I’d forgotten that I posted this until I saw it on the list again, so thank you all for your responses!
This is actually an issue that we struggled with a lot in the first six months or so of our marriage, moreso than I would have ever imagined when I wrote this post. A lot of the issues came from the house church my husband was part of before we started dating, which we got involved in again for those six months after we got married. They have a very traditional view of submission and authority, both with church authority (members are expected to be “in complete unity with and submission to [church name’s] beliefs, values, practices, and leadership”) and definitely in marriage as well. Wives are allowed to give gentle “suggestions” but if their husband decides to do something else they’re supposed to submit and drop the issue (and husbands are encouraged to “rebuke” their wives if they aren’t being submissive enough). The wives there seem happy enough with this (I think because they’re taught that they’re being good, godly wives). Because my husband was immersed in that for a while and they were a big influence in his life, it made him feel like if he wasn’t making big decisions for us and leading the way in a visible way, that maybe he wasn’t a good husband.
Needless to say, we are no longer members of that church :-P. But it was a rough road getting where we are now. Thankfully, after a lot of tension, prayers, conversations (with each other and with other christian couples), my husband realized some things about the church and about his own heart and decided we should leave. The longer we’re away, the clearer he sees the issues.We’re much happier, much closer as a couple, and much more alive spiritually than ever before.
But all that said, I think for me the issue comes down to how you define “submission” and “headship.” And in those definitions, I think it’s important to look at the bible as a whole to get a beter picture of the heart and intention behind those commands.
I believe that, as a wife, I am called to submit to my husband. However, we are BOTH called to submit to one another in love. I don’t believe that submission was ever about obedience (particularly not unconditional obedience). God was not sanctioning a dictatorship (I believe the same of church leaders as well). I see it more as an issue of prefering the other, of giving up my peferences out of love for my husband. I also see it as an issue of being accountable to him, of sharing my heart, my fears and dream, etc., and being open about my struggles, and then paying attention to what he says about those things (not necessarily accepting everything he says as law, but respecting it). I think it’s important to remember that unity and intimacy are God’s intentions in marriage, so the commands He gives us are meant to foster those things. I don’t think that unity comes from silent, unquestioning obedience (bitterness or low self-esteem is more likely to come out of that :-P). But prefering one another in love and being vulnerable with one another? Just in my limited experience, that builds intimacy a lot (our past couple months are a testimony to that).
And I read an interesting book that addressed that term “head” used in Corinthians. Apparently it can be translated “source” instead of just “boss over” and in the context of the passage (which uses it in reference to the Trinity), “source” seems like a better translation. As the “source” of his household, the husband is responsible for blessing and releasing his wife (and kids) in the things God has called them to. For him to try to force his will on them actually goes against his position as the head/source. We actually just heard a message that touched on this last night. The speaker reminded us that a godly family has one “head”….and His name is Jesus, and if we aren’t in submission to Him — all of us — then the biblical principle of headship is undermined.
My husband also pointed out that God himself doesn’t force His will on us (He gave us free will), so how could he, as my husband, try to take up a position of authority that God Himself refuses to take?
So, we’re learning (often by trial and error), but God is good and it gets better all the time 🙂