In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention painted a bright red target on its back, becoming the focus of much public derision when it revised the Baptist Faith and Message to include the words "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband..."
I remember it quite well. Newly empowered with a bachelor's degree, halfway through my master's and a blossoming career unfurling at my very touch, I was furious that a bunch of men found it necessary to pull out one verse in all of Scripture guaranteed to stir up a feminist and media firestorm.
Sure, the concept was Scriptural. Yes, Ephesians 5: 22-23 said the same thing. But that wasn't the point.
Overnight, my faith had become a very public joke. And as expected, the critics quoted only the part about submissive women, conveniently leaving out the rest that included the phrases "She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him" and "A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church."
But it wasn't just the covention's wording that bothered me. I knew the entire passage, of this mutual giving of self to the other, but still, God's Word telling me to submit seemed contrary to who I was. Why should I submit if I was right and my husband was wrong!?
These three little syllables have always projected in my mind images of soft pastel, fuzzy Victorian women, images of weakness, lack of backbone, indecision, lack of intelligence.
Mousey women are submissive, and I am no mouse.
My childhood was directed by a mother who ran shovel, axe, band saw, electric drill, and hammer as well as the needle and thread, sewing machine, wooden spoon and mixer. Because she valued our family's time with my father, she never waited for him to do something she could possibly do.
I am my mother's daughter--too capable for my own good. Too resourceful to say "I can't," too creative to say "I don't have what I need." If I can, I do, even if it takes me three times as long as it would my husband to do the same task.
Because of who I am, the early days of marriage were a struggle with submission, especially since husband was still a student in law school and I was the primary breadwinner. Then in 2009, I read Thomas' Sacred Marriage and learned what God intended a marriage to be. Life changed in this household.
I have learned to ask husband's opinion even when I can make the decision myself. By now, I do it unconsciously I hardly notice it, and my marriage benefits in the closeness of these simple exchanges. Husband meets my submission with his love and respect of me as his equal, his wife.
This past Saturday, God sent me a gentle reminder of the importance of this submission. I had planned one meal for Sunday, but husband wanted pork steak instead. Yes, I completely disagreed but simply said he could do as he pleased...and he did, going out on the back porch to dig through the deep freezer for frozen meat.
A few minutes later, he came back in with "good news and bad news." The good news was that everything in the freezer was still frozen solid. The bad news was that it had somehow tripped the breaker and the freezer was off.
Had I exerted my will, I wouldn't have checked the freezer again until several days later and would have likely lost all the contents within. Spine tingling, this God of no accidents whom I serve.
Submission cannot be forced. It is not a sign of ignorance, indecision, or an invitation for one's husband to mistreat her. Likewise, submission is not weakness. Submission is a wife's choice, one that shows her love and obedience to God as well as her love for her husband.
Sometimes, it takes more inner strength and self control to submit to husband's will than to force my own. But when he and I both seek to fulfill the roles God gave us, a holy sense of harmony and loving unity results. Peace.
Image: The Back Pew comics.