Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

How Does Submission Fit into Modern Marriages?

  • Sarah Jennings Family Editor,
  • Updated Sep 23, 2008
How Does Submission Fit into Modern Marriages?

Images of VP nominee Sarah Palin waving to cheering crowds with her family beside her evoke discomfort among some Christians as they wonder, “How is this going to work with the wife running for office instead of the husband? What about her kids? What about her marriage?”

But the Palin’s are not alone in living out an unconventional mix of Christian values and modern opportunity. Cindy Easley, wife of Moody Bible Institute president Michael Easley, encounters countless marriages every year that pose challenges to the biblical model of husband as spiritual head and wife as helpmeet. Wives supporting their families financially, wives of unbelievers, and wives of deployed soldiers are among the women who approach Easley at Family Life conferences asking, “How should biblical submission work in my marriage?”

Seeking sound counsel for modern women, Cindy turned to Scripture and to other godly wives for answers. This past July, she shared some of her thoughts with Crosswalk in anticipation of the September release of her book What’s Submission Got to Do With It? (Moody, 2008). Here’s a peak into our conversation:

CW:  Let’s start with your background. This book is about practical ways to live out biblical submission in modern, Christian marriages. You didn’t fit the profile of a submissive woman when you first got married.  You write you had definite feminist leanings at one time.  What changed you?   

CE:  God’s word definitely is what changed our minds. It wasn’t something that I thought, oh boy, I am married now, I am going to buy this! I had not seen submission done well in my family of origin. My mother was submissive, but not biblically. 

[So] I studied God’s word. I could not find a way that I could water down what it says in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives be subject to your own husband.” To me it says what it says. So, then I had to figure out, okay, so what does that look like?  What does that mean for me, since I am very opinionated, and I am strong-willed? I began to understand it was really more attitude than action. Action is certainly there, but I can act submissively and not have the attitude of submission. 

As I was writing the book, one of the definitions of submission that I found was to voluntarily cooperate with your husband. When I began to voluntarily cooperate with Michael, our marriage got so much better.  I saw him become more of a leader. I saw him step out, especially in things with the children that he might acquiesce to me in the past, and I would be wrong. Now, sometimes he [still] acquiesces, and I am right.  I saw it as a win-win, personally. 

CW:  You mention a difference between just "submission" and "biblical submission." Could you expand on that?   

CE:  Yeah, one thing that I discovered when I was doing a word study on the word submission in the Bible -- it comes from a military term.  It means to line yourself up under someone else’s leadership -- privates under generals or lieutenants under generals. [This definition] had the nuance of voluntary cooperation. That is what I think [submission] really means -- empowering your husband to lead by voluntarily lining up under his leadership.  

Now, my other favorite word picture [for submission] that actually my husband gave me, and I have no idea where it comes from, is: Knowing when to duck, so God can get to your husband. I like that.  (Laughter) 

CW:  Speaking of your husband – some women will read this book and think, “Cindy has it easy. Her husband is the president of Moody Bible Institute, a godly man.  Of course she can submit.” What is your response to that?  

CE:  I am married to a godly man; however, I am a sinner, and I like my way. I see things differently than my husband – not only gender differences … but just because we are two different people. Yes, it [is] easier for me than many marriages because I do have a husband who attempts to love me like Christ loves the Church, but some days I make that hard. 

CW:  On to some of the different women you interviewed for this book. A lot of the marriages you discuss involve role reversals, where the wife is the provider for her husband and family.  What special temptations do these women face and what is important to focus on in these situations?   

CE:  I think in that case the thing that you focus on is not that you are successful based on how much money you make, [but] you are successful in that you are valued by God. In fact, the woman that I interviewed for that chapter, the one thing that she pointed out to me is that she said often in culture we equate success or leadership with money.  She said the truth is the husband that makes less money may be the one who contributes either more to the family emotionally or contributes more to society.   

The example she gave me is she is a realtor, and she said as a realtor certainly she provides a service, but if her husband is the high school science teacher, his job is actually more valuable culturally than her [job]. I thought that was helpful.

CW:  I have known some families, several couples, where the dad is a stay-at-home dad.  The wife’s profession is something like a doctor. Do the same principles apply there?   

CE:  I think so, I really do. I think that you do have to be very careful of the dangers [of role reversal], but you know men do it all the time where they lovingly intervene in a family without being a lording bear of a leader. So, I think a wife can, too. She realizes that if she has been gifted with brains, the ability to work as a doctor, then for him to be able to stay home and to have that capacity to [work] with the children, certainly it makes submission very complicated, but I think it can be done.  

