by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, October 2013)
Let’s tackle a big dog. Let’s open its jaws, stare into its maw, and smell its nasty breath. I’m feeling ornery today, irritated by something that I think needs to be addressed. I might get letters about this, which is okay, because it’s a pretty touchy and misunderstood subject. I will admit I do not have the corner of understanding on this topic, but let’s step back from the corner this topic is in, and give it (and us) some breathing space.
Here we go:
I already feel the hairs on your neck bristling.
Let’s cut to the chase. Yes, the Bible says for women to submit to their husbands. It is in Ephesians chapter five. It uses the word “submission” there in reference to an action of wives toward husbands. It does not use it in reference to an action of husbands toward wives. Yet, YET, what follows the exhortation of women to submit is an action for husbands that is the ultimate in submission, and the furthest expression of submission—love, LOVE. It is not just any ordinary love, but a rather large type of love—sacrificial love. That type of love is the dying kind, which turns out to be the all-trumping yet non-power-oriented non-coercive submissive act. Because, BECAUSE, it is hard to coerce anyone to do anything if one is metaphorically dead. In Kingdom-think, this is a good thing, because dying for another is the ultimate love-act and elicits the ultimate love-response: submission of the other. Yes, submission is a choice, but it is mostly and best-ly a choice made in response to love. Commanding or demanding submission and respect does very little; dying to self and to the other does it all.
You see, the problem is that there is such a thing as forced submission. In the history of humankind, forced submission has never (yes, NEVER) been a good thing. From Pharaoh’s day to today’s sex trade, forced submission (a.k.a. slavery) is NOT GOOD. It disrespects, devalues, degrades, dehumanizes, and destroys the very delight and culmination of creation. Yet we do it all the time in very subtle ways, through expectation and moral conformity, forgetting the other parts of the equation in order to cut quickly to the sum and get our way. Crazy thing is that forced submission can work, but too high a price is paid for only marginal results. Submission works the most fully when it is invited or offered, when it flows as a response to another’s love.
Let me define “the better” forms of submission: Invited Submission is asked for, requested, respected when the answer is “no,” moved upon only when the answer is “yes.” Offered Submission is a choice given humbly, lovingly, authentically, willingly. Only in the forms of invited or offered can submission make way the path of partnership that is the core of absolute and efficient relational functionality and communion (aka “One Flesh”).
Good grief, we incessantly beat the drums of submission from Ephesians five. Unfortunately, we do so all the while forgetting that what precedes this passage is FOUNDATIONAL, ESSENTIAL, and a FIRST priority before the other two actions can fall into place: “submit TO ONE ANOTHER, OUT OF reverence to God.” So much of the submission battle is in the context of obeying God, yet it ignores the priority condition: that we ARE loved by God AND therefore IN AWE of God and what He has done for us. Reverence to God, as an act of gratitude, is FOUND and EXHIBITED in MUTUAL submission, one to another.
Ok, sorry for all the yelling with the numerous all-capitalized words. I need a breather. But let me say this to conclude: the next time the desire to unleash the big dog possesses you in order to win the war of wills, remember leash-law number one: it is one to another (as in “submit to by loving and understanding the other first”).
Because once you unleash the big dog, it won’t stop until it eats you both.
To talk further about the mutual submission experience, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website at www.lifepractical.org. Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.