By Kelsey on January 17, 2012 43

The “S” Word

The touchy topic of submission has been on my mind since we went to the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. There was a session where the men and women split up to learn more about what God has called us to in our gender roles. And then a couple days after the conference I received this devotional from Proverbs 31 and a few more things clicked for me. This may not be a popular post. If I say something that offends you, please know that is not my intention and hear my heart.


I grew up during the girl power movement. I loved it. I have always loved being a girl, and also that I grew up in a time period in which I knew that being a girl did not mean I was less valuable than a man. I always wanted to meet and fall in love with a wonderful man, but I planned to wear the pants in the relationship (a recent study shows that most women do!).

For years I’d read in the Bible about the S word, but I had no idea what it meant to submit. Nor did I want to find out. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

But after five years of marriage, studying the Bible and consulting with other Christian women about what it means, I’ve changed my point of view on the matter. And I am choosing to embrace it.

I am not saying women and men shouldn’t have equal legal rights in the workforce–or anywhere else, for that matter. I am not saying that women should not be strong, assertive or ambitious. All I’m saying is that growing up, I thought girl power meant women were smarter and more capable than our male counterparts and that we should probably just take over the world and never depend on a man again.

And now I know that was a scary mentality to have.

I really have a problem with the commercials and sitcoms that make men look like they are stupid, lazy and thoughtless. I think women have enabled men to become that way because of our desire to control (which is a consequence of original sin) and take over. If something needs to be done, most times we’d rather do it ourselves. Especially if it means it won’t get done without us.

I used to make a lot of decisions in our marriage about how we spent our time and our money. I thought my way was the best way. Over time I concluded that Eric didn’t have an opinion on such matters, but I’ve come to realize that he was retreating because I took over. I’m sure I confused him because I’d tell him that I wanted him to be more decisive and confident…and then I’d continue to express my opinions in an overpowering way that said this is how it’s going to be because it’s what I want.

Deep down, I desired for Eric to lead our family. And I didn’t realize that I was the one who was in the way.

A couple thoughts about submission that have provided comfort for me, in case you’re still not sure:

  • Being the man’s helper and completer is a title of worth. God refers to Himself in Psalm 54:4 as our helper. (This is taken from page 89 of the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember binder.)
  • The Love and Respect book says that submission means the man gets 51% and the woman gets 49%. Even that 1% rubbed me the wrong way at first. And then I realized that it means the women and children get to load the life boats first, and the men die. So I guess it doesn’t sound too bad. :)

> When I told Eric I was writing this post, he added that, at the same time, the man needs to be doing his job. I agree, but as I stated in my marriage getaway takeaways, I don’t want to wait for anyone else…I need to prepare my heart to be who God has called me to be.

My reality is that Eric is a great man and he deserves my respect. He appreciates my opinions and we make a lot of decisions together. But when we disagree, and he feels strongly about something, I’m listening to him more and am open to his ideas. Because we’re better together.

Putting It Into Practice

Recently Eric and I made a financial decision. We disagreed slightly on the issue. What I decided to do was to tell him my opinion, thoughts and fears, and then I let him make the decision. It took the stress and burden off myself and handed it to him. He is the leader of our family and, honestly, I don’t want it any other way. I don’t want that responsibility. He studies God’s Word every morning and has great integrity. Submission to him does not make me less of a person. I really take comfort in knowing that he takes care of me and would die for me.

If this is something you want to work on, the next time you and your husband disagree, I encourage you to give him your opinion but ultimately let him make the decision. Make sure he knows that you will support him in the decision, and throughout the conversation meet his need to feel respected. It just might radically change your marriage!

I may not have worded this in a way that makes sense to you. Please also check out this blog post by Jess, a WoW reader and female business owner. It was written from a different angle, but I believe it has the same principles.

 

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Kelsey

I love my husband, my daughter and the Internet.

  1. I don’t think this post is offensive at all, but rather a bit incomplete. It seems to me that both partners in a relationship need to submit to one another. I think this is especially true in today’s society not because of strides that have been made to empower women and girls (which I would argue are overwhelmingly positive) but because of the fact that so many of us come to marriage after years of independent living and decision making. I will be 30 and my fiance 32 when we marry in April–we’ve both been making our own decisions for a long time. Sometimes it’s hard for both of us to admit that the way we’ve always done things on our own isn’t going to be best for us as a family. It’s not so much a matter that the woman needs to submit to the man because he is the de facto head of the household, but that both need to work on not thinking their own way is always the right way. And depending on the couple, this need might lie more with one than the other partner. Hope that makes sense–I didn’t mean to post a novel!

