19 June 2006

Submission for 21st century sinners

This last Sunday's sermon question was "Why does the Bible tell women to submit to their husbands?" I added... "And husbands to submit to Christ?" because, truthfully, I think these two acts of submission need to happen concurrently.
The sermon went well, but afterwards a middle aged guy came up to me and jokingly said, "Well, I sure heard a lot about husbands submitting to Christ, but not a lot about the women submitting to the husbands!" He said this in a hot kitchen that was full of women who were making him breakfast, so he skedaddled pretty fast!
Later an older woman said, "I wish you would have spent more time on how husbands should submit to Christ instead of spending so much time on women submitting to husbands!" She wasn't joking.
I think submission is just one of those things that we'd rather apply to other people, but the truth is -- any relationship requires submission. Whether husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend, we have to be willing to carve out a space within ourselves to allow that person to inhabit. And any good relationship will have both parties respecting that space that is created with love, trust and kindness.
I think the idea of submitting is so hard for women my age because we've been told that not only should we have it all -- children, husband, career outside the home, friends, volunteer work, church AND a size 8 figure, to boot -- but if we DON'T "have it all" we are some sort of massive failure. Whatever it is that we think WE'VE created, we want to hold onto with all of our strength!
The thought of willingly giving up part of ourselves to let another live there is indeed counter to almost every message we receive from the world, and to a great extent, from the church (shame on us!). Pick up any women's magazine or parenting magazine, and you'll find abundant advice on how to pamper yourself, indulge yourself, treat yourself, take time for yourself... It is a good thing to take care of ourselves, but for goodness' sake, what if we took the time we wanted to spend indulging and devoted just a tenth of it to doing something totally unexpected and kind for our husbands or children? I bet we'd feel a lot better about ourselves.
It's not easy to give up part of ourselves, but this is the essence of our calling as Christians. "Take up your cross and follow" implies making a big ol' place for Jesus in our lives. And, well, he already made such an enormous place in HIS life for US that he was willing to give up his life!
Ephesians 5 begins with Paul telling the church at Ephesus what they should do to be imitators of Jesus. He addresses the temptations of the flesh and the temptations of the spirit and then tells us how to imitate Christ in our households and in the human relationships that are most important to us.
What I think is challenging for me as a woman, is realizing that my husbands' spiritual giftedness, while not the same as mine, is absolutely essential for our family. It's essential for me. I want it. I need it. And I think our family functions better when I allow him the space to lead spiritually when he wants.
I was listening to Family Life Today the other day -- it's not a program I listen to very often -- and an evangelist named RV Brown was on the program. You can listen to his interview here. It was wonderful! He has written a book called Step Up to the Plate, Dad. He talked about the ducks-in-a-row effect, as he calls it; if a family has a mama getting up and getting her children to church, praying with them, and teaching them about Jesus, it is possible that family will be Christian. But the MOMENT that the father gets on board, that the father takes ownership of his responsibility to submit to Christ and lead the family with the kind of love that he himself desires, that family's chances of succeeding in discipleship are astronomically higher.
In the mainline church church, where I was born and bred and where I serve and believe I belong, the concept of submission is SO hard for us both male and female. Submission is about giving up power, about letting God be God in the world, in our church and in our families. And if there's one thing that makes mainliners squirm, it's talking about the power of God.
But submission is something that we need to talk about and reclaim. It must be said-- it is true that many women were long denied the love and respect that Paul reminds men to give their wives. And if a person is abusing another person and doing everything BUT imitating Christ, they've lost the privilege of being submitted to. The church needs to insist that men and women find relationships wherein they are loved and valued and defend those who are not.
But sometimes I think the pendulum has, in general, over-corrected, and in being empowered to live as full people in God's love, I believe we women took some power that belongs to men away from them. And, let's be honest -- I think some men abdicated that power willingly in favor of less responsibility. I was reminded of Psalm 127 when I was thinking about how to build a family, a household that is more than just nominally Christian, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."
It's time to delve back into these scriptures that teach us how to imitate Christ. I hope we can come to a point where we see women and men for their unique giftedness in Christ instead of insisting on their same giftedness.
It is my prayer that I will continue to submit, even though it is incredibly hard and counter-intuitional for me to do so. I pray I will continue to turn myself, my marriage, my family, and my calling over to the ways of God.


Anonymous said...

Thank you ape - this is beautiful and true. Love you. roo

Anonymous said...

April, WHEW~~ I've been trying to get back here to read this all week long. I finally made it.

Well done, well done indeed!!