***this post kicks off An Unladylike Week in the Blogosphere with blogger and author Rachel Held Evans leading the charge. For my first blog post, I am offering something I have rarely done on this blog and that is give readers a peek into my marriage. I wrote much of this post last year during the writing of my book. It ended up on the editing scrap heap and has now found glorious resurrection in being published today. I hope it will demonstrate how what we believe very much matters, especially in the most intimate of our relationships. And please be sure to follow Rachel’s blog this week. She’s also posted the hashtag #mutuality2012 on Twitter to help folks find one another’s posts. Be sure to check it daily. I know I intend to! Together we are building momentum that will carry us forward into forms of church where women are honored in our full personhood!!!
A few weeks before I got married, a friend asked me what kind of partnership we were going to have. “What do you mean?” I asked. Her question puzzled me.
“Well, do you believe in submission or in partnership?”
“Submission, of course. That’s what the Bible says.” It was so clear to me that Christian women were to submit to the headship of their husbands that I had not given any thought to it whatsoever. It would have been like asking, “Are you going to sleep in separate bedrooms?” “The Bible teaches mutual submission,” she quietly replied. “My mom and dad have a partnership and they’re Christian.” I didn’t want to debate my friend about whether or not her parents had a biblical marriage, especially with prenuptial bliss filling my nearly wedded heart. I brushed her off with a dismissive quip. “Glad that works for them.”
I had high expectations that in our marriage, Jerry would be the leader and I would be his helper. He would provide headship in our relationship and I would respect his authority as the leader of the home.
To be an obedient, true Christian woman who honors the Bible meant I took verses like this to heart:
Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman. (1 Cor 11:3)
We never talked about this, but since we both were Christians why did we need to? It would just come natural since this was God’s created order for men and women. I relished the thought of being Jerry’s submissive, respectful wife.
I’d been studying Christian couples since I became a believer at age 18. I was more than ready to be Jerry’s helpmate and have my Jesus-sanctioned happily ever after. Having a husband meant someone else could call the shots about my life. I welcomed the prospect of having a personal manager, coach, and spiritual advisor all wrapped up into one hunky husband who’d take care of me for life. All I had to do was cook, clean and make babies. We’d be just fine.
But… it didn’t quite work out that way.
It’s not that I didn’t try, because let me tell you, I tried. And Jerry tried, too. He tried to fill the role of being my sugar daddy, but he wasn’t very good at it and frankly, I found that I really didn’t want to give up control of my life to another human being, even one whose name I had taken as my own. The head/helpmate model of marriage was not working for us.
But here’s the thing: I could not have defined this for you at that time had I tried. My perceptions were dulled from a veil of fogginess that hung over my eyes like dirty lace curtains. I just couldn’t see right. All I knew was what I felt, and I felt crappy. I felt like my Christian marriage was not very Christian. Did this mean we were headed for dysfunction and divorce?
I had heard inferences of marriages going rogue when the roles of husband and wife were out of God’s created order. One woman at a Bible study once described how women who lead force their husbands to be quiet and become passive. She said, “It’s like emasculating a man when a wife takes over and insists on calling the shots. She needs to let him be the leader of the home.”
I heard variations on this from the pulpit, too. When biblical examples of women leaders were called into question, for example, it was determined that they were only in a more public position than the men around them because the men had failed. Wayne Grudem and John Piper note this in their book, where they interpret Deborah’s leadership described in the book of Judges as an “indictment of the weakness of Barak, and other men in Israel who should have been more courageous leaders.” (Restoring Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, page 72)
It was in this kind of evangelical, patriarchal sub-society that I measured and judged my marriage, myself and especially my husband. From this point of view, Jerry looked weak and I came across as a rebellious wife who wouldn’t submit to her husband’s authority. These tensions swelled inside of me, coloring the atmosphere of my marriage and perception of my husband as well as myself.
I thought our roles would be clear, that he would take the lead in most things like the reins of our spiritual development as a couple and lead our marriage in devotions and prayer times while I would fill the role of a domestic diva, cook and clean and manage the hospitality of our home.
But a prayer life between us did not develop. Jerry is so private when it comes to prayer that he has never been comfortable praying out loud with others. Through the lens of the headship/submission model that insists God calls men to be the head of the home and women to live under their spiritual covering, I could only see that Jerry failed. That I had failed. My marriage was tainted with a sense of anxiety that we were an unhealthy, unbiblical effed-up couple who would be lucky if our marriage survived another five years.
