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A New Kind of Submission
The secret to a long-lasting marriage.

Throughout the first few years of my marriage, I took pride in refusing to submit to my husband.

… our number one responsibility is to our spouse.

Refusing to submit made me feel strong, invincible. Attributes I value because I am the product of modern-day North America: a society dominated by woman fed up of domineering men.

For me, submission was an archaic, misogynistic term which implied women were to be seen and not heard.

But then I was introduced me to a new kind of submission by a woman who, in spite of her husband being forced to lie on his back day after day, due to a slipped disc, never stopped serving him.

“My husband is my number one ministry,” my mother-in-law told me. “He takes care of me, in whatever ways he can, and I find joy in caring for him, every day.”

She was content in ministering to my father-in-law because he, too, ministered to her with love, provision, and affection. It was a mutual servant-hood, based on an overriding devotion to Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant.

It was then that I realized: not only is submission two-fold, but as believers, our number one responsibility is to our spouse. By loving him or her, we are in fact worshiping the creator.

It takes two

For centuries, men have refused to treat women with respect, says Gary Thomas, author of the best-selling Sacred Marriage (Zondervan, 2000). Feminism, he adds, is the natural reaction of undervalued women finally putting their foot down.

But as Thomas’ wife of 25 years states, “When a man treats his wife like Paul tells him to, why wouldn’t a woman want him to lead?”

It’s up to men, says Thomas, to ‘sell’ submission by focusing on living up to Paul’s charge in Ephesians 5:25-26. Namely, “(The husband is) called to be a living martyr. He puts his wife’s needs above his own; he takes responsibility, and bases his decisions on what will best serve his family’s needs.” 

Dr. Dorothy Patterson, whose talk ‘From Rib to Lib via Fib’ was featured on Focus on the Family radio, says a husband has three assignments, as outlined in Genesis 2: To provide, to protect, and to lead.

When a man fulfills these assignments, and thereby demonstrates submission to Christ—a humble determination to become nothing, so that God in turn, might become everything—it’s easier for a woman to trust him, knowing God is in control.

Lysa TerKeurst, wife of 17 years and founder of the Proverbs 31 Ministries, puts it this way: “In order for a husband to get his wife’s heart to the place where she feels safe enough to submit and trust, he has to become a servant leader. Jesus always said, ‘Let me bless you and help you understand the hard parts of your life.’ That, for me, is the perfect picture of what a man looks like when he’s submitting to Christ.”

Marriage was designed by God to be a selfless, sacrificial act requiring years of patience—in direct contradiction to today’s instant-gratification world.

It’s not about what we can get, says Thomas. It’s about what we can give.

“We get married for primarily selfish reasons. We don’t want to learn how to love; we want to be loved. And so we begin to resent the claims that marriage makes on us. Unless we understand that marriage is one of the ways God forms us and shapes us, we’ll resist and resent this work, instead of valuing it.”

Show and tell

The home, says Patterson, was established long before any tabernacle. “It was God’s first institution; the one most precious to his heart.”

A man craves respect.

In order to preserve this ‘Garden of Eden’ or ‘place of delight,’ it is important to understand each other’s particular needs or love language.

A man craves respect. “He takes great pride in knowing he makes her feel safe,” TerKeurst writes in Capture His Heart (Moody, 2002). If a man doesn’t feel trusted or capable, his confidence will shatter, and no amount of “I love you’s” can glue it back together again.

“For some men, if they are sexually frustrated, nothing else a wife does will matter that much,” says Thomas. “Other men need to be encouraged and thanked.”

Women, on the other hand, want to be cherished. “You may never have to care for the physical well-being of your wife,” TerKeurst writes to men in Capture Her Heart (Moody, 2002), “but your wife needs to know that if you had to, you would do it with… joy and integrity.

“When a woman reaches out to take your hand, what does she feel in your touch? What does she hear from your lips?... How can you be Jesus to her?”

Even more than caring for her physically, a believing woman desires for her husband to care for her spiritually. When a wife observes her husband bowed low in prayer, she feels cherished, knowing her life is in the hands of the Father, says TerKeurst.

Study hall

Perhaps the best way to love one another is by becoming students of each other. That is, never stop learning about your spouse. What does he/she enjoy? What are his/her pet peeves? And why?

In order to do this, it’s crucial to carve out time for each other in the midst of laundry and deadlines.

For the past 17 years, TerKeurst and her husband have held a Date Night once a week, even with small children in the house. “Sometimes we’d grill burgers on the back-deck, put the kids to bed early, and play Scrabble together,” she recalls. “If you put a Date Night into place, and make that investment, your marriage will grow.”

She also suggests implementing a Love Jar. Once a month, write down ways that your spouse shows you love, onto five slips of paper. Then, every week (perhaps on Date Night), pull out a slip of paper and read it to each other. You’ll be surprised to learn what actions speak loudest to your loved one.

Divine encounter

Ultimately, the secret to a healthy marriage lies in practicing a new kind of submission; that is, says Thomas, in becoming a God-centred spouse.

“If we don’t base our love on reverence for God, who always deserves to be revered, our marriages will flounder. If I am a spouse-centered spouse, and respond to my wife’s stumbling with my own stumbling, our marriage will be wrecked by sin. [But] if we respond to each other out of gratitude toward, and reverence for, God, our marriage will be built up by grace.

“My marriage is a primary form of my worship—loving God by loving His daughter.” 

Emily Wierenga is an author based in Blyth, Ontario. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.


Originally published in Focus on the Family, November 2009.

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