Rethinking Submission

In the tradosphere, we talk about wifely submission quite a lot.  We talk about it so much that it can get to be its own idol, a goal in and of itself.  But perfect submission is not external.  Perfect *anything* is not external.

When I first set out to be the best wife I could possibly be (because I wasn’t happy with my marriage, and sensibly enough, decided to change me) I decided to turn myself into the Perfect Stepford Wife.  Upped my housecleaning.  Upped my personal service (coffee-fetching).  Started cleaning myself up and greeting my husband at the door with a smile and a kiss… well, I tried.  He found that annoying and he’s too tall to kiss if he doesn’t want to cooperate.  See, I didn’t ask HIM what he wanted.  I read what some other woman said was Perfect Wifeness.

I could keep going on this… it was lame, and the despair that came after I worked this for a year or so and my husband didn’t sweep me into his arms with delight was extremely injurious to me, my spiritual life, my emotional life, and my marriage.  You might say my view of the whole External Submission is a weeeeeee bit colored.  (You’d be right).

The thing was, I wasn’t being perfectly submissive, I was acting a part.  Oh sure, I excised any contrary opinions… surgically if necessary.  But I took away what my husband truly wanted from me – ME.   And instead of acting from a fear of God, I acted from a fear of my husband.  Would *you* want the pressure of being someone’s god?  No?  Yeah, neither did he.

So, I’m not writing this to the women out there who haven’t tried fixing their marriages by being nice, respecting their men, and acting like decent people.  Just – if you’re being mean, stop.  Okay?  I’m not talking to you.  Go read 99% of the submission advice out there.  I don’t disagree with it!!!  But you don’t put out a fire by adding sunshine and you don’t dry up a lake by adding water.  Maybe this is chapter two in the submission handbook for some ladies.  I don’t know, but I know someone needs to say this.

Being right with your husband means that you’re right with God.  The first thing you have to do is spend time with God, talk to God, rely on God – get that relationship right and tight.  You get the habitual sin out of your life, you get your heart-motivation right.  “If you love Me, obey My commandments”.  Well, do you love God?  If not, stop reading and work on that.

The second thing you need to do is get communication open with your husband.  Find out what he wants from life.  From your family, from your kids, from you.  If you’re a stay at home mom, you have a lot under your control.  You need to know where your ship is going so that you can plan appropriately.  Your husband might not have a plan, but let him know that you’re there to make it happen when he does.  Find out what he wants just day to day and what’s NOT important to him.  You don’t need to obey Dolly’s husband, you need to obey yours.  You’re not more holy because you look perfect on the outside.

Third thing – you need to dump that whole, “less than the dust beneath his chariot wheels” right back into the pulp novels.  Your husband married you.  You reflect on him.  Therefore, he does not want you to be a doormat.  He wants you to be the best you can be – and take all that goodness and put it at his back and to the service of your family.  That’s what the guys do, after all – they work their tails off to advance the family.

Proverbs 31 says that a good wife is valued above rubies.  Do you act more valuable than rubies?  Are you working to increase your value?   Do you work at whatever you’re good at to get better at it?  Do you take your responsibilities as a wife and mother seriously, putting energy and thought into your work?  Different seasons in life call for different work and different skills, and that’s normal, but we should keep moving.  Develop yourself.  Get smarter, get more skilled.  Learn better ways to manage your household, grow in wisdom and in knowledge of the Word of God.  Mentor others, get in mentorship for yourself.

People who tell you to stay dust-like are people who are under the impression that you are not loyal.  That is regrettably common in this life, but it does no one any good to chain yourself down because the woman next to you can’t be trusted.  If you are the best you can be, and then you turn around and offer all of your best to your husband, to support what he wants for your family, how have you done anything but made his life better?  Humans, as a rule, are unpleasant creatures.  Fortunately your Lord and God has washed you clean and given you the Holy Spirit within you, enabling you to be something other than the lowest common denominator.

A strong man doesn’t need a weak wife.  A strong man needs a strong woman so that HE can go do what he wants to do – so he can be free to work harder and pursue his dreams.  He doesn’t have to worry about repeating instructions fifty times a day – he can trust his wife to have his back.  I’m not saying you have to be good at what your husband is – I am *certainly* not.  I’m saying you have to be the best you can be.

Read Proverbs 31.  Who was the husband?  Where was he?  He was at the gates, which means he was an elder/judge for that town.  His wife was handling his home life, and that freed him up to do more for his community.   His heart could safely trust in her.

When we talk about submission, we talk and talk and talk about making ourselves smaller.  Instead, let’s start talking about making ourselves better.  Instead of “how can I avoid offending my husband” can we talk about “how can I bless my husband today”.   Instead of following some other man’s ideals for life, how about finding out what our husbands dream of, and putting our good minds to work thinking of ways we can support those dreams?

Let us throw away our stubbornness, our ideas about what the outside “should” look like and let us give our deepest hearts to our beloved husbands.  We trust them with our lives, with our honor.  Let us give our *best* to them.  Let us give our husbands good gifts when we give ourselves, and let us daily strive to make ourselves the best gifts that we can be.

And let us not forget that in giving ourselves as we are commanded to give, we are giving the gift of obedience to our eternal Lord and King.  Let us strive to be the servant with 10 talents, not the servant with one.



12 thoughts on “Rethinking Submission

  1. Alan K

    But perfect submission is not external.