    • This post is from the woman’s perspective, but yes, both need to submit. The wife is called to submit to her husband, but the husband is called to love his wife as Christ loved the Church (meaning becoming the head servant, washing feet, etc.)

    • Thanks for sharing, Stephanie. I totally agree with what you said. We believe that the husband and wife need to submit to each other, for sure. Eric wrote a post about that here: http://wordsofwilliams.com/what-the-bible-says-about-marriage-pt-3/. This post in particular was meant to share more of my personal journey through realizing what submission actually means in my life, and why it’s been so hard for me. We have been married more than five years and it’s just starting to click! How awesome for you and your fiance to realize and discuss this before you marry!

      • Realize and discuss, yes…but I’m sure there will be many years of working on it as well! It’s certainly not easy.

        Btw, just wanted to say to you both as a new reader (got here via Snappy Casual, which I got to via some other style blogs I read), that I’ve really gotten a lot out of your posts about finances and budgeting. The best to you both as you prepare to become parents!

  2. You hit the nail on the head! I heard Beth Moore give the best talk on this subject at Passion 2005 in Nashville. She said she got a picture of it while riding a snow mobile with her husband. She tucked herself behind him and was shielded from all the elements. She also said that submission means “to duck” because the mighty hand of God will come and discipline His children(a reason why as believers it is so important to marry someone who shares your faith). When we feel that we aren’t being treated the way we should and we remain on our knees not just in submission to the other person but to God, He will take care of it. If we choose to instead be prideful and take matters into our own hands, God will discipline us also.

    • I love that! Thanks for sharing. I’m sad to say that I have never done a Beth Moore study or heard her speak. I hope to change that, as I have heard great things!

      • Rachel Bentzinger February 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm

        Kelsey – I am doing a Beth Moore study for the first time…just started in January and it is AMAZING!! I definitely recommend it!

        Thanks for sharing about submission…Chris and I go round and round about this topic a lot. He thinks he has the ultimate decision…it’s hard for me to comprehend that when I don’t agree with a decision that he wants to make.

        • Rachel, I’d be interested to hear more about how this works out for you guys. Do you feel like your opinion is valued? Eric and I don’t actively talk about “submission” very much, and he has never told me that he gets to make the ultimate decision on anything. I think that would be really hard for me to accept!

  3. i need to work on this–i’m a self proclaimed control freak. thanks for sharing :)

  4. Loved this post, something I for sure need to work on. Thanks for your encouraging words!

  5. Too funny! As I was reading this I was thinking about the post that I wrote and considered sharing it in the comment section as an agreement to your points… but then I got to the end and saw your link already. : )

    Thanks and yes, I agree with you! Last night in fact, Mr. Lively read me a new chapter in the Way of the Superior Man which talked about the fact that women sometimes will say they want something and then not really want what they said in the first place. And when the man takes her advice and does what she wants, she is disappointed. Not because she didn’t want what she said she did, but that she wanted him to make the decision that was right for him (as long as it’s not against some principle).

    She really wants him to have the present minded consciousness to make decisions that are good for them both, not always follow her instructions. … it was a bit heady, but deep down it somehow made sense!

  6. Really good post, Kelsey. I think this is a topic that is so difficult to write, because there is just so much that can be said. And, unfortunately, in a lot of relationships, submission is scary because the male counterpart might not be a Christian or even understand their role to love their bride as Christ loved His church. Ultimately, blessing your husband through submission allows him to bless you in abundance. Being selfish toward your husband reaps selfishness in return. Truly, submission and love can only be done by knowing the love of Christ, and I think you and Eric are such a wonderful example.

    • I think your right. Through submission comes humbleness and selflessness on both sides. This is where and why we have seen so much growth in our relationship in the past few months. We both are working on being selfless at the same time, and the rewards are abundant for sure!!

  7. I listened to half of a sermon on my way to work this morning in preparation for our Community Group tonight, and I’ll be listening to the second half on ym way home from work. It’s called “Cultivating a Healthy Marriage,” and it talked about submission in a way I’ve never heard. And, for the first time ever, it made me open to and almost excited for the chance to submit to my husband.

    While I can’t do it justice, I do think it’s worth listening to. Much of the talk of submission reminds us that Jesus was God’s helper and that Jesus, by dying on the cross, submitted to God’s authority. It talks about the strength and beauty that came from that submission and then reminds us that we, as women, are to submit as Jesus did and says we have that same strength and beauty.

    The sermon can be listened to at http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/cultivating-healthy-marriage.

