Anyone who knows me in person will know that I continuously and explicitly submit to my husband. I respect his word over my own, and if there is ever a moment he tells me not to go in a specific direction, I submit to his authority. This is easy for me, because I followed the advice my mama gave me: “Be careful who you marry. Make sure the man you link yourself with for the rest of your life is one whom you can respect, and one who will respect you and the life God has called you to live.” Before I ever tied the knot with James, I dated…a lot! I was not a promiscuous girl, and I was by no means a “player,” but it ended up taking a lot of time and many relationships before I knew myself well enough to know what I needed for me. A common problem with the concept of women as the “submitters” is that a young woman can easily be misled into thinking that the man she is dating at the time is more in touch with God than she is, so when he pops the question—sometimes dropping a line that infers God has given him the green light on their union—she believes it is her place to accept. Add to this all those flittery and glowing “feelings” of a romantic relationship, and these girls are also led by their “hearts,” which sounds like a beautiful thing until they realize that being led by the “heart” is not truly the same thing as being led by their impulsive “feelings” or “emotions.”
Being “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14) is a notion that has been preached about for so long and so heavily that it has lost some of its potency. A yoke is a wooden bar that joins two oxen and supports the weight of the load they pull. If one ox is large, strong, and muscular while the other is small and weak, the larger one is constantly moving ahead of the smaller one, slowing down the journey. In an extreme situation, if the smaller ox is either so weak it won’t walk at all, or if it is belligerent and stands still, the larger ox will be resigned to walking around in circles or dragging the smaller ox where it does not want to go. When Paul wrote of this scenario with a spiritual application, he was warning that we do not bind ourselves in marriage to a weak or stubborn mate who will later place us in the position of spiritually walking around him in circles perpetually or force him to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go (coercing him to attend church, begging him to accept Christ—and settling for a half-hearted and insincere “conversion sinner’s prayer” said only to hush the spouse’s persistence). Whereas God is almighty in power and can make one spouse strong and willing to walk in the same direction as the other, it is unwise to proceed in a relationship with the idea that God will “fix him or her later.” This principle is true for both men and women. If you are not yet married and are still considering all those proverbial fish in the sea, make this warning a priority as you go. However, do not limit this verse to refer to spiritual passion or a belief in Christ. There is also the matter of direction. For anyone still single, this is perhaps the most important aspect of choosing a mate, just under their zeal for the Lord.
I dated many godly men who sought God and His approval before they pursued me or my approval. As we went out to various events, I always had a strange gut feeling that although they were equal to me in fervor (in fact, several of them were far more mature than I was at the time, spiritually speaking), the direction they were headed was different. I took the yoke warning seriously, knowing that even if both of us were large, strong, muscular oxen who believed wholeheartedly in Christ and wished to please Him with our lives, we would both be met with delay in our calling if we weren’t headed in the same direction on the road of life. Submission, then, might actually become a means of relationship disintegration instead of a pleasant mutual show of respect and admiration: If he felt called one way and I the other, both of us evenly convinced of our calling, and yet both of us evenly submissive to the other (as per Ephesians 5:21), then who submits to the other—the wife to the husband or the husband to the wife? One has to submit, and as I am the female, it was even more important for me to avoid this situation as the verses about wives submitting to their husbands are heavily abused.
As such, I made sure that the way I advertised myself was in every way true to who I was, even before I really knew who that person was. It started with physical appearance, because the depth of the “real me” as a wife—the woman I had no experience in knowing yet—was obscured in naivety until I had interacted enough with young men to know my own strengths.
I remember the average first date: I would put on makeup, wear some chic thing from my closet, do my hair up with a bunch of chemicals and sprays, and perfume myself—the reasoning for this preparation up front instead of later was because I didn’t want to bombard my dates with the idea that I was a slob who couldn’t “act the part” when I was required to care about my appearance. Then, after the “you look nice” compliment, I knew I had an open door to describe who I normally was. I would sweetly accept the kind words, and then explain that, yes, the “makeup” version of Donna was my best face forward, and I wanted them to see I was capable of this and would return to it if ever a situation called for it, but that the “real me” was one who almost refused to “doll up” for any reason whatsoever, save for extremely special occasions. The “real me,” I often explained, was a heavyset, redheaded tomboy who preferred to live, eat, and dress comfortably. I wasn’t a slob, but I wasn’t Donna Reed either, and I was going to make sure that precedent had been set. If we were to go on another date, these young men needed to be prepared to see a girl with fresh skin, a T-shirt, pajama pants, and sneakers who cared about health, but didn’t obsessively count calories. Some might assume that such an explanation would discourage a suitor, but I assure you, it did the opposite. I knew who I was (when it came to the whole “delicate lady” routine), and I was determined to be real. I didn’t believe in drawing a man in with eyeliner and mascara and then being accused of “letting the gut hang out” after the vows.
