Monday, May 14, 2012

Wifely Submission Part VI: Spiritual Leadership

Just like with gentle discipline, the issue of wifely submission usually boils down to two questions: 1) Is it Biblical? and 2) Does it really work?  We have talked about the Scripture in the previous posts, and I am happy to address it more if you have more questions about a specific passage, but let's go ahead and talk about how the popular notion of spiritual leadership tends to play out in every day life.

Ironically, I see a lot of simmering resentment, disappointment, shame and anxiety in my sisters who are convinced that the husband is meant to be the spiritual leader in the home.  It is a perilous thing to allow others to define what "being spiritual" really means.  Is it something he proves by taking the family to church every Sunday? Directing the family in devotions every morning?  What if he only does it once a week?  Is that enough?  Does he need to lead the family by praying aloud before every meal?  Discuss deep theological topics with his wife on a regular basis?  What if his standards are more worldly than yours?

happy sailing
Who is *really* pulling the strings in this family?
The advice from the wife-only-submission camp is pretty consistent: if you are submissive enough, then you can manipulate him into doing whatever he is supposed to do.  If he is indifferent, or at least not taking the initiative to guide your family spiritually the way you want, all you need to do is submit more, honor him more, satisfy him sexually more, pray more and then (and only then) will he be able to fulfill his masculine destiny as head of the household.  (It is really all your fault, you see).

It becomes an elaborate, role-playing strategy game.  To complicate it even further, the rules that the wife creates are typically unspoken, and the rules that the husband sets are frequently subject to change, not to mention the fact that he is also the referee.  Ultimately, if he doesn't fit into the  man-made spiritual leader box, then she is disappointed and resentful that he isn't fulfilling his obligations, and he is frustrated and resentful of her manipulation and disapproval.

The pressure on the wife is public as well as private.  If his spirituality is her obligation, then his choices reflect on her, too.  She may feel as though she has to cover for him and invent excuses or at least speak rather evangelastically about his spiritual state in order to honor him sufficiently and to protect herself.

Churches talk a lot about being "unequally yoked" in marriage relationships.  But what they fail to realize is that expecting the husband to always be the one to initiate everything spiritual is actually putting an unequal yoke on the couple. 

Some people are more private about their faith than others.  Some fit much more easily into the stereotype of "leader".  Sometimes during different seasons in our lives our roles may change.  Mutual submission means that you don't have to squeeze into someone else's perception of gender roles and what a relationship with God and each other looks like.

There is a breath of freedom in not trying to jam your family into someone else's mold.  You don't have to seduce your husband into a particular response by carefully x-ing off all the little boxes in your checklist.  You can share feelings and needs openly and honestly.  If you are both spiritual partners, then it you can each lead according to your giftings, callings and convictions.

Instead of trying to force your husband to lead the way you want him to, you can lead together.

Coming soon: But Someone Has to Make the Final Decision! or, Inaction Until Unity

Image credit: x-ray delta one on Flickr

Read the whole series :)


Emily@MamaFusion: Merging Mom&Me said...

I feel like as God has changed my parenting, He is equally showing me how to change my marriage. As a young girl, I grew in a religious culture that told me I had to submit to a man. As a strong woman, I had a problem with that. But God is guiding me to guide my husband, to submit to him without being entirely submissive. I definitely feel like this article was put in front of me for a reason and I am grateful to you for writing it. I can't wait to see what you have to come!

dulce de leche said...

Emily, I can relate so much to that! I am so glad that God is leading both of us into healthier, whole relationships! <3 Thank you so much for the encouragement.