  8. Wow–I just read Love and Respect and now this idea of wives respecting their husbands keeps coming up. I have a lot to learn but I am encouraged to hear that changing my perspective just a few percentage points (50%/50% to 49%/51%) can bring such dramatic positive change to our marriage!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this! This has been very much on my heart lately, but I find myself, those moments where I could do exactly what the bible calls me to do, I get defensive and stubborn. Thank you for sharing your story and being honest.

    Kelsey, the more I read your blogs, the more I feel like we could be twins! Love getting to know your sweet heart!

  10. My heart started to pound when I started to read the first paragraph in “Putting it into Practise”… and that usually means, I’ve comes to discover, it’s something God wants me to meditate on. Wow. Thank you SO much for having the courage to post this. I’ve been reading those words about marriage since I was a teen and even witnessing them in my mother… But until you “get it” or learn the practical side of it, they’re really just words, aren’t they?

    These words are slowly starting to sink into this heart of mine though… And now that I even have a clearer picture of how to put it into practise, I think these words on marriage in the Bible will become even dearer to me.

    I am so excited to be intentional about what I am learning! :)

    Thanks again Kelsey.. really enjoyed this post!
    Cheers, Jessica
    (twitter: @J_Lynne83)

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Jessica. I wrote this post over a month ago and haven’t wanted to post it for fear of negative reaction…so I really appreciate it!

  11. Thanks for sharing your heart. This is an area, I must admit, where I have some fear. I’m a single 31yo, and out of necessity I’ve had to learn independence. And I was a bossy kid too. Put them together, and you’ve got a girl who is always struggling to know what it looks like to submit to God – and who realizes that if/when I do get married some day, I’m going to have my work cut out for me. I’m praying for the two of you as you explore this realm of your marriage.

  12. Hey, Kelsey. I apprecaite your growth and your sharing that with others. And my comment certainly does not come from a place of judgement but I could not agree with you less. I agree that it sounds like at the beginning of your marriage there was not a healthy balance, but it didn’t sound like just a lack of submitting… it sounded like a lack of respect. That sounds harsh, but I think you explained that about yourself with regard to ultimately thinking you had the best idea or way. And I also think that some women and men simply do not wish to hold equal power with their partners and so prefer a balance, or lack there of, of 51/49 or whatever percentage they’d like to imagine. I just have a massive issue with this being presented as a biblical concept. God, being neither male nor female, but rather God, created us equal and both sexes were formed in God’s image from God’s very own breath. I see no scriptural support for female “submission” in terms of a lesser percentage of power unless you take some verses that were set in a very specific culture and time out of context and attempt to apply them to our culture and time without modification or consideration (which we love to do with so many verses, and wouldn’t dare consider doing with so many others). It was obvious that in biblical times women were the weaker, lesser sex… but thank goodness, times have changed and we need not support nor perpetuate this ancient and excessively harmful way of thinking at the present. I’d like to see all the mama’s of little girls look at their daughters and say, “Now remember, when you’re at school the little boys are to hold just a little more power than you, so listen to them.” Or to their teenage daughters to submit to their teenage boyfriends ultimately as men were made to hold just slightly more influence over us than we them. I know I’m suggesting poor circumstances but if you actually support this model and suggest it biblical then I don’t see what it gets to hold the caveat, “Oh it’s only for when the man is doing his job and is an adult, godly man.” And if that were the case then it would be us, once again actually holding more cards and “giving” them the extra little power once they met our standards of being given such respect.

    It is just such a messy messy way of thinking. And fine, if that works for your marriage, so be it. But goodness does it infuriate me when I hear it presented as something Christian women should learn and grow into and do, as good, godly women and wives. I submit to my husband, he equally submits to me.

    And let me add, when I met Russ I believed in the model you described above (as I did grow up in the South and became a Christian there) and it took years of my husband insisting otherwise and slowly, patiently, teaching me that while he would put me in a boat before him or give me the only life vest available on a sinking ship out of love, he wouldn’t dare allow me to think of myself as holding less power within our marriage and relationship simply became I am female and he is male. And for this, I will forever thank him. A truly godly man will insist on our equality and encourage proper, equal submission, love and respect.

    • thanks, kristy. a lot of what you’ve said makes sense to me. i definitely think you’re right that i didn’t respect eric early in our marriage. studying love & respect by dr. eggerichs has changed my heart on this and it has helped our marriage so much.

      men and women are definitely equal and not one is more valuable than the other in the eyes of God. but we have different responsibilities, which were given to us from God. woman was made from man, to be his helper.

      submission in the Bible is for husbands and wives within the context of marriage…not for relationships outside those boundaries (boys/girls at school or within romantic teenage relationships).

      eric is called to be the spiritual leader of our household and that requires submission to him on my part, in that area. i’d love to hear more of your thoughts on what submission means to you, in your marriage.