One after another, I watched as this approach got reactions such as: “Finally! A girl I can take out to pizza!”; “You mean you aren’t going to always be twenty minutes late because of your eyeshadow? Awesome…”; “Fine by me. I’d rather you be real from the beginning than entice me with a physical appearance you don’t plan to maintain.” It surprised me that so many young men were actually more interested in me once they knew I had zero plans to impress them. It made me more independent because I didn’t rely on their positive opinions of my appearance, which also made their pursuit more intriguing. Right away, I was not the “clingy girl” they attempted to avoid.
On the second date, and most thereafter, I would go along just as promised: no makeup, no big hairdo, no heels, no perfume, nothing dazzling. Just me, myself, and I, in the cozy way I carried myself on a daily basis. As a redhead, my eyelashes and eyebrows are almost exactly the same color as my skin, so they “disappear” if I’m not wearing makeup. The change from “dolled up” Donna to “natural” Donna has always been a dramatic one indeed (and it’s a changeover that many women will never understand; a brunette or blonde still “has” eyebrows and eyelashes even when they’re not enhanced, but some redheads like myself look as if we’ve shaved them off entirely because they blend in with the complexion). Again and again, this bold move proved to increase a young man’s interest in me. I was what I was, take it or leave it.
Only twice, this was the point when I was dropped. Ryan and Isaac. Both were disenchanted with the idea of me as a mate when the face I was born with was the face that greeted them at the door. When their interest fizzled, I considered it a relief that their true feelings were revealed. Both of these young men were solidly God-fearing, but to them, a woman’s brain came second to her face, and I knew that as a Christian girl I was always vulnerable to becoming some man’s arm-candy if I wasn’t careful—and that was a deep fear from the beginning.
It wasn’t that I was playing mind games or attempting to pull a switcheroo on anyone. I had even warned my dates that I would be appearing in subsequent outings au naturel. I was just disgusted with the dating game as I saw it play out amidst my peers, and I was always anxious to have the already awkward “what’s your favorite movie” routine over with so we could get to the real meat of this “getting to know you” game—which, for me, involved knowing not what they wanted in a woman as much as what they expected from her: I couldn’t be what they wanted if I could never live up to what they expected, so that always had to be figured out first. I had grown up in church, and I had seen the way some women were pressured to present themselves perfectly on the outside, participate in every bake sale, make crafts for each fundraiser, attend all social functions, organize potlucks, raise amazing children, and cook delicious meals for their husbands (meals they couldn’t possibly indulge in themselves lest they put on a little extra girth around the middle). It was a stifling life for some of these women, who appeared perfect on the outside but who were unfulfilled and secretly lost on the inside, and I wanted no part of that life for myself or my future husband or children.
THEOLOGIAN: JESUS HIMSELF STARTED THE FIRST WOMEN’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT
One of my closest older friends once told me while I was in my teens: “Don’t be in a hurry, Donna. Know who you really are and what you really want before you promise your life to someone. You’ll regret it all your days if you do what I did and tie the knot before you’ve worked all that out.” I took her advice to heart (thank goodness!), but the problem was, I didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t know how to “work that out.” I was a teenager with a hearty laugh and an aggressively independent spirit, but how would that transfer into womanhood?
Looking back, I can see that all the strange quirks of my true nature—the personality that God instilled within me—were manifesting in this “no makeup” creed. It would have been difficult to find a way of announcing that I didn’t want to be the same kind of wife as some of those I had observed around me in church on a first date, so my psyche took that anxiety and channeled it into a stance on physical appearance. If I didn’t look like “wifey,” I was distanced from “wifey” even on some subliminal level.