I didn’t speak of these things. It was too ambiguous, too murky. I didn’t divulge it to other women either. I was intent on protecting Jerry. I didn’t want people to see him as weak and less of a man just because he didn’t pray with his wife or speak up in public more than I did. It was confusing. There was a social order, an unspoken code that men are to be more expressive in public with their wives supporting their husband’s sphere of influence in demure domesticity. I just wasn’t cut out for that. Jerry wasn’t cut out to be the family spokesman. I’ve always been the wordy one in the family, but instead of recognizing each others gifting I internalized an image of Jerry and of myself as being flawed. We were messed up. Our marriage was messed up. This was the ghost that haunted my marriage for more than a decade.
I tried to find a way to adjust our marriage course, fearing the worst was up ahead for us. We seemed to be doing ok today, but according to the Christian relationship experts,, we were not. I’d read a few Christian marriage books hoping for encouragement in either how to make things better or that we were actually ok, but instead each book simply regurgitated the message that to have a healthy Christian marriage the woman must submit to the headship of her husband. It made me want to scream.
One night, I was reading yet another marriage book in hopes of finding a map that would make sense of my relationship with Jerry. When the author insisted that a man who won’t lead his family in prayer is a man without convictions, I froze in my reading tracks. I was lying in bed, next to my sleeping husband. In the room across the hall slept our two young children. The quiet night seemed to shift as I wondered about my marriage once again and the Christian mold of headship/subservience.
I had struggled with trying to fit the role that my religious culture insisted upon, but to no avail. It was like trying to squeeze my size 16 body into a size 12…worse; it was like trying to fit my husband into a three-piece suit when he is a t-shirt and Levis kind of man. It was ill-fitting.
But this night, something clicked. Or maybe snapped. I suppose it depends on your point of view. I laid there in my bed next to my husband, the man who was committed to living life in partnership with me, and who gave me the space to be the woman I had been created to be. I thought of this author indicting him as a man without conviction because he did not fit the Christianized version of the he-man-priest husband.
With a flare of fury in my gut, I threw the book across the bedroom. Thud! It hit the wall before hitting the floor. Jerry didn’t even flinch, oblivious to the internal battle raging in bed next to him. Flinging that book across the room was like throwing off the strait jacket of patriarchy that I had attempted to stuff my marriage into all those years. My marriage would no longer be subjected to the demanding code of traditionalistic Christianity. Nor would my identity.
Jerry and I had a solid marriage. Why I hadn’t I seen it before? I was a faithful wife, he a faithful husband. We were committed to one another and to our children. I was finished trying to emulate the ideal Christian couple, whatever that meant. It might work for some, but Jerry and Pam had our own, customized version of what works in a marriage. God, I was beginning to realize, must not be as rigid about male/female relationshipsthan we suppose him to be.
A fresh wind of liberty blew into my home and marriage that night. I had crossed a threshold into a new era of married life. From that moment on, I began to enjoy the strength of my marriage to Jerry rather than fretting over its lack of patriarchal propriety.
I had a dream a few years ago of Jerry and I showing up to a banquet. When we signed in, we were directed to different dining halls, one for men and a separate one for women. Not only that, but Jerry was given a shirt to wear that matched all the other men and I was given a pair of shoes that matched the other women.
We went to our different dining rooms, but soon after I sat down my feet began to hurt. The shoes didn’t fit right. Nothing felt right. I finally left in search of Jerry only to find him in search of me. We peeled off the shoes and shirt we’d been given and dropped them in the garbage on our way out of the banquet hall. Once outside the building, we began laughing like high schoolers who had just played hooky.
Getting out from under the submission/headship teaching brought joyful liberty for me in my marriage. I no longer hold up my marriage against an ideal that it can never live up to. It’s not who Jerry and I are.
I met a couple not too long ago. The wife is a strong leader of a thriving ministry. She is vivacious and instantly charms the room with her presence. Her husband is much different. He has a mild personality and is soft spoken. He does not play an integral role in her ministry, but instead helps hold the fort down at home. He also works full-time, but when it comes to leadership, his wife is a natural.
She is often swarmed at church by many who want to connect to her, while he takes care of picking up the kids from their Sunday school classes. In a headship/submission model, it looks like they both are failing in building a biblical marriage. And I feel for them, for I know that they are part of a faith community that tells its men to man up and its women to get out of the way. I hope they both know the joy of accepting one another and celebrating the unique union each marriage is. There is no cookie-cutter biblical model.
I read a quote somewhere about every marriage being a remarriage since the relationship changes and shifts over the years. This is certainly true of mine. I had been a young bride willing and wanting my knight in shining armor to save me from myself. I wanted a man to lead in managing my life for me.
Instead, I have a partner, an equal who is free to be who he is and who honors the woman I am and the unique giftings I possess. It is good to be Pam and Jerry. It is good that our Christian marriage failed.
****Here’s a link to a short interview I did with Jerry asking him about the unique pressures of being a Christian husband. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what he has to say!