It’s time to talk about submission.
Let’s face it, submission is contrary to our nature. Where there is true submission there is no room for pride, only humility and self-sacrifice.
In our post-revolutionary, feminist, and egalitarian society, submission is a bad word. Wifely submission in particular is a death sentence. When women, even Catholic and Christian women, hear the word submission, there is a tendency to cringe and snarl. For most, this is the fruit of ingrained feminism. For some, it is a reaction to the Puritan perversion of submission. Others react to the modern sexual connotation. Still others are reacting to what they see as an excuse for abuse.
I try to avoid the word submission for these reasons. Not because I avoid discussing submission or the proper roles but rather for fear that submission will be twisted into something it was never meant to be.
So this is the disclaimer all traditional minded women who talk about submission or gender roles need:
These discussions are meant for women in healthy, respectful, Christ-centered relationships that seek to model the holy family. You are not being called to remain in a dangerous, violent or perverse situation. You may be called to persevere and work through a difficult situation but never anything more. These discussions are not meant to always pin the blame on the women but there are written by women for women to help them do what they can: change themselves to be more in accordance with Christ and the model of the Blessed Virgin.
I know a woman whose partner had been taking advantage of her. She had self-esteem problems and after a handful of children out of wedlock, and being abused verbally and physically, I discovered she was part of online Protestant “traditional” groups. She also told me that her partner would watch videos about so-called “Christian Domestic Discipline.” Ephesians 5:22 was being stretched into an ugly beast; a beast which was enabling rape, violence and perversion. It is no wonder submission makes people’s skin crawl.
Many of us come from broken homes where people overstep their authority and cause a lot of pain. This tends to lead people to extremes. I think it is important to call out both extremes because they are gross sins against the proper order God has established. That said, in a world of “Miss Independent”, many women are dusting off grandmother’s wisdom and taking a closer look at the “old-fashioned”. More importantly, they are opening their Bibles and looking into Church teaching throughout the years to find nuanced teaching on harmonious family life.
Submission, like femininity, is something that requires prayer and experimentation to cultivate. It is something all people need to learn in varying degrees and in different contexts. Wifely submission particularly is something all married and soon-to-be married women need to grapple with. Many people try to dismiss this but the reality is that this is a biblical mandate that must be considered seriously.
While it is true that there is an element of mutual submission which occurs in marriage, submission on the part of the wife is particularly mentioned. This is in part due to the nature of women since Eve, which is inclined to dominate and overpower, while the hierarchy of the home is ordered so that the husband takes the lead.
These are hard words for a world where submission implies less worth and all things must be the same in order to be of equal value. It is easy for me to write about submission as I have a husband who respects me, does chores, and frequently takes care of the baby. I also do not pretend to be a fountain of marriage advice as I have only been married for a little over a year. But wifely submission is more than just “yes dear”, it is the key to resolving a lot of needless conflicts which arise.
First of all, submission does not imply less worth. The most important example of this is how God the Son submitted to God the Father in all things and yet they are perfectly equal. Jesus submitted to his parents, despite being fully God fully man, demonstrating a perfection in submitting. The goalie is not less important than the striker, each has a role that is meant to function together for a common goal.
In the Catholic church, the Pope is established, by Christ, to be the unifying head and representative of the Church as well as a leader who settles disputes when controversy on a topic arises. In a similar manner, the husband is the “unifying head” who is to settle disputes and give the family long term goals and direction. On the other hand, the wife is the heart of the home, the trusted advisor, the mistress of domestic affairs, the “first line of defence.” When disagreements between husband and wife ensue, it is imperative for the husband to seriously consider his wife’s perspective but the final decision ultimately lays in his hands.
This is will ruffle feathers but ideally and in most situations a compromise would be made. Yet sometimes a quick yes or no answer is required and the husband needs to make it. The wife should accept the decision as long as it isn’t sinful. This usually takes a lot of strength to do. It is painful to swallow one’s pride, bite one’s tongue and move forward, but let me present an example.
My son’s baptism was put together in a quick, last minute fashion. As such, the baptism was in a week and we still did not have a gown for the baby. My husband wanted us to accept the godmother’s loaned gown and then buy a gown in Mexico later for other children. But I wanted to purchase a gown for our son that can be passed on to each sibling. This put us at odds. I told my husband pretty firmly what I thought and how I disagreed with him but he insisted that this was the best course of action. So what would you do? One option would be to nag him and whine because I wanted my way. The route I chose was to accept his judgement and change my attitude. My son’s baptism is a time for joy, there is no room for me to be grumbling over something as tiny as a gown. Something which could have been the door to conflict was swept away nicely and everything went well.
Why do you need to be the one to acquiesce? Because sometimes my husband agrees with me and sometimes he doesn’t. He is a good man, sacrifices himself all the time for the sake of his family and any opportunity to avoid silly conflict and bickering is welcome. I trust his judgement.
Now I am not saying that one’s submission and attitude should depend on the husband’s behavior. Being very clear that I am not enabling abuse, I think that the Christian woman should strive for perfection, even with an imperfect or unworthy husband. An attitude of proper submission suddenly forces the husband to take proper responsibility, to be a leader. It may take him aback and make him reconsider certain things or touch his heart. This is particularly true (and particularly challenging) in the occasion of an unbelieving husband.
All this talk of submission and leadership must be benchmarked under three key things: Christ, charity and communication. A traditionalism that does not focus on Christ, is a traditionalism that has its priorities confused and is doomed to fail. The roles of men and women are not only put into place to create a harmonious, ordered family life but to help each person get to heaven. Charity is important from both parties; without charity all of this is meaningless. Mutual communication, through Christ in charity, is the key to allow the flourishing of the traditional marriage.
I have much to say on this topic but there is nothing I can say which has not already been said, by people far holier than myself. I still have much to read, much to learn and incorporate in my own life. My goal is to highlight the importance of submission while emphasizing that it does not mean that the woman is to be a slave or a push over.
On the contrary, the life of a married woman, when properly ordered, lends itself beautifully towards the acquisition of true holiness and salvation. The self sacrificial nature of being a wife and mother allows one to enter more deeply into our Lord’s passion and to relate more closely to our Blessed Mother. I encourage you all to explore the lives of the saints that are mothers, sisters, and wives. May they pray for us and encourage us in every walk of life. Amen