Then, one night at youth group, I heard the pastor’s son, Brandon (he was about seventeen years old, and single at the time), sharing his opinion about what “real men” ought to be in a casual conversation before service started: “Where has our chivalry gone? Is this how we practice acting like men? We see a pretty face, experience a biological reaction, date her until we find out the pretty face didn’t come with all the features we want, and then we dump her for the next one in line?” I don’t know what he had recently gone through or witnessed to make him explode like this, because usually if Brandon was going to explode, it would be with smiles and side hugs. On this occasion, he was outraged. Others around me were shocked as well, and even the youth pastor looked over to listen to the impromptu mini-sermon that had begun:
Young men, you are never going to find the godly woman that you dream about unless you become the man they dream about. Don’t just talk to girls, learn them. Get a feel for what God has called them to do. Ask them about their ministry ideas. It’s not all about you, bros! It’s also about her! The kind of support your future wife will give to you will depend on the calling God has given her first. We have to let go of this concept that we, the men, are the only ones God speaks to while our wives follow us around having babies. Don’t just date to see how well they fit you, date to see how well your skills fit them. No, they are not better than you, and they are not more in touch with God than you, but you must stop thinking you’re their superior.
If you’re truly and sincerely a real man, you’re not going to play the dating game with the idea that you’re out there to find a leaf that will blow in your own wind. You will care deeply about their passions and opinions, and below all those hormonal or butterflies-in-the-stomach reactions, you will want to protect her and support her. You will want to make sure no harm ever falls upon her. You will look at this gentle, feminine face and your thoughts will be for her well-being, not your future marital bed and the skirt attached to your arm. That’s how we practice being real men, bros.
It hadn’t occurred to me until I heard this guy going on and on about a “real man” that I had been overlooking chivalry as a crucial factor in a relationship. Mind you, I’m not talking about a man opening a door for a woman, putting down his coat out over puddles so her heels don’t get muddy, stooping down to retrieve her dropped handkerchief, or even earning a lot of money so he can buy her diamonds and fancy gifts. All those classical concepts of chivalry are romantic and beautiful, but any man can do these things and still have wrong intentions—and Brandon’s outburst covered that as well. I’m talking about chivalry of heart.
A “real man” enters a relationship with a priority of protecting and providing for a woman what he can provide within his own means. A “real man” appreciates a woman’s chastity and purity, never intending to defile her. A “real man” understands that any woman he marries is going to have a call upon her life that is unique to her, and he will endeavor to support her in that process. A “real man” cares for a woman’s well-being and happiness over his own.
And a “real woman” would do the same on all these counts for her man.
What an exquisite example of the relationship God intended us to have!
As obvious as that should have been for me, I had been so busy making my own statements of independence (often making the first move, paying for meals, opening the door for men, wearing sneakers, and doing anything I could to distance myself from the “weak female” label), that it never occurred to me how important it was to let myself be a lady and let my date be the gentleman. I was so busy trying to exert myself as an equal that I was acting as if I thought I were identical. Instilled within me, deeply to the point that I didn’t recognize it well enough to uproot it, had been this concept that I was only dating men to show them what I could offer for their future. After all my efforts to avoid being one of the women whom I had seen struggle in their wifely role, I had inadvertently picked up the idea that dating was my audition for them, instead of a mutual experience.
I was a child of the Church. I was slated to be the “submissive wife” for my time here on earth, and that biblical principle had been so distorted that even the teenage boys in my youth group had grown to believe they were superior to me, even though I wasn’t in the lineup for becoming their future spouse. The thought of being trapped in a marriage that didn’t honor the authentic relationship God designed terrified me, but I wasn’t cognitively aware that this was my deepest fear.
Had these young men gone on dates with me because they valued my mind, my desires, and my true calling?
That’s when it dawned on me. I wasn’t finding a real man, because I hadn’t been looking for a real man. I was going to movies and eating pizza and playing a “dating game.” But what did a real man look like on the outside? How would I know when I had found one?
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
WAIT… A WOMAN PREACHING IN A CHRISTIAN CHURCH… WHAT DOES GOD THINK ABOUT THAT?!
All those years when I had prioritized being the “natural Donna” were not lost. (Many women—who would never dream of leaving their house without their makeup on or until they lose five more pounds—have told me that my honest self-acceptance of appearing on TV and behind pulpits without a stitch of makeup and comfortable in my own one-hundred-eighty-plus-pound body has inspired them to love and accept themselves just the way God made them.) These experiences played a huge role in developing me for my marriage with James. Many other dates occurred before James, but when that relationship came along, I recognized something refreshing…
I’ll never forget the early days. I went on my first real date as usual: makeup, hairdo, chic clothing, and so on at a nice dinner place near home. When James complimented me, I made sure he knew this was only one side of me, to which he responded positively. The restaurant had live music and a patio where we talked for hours about life, religion, philosophy, and our own feelings and beliefs on all those subjects. I wanted to know what was in his mind more than I wanted to know anything else about him, since I already knew he was a man of faith, and I was encouraged when he repeatedly began each conversation segue with, “What are your thoughts on [fill in the blank]?” You mean there was really a guy out there who cared what I thought about something? There was a man who valued a woman’s opinion? Some man other than my dad? It wasn’t until James started asking about my take on things that I realized how infrequently I had heard those questions from other men.