    • It is very interesting to read about the journey that Kelsey and Eric have taken in their marriage and how that is related to their faith, and interesting to read your perspective on finding a different sort of balance with your husband Kristy.

      Kristy, your point about women being the weaker, lesser sex in biblical times is an important one in my mind. It is very important to consider the context in which the bible was written.

      This was a time when women were literally the property of their husbands, on a level with cattles and land. Submission to their husbands as a religious position was wise because there was really no option on that issue, and making peace with the reality of your situation is one of the key components of happiness espoused by most major faiths.

      In the same way, requiring men to love their wives as Christ serves the Church was also wise counsel, in a context where men had literal absolute power over their wives. For Christ to counsel compassion and love and servitude of their wives to men in that position, while absolutely revolutionary, was also absolutely necessary.

      And it is for that reason that when I was a Christian (and I will admit, I am not, but I was a biblical scholar), I believed that in the context of our world today, it seems that likely Christ would push even further forward towards total equality for women. A leader with ideas that revolutionary in his time I believe would continue to push boundaries in ours.

      I do want to say also Kelsey, that I think it is wonderful how thoughtful and respectful of your marriage that you and Eric are, and that even though I don’t belong to your faith, I admire the way that you draw on it to enrich your lives.

  13. Great post! I loved reading your perspective and am glad that Eric is also sharing about how he leads well.

    I’ve been learning (and re-learning) how much I really like to be in charge and in control, especially within our marriage and when I really try to look at that, I see how ugly it is! It’s totally NOT what God had planned for marriage. My husband will weigh options, and I’m more quickly decisive, so it feels like it’s even worse! I’m having to learn to be patient while he thinks things though.

    I recently saw this concept in action as my husband was offered a job that I just didn’t agree with as being best for our family at this time. I expressed my opinion, told him I trusted him to make a good decision, and then, instead of voicing my anxiety, I would pray whenever I felt like I needed to say something to my husband. He wound up not taking the job, but it wasn’t because I nagged or manipulated him, but because he weighed the decision.

    • I love what you said about praying instead of worrying and trying to control. That can apply to so many areas of my life and there is definitely lots of room for improvement over here!

  14. I love your willingness to speak out about this topic. However I cannot seem to get past Dr. Eggeriches percentage of 51% and 49%. On this point I disagree. Women was created from man’s rib. This is very significant. Men and women are to stand side by side as equal partners. One is not ahead of the other even by a small percentage. The difference is their responsibilities.

    “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” (from The Family: A Proclamation to the World: http://lds.org/family/proclamation?lang=eng)

  15. I like this post a lot. I love how you prefaced the post by explaining you grew up in the “girl power” era. I did to, sister, and man, that is HARD to overcome. Thanks for pouring out your heart (as always) and backing it up by scripture and insights from your marriage conference. :)

  16. i, too, have to respectfully disagree on the 51/49 concept. i absolutely love, honor, and respect my husband (and he, me), but neither of us in this relationship hold more power than the other, not even a fraction of a percent. if we disagree on an issue, we simply don’t make a decision. we’ll walk away, consider the other’s perspective, and continue discussing at a later time.

    i think it is wrong to tell wives that they should submit to their husbands even if he isn’t loving her (like Christ loves the church), because we’re effectively telling them to lay down and be a doormat. the concept only works if the husband is giving of himself, loving, honoring, and cherishing his wife. she should be a Christ-like example to her husband and always be praying for him, but in our imperfect world, we have to be very careful lest we suggest that women submit when they are being dishonored and taken advantage of in their marriages.

    • Definitively agree with your second paragraph. Again, this only works if both spouses are on the same wave length. This post is simply Kelsey’s perspective on how it has changed our marriage. While it’s what we believe (because it’s in the Bible), it applies to marriages where both parties understand the concept fully. We struggled spiritually for the first few years because I was not stepping up to the plate as a man. That was my fault. Kelsey took over and it caused a control issue in our marriage. As we both because to serve each other rather than ourselves, our eyes were opened and our hearts were filled with true love the way Christ meant it.

  17. Hey Kelsey! I wanted to write a comment, but realized it would be too long… So I wrote a blog about it. I disagree with your view on submission, both biblically and as a feminist, but I hope you or Eric will read my response and respond in some way. :) I mean all of this with love and respect! PPL&M <3

    http://madiemoo-nonsensical.blogspot.com/2012/01/gender-roles-and-marriage-response-to-s.html

    • Hi Madie, I read your post and appreciate you sharing your thoughts. The main takeaway I wanted to share in my original post is that I grew up with incorrect views (thinking women were better than men) and am finally working through them. And it has drastically helped our marriage.

