This year, my husband and I are all set to celebrate our 25th year of marriage. Way back in 1991, surrounded by floral bridesmaid’s dresses and groomsmen with mullets, my man and I faced one another in the blistering heat & promised God, each other, and our friends and families that this was forever. Now, a quarter of a century and three children later, our lives barely resemble those of the wide-eyed, fresh-faced kids who thought they had it all figured out. We never could have predicted the crazy turns of events that would bring us to stand today, a dynamic duo of some sort, laughing back at the jokers who said we’d never make it. Holy Matrimony, Batman! Thanks be to Jesus, we are totally beating the odds.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]I was ashamed that we just couldn’t get it right. How could I claim to have a holy marriage when we were missing the mark so badly?[/pullquote]However, if you would have asked me a few years ago if we had a “Biblical Marriage,” I might have struggled to answer. Try as we might, I never felt like we were able to measure up to the standards I felt we were taught in premarital counseling and in church about our roles in “God’s design for marriage.” I heard loud and clear that my husband’s role was the head of the household, and that I was created to be his helper. I was to submit to my man and make sure that he was satisfied on all levels all the time. I heard the sermons and stories of other Christian wives about how a “real” spiritual husband was a leader, and that good wives should line up and follow after their man, with their children trailing behind. You answer to your husband, your husband answers to God. Chin up, stand behind your man, and he will tell you where to go.
The problem was, when I held up this picture of what a good Christian family was supposed to look like next to the way my family functioned, I constantly felt like we didn’t measure up. My husband is a humble man who does not tend to lead from an authoritarian standpoint. He never gives out orders, he’s rarely a vision caster, and though he may have requests, he doesn’t ever tell me what to do. In fact, he often asks my advice, defers to my expertise, takes cues from me. To me, this was frustrating. How could I follow a man who wouldn’t take his rightful place as ruler of our household? I’m not saying that it was anyone’s intention, but the few times I sought counsel about this, I was left with the impression that my marriage was a spiritual failure because I wasn’t following properly, that if I could learn to submit, my husband would step up and do what he was called to do. I was ashamed that we just couldn’t get it right. How could I claim to have a holy marriage when we were missing the mark so badly?
Earlier this year, I re-read the verses that had been tripping me up.
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
Ephesians 5:22-24 NLT
There it was, in black and white. Except- wait. What is the “this” in the first sentence? I backed up a bit and re-read the verse directly before it.
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 NLT
The verse you hardly ever hear- the one that asks us to submit to one another. Interesting. I went to do a word study on the word “submit” in Ephesians 5:22- INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, it’s not even part of the original text… it was added for clarity in later versions. In fact, Ephesians 5:21-22 are part of the same thought. And that makes so much more sense to me.
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; For wives, this means (submit) to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
Ephesians 5:21-24 NLT (semicolon & parenthesis added)
I don’t pretend to have this all figured out… In fact, I was begging Jesus for more understanding in prayer just this morning … but the idea that’s formulating in my heart is this: I maybe have had the wrong idea of what being a leader looks like in the context of marriage. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not important for a leader to stand in front, barking out orders, while everyone stands in line behind. Maybe submitting to one another is a bigger part of leadership than I understood. There’s a very good chance that the reason I felt like God wasn’t answering my prayers to turn my husband into a leader that I could follow is because MY HUSBAND WAS ALREADY LEADING EXACTLY AS HE SHOULD- by standing alongside me as though we are a team. His leadership style means deferring to my judgement when it’s more informed, supporting me to make decisions, submitting to my requests out of honor to Christ. I honor and submit to him too- I defer to his judgement on a litany of things in which he is much smarter, I support his decisions, and I do submit to his requests out of honor to him and to Christ.
Recently, I was talking to my 16 year old daughters about this revelation; that maybe I didn’t need to be ashamed that we don’t have a “Biblical Marriage” after all, and maybe the system we have had all along was exactly what Paul was talking about and I didn’t even know it. My sweet girls just looked at me in disbelief, as though I was the blindest woman in the world. They let me know how much they admire the way their father and I respect each other, and that they hope the same for their marriages as well. Well, then.
I don’t know if I’m the only one who has ever struggled with this, but I hope sharing this journey can be helpful to those of you who worry that you’re not getting your spiritual walk right as a woman, as a wife, as an employee, or as a mother when you hold it up to the model being put forth to you by church culture. If I can be so bold, I’d like to encourage you for a minute: the way we measure Holy is not through the lens of others. We can’t base our success or failure on what we see in the media, on blogs, Pinterest, or even what we hear at women’s Bible studies or from the pulpit. We have to be willing to do the hard work of really reading God’s word, praying for understanding, and using our discernment when something just doesn’t add up. It’s good to make changes, it’s good to work toward personal Holiness, but the standard is Jesus, not the lady standing next to you who seems to have it all together.