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Whose Wife Are You?

On November 11 I bookmarked 2 blog articles. Bookmarks usually last about 24 hours before they get a) archived b) used in A La Carte or c) erased. But these ones are still sitting there. Several times I have gone back to read the articles and each time I’ve wanted to think about them a little bit more. There is nothing in them that is earthshaking to me. And yet the way they are phrased has given me a lot of food for thought (just ask Aileen if you doubt me).

The first article I read was by Amy Scott and it was titled simply “Be You.” In her article she references another, one titled “Just Whose Wife Am I Anyway?” They both deal with a common them: submission. In particular, they deal with the biblical command that a wife submit to her husband. Those are fighting words in many parts of the Christian world, not to mention outside of the Christian world. I won’t allow that to distract me here.

Both women write about their own struggles with what submission really looks like in a godly marriage. And as I read their thoughts, here is what struck me: We spend a lot of time talking in general about how men and women complement one another—generic men and generic women. This complementarity is obvious from a physical standpoint, but also from many others. But I wonder if we spend far too little time talking about how this husband and this wife complement one another. When we move beyond the generalities of gender roles, we find that the specifics may look very, very different from one couple to another. Within the Bible’s general guidelines, there are many ways to work out the details. Amy puts it like this:

My own husband would knock me silly (…figuratively) if I called him yesterday from the flooring store to solve and negotiate the huge issue that came up. He trusts me. He knows I am capable, and we are a team. (On the flip side, many husbands feel very respected to have their opinion asked about how to handle disasters.) We found a rhythm that works for us.

Greg has one Patriarchal rule for me. He will not let me use a paintbrush under any circumstances in our house. But I am OK with this.

Which is to say that the way my wife submits to me, as the leader in the home, may look quite different from the way another wife submits to her own husband. The big picture should be the same—he is to lead his wife and she is to follow within the role of a helper. But the particulars of that leading and following will vary a great deal based on the two personalities, based on the dynamics of the relationship, based on the stage in life, based on their individual strengths and weaknesses.

And this is why Laurie is asking, “Just whose wife am I anyway?”

I am to be subject to my own husband, and to learn what it means to be his wife from him. After all, every man is different. Every woman is different. Every marriage is different. That’s the way God intended it. We are not clones but uniquely gifted individuals. Not only that, but every culture is different and so is every age. The Scripture is meant to be versatile and timeless, valuable to every person in every era.

So the job of a husband is not to hand his wife a book and tell her to learn to submit from the experts—from the wife of a different husband or the husband of a different wife. A husband is to lead his wife in what it means to be his helper—the helper who will be perfect fit for him. And yet too often we choose to outsource that work. We as husbands abdicate leadership in this area. To quote Laurie:

Instead of treating each man and each wife as individuals complementing each others’ own strengths and weaknesses, encouraging them to fill in and support each other as needed, whatever that may look like, many influential church leaders have chosen one single example from from the host of possible complementary relationship styles and set it up as a pre-fab model for all Christian men and women, expecting them all, no matter how different they may be, to conform to it.

ColorThe color wheel offers a useful metaphor. If I am green on the wheel, my complement is red. Green is who God has made me to be—the sum of my gifts and talents and personality and everything else that makes me who I am. But I may well hand my wife a book written by a woman whose husband is a yellow. What she may do is train my wife to be a violet. And in the end, while my wife is doing the right thing in seeking to be a godly wife, she may be shaping herself into something that is less than complementary. Whose fault is it? Mine, I suppose, because I have not been leading her in such a way that she truly helps and complements me. God has called her to be my wife, my helper, and how can she be that if I won’t help her understand what that looks like? How can she feel fulfilled in her God-given role if I don’t help her?

What I am seeing is that we are prone to look at what a wife does and think, “That doesn’t look like she is submitting to her husband.” But when we do that, we are inevitably judging her by our own standards and by the particulars of our own husband-to-wife relationship. If a wife wants to know if she is submitting to her husband, it may be that the better question for her to ask is, “Am I actively rebelling against his leadership?” It’s not a matter of the particulars of what she does compared to other women, but whether she is following her husband as he leads her into being his perfect complement.

Here is how Laurie closes out her article: “From here on out I submit myself to my own husband. When it comes to what it means to be a good wife to him, beyond the Scripture, no one but he has a right to inform me. I will learn from him at home.” To which I say, Amen.

The question is, are the men willing to take this kind of leadership?