    By this, I assume that you mean it’s not just for ‘show’, but instead should be a fresh exercise of spirit, or a change of heart? This seems to be the point of the following paragraph; making internal changes for the better—or at least trying to!

    I first set out to be the best wife I could possibly be…

    Forgot that ‘husband’ part, eh? Yeah, that happens pretty regularly, doesn’t it? Initiative can get out of control on the one hand, just as irresponsibility can on the other. There is a ditch on either side of the road. We need to rely upon direction from higher authority (the Lord, a husband, a master, a governor, etc.), without shirking our individual responsibilities.

    1. hearthie Post author

      Yes, very much so.

      Think of the Pharisees – whitewashed tombs, or clean cups filled with filth. To be whole, to be healthy, is to move from inward good to outward.

  2. Elspeth

    Well said, and I agree completely Hearth, as I knew I would..

    To the extent that I seemed to be saying to a wife, “be smaller”, then I regret that. It is not my intent. My intent has always been to say “be more humble” because frankly no one in your average church is telling wives that. At all.

    I swear girl you so completely underestimate your wonderfulness compared to the rest of us, LOL.

    1. hearthie Post author

      No, you never say that. But the people who ask you for advice (or come and rant at us, sometimes) often seem to have that understanding of submission.

  3. Elspeth

    The other thing I think you underestimate is how many well meaning Christian women are actively repulsed on the inside by the very notion of putting aside all of their dreams and plans for the sake of advancing their husband’s vision for their family.

    All of the external submission play acting isn’t really about trying to be the best wife they can be. They honestly believe that submission MEANS that they are (as you put it), “less than the dust beneath his chariot wheels.”

    I have had the experience as a young wife on more than one occasion of being advised by women I considered of very strong faith and character that I should not allow my husband to stand between me and “whatever God has called you to do”.

    I hate that this is true, but it is true: The vast majority of Christian wives need ‘submission 101’ because they simply do not view submission through the same prism as you and I (and the other ladies who commented on my post.

    1. hearthie Post author

      I’m never sure how much to talk about my past, because it is past… and because discussing it brings up the old emotion, and I end up reliving it. Not useful. Not where I am now. I want to encourage other ladies – and oh, E. I fell so hard on that concrete, trying to be perfect on the outside because I wanted things to change. Wasn’t right with God, wasn’t aiming at impressing Him, just wanted what I wanted. Wasn’t bad, what I wanted… not bad at all. Nothing you’d blame me for. And I know that there are other women out there like me. Not so many. But there are. And they’re trying to make themselves into Stepford Wives from the outside in, and you do that because you want people to look at your outside. You don’t do it because you want a better relationship with the only One who can see your insides. See, if you change your insides first, you have to wait longer for the outsides to change, and only the outside change might make other people react in the ways you want them to react… impatience. Wrong priorities.

      Maybe that’s why I want to encourage others with “more advanced submission” or whatever. You convicted me the other day when this first came up. I saw myself, and some things that my husband wants for our family that I just don’t want to deal with… so I haven’t (he wants us to learn Spanish – I used to speak Spanish). And being convicted, I put a bit of movement on those things (I registered both children for Spanish in the fall, and put an enquiry in about getting Rosetta stone checked out for the summer from my charter school).

      If I don’t talk about it, who will? Who will say, “I want to be a better gift to my husband, because I want to give him some rest, some solace, some direction from which he doesn’t have to have conflict”. I know that’s how YOU think… but you’re talking to those who need Submission 101. And bless you for being willing to talk about that.

      But someone has to be willing to say, ‘and then you don’t stop’. Because that’s where I am right now – we were talking about it. The sad thing is that my husband has been telling me the same things that Pagan Mom and you ladies have been telling me, but it’s so hard to hear those things. You all had to gang up on me! But shouldn’t I be a bit ashamed to not have been bold when *he* first told me?

      Being so trusting and so centered that I’m ready to step out right away when I’m asked – whether by God or by my husband – that’s where I ought to be. There’s so many silly little fears in my way…. but if I were truly submitted, would those fears matter? Would they?

      I’m changing. There, I said it. I feel like an adolescent becoming an adult, except no one names these inter-life seasonal changes. And it’s scary… and that’s okay, I think. I just can’t stop moving.

      So, if I talk about it honestly, I wouldn’t be impressed.

      PS I registered for a kayaking class. My husband thinks I’m very funny.

  4. Alte

    Excellent post, Hearthie.

    It’s so much harder to do what he wants, rather than what you wish he would want. Sort of the way parenting real children doesn’t always reflect our parenting fantasies or the content of self-help books.

    I guess that’s how marriage teaches us about our relationship with God. Sometimes I would feel like a martyr and it’s taken me a decade to wake up to the realization that martyrdom should be a source of joy. I mean… can you imagine the ancients hanging on their crosses, screaming up at God, “You see, God? This is what I do for You and You just do not appreciate it!”

  5. magistratrium

    This is very helpful, Hearthie. I agree that getting yourself right with the Lord is the first step and losing your “longsuffering” attitude about what your husband wants is also important. “How can I bless my husband today?” is a great question.

  6. Elspeth

    I registered for a kayaking class. My husband thinks I’m very funny.

    I think that’s great…and a little funny.

  7. Jenny

    Hearthie, God is using you in wonderful ways. This is a great post. Can’t wait to hear about kayaking 🙂

    1. hearthie Post author

      July 1, I’ll let you know. I’d really like to try paddleboarding, but I’m not sure I want to stand up that long, and I’m no longer a strong enough swimmer to take up surfing.


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