Nature hums and chirps around me this morning. The days are hot here, and the humidity weighs on you like a wool blanket, but morning shade reminds me of why I love summer. Our little town in the Ozarks sleeps in during these months, enjoying the quiet opportunity before the rush and bang of late August, the start of school and football and college students returning. I loved this quirky town as a student, but I know I love her even more as an adult.
Last week, Eric and I walked past a man wearing a tie-dye duster sweater who was walking a goat on a leash. We then accidentally attended a (rather upbeat) wake at a local combination coffee shop and craft brew bar. This morning, families ride past me on the trail on their bicycles, and a group of retired men laugh over morning coffee together. Soon, the whole town will be decked out in red and white, and random calls of “Woo Pig” will echo in the streets downtown. Sweet Fayetteville surrenders to seasons like a lazy canoe on the river floats along where it is taken.
“Surrender” and”submission” don’t always have to carry a negative connotation. There’s a coming beauty in the release of the now-green leaves to the death awaiting them, to the orange and gold turning and falling.
Often, though, when it comes to relationships, we cringe at these words. With them we hear whispers of “defeat” and “loser” and “weak,” and in a culture obsessed with equality and fairness, the concept of submission seems irrelevant or – at best – a necessary evil. Yet the world around us works best when there is submission. There is freedom for a sailboat at sea when it follows the rules of the wind and the mast and the rudder.
In my marriage, I have seen the beauty of submission at work. I have experienced the freedom we have found as a result of yielding and preferencing the other – and, ultimately, in surrendering to Christ. I have several friends whose marriages are struggling right now, and I think that is totally normal. Marriage is hard; you are trying to get two broken and selfish people to work together in the day to day of life. But one of the things that has made the difference in our marriage recently is a greater understanding of submission, both for me to Eric but also for me to Christ and for Eric to Christ.
Submission is not me losing every battle – the relationship within marriage is not a battle in any sense. Eric and I are on the same team, and he is the “team captain” with God as our “Coach.” I can follow Eric’s leadership for our team because I know he is following the leadership of our Coach. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “The world doesn’t run without authority. Somebody has to tell us what to do. The question is not who he thinks he is but whom does he represent.” When Eric is leading out of his relationship with God, I am not looking to my husband as my ultimate authority but to God. When Eric is not walking closely with Christ, or is in a “dry” season in this walk, my response is not to usurp his role, but instead to pray for him and encourage him and affirm him. Life change happens more often through positive words than negative and critical comments. When Eric knows I believe in him and trust him, he feels a deeper pull to step up and make changes.* When I criticize and demean his leadership or communicate doubt in his character, he gets paralyzed by discouragement, and our unity is broken.
Submission is not me losing my personality or my strengths and giftings. I have always had a natural bent towards leadership, and was often told growing up that I needed to tame that side of my personality because it would come across too “strong” for a man to want to pursue me. However, my Eric tells me that my strong personality was an attraction to him, and he still praises me for how the Lord uses me in leadership capacities. I, of course, can tend towards an unhealthy practice of this, and I recognized that even more when I got married and found myself nagging and criticizing and correcting in desire of still having some sort of control over our relationship. I think the Lord has developed in me a healthier view of leadership through my growth in submission. While I am still constantly fighting my fleshly desires, I lead differently in situations where my role is to lead, and I am able to trust in situations where I am not the leader. In fact, my growth in submission works in conjunction with Eric’s growth in leading and rejecting passivity, and it’s been a beautiful picture of the work of the Spirit to sanctify us both in our sin tendencies.
Ultimately, though, submission is not about me. It’s about God. I am submitting to God through Eric. I am trusting God when I trust Eric to make decisions for our family. Self-centeredness is what makes submission so difficult. “In humility count others more significant than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3). When we live by this in our relationships, submission becomes less about absolute authority and more about loving another well – in marriage, loving your spouse well. As believers, we are all called to live this way, whether husband or wife, so when we are walking in the Spirit, this will be how we treat our spouse. We aren’t grasping at strings we can pull or accomplishments to hang over the other person’s head. We aren’t worried about getting the better end of the deal or having things our way. And there’s a sort of joy in letting go of those things.
In fact, we should discover joy in the grace found in inequality – “home is a place where we ought to be allowed to be unequal, where everyone knows everyone else’s inequalities and knows, furthermore, that it is the inequalities that make the home work” (Elisabeth Elliot). In love, you desire the best for someone, and in love you naturally serve them. You don’t make it about whose turn it is or complain about how much they did versus you. I know Eric’s weaknesses, and I love that I complement those, so I want to serve him in those ways, and I rejoice in the ways he serves me in my lack.
Submission is a constant area of growth for me, and I promise we don’t have it all together in our marriage, but I am learning more and more what it looks like to trust Eric’s leadership and love him well. In return, he is freed to flourish in his role as a husband and leader, and when he is flourishing I find that he in turn loves me well. It has the potential to be an endless cycle of loving and serving each other, and this keeps us unified so that the battle of marriage is fighting together against the trials of this broken world.
*caveat : this can become manipulation if your heart isn’t right or if you use it as a way to control your husband