Thinking some more about submission in marriage: What does it mean to submit when things aren’t fair?
Last week when picking his mom up for our weekly dinner together, my husband noticed a terrible smell coming from her basement. His sister, who has been in Florida for the past month, left her three (!) ferrets behind, and although a friend had been stopping by to feed and water them, no one had been cleaning their cage. The mess and smell permeated the house so badly, he decided at dinner that Mom would spend the night with us while he figured out how to fix the situation.
My MIL has Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Suddenly, I was going to be responsible for helping her undress and re-dress in pjs (no big deal), brush her teeth (a little awkward, but not bad) and use the bathroom (what?). It wouldn’t be appropriate for my husband to help with these functions.
I was angry at Husband for not only torpedoing the quiet evening to which I was looking forward to, but also for unwittingly assigning me caregiving duty. I was frustrated that my MIL needs such intensive care, that my late father in law didn’t lay any plans for her future nursing needs, and that her children continue to shirk responsibility for getting her professional care in any situation. (Husband included.) I was upset, though not surprised, that my sister in law failed to properly plan for the care of her animals while she’s away. And I was annoyed with God: Why guide me to marry into a family where, just when you think things can’t get weirder, your sister in law’s stinky ferrets lead to you to spending an evening cleaning up after your MIL in the bathroom?
This is not a plea for pity. Of course I sucked it up and served my mother in law’s needs with a smile and a wish for sweet dreams that night. What was toughest about the evening came later: Lying in bed next to my husband and realizing, This is me submitting to him. This is what God commands wives to do. We have agreed to value and help our families when needed. Serving my MIL’s basic needs when he can’t is my submission.
John Ritenhouse writes,
“Submission is an act of faith. It has nothing at all to do with the quality of character of the person to whom we are submitting. It does not matter whether he is a good or a bad guy. It does not matter whether or not we feel what he is doing is unjust. It may be very unjust—as the taking of Christ’s life was very unjust. But Christ submitted to whatever God permitted—out of fear, out of respect, out of faith that God had Him in His hands and nothing would happen before its time.”
Having to suddenly care for a disabled MIL for just one night isn’t unjust or wrong in the long run. The whole situation – the mess, the failures of others, his mom’s condition – is not my husband’s fault.
My mentor shared that submission in the context of marriage should mean being supportive, not regressive or a doormat to the man of the household. It is sacrifice so you can lean in on what you are supposed to do together. It is letting your life be under his leadership but in God’s control.
(The feminist in me is pacing nervously right now, but we’ll work through that last thought soon.)
In a relationship where two people have committed to being each other’s help-meet, submission means saying, Here I am, send me!
His mom’s situation is really not good. It’s unjust. It’s not what a woman of her means deserves. But it’s not up to me to fix it. I am the daughter in law; the outsider. I will choose to believe that God is working in our family to resolve things in His time, out of fear, out of respect and out of faith in Him and in my husband.
Here I am, Husband! Send me.