When your husband agrees with you, there’s no need to submit, right? But what about when he sees differently than you do? When you totally disagree on how to proceed. Is that when wives are supposed to submit to their husbands?
What is the definition of submission, anyway?
Let me give you an example from my own marriage, to have in mind, as we talk about what submission is and isn’t.
The Day I Told Him I Was Taking the Shoes Back
Back before our son could drive, I asked my husband to take him shopping to get running shoes. But the shoes they came home with completely missed the mark. Sure, they were bright and fun looking. (My son was into bright colors at that point.) But they were also overpriced and flimsy.
Why in the world would he buy these? No doubt my son’s enthusiasm over the color had influenced the purchase. But also my husband’s enthusiasm to get out of the store quickly. Neither of these, in my opinion, were good reasons to buy these particular shoes.
“I’m taking them back,” I said.
“What?” my husband said, in frustrated surprise. “Shannon, why did you ask me to take him shopping, if you’re just going to return what I bought?”
He wanted reasons? I could give him reasons. Apparently he hadn’t seen the way inferior shoes tend to cave under the pressure of a teenage boy running. And perhaps he wasn’t aware that our son would claim any shoe felt supportive if it was the right color. I was pretty sure these shoes wouldn’t last three weeks.
None of those reasons, however, won my husband over to my viewpoint. He just kept voicing frustration over the wasted shopping trip.
When He Sees It Differently
Ken’s head tends to be clear of all of the worries and concerns that fill mine. He doesn’t fret over possibilities the way I do or extrapolate into the future. He just steps out into the wild blue yonder and buys shoes without even considering that the kid trying them on might be pretending that they fit well. Crazy, right? He just sees it differently than I do.
So what is my response? I often feel like his clear perspective needs to be clouded up with a few of my concerns. I’m not taking over; I’m jut helping him see all of the angles he’s missing.
If you asked, I would say that Ken is the leader in our home. I know this is how the Bible says it should be (Eph. 5:23), and I truly want our marriage to reflect God’s blueprint. But if I’m honest, there are times I don’t treat him like the leader. I badger and persist and undermine and control.
What Does the Bible Say about Submission in Marriage?
So what is submission, anyway? What does the Bible actually say about it?
Though some people say that the idea of submission is cultural and outdate, the Bible ties it to something that is eternal:
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
If you’ve followed season 4 of the Live Like It’s True Bible podcast, you know we’ve talked a lot about the origin of marriage, back in Genesis 1-3. And we’ve also talked about how marriage between a husband and wife points to another marriage between Christ and the Church. See how these verses from Ephesians 5 tie these two together?
I see you there, nodding your head and saying, “Ahhh… well, now that I understand the correlation, that makes it so much easier to submit to my husband when he’s doing it all wrong.” I’m joking, of course. I think this correlation helps me understand why submission in marriage has great significance. But I don’t think it necessarily makes it easier, in the moment.
Here’s what does: Knowing that God loves me and wants me to have a healthy, happy marriage. For so much of my marriage, I’ve just reacted in the moment, essentially feeling my way, with no authority except for my own emotions. And I’ll bet you can imagine where that has led me. The scene where I insisted Ken take the shoes back was on loop; no wonder he expected this is how things would play out.
But God’s design for my marriage is submission. That means that when Ken and I vote, and it’s one to one, God says I’m to defer to—not just Ken, but God. Don’t miss this part. When I submit to Ken, I’m actually saying, “God I entrust myself to You.” Look at these verses:
“[Jesus] entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness…In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives.”
As a wife, I’m to submit, like Jesus did. Not entrusting myself simply to another human being, but rather entrusting myself to God. So submission in marriage is actually recognizing God as my authority in life.
The Definition of Submission
It’s not wrong for me o share my opinions and concerns with my husband; it is wrong for me to continually contend for my viewpoint. I wouldn’t treat a leader at church, work, or in the community this way. I shouldn’t treat my husband this way either.