Our second date was breakfast at the Village Inn. We met at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning. My hair was in a messy bun, and I was wearing pajama pants, flip-flops, and a red T-shirt. Again, we talked of many deep things, and he didn’t treat me any differently than he had when I had been in the “dolled up” version of myself. On our third date, when the subject of women’s rights and religious leadership came up, I made sure he knew that was an essential factor from the start: I didn’t know what my calling was yet, but I needed to insist that when I figured it out, I would be allowed to fulfill that role; that needed to be said before I got serious with anyone. His answer was balanced, and it showed a lot about him as a person. Additionally, it became what I now believe should be the stance of any Christian man considering a wife: James said he would not allow himself to become a slave to any woman, because he had his own direction in life, but he would remain devoted to supporting a woman in any role she believed God gave her, even when that support required attention or action from him. He didn’t believe that it was his place to continually assess or assert himself over a woman’s role or calling, but if he should ever marry, he believed a gentle criticism along the way may be required from him to her, and he hoped to find himself an open-minded woman who showed a willingness to grow—and who didn’t believe she had the answers to everything. Why would any woman want to yoke herself to a man in the first place if she only needed him for cuddling? If that were the case, a woman could buy a cat, James said, but any person entering into a marital relationship needs to do so with the understanding that growth is mutual, marriage is interdependent, and the whole purpose of the sacred union is, through joining into one, to become better individuals in the process. That puts both husband and wife in the position to accept gentle critiques from one another. Furthermore, he said, he believed that women could do anything men could do, but women should never attempt to take over or dominate men in the process; nor should a man attempt to rule over his woman, because it’s simply not the ideal relationship that God designed.
Wow! So that’s what a “real man” looked like…
James was quickly earning my trust. He respected me, treated me like a gem, cared more about my mind than my mascara—and above all, he truly cared about my happiness and God-given calling upon my life. Whether he would have used the words of Paul at the time or not, James was aware that women are the “glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7).
We had other dates, certainly, but this conversation was the one that did it for me. I assure you that I did not tell him at this time, but I knew in this moment that James would be my husband. I knew this because I had trusted the Lord to bring me someone who would complement my life, including my own future role in ministry, whilst also expecting the same from me. I knew James wouldn’t let me become a domineering female (which hadn’t been my goal anyway, but I have a strong personality and I am human, so that was a possibility in the wrong relationship), yet he had no plans to rule over me like a king to a servant. He didn’t just love me, he liked who I was and wanted to be a part of making me better—and I felt the same way toward him. Neither of us knew what the future held, but it wasn’t long before he casually told me he would be honored if I would be his wife, and the rest is history.
Since the day I married James, we have locked horns occasionally, but overall, we have had a loving, mutual respect and submission to each other. I obey him always, but that should not be taken to mean that there is always a rule I must obey. For instance, James does not want me to travel alone, for safety purposes. He wants me to be protected, so if I go out of state, he wants me to have an appropriate travel partner. This is his role, as a husband, to see to the protection of his wife, and the Holy Spirit is guiding him to do so. Therefore, to respect and submit to his wishes in this area is to show respect, submission, and obedience to God, who gave me this man as provision.
However, the reason I can go forward in obedience to my husband so comfortably is because we established from the beginning what that obedience was going to look like. Had he said on our third date that his woman must “obey” by always baking him cookies and keeping the house clean, I wouldn’t have married him in the first place. As for missed travel opportunities, I have put that in God’s hands. I believe that it is God, Himself, steering James’ provision over me. If someone wants me to go to California for a television interview, God will either provide me a traveling companion, or He will not…and if He doesn’t, I trust that it wasn’t an interview He wanted me to carry out anyway.
If you are still single, be sure to talk at length with your potential spouse about what “obedience” and “submission” look like in a marriage. It is crucial to discuss that deeply and with mutual respect, so that when an issue comes up you didn’t plan for (such as traveling alone), the subject can be addressed in a way that benefits both husband and wife. Therefore, after the act of submission (in this case, myself submitting to James), both the husband’s and the wife’s prayers can go up together in a way that strengthens them even more and proves even greater reliance upon God (in this case, we pray that God provides a traveling companion if I am supposed to travel out of state).
