Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Obedience Struggles II- Adults

So my dear priest gives us this marriage advice from Ephesians 5:22 "Wives should be subordinate to their husband's as to the Lord." The citation was just written down on his notes to us. We didn't have time during rosary group to go into detail. I assumed Ephesians was just similar to the "love is patient" quote. When I actually looked up the verse three days later I had a jolt.

Oh! The whole submission/ obedience to your husband deal. I hadn't thought about it since my husband and I decided it was so hopeless out of date in a modern marriage during our Pre-Cana class seven years ago. In my mind, it was the same thing as promising to haul water by hand from a local creek instead of using modern plumbing fixtures. In our marriage we were going to be partners, equals. There wasn't any room for the husband as head-of-the family nonsense.

Well, then of course, everything changed. My sacramental marriage started doing its work and pulled us both towards heaven. I figured out a lot of the ideas I'd picked up from my 1960s Mom and feminist sister college were at best, misrepresentations of the truth.

So this passage is there to be wrestle with now. I can't use my past "oh this doesn't apply to me" dodge. Instead it is "Wow, this is hard but I still have to figure out how to follow this impossible sounding advice." During the 12 hour trip to my in-laws, my husband and I had a long discussion on this topic while all three kids were asleep. We sort of hashed out this idea that men have the ability to make quick decisions, so if we find ourselves in a fire or other emergency than the family needs to respect Dad's ability to lead us out of it. Meanwhile, Mom runs most of the day to day decisions in the household. She leaves room for Dad to make a few big decisions.

I'm not explaining this clearly because while I cheerfully agreed to start implementing it in my own life (after all, how helpful for our children to see Mom model happy obedience) I didn't understand one important caveat I'd made in my mind. Yes, I'd cheerfully practice submission to Jon, in all his decisions that I actually agreed with-- which of course, is not practicing submission at all.

I found this out during a painful 12 hour homeward Odyssey. You see, marriage can be an attraction of opposites. My husband and mine opposing nature comes out in our traveling pattern. I like to lay out all of our clothes, pack the car the night before, and get an early start. My husband likes to take his time in the morning, eat a good breakfast, travel with many stops, and generally enjoy the trip. Monday morning, by my biased calculations, we get an 1 1/2 hour late start. 90 minutes on a trip that will take us at least 12 hours. So for that last painful 90 minutes of the journey, when everyone is cranky, the baby is fussing, the older kids are slugging each other, our i-pod has run out of steam- I'm totally fuming. "We should be home by now! If we did things the way I wanted to, we be in so much better shape."

Due to my practice in the virtue of meekness, I manage to chew my cheek after letting out a few biting comments. This practice does not actually end up with my calming my anger with generosity & forgiveness. No, I stay mad. My anger culminates with a disagreement over how to best unpack the car. My husband wants me to take the kids inside, feed the baby, and let him handle the unpacking alone. I want to ignore the fussy baby who has needed to nurse every 30 seconds of our trip, unpack together, and get to the point where we can all relax inside sooner. I left the baby in her car seat. Took the older kids inside. Slammed my big suitcase around. Finally, my submission was "I'm following your wishes because I have to, not because I think that you are right!"

Whew! A pretty big failure on the whole, "wives submit to your husband's" request from the Church and my blue bird oath "to keep my temper most of the time." This is way harder than I thought it would be. My husband and I are able to compromise most of the time. There are just a few of these issues like either we leave at X time or Y time, where there isn't a clear compromise. When that happens, gosh, do I have a hard time following him just because he is the husband in our relationship.

I need some help. If you are a man, why do you think that wifely submission is a good goal? [And I know the rest of the bible verse talks about husband's loving their wives as Christ loves the Church. My husband handles his charge very well It's my part I struggle with] If you are a woman, what is your take this this issue? Is this an easy thing for you to practice or do you struggle also?


  1. Abigail - Thank you so much for sharing posts like this. I always feel so inspired reading about what you're doing!

    To answer your question, I've only begun to think about this issue. I'd never thought about it at all until I met with a spiritual direction and posed a tough question to her. It was really not clear what I should do in this situation, as both paths had both good and bad elements. After thinking for a while, she asked if I had asked my husband's counsel. I said no. She told me that I should ask him what to do and do whatever he thought best. Sure enough, it was great advice. Ever since then I have tried to turn to him and heed his advice more often -- and have seen great results. It's actually working really well for the *small* extent that I've tried it.

