Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).
I’ve heard a lot of opinions on the passage in Ephesians 5 about being a submissive wife. I’ve heard it described as outdated and sexist. Many women protest the idea of having to submit themselves to any man, even their husband. Some point out that submission should be completely mutual, that Paul was implying that husbands and wives ought to be subservient to each other. On the other hand, I have also heard that it’s a beautiful, even essential component of marriage and it’s a specific calling for wives.
I’m writing this post to share what I have learned over the past year and specifically these past few months on what it means for a wife to submit to her husband. I’m not sharing this to point fingers or make women feel like they’re doing a bad job at fulfilling Ephesians 5. I’m also not sharing this so that my definition of submission can be fully adopted by others. What I desire is an honest dialogue on the struggle of figuring out what submission means in the twenty-first century, particularly when every marriage looks so different and every woman is unique.
But I suppose I have to start by sharing how I began to figure out what submission looks like for me.
. . . . .
This past summer my husband crashed and totaled his car. It was his fault. And shortly before this happened, he had changed his car insurance to where he was no longer covered like he should be for incidences such as these. So as a result, he had to spend thousands of dollars, the money that him and I had been saving for us to have after we got married, on a new car. A clunky, dirty Ford Taurus. I hate the Taurus.
And for that week that we hunted for a new car, I almost hated Grant. Because here I was, having to drive him to dealership after dealership to help him find a car. Here I was, having to say goodbye to the money that we had put aside for OUR future just so we could pay for HIS mistake. I remember complaining about Grant and his irresponsibility to all of my friends and family. I could not believe that he allowed this to happen. I was so, so angry and let down.
And then we bought that Ford Taurus. And we were fine again. Life went back to normal. Except Grant didn’t go back to normal.
I saw guilt slowly eating away at him. The harsh words I had spoken were still piercing his heart. He felt like he had lost his dignity and my trust. To this day, when we speak of that car crash, I see the fallen look on his face and the regret in his eyes. He carries that time with him, and as a result, so do I.
I now know that the men in our lives will always do stupid things. But we are often guilty of doing stupid things in response to them, too.
Beating him up for this, along with all the other mistakes that he had made over the years, always seemed like the right thing to do at the time. There should be consequences for his actions, right? Why should he be let off the hook? Why should I show him the same amount of love and respect and trust after he makes these irresponsible, immature decisions? He needs to learn his lesson, I always reasoned with myself.
But my punishments for him always ended up being punishments for myself, too. Because I was turning into a woman that no man should want to marry. My efforts to control the situation only made me feel more out-of-control. I couldn’t stop my anger from being unleashed. I couldn’t hold back my tongue from swearing and yelling and saying things I didn’t mean. And that’s a pretty bad place to be in.
How did I let myself break all of my promises to not become the monster I once was? It was always a joke among my friends in high school that I was the meanest, most demanding girlfriend, but it all of a sudden wasn’t funny anymore. Not when this man who was so good to me was carrying around so much guilt that he wasn’t even capable of forgiving himself.
My efforts to be in control, my desire to punish and yell at Grant for his actions, are what I consider to be the stupidest things I have done. And it’s these stupid things that I myself carry around with me. And when it comes up in conversation, it’s what makes my face fall and my eyes fill with regret. We both have felt deep shame of our pasts, of the things we’ve done that have affected and hurt one another.
And it was only when I finally saw this damage inflicted on our hearts did I realize that maybe showing him some respect, regardless of whether it’s well-deserved, could do a lot more for us than being in control.
And that was what I was always after, really: control.
Isn’t that part of the reason for why the idea of submission sounds so horrifying to some? Women, especially the ones who have grand dreams for their future and perhaps have been hardened by their past, just want some sense of control in their life. And if that means controlling their man, so be it. Anything to keep the attention and affection on them. Anything to have those large holes in their heart filled. Like the wicked queen from Once Upon a Time, we destroy anyone and anything in our path to what we think will finally make us happy. But happiness never comes.
I’m so thankful that I was finally able to open my eyes to just how little reward there is for gaining or maintaining control. There has been no gain to justify the hurt and anger that accompanies it. Respect between Grant and I, on the other hand, has gone a long way over time. It has even begun repairing some of the damage from that car wreck.
And the way I show respect to Grant is by submitting to him — small, daily acts of surrender. And God has used my small, daily acts of surrender to transform me into a woman who not only is able to submit to her husband, but is actually joyful to do it.
My small, daily acts of surrender may not look like much from the outside, but I know they mean a lot to Grant. They have meant a lot to our marriage. Submission has not always been convenient or easy for me, but it has been worth it.
I submit to Grant by bringing our household responsibilities before him and laying them at his feet. I maintain some control by handling most, if not all, of the budget, the groceries, the errands, and the housework (yes, I am that housewife), but I still give him a voice. I show respect for him by asking for his input on our finances and delegating responsibilities to him that I could just as easily do on my own. I trust him to provide for us instead of constantly pointing out where our money is falling short. I thank him for the things he does around the house, regardless of whether the tasks were completed in my desired time-table. Believe it or not, I even trust him to handle the insurance. Grant has given me the power to do all things for our household on our own. But out of respect and honor for him, I allow us to share the power.
I submit to Grant by holding back from making decisions without first asking him. All questions such as whether I’ll look for another job after graduation or if I’ll focus on my writing or if we’ll stay in our one-bedroom apartment or if we’ll save money for a vacation are answered through a dialogue between my husband and I. It sounds silly to bring all of these decisions to him when I could so easily make them myself. After all, wouldn’t he want me to be happy? Of course, he will encourage me to chase after my dreams and be wise with our finances. But that’s not the point. The point of bringing these things to Grant is not so that I’ll gain his approval of them, but rather so that he knows his opinions matter.
