that the Creator God knows what he is doing, and surrendering to his will.

I would love to know your thoughts on this much-debated topic.