How to be a strong, independent woman and still practice the art of submission

“Do it self,” my two-year-old says.  Getting dressed, climbing stairs, buckling her seat belt.  It doesn’t matter what it is, she wants to do it independently.  That’s part of life. We train our kids to do everything by themselves.  We teach them to become independent thinkers so that they can handle all the natural stressors of life- everything from financial planning to changing a tire.  

We teach them to stand up for themselves and make their voices heard.  We teach them that they are just as valuable as the next child. And then, the child grows up, falls in love, and gets engaged.  If the child is a girl, the concept of submission comes up. The idea of the head of household is presented. Traditionally, men are expected to be the head. Some people accept this, others fight it with every fiber of their being.

I used to be on the fighting end.  My understanding of submission made no sense.  If I am single, I am expected to make my own decisions using my own wisdom.  But as soon as I have a ring, my husband makes the decisions… and I just watch? I give input but accept his decision silently, pretending to agree? Never had a piece of jewelry seemed so debilitating.

If I’ve learned one thing from God, it’s that His decisions are always logical.  He decided to give women the same brain power that he gave men. A logical God never would have done that if he wanted women to suppress their own abilities in favor of their husbands.  

So why… WHY would Paul write, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

In order to understand this, we must first understand his audience.

Paul doesn’t write to fools.  He is imparting wisdom on intelligent men and women who are capable of implementing it. So when he talks to the wives in Ephesians 5, he is talking to women who are strong and independent.  These are the Proverbs 31 wives, who have excellent work ethics, savvy economic skills, and noble characters. These women have earned the right to be recognized for their work.

But what happens to these women is that they are so capable of making decisions that they forget to talk to their husbands at all.  (I can’t tell you the number of times I have told my husband that we are going somewhere without asking for his input. “The Human Calendar” and “The Keeper of the Schedule” are just a few of his nicknames for me.)

Second, we must understand how powerful women truly are.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that the verse itself doesn’t oppress my opinions or invalidate my abilities.  Instead, following this verse will set me apart from the women of the world. Think about it. The world says:

“Happy wife, happy life.”  

The connotation of this statement is problematic for two reasons.  It suggests that (a) a man’s primary concern should be making his wife happy and (b) women are such petty children that their whims need to be satisfied to find happiness.

These four words seem lighthearted.  Many people use it as a joke, but it’s got some disturbing undertones.  Two biblical references come to mind when I hear this phrase. First, Genesis 3, where Eve convinces Adam to engage in the first sin.  Second, Judges 16, where Delilah convinces Samson to give up his God-given strength. To simplify the stories: they both end in painful deaths. In both stories, the man ends up forgoing God’s commands just to pacify his love.

Now, I’m sure you would never convince your husband to engage in something so destructive.  But these stories are indicative of the power and control women are capable of gaining. One of my favorite quotes regarding this topic is from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “A man may be the head of the house, but a woman is the neck and she can turn the head anyway she wants!”

When Paul commands these women to submit, he is asking them to cultivate their husband’s abilities instead of manipulating his emotions.  He is recognizing that women are strong and capable, but that the woman must be willing to follow her husband’s lead in order for the marriage to be healthy.

Third, recognize that, as capable as you are, your life is still better when good men are in it.  

Yes, you might be able to take care of everything without your husband, but isn’t it nice to split the work?  It’s humbling to admit this, but you aren’t actually Superwoman.  To me, it seems like a lot of women are working so hard to achieve this heroine status, that they forget that they have a capable partner.  I know many moms who hesitate to leave their kids home alone with their husbands, despite claiming that they are married to great men.

Three weeks after my oldest was born, I left my husband for a girls’ night.  I told him he could call me if he needed backup, which I intended to be relieving but he found insulting.  I don’t know what happened that night, but I know that the novice-dad figured it out.

My life is so much easier because he takes away part of the parenting load.  He might think carrots are a breakfast food and teach them phrases like, “I took a big dump,” but I’m a better mom because my kids have him as a dad.

I think Paul wanted the Proverbs 31 wives to recognize that their lives are better when they sync up with their husbands.

Finally, rethink your definition of independence.

The United States may be an independent nation, but it is not a self-sustaining one.  It has always relied on other countries for trade and alliances. In the same way, being a strong, independent woman does not mean you do everything alone.  It means you evaluate and carefully choose the people you depend on. It means that you are never SO reliant on another human being that your well-being is dependent solely on their actions.

