So Darwin tagged me and asked that question about Ephesians 5, and I went and wrote a post of several paragraphs of, er, scriptural analysis. Which everyone knows is the easy part.
Now I'm sitting down to try to answer the hard part.
Even though I liked my fellow taggee Dorian's ranty post about it , and I wish to validate her with a "Yeah! What she said!", I repeat: "Wives, submit" isn't about paid work or childcare. Sure, in a given marriage, paid work may be a big issue. So can sex, money, whether to have another child.... Ephesians 5 gives us the framework for discussing the issues, not the issue itself.
Thinking that it's about assigning the woman the stay-at-home job (an error peculiar to our age) can even lead us in opposition to Ephesians 5. In this model we sometimes think of the husband ruling in his providerly way over the external-world sphere, while the wife rules in her nurturely way over the domestic sphere. But guess what? The wife doesn't get to rule over the domestic sphere anyway. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be subject to their husbands in everything. Everything!
And anyway, does the domestic sphere even count as subordinate to the external-world sphere? Only in the eyes of the world.
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It makes sense and seems true to me, and yet I can't think of specific rules as to what "headship" means in our household, much less formulate some sort of universally applicable principle which must apply in all circumstances.
I think it's hard because the only universally applicable principle is apparently "in everything," which either means nothing or it has to be applied uniquely and individually to almost every point of contact between the spouses. So, no un
I think it's hard because it's exquisitely intimate. When I try to write about specific ways I "submit" in marriage, I feel unacceptably laid-bare -- I am not writing about sex, but it feels as if I am trying to write about something equally interior and private. I don't have the right to explain how it is between us.
And I think it's hard because we're both trying to think of things that we should do. I think that submitting is more about things that we should not do.
So I come back to this idea that it must mean something that sets us apart from the "pagans" around us, from those who haven't internalized the Christian message. Does he order Christian wives to submit because it's natural and right to submit.... or does he have to order us to submit because it does not come natural to us? Does he perhaps have to tell us to submit because to do so is not natural, but supernatural?
It's within the domestic sphere that this matters, when wife and husband are together, and so perhaps he's warning us against becoming the petty ruler of the home, treating our husband as if he were an intruder or worse, one of our children. Haven't we known women to say things like this?
It's like I have three children instead of two.
I can't get it together on the weekends when he's home, he messes up all my routines. I don't know how I'll stand it when he retires.
Yeah, we want to be avoiding an attitude like that.
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So what is "not submitting" like?
One way would be to undermine his authority with the children: denigrating him in any way in front of them, or colluding with them against him.
Another would be to undermine his standing outside the family: denigrating him to your friends. I know. Many of us do this. It's a cliche of the culture that women complain about their husbands. Especially in a group, it's extremely difficult to avoid joining in on the husband-bashing. Maybe there exists some fine line between husband-bashing and confiding your troubles to a trusted and close friend. Maybe it depends whether you're trying to find an answer, or whether you're just complaining. I'm not exactly sure about that. But it's definitely something to be cautious with.
Yet another would be, ironically, to demand he take a more assertive role in something. Erm, to put it another way, don't top from the bottom. "I want you to assert your spiritual headship of this household more forcefully!" Doesn't really work.
I once tried to make Mark be more "involved" in the homeschooling decisions. It didn't go well. I finally had to accept that I have been blessed with a husband with a very hands-off managerial style, who trusts me to make wise decisions in this area. Homeschooling is delegated very firmly to me, and in this case, submitting means I don't get to pass the buck to him on day-to-day operations.
And then there's decision-making. Often we discuss submission in terms of the hypothetical Big Decision That You Discuss And Discuss And Can't Come To An Agreement On. Someone has to give, the theory goes, or the marriage can't survive; and if marriage is to survive, the "who's gonna give" must be pre-decided. Might as well be the guy, for reasons explained in Eph 5.
But how often does this happen in a marriage? Three or four times, maybe? A dozen, if one or both of you is exceptionally dramatic? But aren't there daily or weekly tiny decisions where the wife gets to decide if she's going to do things the way her husband has asked her to or if she's going to do it her own way? Don't we all do little things that drive each other crazy? Can we not actually try to stop doing that small thing that we know bugs him so much? Would it be so hard to try?
But how about when it's the other way around, when there's something we really think he ought to do that he's not doing? Demanding that he change is apparently right out. Is there then nothing we can do?
On the other hand... "men ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies..." We can, I think, ask to be loved and provided for in the way we wish to be loved and provided for.
I remember a disagreement Mark and I had in the past year, one of those situations where I was absolutely, positively sure I was right and he was wrong, and looking back on it I can see how I tried to put my foot down about it and how uncomfortable and awful and wrong and upsetting that felt. How much better it would have been had I simply ... asked for what I needed, and trusted that he would want to find a solution that would work for both of us.
(Even without my asking, he did find a solution. So.)
So what have I come up with?
- Don't be bossy about how to interact with the house or the kids.
- Take all his suggestions seriously.
- Don't undermine his authority with the children.
- Don't undermine his standing outside the family.
- Try not to do that thing that drives him nuts.
- Ask for what we think we need.
Yeah, that's a start.