Before I became a Christian, I had a very narrow-minded view of what Christian women looked like. I knew what I thought I had heard in church about what a woman’s role was. It did not fill me with hope. For a very long time, it also kept me away from exploring the faith I had been mostly raised in. And so, when I was able to, I left. It wasn’t a dramatic departure, but after I made my confirmation at 13, it was more of a subtle ghosting as I slowly walked away.
But I still believed in God. I just didn’t understand how He could create me the way I am, and then place me in a world that wouldn’t appreciate or value how He had gifted me.
At age 13, this is what I heard:
Adam was created first, and he was favored by God. I heard that Eve was easily deceived by the serpent, and as a result, she grasped for something she had been told by Adam not to. She then deceived Adam, they ate some fruit together (church code for “had sex”), and the whole human race was condemned to sin and death.
This was the fall as I understood it at age 13. No wonder I have had seasons in my adult life when as a woman, I struggled with decision-making. According to what I had understood, the weight of the universe hinged on my every decision.
I understood that women were second class citizens. Once married, they would be required to submit to a fickle, distant, authoritarian husband. A woman would have no voice in her marriage or otherwise. This hurt my heart because as a young teenager, I loved discussing and debating ideas and challenging others. I still do. This is how I process information. I have also since learned there are others who I frustrate or intimidate in this, and I choose to accommodate their needs as they have mine.
And I also have enough New York in me to want to kick someone in the butt when they mistreat me or to walk away from jerks, making sure to give them a piece of my mind as I shake the dust off my shoes. One of the things I have been blessed with is a ridiculous amount of self-confidence that borders on arrogance. This has not always been a good thing, but God has been reshaping it and purifying it into a confidence in Him, rather than in self.
But seriously, how much of what I had heard in church was not correctly understood or was drowned out by what the culture said the church believed?
A Godly Example
One of the first sightings I had of Christ-like character in a woman was my sister-in-law, Judi. I was ten when she started dating my brother. I had no idea why she would want to date him, because like many younger sisters, I thought my brother was a colossal jerk (he wasn’t). But Judi saw potential in him. With a lot of help and even more prayer, he was loved into the Kingdom by her spiritual family, and the changes I saw in his character were nothing short of miraculous. If he were alive today, he would wholeheartedly agree with that statement, giving all glory to God.
But what did I observe in my sister-in-law’s character that was so attractive? A quiet strength. Patience that bordered on stubbornness. Godly determination and an irresistible winsomeness. Like me, she is often late (sigh), but worth the wait. She can also hit a softball better than most men I’ve met. She will tell you that I didn’t like her at first which is probably true. But over the years, a closer look revealed a devoted friend and sister with an adventurous streak. She has an unshakeable joy and trust in God. She is not fearless, but she loves and acts courageously knowing that God goes before her and is with her. Judi has been someone who I could turn to when my heart was broken. She welcomed me into her family, inviting me to love their kids as my own. She slowly shifted my understanding of what God called women to be and to do.
But what about the whole submission thing?
First things first. Let me correct some of the misunderstandings I had. The fall did not come about because Adam and Eve had sex. Sex is not some kind of “forbidden fruit.” That’s a fairy tale just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Yes, there are boundaries that God places around this amazing gift, and these we choose to heed. I am truly sorry if this is news to you; It was to me. But He is a loving Father and those boundaries are there to protect us; they are for our good.
Eve did not fall first because she was somehow soft in the head. Yes, she willfully disobeyed God and did not heed the instruction that her husband must have passed on. The text is clear, however, that Adam was right there beside her when the serpent spoke. He was passive and didn’t speak up, and they were both deceived. They both believed the lie they could be like God, and they chose a lie over enjoying the intimate relationship they already had with God. Because of our fallen natures, the truth is you or I wouldn’t have (and often don’t) choose any differently.
Seriously though, what is up with this submission thing?
In a section in the New International Version Bible translation (NIV) which is entitled, “Instructions for Christian Households”, Ephesians 5 starts off with, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:1). This is God’s instruction through Paul, and it is good practical advice. At a gut level, our modern minds know this to be true: In order to stop a fight, someone has to put their fists down first, or when applicable, put down their verbal weapons. If it’s always the same person, that can qualify as abuse. It is a burden none of us can bear in our own strength for any extended period of time.
This brings me to the verses that follow in Ephesians 5 which long troubled me, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24, NIV).
When I first read this, my immediate response was, “If the Lord plans for me to be remarried, do I really have to submit to my husband in everything? Why would He make me intelligent if the plan was for someone else to do the thinking for me? What if my husband is acting like an idiot or making a stupid decision?” Again, my independent, inner New Yorker bristled. And so, I sat with this instruction for a bit. Okay, truth be told, I have sat with it for a really long time.
I’ll get to where I landed in a minute, but first let’s take a look at the instruction for husbands because this greatly influenced how my thinking shifted.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25-28, NIV).
How did Christ love the church? He died for the church. He took our insults, our beatings, our betrayal and was inflicted unimaginable torture despite His innocence. He gave His life for us that we might be offered eternal life (John 3:18, NIV). And He did this joyfully (Hebrews 12:2, NIV). Christ submitted His will to the Father (Mt 26:39, Mt 26:42, Mk 14:36, John 6:38, 1 Cor 15:28) that His Father might be glorified in all. He did this so that mankind could be reconciled with the Father. Simply put, He fought for the church’s relationship with God, but in obedience to God; He endured the cross to justify the church before God, and He didn’t fight against His church. He loved deeply and well.
A second passage that provided context for me into how relationships ought to be is the very beginning of Philippians 2. We are all called to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (v.3). We put others’ interests before our own (v.4) and do not “grasp at equality with God” (v.6), humbling ourselves in obedience and service to God (v.7-8). When each spouse serves the other and puts the other first, they are following the example provided by Christ.
So, where did I land?
If a man is willing to love me like this, we enjoy spending time together, family and friends like him, and he can handle a few punches that I throw in the air in anger, frustration or ill temper and he is willing to die to self, in submission to Christ, then I think I am more than willing to also die to self and submit out of respect for him and more importantly, out of reverence for God.
This is a huge shift in thinking, and it has only been possible through God’s healing and through His power resting in me. It started when I acknowledged my need for a Savior, and I placed my faith in Jesus Christ soon after. This wasn’t easy, and I would be more aptly described as one, who in the words of the author C.S. Lewis, was “dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom.” I am eternally grateful to all those believers who prayed all those years and persistently nudged me along the way.
In this life, I hope to one day embody the Proverbs 31 woman as best as I am able. Since I first read this passage, my favorite verse has been, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” This I know is not accomplished in my own strength; It is also not born of a recklessness I once embraced. It is a godly desire, and it is mine for my future.