Paul knew this.  When Paul told these strong, independent women to submit, he wasn’t belittling them or making a statement about gender roles and who should perform which chores, he was commanding them to relinquish some control.  He was asking them to trust their husbands. He was reminding them that they are not alone, and that they have a partner capable of household leadership.

To me, submission is an art.  When it is done well, it strengthens the couple’s relationship and weaves this marital tapestry full of beautiful memories.  So, how do you practice it in a healthy way?

First, realize that submission requires humility and flexibility, NOT blind obedience.  My husband and I currently own a few rental properties.  It was his idea to invest and he did the work to find, fix, and rent out these properties.  He also manages them, and from an outsider’s perspective, I’m the doting wife standing behind my husband as he builds his portfolio. In reality, while real estate bores me to tears and I wouldn’t invest without my husband, I can discuss our tenants, our reasoning, and our plans almost as well as he can.  

At one point, after hearing me speak to some friends about our prospects, my husband approached me in awe.  “I didn’t know you knew all that.”

I found that offensive. “I wouldn’t sign my name to multiple mortgages if I wasn’t acutely aware of what I was doing.”  

When my husband first approached me about real estate, we had a pretty chunk of change sitting in our bank account that was reserved for a down payment on our own house.  He did his research, made his case, and, after a lot of prayer, we decided to use the money on rentals and trust that there would be a provision for our own house when the time came.  Throughout this process, I have submitted to his leadership several times. But he has also heard all my input, and been willing to change his mind based on our conversations. He has never made a major decision unless I agree, and I’ve put my selfish thoughts away in favor of choosing the wisest path.  I’m dreaming of a family vacation that isn’t interrupted by real estate matters, but I know he is leading our family to financial freedom.

Second, understand that submission is a gift that you give to your husband.  Paul tells women to choose to submit.  He does not tell men to enforce it, or demand it, or even ask for it.  If your husband ever tells you that you need to give into his demands simply because he is the man, he is seriously misguided. If a man you are not married to ever suggests that you should submit to him on the basis of his gender, feel free to laugh in his face.  

An intelligent woman should have the wisdom to recognize that a marriage is not about winning, it is about serving each other to meet each other’s needs.  When you compare men and women, women seem to have a wider variety of opinions. Men care strongly about a few things but are relaxed about most topics. So when your husband presents a desire or an opinion that he feels strongly about, give him the gift of submission.  Build him up. Help him cultivate his ideas to strengthen your marriage and family.

Finally, submission doesn’t mean you never get your way.  It simply means you evaluate the importance of getting your way, and then start a rational discussion.  In 2017, my husband and I decided we needed a larger vehicle. We decided that my desires held more weight since I would be the primary driver.  My husband researched SUVs and I researched minivans. We visited a few SUV dealerships to test drive and examine SUVs, where we discussed our needs with the salesman, who told us that we needed a minivan!  (And the words, “I told you so,” NEVER came out of my mouth… in public.) Next, we test drove a few minivans. I picked my favorite, a Chrysler Pacifica. My husband was not quite sold, but then I found a used one that was well-priced.  We saw the car, bought it, and now both of us love the car and agree that it was the right decision.

The world would say my husband gave me want I wanted because we got a minivan.  However, the process involved a lot of submission on my part. I knew I what I wanted, but I had to go through my husband’s process in order for him to come to the same conclusion.

Marital submission doesn’t mean that you lose who you are as an individual.  It means you take the best part of your individuality and use it to lift up the other person.  It means you recognize your faults and lean on your spouse as you try to improve yourself.

Submission is hard!  I can’t pretend to be an expert at doing it.  In fact, I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded.  But I can say that our marriage is its healthiest when I embrace submission whole-heartedly.  And, now that I’m not fighting or rewriting Paul’s words, I suddenly feel happier, stronger and, actually, more independent.  


4 thoughts on “How to be a strong, independent woman and still practice the art of submission

  1. I love your point about submission being about humility and flexibility (two things I’m growing in), not blind obedience. I’m so accustomed to going my own way that many times I struggle to submit to authority figures in my life. Thankfully, the Lord and those in my life are patient with me as I’m figuring this out.

    Good post, thanks for sharing!


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