Submission - How Does It Work?
"Wives, submit yourselves unto our own husbands." Colossians 3:18
I was newly married and now, for the first time, this verse applied to me. The only question was; what did it really mean to submit? I asked my husband, Paul, and he told me not to worry about it, that I was doing just fine. I concluded that submission to my husband was essentially something I would have to work out in my own heart between God and me.
If there is something specific that Paul, my husband, asks me to do or not do, I have always felt I should do as he wishes. But in other issues submission is less clear-cut. Over the years, submitting to my husband became a four-step process for me. If there is an issue we can’t seem to resolve, or if there is a decision to be made, or if Paul is doing something I don’t like, I try to follow these four steps:
1. Tell him exactly how I felt, one time.
Some people equate total silence with submission. This is wrong. God put me into my husband’s life to balance him. Often I will see sides of an issue that he would never see on his own. God sometimes shows me truths that he does not reveal to Paul. That is why I need to clearly tell him these things. Sometimes I think that surely anyone with two eyes could tell how I feel about this issue, but still I need to clearly tell him in words.
I remember a time I equated silence with submission - with unfortunate results. We were living in northern Ontario, and Paul was building a canoe in his spare time. During this time we flew to Oregon for my brother’s wedding. Paul got the bright idea to buy the fiberglass resin for his canoe while we were in Oregon because it was so much cheaper there. Fiberglass resin is stuff that looks like corn syrup and has a terrible, overpowering odor. I was very uneasy about taking it on a plane, because I thought I had read on the ticket that we were not supposed to transport any hazardous chemicals in our luggage. "Oh, well," I finally decided, "Surely hubby knows best. I’ll just be submissive for a change and not say anything." So the fiberglass resin was put in a box and on the plane. Unfortunately, our luggage missed a connection and was sent to the wrong city.
While it was there, the resin began to leak a little bit. The airline personnel smelled it and refused to send it on. After considerable bother we finally convinced them that we had no sinister purposes for it and we got it back six weeks later. We agreed that I should have told Paul about my misgivings. A year later we happened to be in the airport again and noticed a sign announcing that passengers can be fined up to $10,000 for transporting hazardous materials.
2. Be quiet.
That’s it. Be quiet. I have told him clearly how I feel, and now I need to be quiet. You would think such a simple step wouldn’t be so profoundly difficult. My tendency is to talk and talk and TALK, and it takes all my willpower, plus lots of help from above to simply BE QUIET. Paul and I are wired differently. I like to talk until a decision is reached. He likes to have hours or days to think things over.
3. Pray about it.
I cannot imagine trying to solve some of these dilemmas in our marriage simply with our own techniques. We need God’s hand in every situation. There is something about this three-step process of saying how I feel, being quiet, and praying that frees the Holy Spirit to work. Sometimes he gives me grace to accept a situation that won’t change. Sometimes He changes Paul. Often, He brings solutions that neither of us could have thought of on our own.
4. Watch God work.
This is the fun part! It is simply astonishing what God can do when I do my part in obeying what He asks me to do. With Paul’s permission, I share the following examples. Paul has a mind that concentrates on exactly one thing at a time. I found it very upsetting, early in our marriage, when I would drop in on him at school and he, intent with teaching, would hardly acknowledge my presence. Not that I expected him to drop everything to talk to me; all I wanted was a "hello, how are you?" I explained to him how I felt and he said he would work on it.
One day I went to the school office between classes to run some errands. Paul walked right by me three times as I made photocopies and delivered mail, but he never said a word to me. I went home feeling very sorry for myself. What should I do? I had already told him how I felt. So I prayed. I asked God to help me change if I was simply being too sensitive, and I asked Him to convict Paul if he was in the wrong. It was hard, but I resolved to act as if nothing had happened, not mention a word about he had ignored me, and let God handle it.
A couple of hours later Paul came home for lunch. Apparently the Holy Spirit had done His work because Paul wasn’t even in the door before he was apologizing for how he had ignored me in the office. Since then he has become more sensitive to my needs, and I have become more accepting of his single-mindedness.
There was the time I felt like the children were getting old enough for a more structured time of family worship. I mentioned it to Paul, who listened but wasn’t sure he agreed. I kept quiet and prayed. A month or two later, Paul said thoughtfully, "You know, I’ve been thinking that the children are getting old enough to benefit from structured family devotions." I just smiled. I think God did too.
I have seen this method work with making Paul aware of things that needed to be done around the house, and of needs that the children had that were not being met. It has helped him to meet my needs without feeling resentful, and it has helped me to accept the things about him that will probably never change.
I don’t want to sound like these steps are manipulative devices to get my own way. There are many times when things don’t turn out like I would prefer. The fact that I can’t think of any examples right now is testimony to the fact that God has helped me be at peace about these issues instead of letting them fester.
My sister’s husband, Rod, is an active sort of man who loved to roughhouse with their little son. "Rod! Be careful! Watch out! You’ll hurt him! BE CAREFUL!" Becky would exclaim as little Jason flew high up in the air before Rod caught him or missed sharp corners by inches as Rod swung him by his feet. Finally Becky realized that all her warnings were not only driving a wedge into their marriage, but were not making the slightest change in Rod. She vowed before the Lord that the words, "Be careful" would never pass her lips again, and that she would entrust Jason’s safety to Him. She has kept her promise, and while she doesn’t enjoy the roughhousing, God has given her peace about it. Rod continues to play wildly with Jason and his two little brothers, who love every minute of it, and who have never had a serious injury because of it.
Having written this, I will no doubt face a serious conflict with Paul in the next week to see if I really meant what I said. May God give me the grace to submit: to say what I’m thinking – one time only; to be quiet; to pray; and to watch Him work miracles!
Harrisburg, Oregon, USA
Paul and Dorcas have five gifts from the Lord – Matthew 14, Amy 11, Emily 9, Benjamin 6 and Jennifer Anne born April 1999.