HE'S NOT YOUR PRINCE CHARMING: the s-word
… thoughts on submission from a strong willed woman
submit yourselves to your own husbands
as you do to the Lord.
For many months I have danced around the S-word. Rather than engage in controversy, I have chosen to be careful, to sneak in the occasional benign reference to an idea so seemingly archaic as to be seen as obsolete by many. A concept agonizingly riddled with conflict.
I’ve been careful for two reasons:
One, because historically women have been battered by bullying men and sanctimonious women with this word… and
Two, because women, in their struggle to wrestle culture’s thinking back into sanity, have been biting back, over the last couple of decades, with such militant ferocity.
And I, being a teacher and encourager to real women I know and love, have absolutely no desire to wade into either the sanctimonious or the ferocious.
Plus, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to conflict.
And so, today, I hesitantly nudge open the door to begin a discussion. Not a lecture. Not an argument. Not even a clearly defined teaching about what God meant or what He means and what every-single-wife-in-every-single-situation-really-ought-to-do.
Instead, I’ll simply tell you a story.
When Phil and I bought the house we lived in for the past 11 years, we made a hasty decision: an unfortunate combination of me not wanting to live in a rental while we belabored where to live, and him being influenced by outside pressures.
Practically from the day we moved in I’d been talking about selling it. Too big, too look-alike suburban, too much to maintain, too little actual space to accommodate our family gatherings, too expensive.
Yet every time we looked into selling it, putting pencil to paper to make sure it made financial sense, I reluctantly agreed with Phil. We needed to hang on to the house I didn’t like. Though he would have sold the behemoth house to make me happy, we both knew it was not the best decision and so we stayed.
I submitted. Not because Phil forced me to, but because he painstakingly and lovingly led me to see the wisdom of staying put.
Then one day the pencil on paper lined out a different scenario. A window of time in which the combination of our rising equity, low interest rates, and a multitude of must-sell houses on the market compelled us to start looking at what was out there.
I envisioned purchasing an old cottage, neglected but adorable, waiting for me to restore it to its former glory. We agreed that increasing our indebtedness wouldn’t be financially advisable, but that didn’t worry me. Our price range was generous enough to make me confident about my vision of home.
Then a friend told us about a house for sale. He told us to drive by it, see what we thought. He quoted us a price way under our allotted budget. The location was wonderful. I could hardly wait to see it.
Driving slowly down the street, I was charmed. Quaint cottages, huge trees, an area settled over a 40 year span, and the name of the street— Firwood Road—so enchanting!
The house, however, was ugly.
I mean really ugly. As in creepy ugly. As in this house was never anything but ugly. It was built ugly in an era of ugly with nary a hint of anything but ugly.
I was relieved to hear Phil agree with me. No Ugly House for us.
But then, over the next few weeks he started to change his mind. Putting that dratted pencil back to paper, he began to dream a different dream— the dream of financial freedom, of life really truly within our means.
The Ugly House kept coming up in our conversations about what that might look like. And I kept saying,
“No way, there is nothing redeemable about that house. It is just ugly. It has always been ugly. We don’t want ugly— I don’t want ugly.”
We bought the Ugly House.
We didn’t buy it because I heroically surrendered. I didn’t suddenly shrug my shoulders and give in. We bought it because, over hours and hours of talking together, my vision of our life began to change. I caught a whiff of what that kind of financial freedom might mean for our future, which, in turn, ignited my own dreams.
What might it look like to live with less? To be able to give more? To be free to be generous even though we’re not rich. What might it look like to be able to close up our little house at a moment’s notice so we could run into adventure?
I got excited.
Then the friend who started this whole thing, along with a brilliant young designer we know, put more pencil to paper; moving walls, finding deals, figuring out how to transform the Ugly House into a cute cottage on our budget.
I got more excited.
We talked endlessly— using up whole forests of paper as we adapted the idea to suit us both.
He heard my soul-desire for beauty.
I saw his soul-craving for freedom.
We combined our individual desires out of love and respect for each other.
I realized in one of those rare moments of lightening strike revelation just how heavy a burden my husband had shouldered in order to enable me to do what I wanted to do: stay at home to focus on raising our children. And then, with an entirely empty nest, he let me quit my part-time job in order to pursue my dream of writing.
That enlightenment made me think long and hard. It gave weight to his vision for financial freedom. My respect for his sacrifice changed my approach to this next season of life.
And now we are getting ready to move into the Ugly House that isn’t ugly any more.
I’ve renamed it Firwood Cottage, an apt moniker that encompasses what it has become. Oak wood floors, fine wide baseboards, a refrigerator that harkens back to another era. I love this house! In fact, I am convinced it is going to become my all-time favorite home.
What seemed a sacrifice in the beginning has become a grand adventure.
Did I submit to my husband? Yes.
Was it easy to get to that place? No
Did I just roll over and give in? Of course not.
Did we both have to let go of some strongly held opinions? Uh-huh.
Did we reach a fairy-tale conclusion to our differences? NO!
We had to chop off the much wanted great room drawn into our plans in order to afford the 5 foot soaking tub and the shiny sink I just couldn’t live without which made absolutely no sense to Phil. We’ll be saving for a long time to add that family gathering space back into our plans.
But we’re on the same page, making similar sacrifices, determined to embrace a simpler, smaller, living-within-our-means life.
And that is what submission looks like in the marriage of two strong-willed, yet strongly committed people— compromise, communication, conflict, coming to new conclusions.
Submission is so much more than merely giving in.
Submitting to my husband is messy, fraught with mind-changing, mistake-making decisions.
Submission to my husband includes embracing, envisioning, rethinking, probing, questioning… my husband’s ideas.
And yes, I believe that submission is mutual… yet in the end it is my honor to choose to submit to the man I married, to follow in the footsteps of the “great women of old” who choose to submit to their own husbands because of their ultimate trust in God. (I Peter 3)
My take on submission may be different than yours. My circumstances most certainly are. And yet, in the end, we are simply sisters— women connected by our passionate love for Jesus, each of us trying to work that out in our own lives.
And maybe that is why, just a few minutes before God nudged Paul to write those words urging wives to submit to their husbands, He made sure he scribbled this:
“Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:17)
From a heart still learning what this all looks like,
P.S. How about you? How are you learning to act thoughtfully about submission to your own husband? And for those of you not yet married, have you thought about this? Does the idea of submission scare you? Have you seen this in someone's marriage that makes sense to you? I'd love to hear.