I think that in our culture, we have tried to equate submission with being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and I think that does a disservice to women and to what submission is supposed to be, [who] the Head [and who] the Helper is. If your Head says, as Head, “I want to stay home and home school our kids because, frankly dear, I will be a better homeschooler than you would be.” You go out and work as a physician or whatever.   

Now, here is another key – how she presents her husband in public is huge. If she goes out strutting, “I am the doctor, and he stays at home. I take care of the family,” or if she elevates him in public [saying], “I am so blessed to have this man who is smart enough to train our children and has the patience and the things that I don’t have.” Proverbs [says] the wife is a crown to her husband, and she elevates her husband. So, if is she is out in the public elevating him, I still think it is a win-win.  

CW:  Another situation that really stuck out to me was the addictive marriage.  What is the difference between codependency and submission?   

CE: When someone is in an addictive relationship, and they are the codependent, they don’t want to risk a confrontation. They just try to keep the status quo, because they are afraid of anything else.

What I learned as I interviewed a woman who is a therapist who is also married to a recovering alcoholic is that, in this case, submission is knowing how to lovingly, with the right tone, with the right words, with the right timing, approach a husband, intervening in their addiction, doing what is necessary to help them come face to face with their addiction. That is the most loving response a wife can have. 

The key is more your attitude of loving them, wanting what is best for them, not what is best for yourself, and doing it in a way … that they know that they are being loved, not challenged.   

CW:  So, you are saying submission does not mean staying silent.   

CE:  Oh, absolutely not. No, it’s how you speak up.   

CW:  What other scenarios stuck out to you in this book that really challenged you or fascinated you? 

CE:  One [story] that I think is really helpful is the woman who is married to the non-believer for 50 years. Watching her progress – she is very honest about some of the mistakes she made. 

(Having been a pastor’s wife for 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of wives who wanted their husbands to be more spiritual. And they had this misconception that my husband and I -- “Oh, ya’ll must spend hours on the Bible.” I am like, Are you kidding?  I have laundry to do! We never have done a Bible study together because we prefer to study on our own and talk about it.)

Watching [this wife] talk about how when she made these spiritual overtures toward her husband, how she pushed him away -- it helped me understand Scripture when it talks about winning an unbelieving husband without a word. Quietly. 

It’s not that she never said anything to him. Again, it was her respecting him enough to say, “God will deal with my husband in God’s own time. I will get out of the way. I will no longer read my Bible in front of my husband, because it threatens him. I will not pray or make lavish ‘God-said’ [statements] in front of him.” 

As she stepped back and allowed God to work, she found out that her husband was not as threatened by her faith as by her overt piousness. It was not [really] piousness; it was self-righteousness.

She will say today they have a fabulous marriage, except for this one thing. He is not a believer. She is still praying. She knows that this approach will lead him to Christ far more than her overt words or actions.

[Also] typically, if a woman is a really strong believer and walking in the faith, she is not going to marry a non-believer. It does happen, of course, but ... it is usually a woman who comes to Christ after marriage. She has changed, so she needs to figure out how to deal with him appropriately, instead of making him be like her. 

CW:  Last question. You point out in your book that leading is a hard job for men.  How can wives encourage their husbands to lead well regardless of the circumstances?   

CE:  I think there are several ways, but most important I think is to get out of the way.  To allow them to make decisions [and] when they make a decision, not to be combative or to criticize. We learn much from our bad decisions, [even] more than our good decisions. I think that if a guy knows that he is going to make a decision and his wife is going to change it anyway, either right in front of his face or later behind his back … then he doesn’t have the same pressure to [make] that decision well. He sometimes needs to feel that pressure that he is leading. 

I think the other thing is if you have a husband who is passive, who is not a real quick decision-maker, [wives can] do the groundwork. Say, “Okay, this decision needs to be made. This is some research I have done,” but leave it with him. If it takes him 3 weeks to make it, let him make the decision. 

I have had women say, “Yeah, but if I did that, we would never make a decision,” but I say, “How do you know? You step in every time.” Eventually, he will make a decision. A roof needs fixing. The next time it rains, and there is a leak, he is going to call the roofer.  

CW:  Thanks for your insights, Cindy. If you want to learn more or purchase What's Submission Got to Do With It?, click here.