I submit to Grant by putting him first, like when I wake up at 4:00 AM on the weekend, on the mornings that I could otherwise spend sleeping in, to help him get ready for work and make him breakfast. I learned this from my mother, who does the same for my dad, and I remember many friends not understanding why my mom willingly does this. Now those same friends don’t understand why I do, too. Even Grant questions why we like to subject ourselves to cold, dark mornings for the sake of our husbands. He feels selfish for letting me cook him eggs and toast when I could still be in bed, but he lets me do it because I tell him that it fulfills something in me that was never fulfilled before.
My heart was so self-centered for so long that I felt empty and unloved the moment that Grant chose himself over me. But now that I’ve allowed myself to be more husband-centered instead, I feel whole and loved the moment that I choose Grant over myself.
In a way, I am using the control that I have to relinquish control to Grant. And this, to me, is submission.
I think that submission sounds like a dirty word to some women because they think that it implies a lack of power. Like women are weaklings who are only designed to serve their men in whatever capacity their men see fit.
But what I have experienced is that submission IS power. It gives me the power to let go of the meaningless things that I clung to for security and happiness. It gives me the power to become a woman who is modeled after Christ in the way she loves and serves. It gives me the power to choose a calling — the calling of a wife as a helper and family-builder — that is greater than my selfish ambitions.
The more I give to Grant, the more free I become — free from selfishness, greed, laziness, unwholesome thoughts, bitterness, and anger.
I remember when I always expected Grant to cater to me. Before we were married, I would complain when he’d leave for work because I knew that it meant I’d be alone. I would expect him to always be on his A game, planning the loveliest dates and surprising me with thoughtful actions. I made him feel immature and foolish for the way he spent his money and his time. I scolded him and yelled at him for decisions he made without consulting me. I put burdens on his shoulders that he shouldn’t have had to carry. I was not willing to relinquish control by any means. And all of this was just my way of seeking fulfillment and happiness, which never worked.
Submission, instead of control, is how I now pursue my fulfillment. And it does fulfill me. Because I get to watch my husband feel loved and respected. I get to play a part in the restoration of his dignity. And in return, I also reap the benefits of a fulfilled husband, one who is free to respond with love for me, just like the vision of the husband and wife I had always read of in Ephesians 5.
When I submit to my husband, I am sending him the message that he is capable and smart, that his thoughts and opinions do matter, that his mistakes are not unforgivable. And I realize through this that my mistakes can be forgiven, as well.
I am not perfect. I am no saint. But I am a woman who is committed to loving and respecting my husband, even when that means relinquishing parts of my life that my flesh would rather keep under my control or use for selfish purposes. I am a woman who, though she might fail to choose love and surrender in the moment, is willing to eventually put down her pride and guilt and try again.
Our marriage counselor once asked Grant and I, “What hill are you willing to die on?” And I remember realizing in that moment that I pick a lot of foolish hills to camp out on, fully prepared to give up what is most valuable for something that is hardly worth it.
I now know that I shouldn’t be picking battles with my husband. I should be picking battles with satan, the real enemy. And I bet that he hates what I’m now doing to Grant: letting him come first, letting his voice matter, letting him feel loved, letting our marriage honor God.
I have a piece of paper taped to our bathroom mirror that I look at and read every day. At first, I was embarrassed to tape it there because I knew that many people would see it and would perhaps question it or judge it. It’s a glimpse into our personal struggles, the things that many wives, including myself, would probably want people to think are under control and totally fine in their marriage. Regardless of the fear I felt, I taped it up anyway. And I’ve allowed it to encourage me on a daily basis to be the woman I know God has ordained for me to be.
It reads as follows:
I am on my husband’s/wife’s team and he/she is on mine.
I will fight for my husband/wife every day of our lives together.
I will pursue peace with my husband/wife.
I will protect my husband’s/wife’s dignity.
I will bear my husband’s/wife’s burdens.
I submit myself to my husband/wife.
I will release all anger and bitterness toward my husband/wife.
I will believe in my husband/wife.
This is my personal motto and vision for our marriage. I don’t live by it all the time, but I so badly want to. And maybe you want to live by it, too. Maybe you, like me, are tired of seeing your husband’s fallen face and feeling your own regret. Maybe you have experienced enough “control” to know that it does nothing but cause hurt in relationships. Maybe you want to be the woman that submits to her husband, even if you aren’t fully sure of what that means just yet.
Submission will probably look differently for a lot of wives, but I believe that is one of the reasons for why it is so beautiful. It is a personal, intimate act between husband and wife that will mean something special and unique to the both of you. It doesn’t have to be explained or meet others’ expectations. It just has to do its job of forging love within your marriage. And it will.
My call to other wives, and even women who are not yet wives, is to pursue what submission means for you. How can you lay down your life for your husband or your future husband? How can you relinquish some of the control that you have fought to hold onto? How can you choose service over selfishness, love over laziness, and purposeful submission over power?
It will not always be an easy decision. There will be choices that don’t seem quite so black-and-white. But I challenge you to bring even those choices to your husband and let him join you on this journey. We don’t have to fend for ourselves or be left to our own devices when it comes to figuring out how to be the wife God wants us to be. We can lift each other up — husbands and wives, women and friends, mentors and mentees — as we pursue both our personal and universal callings.
Submission matters. I needed a car wreck to open my eyes to this truth, but you don’t.