I'm to Submit Because I'm the Wife?

"Great." My son stomped his foot on the car's floorboard for emphasis. "I get to go to my sister's game instead of the birthday party."

It was true. It had started with me wanting him to clean his room and him wanting to get to the party. After neither of us got what we wanted, I revoked his privilege, hoping to motivate an attitude adjustment. So far, it wasn't working.

My husband, who was driving, seemed unaffected by the open rebellion spewing from the back seat, but I was nothing but affected. I know that selfishness, disrespect, and rebellion can send a person skidding off of life's rails, and that's exactly what I don't want for my son. As he threw his body weight against the seat, I felt my stress rise another notch. His insolence is going to destroy his life, I said to myself. I've got to stop him. I've got to do something right now.

And so I did. My swelling desire to get control of my son's attitude erupted in white-hot, spewing words. My voice was loud and commanding. My words had manipulative undercurrents and harsh overstatements. I lectured. I shamed. I warned. I demanded. I gave full vent to my desire for control.

And how did my son respond? He recoiled. He folded his arms in anger. With a tone of stubbornness, not remorse, he said he didn't care.

Well this only made me care all the more! With even more intensity, I turned to deliver another round of hot air to my son, but my husband cut in. "Shannon, stop."

Stop? I couldn't stop. I shouldn't stop! I ignored him and kept going.

"Shannon, stop."

Quietly, but forcefully, my husband put his hand on mine. "Stop it. You're making it worse," he said quietly.

"No, I'm not! He needs to hear this!" I said in a loud whisper. But my husband wouldn't back down. He calmly assured me that he would handle it. For the rest of the drive, he wanted me to be quiet. Then when we arrived, he wanted me to get out of the car and let him deal with the situation. Alone.

Control and Submission

This was almost more than I could bear. There were now two things in play:

  • My desire to control my son.
  • My desire to not be controlled by my husband.

I folded my arms across my chest and looked out the passenger window, fuming. My second lecture was spring-loaded on the tip of my tongue, and my arguments were burning a hole in my heart. If my husband would just give me the chance, I could set this whole situation straight in about two minutes flat. I knew I could! But there, in the passenger seat, the word "submit" flashed through my conscience.

Submit

I imagine that if you had been a passenger in our car that night, you wouldn't have been able to muster the courage to remind me of Ephesians 5:22–23, which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.

Lots of Christians sidestep this verse, even when the mood is cheerful and upbeat. But in a moment of tension and extreme frustration, God didn't hesitate to remind me that I am to submit. Obviously, God doesn't sidestep the issue.

I'll be honest; I bristle when God's instruction for wives to submit clanks against my iron will. I'm to submit, simply because I'm the wife, not the husband? How can that be? Am I missing something?

Actually, I had been. God showed me something new that night. It happened when I looked back at my son, who was glaring out the window with his arms folded. I realized that he looked rather like . . . me.

It dawned on me that my son didn't want my input any more than I wanted my husband's. Both of us were chafing instead of submitting. Both of us craved control and resented authority.

Just like I wanted my son to submit, God invited me to submit (only without the lecture). Just like I wanted my son to listen, God wanted me to listen (only God wasn't yelling). Just like I wanted to save my son from heartache, God wanted to prevent my heartache (only God's tone wasn't harsh or manipulative).

Could it be that God is a good Father trying to save me from disaster when He asks me to submit?

Family Guidelines

It's easy for me to see that children should submit to their parents. Children are born after their parents, not before. God knits a baby together inside his mother's womb, using strands of DNA from both his father and his mother. When he is born, his parents delight in him and give him a name. They love him and feel a deep connection to him, because he has come from them. God's design is self-evident whether the baby sees it or not: Children should submit to parents who lovingly guide and protect them.

It is also evident (even if it's not obvious to me) that God's design for marriage is for a wife to submit to her husband. The creation story in Genesis 2 hints at this quite strongly.

Notice that God didn't make Adam and Eve out of the dust simultaneously. The woman came after the man (v. 20). And the material God used to knit her together was the flesh from Adam's side (v. 21). Then when God brought Eve to Adam, he delighted in her and gave her a name (v. 22–23). Adam felt a deep connection to her and because she was taken out of his side (v. 23). It was only natural for Adam to lovingly guide and protect Eve.

There is something beautiful and compelling about this story. Eve being led by an adoring Adam seems no more cruel or demeaning than a baby being guided by his adoring parents. God naturally weaves love and fierce protectiveness into our family relationships. He designed for us to take care of each other.

But sin is what causes all of this to unravel. When Adam and Eve refused to submit to God, they shattered God's beautiful design. Since we have inherited Adam and Eve's rebellion, none of us want to submit. Preschoolers don't want to submit and stay out of the road. School-aged kids don't want to submit and eat their vegetables. Tweens don't want to submit and clean their rooms. And wives don't want to submit when their husbands say to stop lecturing.

But God hasn't given up on His original design for my marriage. He may have been somewhat subtle in the way He tucked His design for leadership and submission into the story of the first marriage, but when He gives instructions for my marriage, God is downright blunt. He says repeatedly, "Wives submit to your husbands" (Eph. 5:22Col. 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1). This instruction is just as forthright as the command: "Children, obey your parents" (Eph. 6:1).

God's New Testament guidelines for family relationships are a reaction to the way sin has blighted His original design. God hates the way controlling wives, unloving husbands, and rebellious children ruin what could be beautiful. He despises the way our shoulders sag under the weight of our sin. God gives these instructions as the way to set things right. He is a good Father, wanting to keep us from steering our lives off of a cliff.

A Moment of Choice

That night in the car, my heart was racked with the desire to ignore my husband and continue lecturing my son. But rather than giving in to myself, I gave in to God.

It may have looked like I was just a wife and mom stepping out of a car, but inwardly I was a wife and mom doing radical battle with my flesh. Submitting to my husband is exactly what my controlling heart screamed not to do. But submitting was my way of passionately yielding to God—trusting that He is my protective Father acting with good intentions when He asks me to let my husband lead.

Fifteen minutes later, as I sat in the bleachers overlooking the game, I saw what I couldn't see back in the car. My husband was right. I had been making it worse. My heart had deceived me again. My words had been like a harsh, driving wind, causing my son to hold tighter to his pride and belligerence.

Just as a tear of remorse trickled down my cheek, my son slid onto the bleacher seat beside me. He put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a warm squeeze, saying, "I'm sorry, Mom. I was so wrong. I see that now. Will you forgive me?"

From the beginning, God has designed for husbands to lovingly lead and protect their wives. Sin is what causes my heart to chafe against this design, but when I passionately yield to God and submit to my husband, I invite God's blessing into my life. And sometimes I even get the warm squeeze and apology I was hoping for in the first place.

Dear conflicted wife, are you giving in to yourself rather than God? In what ways are you caving in to your desire for control rather than God's desire for you to submit? Don't delay. Today, yield yourself to your protective Father who wishes only good for you when He asks you to submit to your husband.

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