    Thank you again for a great post.

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  3. I don't think I really practice submission overtly. I try to do what dh would like me to do before what I want to do. If there are several tasks that I could do in the time I have, I ask him which is the most valuable to him for me to do. And I bite my tongue when he's driving.

    I used to try to run (be the boss of) the family, because I didn't think he could/would do it. Now that I've backed off and started treating him like a adult who is the boss of me rather than like an additional child, it's amazing how he's changed and grown.

    I discovered that all I have to lose through submission is my pride--and that's not such a hot commodity anyway.

  4. Always an interesting scriptural quote! This verse is realy essential to understanding marriage, but is rarely well-explained.

    Totally read Christopher West's "The Good News about Sex and Marriage" for a quick, good anaylsis on the meaning of the verse in light of JP II's Theology of the Body. Briefly, wives alone are not called to submission to their husbands. Husbands and wives are called to MUTUAL submission "out of reverence for Christ." (verse 21). Also, in the verse, wives are called to submit to their husbands, but in the next sentence, husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, namely, die for their wives, the ultimate submission. Paul really could have said switched the two sentences - husbands submit to your wives and wives die for your husbands - and the meaning would have been the same. This is a really brief explanation - definitely do some more reading on this verse. Properly understood, it really points to the power and beauty of the vocation of marriage. (BTW, I have Chris West's book and would be happy to lend it to you. It's a great intro before jumping into the full TOB by JPII.)

    Still, in living out the verse, I am called to love my husband with the love of Christ - which means letting go of my self-centeredness. This is the hardest part of the call to marriage - and the Christian life generally. I need to do it with my husband, my children, friends, enemies, everyone. Marriage seems to put a spotlight on the whole issue, though, because you are "wedded" to each other - you share everything, all of your decisions affect each other deeply, you can't go elsewhere. Marriage, in its nature, demands this letting go of self that isn't seen as clearly in other relationships. That is why it can be such a great path to holiness!

    Which, of course, means it's hard as heck. I think you're going about it the right way overall - struggling each day to let go more and more of our own desires and wants. Andrew and I attempt to do the same thing - some times successfully, sometimes failing badly. I find actually talking about it helps alot. We actually will share how each of us is trying to let go of our desires for the other and offer encouragement to each other in our struggles. And this seems to be the point of the verse to me - to "submit" to each other by growing in selfless love, not through a sense of subjucation.

  5. Please forgive the terrible grammer/spelling in above post - it really grates on my nerves! I know it is AWFUL, but had to type fast and furious. I'm so bad about proofreading before posting!

  6. Hurrah Maria! Your comment really clarifies things for me. So it's about us both "dying for each other in the name of Christ" rather than the main focus being that wives should submit to their husband's simply because they are male. (That second part must have been bantered about by some Protestants in my youth.)

    That's something mentally I can really wrap my mind around. Actually carrying it out into practice will probably take much, much longer.

    I want to borrow your book, and probably a few others. Let's do a play date soon. I miss playing kicking games with Ms. Lucy!

  7. I'm always thrilled when secular wisdom corresponds with the truths our Church has been teaching for centuries. Recently I've been hearing speakers discuss the "respect vs love" needs of husbands and wives. Men would rather be respected. Women would rather be loved. (As a general rule, of course.)

    I think this works so perfectly with God's plan for marriage. Women are to submit themselves to their husbands authority, in short, respect his word and his decisions for the family. Men are to love their wives as God loves His Church, with all-encompassing devotion and a spirit of sacrifice.

    It's hard for me because I'm very particular and my husband is so easy going. Most of the time I just do as I please and he's more than happy with the result. But as for those matters about which he does care, we always follow his lead. It's a nice balance, like you said, because I have control over the mundane, day to day details of our life together but my husband is the head of the family. He was the one who decided we'd move to Denver, with my blessing and agreement. He was the one who decided I could stay home with our son. He will be the one who decides whether we adopt our next child.

    Swallowing my pride has been hard, but I think the harmony in our marriage is worth it.