By now, you might be wondering if I, too, have asked for my husband to submit to me at times. As a matter of fact, I have, and he respects me in those occasions very well. For instance, when he and I are having a conversation, I ask that we ignore our cellphones, because I don’t like talking to someone who is staring at an electronic device any more than a husband would like to talk to the back of his wife’s head. The dinner table, where our two children eat with us and hold a Bible study every night, is a no-cellphone zone, unless there is a justifiable reason to have it present (such as when my brother’s wife was expected to go into labor any moment last year). There are certain conversations that I don’t want to have around our kids until they’re older, because little mouths may repeat certain words in the wrong context elsewhere, so when James wants to have a more mature conversation (such as the promiscuity or gender-bending in our nations’ youth circles, political opinions we hold regarding our former president, etc.), he has agreed to wait until we’re alone. I have asked that James not teach my children about a few aspects of Hell just yet, because both of them are still at the “nightmares” phase of life, and he has agreed to wait. If I ever have a gut feeling or what I perceive to be a word from the Lord, I expect that to be taken seriously, and it always is. All these “rules” could have been given to me, and I would have respected them as well.
But most of the time, our “rules” for each other are mutual: Neither of us goes anywhere alone with a member of the opposite sex; neither of us spends an unusually large sum of money without checking with the other; neither of us commits to host an event at our house without checking with the other; neither of us obligates the other to attend a social function without checking with the other; and so on. Probably 90 percent of our “submission rules” apply to both of us equally, and none requires subservience or the acknowledgment of superiority/inferiority.
I submit to my husband freely, of my own will, and he submits to me freely, of his own will, on topics ranging from vocabulary words all the way to intimacy. By this, we are holding high the biblical standards:
- “Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife” (1 Corinthians 7:2–4).
- “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.… For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.… [Note that if the two become one, as Paul states here, one is not “over” the other, because they are “one unit” together.] Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:21–33).
- A godly man must be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Timothy 3:4), while a godly woman must “guide the house [and] give no occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Timothy 5:14).
I couldn’t be luckier or happier in my marriage. And yes, it is a relationship that God put together, but it also required—on my part as well as that of James—to understand what we needed as individuals and what we were looking for in a mate well before we committed to someone in this life.
We see each other as a life mate God has given each of us to sharpen one other as individuals, and thus to His service. If God gives someone the gift of a spouse, He intends for that person to take care of that gift.
For those who are already in a marital relationship whose spouse may not be as respectful toward them as James is toward me, all hope is not lost. A truthful, open-minded study of these biblical passages has the power to restore a marriage to the union that God designed. If two people love God and each other so much that they place their own feelings aside for the other, then when a disagreement comes along, a sound answer can be found through love, support, and submission from both spouses. It is a recipe of restoration that ends without anyone ever having to “have the last word”—as long as it can be appropriately and practically applied. A wife should pray that God will help her want to go along with her husband’s wishes; a husband should pray that God will help him want to go along with his wife’s wishes; and both should pray for God to reveal His will in the matter, because, regardless of whatever each partner wants, His way is the best.
If two marriage partners are equally yoked, they will be attached to the same load, and heading the same direction.
This is my personal story, and the application that can be gleaned from sharing it. As a wrap-up of this section, I will share that I still don’t wear makeup unless I absolutely must, I still wear whatever is comfortable, I still prefer an intellectual conversation (especially regarding exegesis and Scripture) over most other activities, I still require a substantial amount of alone time, and I have become the grown-up version of the little bookworm nerd God created me to be—and my husband wouldn’t change a thing. When I told him that I felt called to put myself through Bible school and obtain my ministerial credentials to become a reverend, I didn’t dare proceed without his permission. Had he told me I was not allowed to preach or teach—to women, men, or both—I would have accepted that as God’s way of telling me it wasn’t the right path for me to be on, or that the timing wasn’t right. I am in a position many women, regretfully, are not in, because I believe God sincerely speaks through my husband to help steer me on the correct path toward my greatest maturity and achievements. This, in our situation, is true submission via voluntary respect, as opposed to fulfilling a domestic role or putting up with being treated poorly via commanded subjection.
My story of achieving a healthy submission relationship aside, however, there remains one major theological hindrance for women on this subject.
UP NEXT: The Man as the “Recipient” over His Family