November 14, 2011

The "S" Word

My sister is getting married in February so she's doing all kinds of reflection and spiritual preparation these days.  I can't even begin to articulate how much her daily texts with scripture and questions regarding spiritual matters encourage me and bless me.  I am SOOOOOO proud of her.  (I love you, Lisa!)

Anyhow, she recently asked me a question about the "S" word.  No, not the four-letter word that I taught her to say when she was two years old.  The ten-letter word that has become totally taboo.  I'm talking about submission.  Biblical submission within marriage, to be specific.  (I'm talking to the wives today.) This is a SUPER hard topic to tackle, but let me give it a shot.

I think there are two main reasons we get so hung up and stuck on this passage and have so much trouble with it.  First is the fact that this passage is talking about an ideal situation, and we live in a fallen world.  The passage presents a scenario of how it's supposed to be, but we read it through the filter of "I'm supposed to do this even though my husband is failing me miserably."  We tend to read it imagining the times when our husband has failed us miserably, rather than reading it and imagining the moments of blissful romance when we would fall and worship the feet of our lover.

The second problem is semantics.  We read the words submit and respect (which reminds us of archaic female oppression) and love (which our culture equates with sex).  Therefore, we read this passage and we hear this: "Wives, allow yourselves to be walked on and oppressed by your selfish husbands, and husbands, have all the sex you want with your wives, occasionally throwing in a little romance if it suits you, and while you're at it, make all the decisions without taking in her opinion to account and go ahead and use Christianity as your scape-goat."

This interpretation could not be further from what was originally intended.  May I suggest something?  Let's take a look at the theoretical scenario that this passage presents as an ideal and let's take the semantics out of it.  What if we use the word serve?  Here's why I chose the word serve.  Serve makes me think of the words humility, sacrifice, help, and for the sake of the other.  These are all things that Christ modeled in his life on this earth (which is precisely the comparison that Paul is making in this passage).  Secondly, don't we all love to be served?  When someone serves us food, he does it for no gain of his own, but for the benefit of those he serves.  When I serve my son, I do what's best for him with gentle affection, firm consistency and a protective wisdom.  Service usually involves self-sacrifice but should never involve self-deprecation.

Alright, with those things in mind, let's read Ephesians 5:22 - 33 again.  (Emphases, parentheses and strike-throughs are mine.)
Wives, submit yourselves to serving your own husbands as you do to the Lord. (We serve the Lord because we love him and it brings us joy and Him glory, yes?) For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (Here, Paul establishes the comparison between marriage and the Christ-Church relationship.) Now as the church (that's us believers) submits to serving Christ, so also wives should submit to serving their husbands in everything. (That sounds a little more like what I signed up to do on my wedding day... bless, love, give, support, encourage, help, and serve my husband in all he does. And of course, we signed up to do this, knowing that the man we agreed to marry is someone of integrity and character who we believed would choose to make Christ-honoring decisions.  We knew he wouldn't be perfect at this, but we figured he'd be good enough at it that we could commit to marrying him and it'd be a good deal.  Plus, we figured that since he has Christ in him, God would help keep him on the right path too.  In fact, we were depending on that.**)
(Now his part.) Husbands, love serve your wives, just as Christ loved served the church and gave himself up for her... In this same way, husbands ought to love serve their wives as their own bodies. He who loves serves his wife loves serves himself. (Hmm... so when he treats me right, it benefits him.  Makes sense.  It makes me want to love him back, bless him back, serve him back, yes?) After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason (what reason? to serve his wive as his own body!) a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery— (He means the mystery of the unity of Christ and the church) but I am talking about Christ and the church (see?). However, each one of you also must love serve his wife as he loves serves himself, and the wife must respect serve her husband.
So in theory, we have two people, united in Jesus' Love, who have endeavored to do all they can to serve the other.  Doesn't that sound like a wonderful situation!?  Sign me up!

In actuality, though, there are times when I really just want to throw a plate at his head.


Yeah, I know what you are thinking.  "Uh... what then, oh you so perfect and holy??"  That's when the rubber meets the road.  That's when it gets hard.  That's when we think back to our wedding day and realize we had no idea what we were getting into - and sometimes that's good, or we might not have signed up in the first place.  That's when we have to take a deep breath and trust in God's plan for our lives despite the fact that we cannot understand what in tar-nation has gotten into the thick skull of the man across the room.  That's when we have to choose to be the bigger man woman and serve him anyway.**

And that, my friends, is where my expertise ends (ha! If indeed it ever had begun).  That is the hardest thing of all.  That's when I realize that marriage truly was to make me holy, not happy.  In those moments of anger, it takes all my strength to set my pride aside and actually follow through with the promise to treat him as I would want to be treated. I fail often.  And then it takes all my strength to admit my wrong and ask forgiveness.

I was laughing to myself last night - which happened to be a wonderfully sweet night for my husband and I - as I thought about my sister's questions and my own wedding vows.  I decided that this might be the vows I say if we ever decide to renew them:
I, Renee, take you, Alejandro, to be my lawfully wedded husband.  I promise to serve you, help you and support you even when I don't like what you are doing.  I promise you will be mine and I will be yours, from this day forward, for better (when we are getting along great and all is peachy-keen), or for worse (when tragedy strikes, when I think you're being insensitive and selfish), for richer (when we have savings, a brand new house, two great cars and the ability to eat out every night), for poorer (when we have to decide between your new drill and my new touch phone), in sickness and in health (and energy and exhaustion and good moods and PMS and twenty-year-old-bodies-with-six-packs and saggy-post-breastfeeding-pudgy-overweight-bodies and smiles and tears and conquer-the-world-moments and totally-overwhelmed-dirty-hair-and-pimples-and-screaming-children-moments), until we're old and wrinkly and have white hair and dentures and we know each other so well we start to look like each other and death do us part.
Not exactly romantic.  But it made me laugh!

The mystery of marriage is this...  when we do endeavor to submit to serve our husbands, even if they don't come around right away, they usually do later.  And even if they don't, we find that in the process, Christ changes our hearts and teaches us more about how He loves us in our ugliness.  We get the whole plank-versus-speck thing and realize the magnitude of what Christ did on the cross for us.  And if for no other reason, understanding Christ's love better makes serving and submission to our imperfect husbands totally worth it.

**This of course, does NOT apply to situations in which the husband doesn't know Christ and/or the husband acts in a way that DOESN'T honor Christ.  Abuse and adultery are manifestations of this, and the Bible allows for Godly wives to be released from their vows in these situations.  See Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19.