So here’s my submission definition. Submission is deferring to my husband and letting him lead, when we disagree. If we both agree, there’s not need for submission, right? That’s when it’s easy to let him lead. But the times when there’s a one to one vote (and those times are many, for us!), submission is letting him lead us in a direction I wouldn’t choose. This is a choice, but it’s also a statement of trust.
Submission is deferring to my husband and letting him lead, when we disagree. Click To Tweet
By submitting to my husband, I show that I trust God’s viewpoint, even if I disagree with my husband’s. Why? Because God, who loves me and wants my marriage to flourish, says that wives should submit to husbands. (See Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18 and I Peter 3:1.)
Trusting God or Taking Control
As a “Control Girl“, my default is to lunge for control. I always want my way. I always want to dig in, insist on my way, regardless of whether my husband feels demeaned or disrespected. By when I defer to Ken, rather than contending for my way, I show that I trust God’s viewpoint more than my own.
But believe me when I say, that I am consistently surprised when my experience confirms this to be true. When I take control and dig my heels in, I make everyone miserable. But when I let my husband lead, I feel peace and security and joy. There’s a burden that lifts, when I recognize that it’s not my job to make everything turn out right.
Now, allow me to interject, and say that I’m not talking about submitting when there is abuse. I always tell women: If you could call 911, and tell someone what your husband is doing, and they would arrest him, well then you should call 911 and have them arrest him. We don’t celebrate God’s ways when we submit ourselves to abuse, either in marriage or other situations. That’s one extreme. The other extreme of failing to celebrate God’s ways is when I refuse to submit over something as insignificant as a pair of shoes.
The next morning, the shoes remained in their box on the kitchen counter. My son, who kept lifting the lid to admire them, began pleading with me to change my mind. He loved those shoes! Daddy had bought them. Why couldn’t he—pretty please—keep them?
As I learn to trust God by submitting in marriage, I exchange worry and stress for freedom and joy.
I could feel my heels digging into the kitchen rug. All the reasons for returning the shoes started pinballing around in my head. But just as I was about to clamp down and insist on doing this my way, I sensed the Spirit of God impressing on my heart, “How do you know? Can you see into the future? Can you be certain these shoes will fall apart?”
I suddenly recognized my lack of trust in God. The Lord hadn’t asked me to calculate the risk of letting my husband lead. God asked me to submit to my husband and trust Him with our future—even the future of something as small as running shoes.
God kept the Israelites’ sandals from wearing out during the forty years He led them in the wilderness, right (Deut. 29:5)? If God could protect a million people’s shoes from wearing out for forty years, surely I could trust Him with one pair of shoes for a couple of months.
Two things surprised me when I told my son he could put the shoes on and wear them. First was the tenderness in his expression when he hugged me and said thank you. He had heard my concerns. He knew it was hard for me. (It’s ridiculous, really, how hard it was.) But he saw that I was trying to obey God and let his daddy lead. That’s a good thing for a boy to see.
My second surprise was the immediate feeling of freedom and joy. Why had I burdened myself with trying to control based on my limited perspective? It felt so good to say, “Honey, your shoes look great. I’m so glad you like them!” And it was fun to text a picture to my husband of the brightly clad feet on the way out the door—along with a smiley emoticon and an apology.
Submitting consistently in little things (like which shoes to buy) helps train my heart for the more important matters. As I learn to trust God by submitting in marriage, I exchange worry and stress for freedom and joy.
- Are you a wife who lets the leader lead, or do you constantly contend for your own viewpoint? How would your husband answer this question?
- Submitting when you disagree is a statement of trust—not in your husband, but in God. What is one way that you will trust God by deferring to your husband?
- What is one thing that you’ve been persisting and badgering someone (either your husband or another leader) about? How is God convicting you to lay down your burden of control?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6–7).
This post was originally published at Revive Our Hearts, where I served as a blogger for many years.