      And mostly what I learned from the responses is that the word “submit” is very touchy for people and quite possibly misunderstood.

      I have to disagree with you on at least one point: I do believe that God wants us to serve our spouses. Jesus was a servant and I believe that we are to treat others as He treated us.

  18. I’m proud of you for posting this and being open about your perspective. This is something I’ve always struggled with and continue to do so. You and Eric and Baby Williams will be in my prayers.

  19. A wonderful blog!! I agree. I have learned the meaning of this word and am still on my journey of learning! I used to think very much like you did (a woman could control & have power), and thankfully the Lord corrected me. I am so thankful that I have learned submission is actually a WONDERFUL thing in marriage and not a horrible word. I still have a ways to go… A friend and I remind each other every so often to read 1 Peter 3. I recommend reading it whenever you feel you are struggling communicating with your husband.

  20. this is a great post. thank you for the reminder. it’s so hard to do, but i know our marriage is so much better when i stop trying to control!

  21. I am having similar struggles in my marriage because I just won’t let go. And then I ask my husband to be the head of the family, etc., but why should he do that when I’m making all the decisions anyway? It’s so tough.

    I feel like for me I had to let go of the word submission and focus instead on promoting my husband’s needs. He needs (and deserves) for me to treat him with respect and in a way that shows him that I value his masculinity and abilities. I need to respect his need to experience physical touch (his primary love language) and to honor his desires when it comes to our family’s path. I’m not always good at either of those things. But similarly he needs to respect my role as a mother and to value my own needs for private time.

    And together we need to figure out the best path forward for our family. If either of us sees weaknesses, we need to voice those in a non-hurtful manner and NOT at a time when we are already having a discussion about something else.

    Anyway, lots to work on. And sadly, for us, it got tougher once we had our baby. Less time together for reflection, more sleepless nights, and lots of opportunities for me to tell him he was doing something wrong (here wrong generally meant “not the way I would do it” and not actually wrong).

    Anyway, just my thoughts. Best of luck to you and all the commenters as they figure out how this all fits into their own life.

  22. It is so difficult to write posts that share our beliefs on touchy subjects, especially because they are often things that are very close to our hearts. I really respect you for doing that with this post, Kelsey — it takes so much courage! Kudos. =)

  23. Very interesting and brave post! While I am not religious myself, I’d be very interested in the Christian perspective on working on a spouse’s apathy for being informed. When I/we have a decision to make, I look to evidence based research and let that form my opinion, with which I am then tenacious. My husband, however, isn’t a researcher. He’s a “call-and-ask-my-friend/cousin/sibling-who-may-or-may-not-have-relevant-advice” person. This is typically sufficient for him and I have a hard time getting him to even read the things that led me to my opinion. Even if he then still disagreed with me, I would have respect for that opinion as an informed one. Thoughts?

    • When we have a decision to make, we look to God, our gut feelings and trusted sources. Do you have a specific example or decision? I’m assuming you mean a big decision? Maybe Eric should answer this one! Ha. He is much more of an information seeker than I. Although I would say I’m more of a researcher than you describe your husband to be…

  24. Just wanted to say thank you for posting this! Recently God has really been changing me and this is one of the things I didn’t even consider, upon reading this post it really rung true to me that I can be quite a bossy boots and forget to ask others (particularly my fiancés opinion)so when I told my fiancé about this post and what it had meant to me he instantly told me about a verse he had been reminded of and a comment of a friend on the subject just very recently! So thank you for posting this, it was really something I know I needed to read.
    God Bless!

  25. Love. Have you all ever been to see Mark Gungor’s Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage? http://www.laughyourway.com/ He talks about this in his seminar and we loved it!

  26. I don’t have time to go into detail but I do agree with much of what you say but I don’t agree with the husband holding 51% while the wife holds 49%. The command to the husband to love his wife as Christ did the church has just as much meaning as the command to submit. Maybe even more. My husband would never suggest that what he wants is just slightly more important than what I want. We work on things until we come to an agreement. We have been married for more than 29 years and have never had a so called final say moment. I would never insist upon my own way because I love and respect him and he would never insist upon his own way because he loves and respects me. My husband also does not believe that his way is always more right or superior. In order to hold to the idea that he should have 51% of the power(final say) would require him to think of himself as intellectually and morally superior. He uses his leadership to get us to a point of agreement. Anything less he views as selfish. So do I.

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