I like peace, so does my husband. Usually, that’s a good thing. Blessed are the peacemakers, right? Yes, but telling the truth in love is the only way to have true peace. As I’ve found so many times in the Kingdom, it isn’t an either/or, this is a both/and.
Let me explain. I grew up in and out of a church that really stressed submission of the wife to the husband. I was probably a senior in high school or in college before I remember hearing any teaching about a husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church. This is my memory. It may be inaccurate, maybe the husbands were taught to love their wives, and I didn’t hear it above all the submission noise. I’m not sure. That church was, by all accounts, very concerned about women staying in the home, submitting, cooking and cleaning. I distinctly remember hearing the pastor explaining precisely how a wife should clean between the tines of a fork, so I’m pretty sure that my recollection isn’t wholly skewed.
I’m not complaining about my upbringing. There were a lot of things that I’m thankful for. This same church loved the Bible and seeing souls saved. I was taught about tithing and money management, and I’m so thankful that I learned that the “debtor is a slave to the lender.” It saved me from a lot of financial heartache. There were things they did well, and I appreciate these things. However, I have to be honest and admit that in my most formative years, I was not really equipped to know the difference between a good fight and a bad fight. A good fight seemed like an oxymoron to me. Fighting was bad. No fighting was good. Nagging wife, bad. Agreeable wife, good. There was no real understanding of a dynamic person (wife) who voiced opinions in a way that were helpful, and yet (gasp!) different from her husband’s.
I went off to college where I learned very different, more healthy things, about marriage in class. I decided that I wanted an egalitarian marriage and was passionate in my studies. Talking about marriage in college is decidedly theoretical, though, because almost no students are married. Married professors shared their experiences, I read books, but those messages in my early years affected me more than I knew.
On the other hand, my husband has no memory of his father. He was raised in Kenya by his mom and maids or house boys, because as a single parent, she had to work. He also attended boarding schools, lived in various extended family relationships with people who really loved him, but he did not live anywhere for very long in his childhood. Our four years at the same college was longest he lived anywhere, before we were married (and there he had three different roommates and spent some time in his own room and apartment). Now this is not to say that my husband doesn’t get along with people. He’s very adaptable and easy to get along with, perhaps because of his transient lifestyle growing up.
Somehow at twenty-six and twenty-three, respectively, they let he and I get married. This stuff is legal! The good news is we truly were surrendered to the Lord, and loved each other. We had also known each other for five years as friends, before we started dating and soon married. For all my husband lacked in models, he had a humble, teachable and very patient heart. My parents are still very devoted to each other after decades of marriage, so I had seen commitment and fidelity lived out all my life. All that to say, we did have some key advantages to help us through our disadvantages.
We were blessed by great marriage counseling with our awesome new pastors. The line I remember one of them saying sometime before we were married is, “If you always agree on everything, one of you is being run over, because no two people always agree on everything.” And we nodded our heads, and thought we understood.
Fast forward seven years, two kids, and youth ministry added to the mix. I struggled with depression in our early marriage. It had nothing to do with my husband, but everything to do with him, because he had promised to love me for the rest of my life, and I probably wasn’t very easy to love. He didn’t tell me how this made him feel, and I was probably too afraid to ask. I was doing a lot of things because I felt I “should,” but not really living from my heart. I forgot who I was when I took on the role of wife, and somehow tried to mold my life around his. Even the things I wanted to do, like staying home with my kids as they grew, had the joy sucked all out of them on account of the “shoulds.” And I set aside my very clear, long-held dreams for his calling, because everyone saw his potential, and I was busy trying to be a clone of “shoulds.” I can’t believe that I did that, but I did.
My husband, on the other hand, had very few “shoulds” for me, or himself. He was trying to figure out how to be a husband, father, teacher and youth pastor, all with a depressed wife in tow. I remember him encouraging me to get out, pursue my own interests. Our son and he would be fine without me for a few hours. I think if he could have spoken honestly to the girl I once was, he would have said, “Do whatever you need to do to be happy. I know you’ll take care of the kids and I, I’m not worried about that. Please just find what you were made for and do it, so you can be happy. That will make our home so much more of a place I want to be then having clean forks. I can clean my own forks if I have to.” He didn’t say that, though. I don’t know if either of us really knew what was wrong or how to say what we needed from each other. We definitely did not want to argue.
I felt condemned, guilty, and lost. I am strong-willed and passionate. I am philosophical. I hung out with a bunch of crazy people in college, and it was heaven to me. I would never be the girl whose heart would skip a beat washing the forks between the tines. Truthfully, teaching the youth group girls about modesty wasn’t really in my heart either, considering that I just started dressing modestly a week beforehand (this is only a slight exaggeration). I do love ministry, I was just so lost that I didn’t have much to offer at the time.
Nobody told me I had to do any of this at the time, it was just plain old religious bondage. It makes us miserable when we try to be something that we were never created to be. I did so many things because I was the “youth pastor’s wife,” as if that was even a big deal, or something. Don’t get me wrong, I want to honor God with my whole self, but I’m talking about the heart, not just the outside of the cup. When Jesus told the Pharisees that they were white washed tombs, we should grab ahold of what He was really saying, “When all you focus on is the externals, your position or role, and following the rules, you may look all super-spiritual on the outside, but you’re still dead inside.” I was dead.
Marlin spent more and more time away from the house, and more and more often I told myself not to count the hours he was gone a week, because it seemed like things were out of whack between family and ministry to me. I would speak up sometimes, but always back down, because competing with God seemed very un-spiritual. Besides, I didn’t want to argue.
Finally, it became painfully obvious that we were in trouble. He hurt me. I hurt him. We sought various counsel in order to fix it. Still, we spiraled. I was aware that I’d totally lost my voice and I WAS NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN. I held nothing back. I was vicious. I’m so sorry for so many things I said in that season, not just to Marlin, but to others. It’s cost me big time.
However, I don’t think either of us regret me finding my voice. I started doing things that had absolutely nothing to do with my husband and children, and that was the point. I enrolled in school to start working on my master’s degree. I’d felt this was my calling since I was a teenager, but I’d put it on the back burner, because… I don’t know why! No one did this to me. I did it to myself. I did not neglect my family at all in pursuing these things, they were not my idols, but neither was my husband anymore. I just gave myself permission to be the girl I’d always been, the girl he had fallen in love with.
I’d come home from a day and a half of lectures. (I know how nerdy this sounds, but I don’t care). I would talk to him for hours in the dark about things he wasn’t particularly interested in. He was interested in me, though, so the whole time he’d be grinning ear to ear and asking me more questions. I was alive. It gave him permission to be alive, too.
I also fought for our family and became very articulate about how I saw ministry in our marriage. I had always known what I wanted, but I had not known how to express it. Suddenly, I knew. God would always be first in our marriage, by His grace. He’d been first before my husband came along, and I didn’t want to do marriage with Him taking a backseat. However, after Christ would be our family. After our family, would be our callings. With Christ as the Head, it would be clear when the family would make sacrifices for individual and family callings. The first commandment would be first, and the second commandment needs to be embodied in the foundational relationships of family in order for them to mean anything anywhere else. Marlin agreed quickly. It seemed fitting to him, and the Lord established it deeply in his heart. Again, we don’t do it perfectly, but we agreed that this is how the Lord was leading us.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t pick a fight every time my husband rubs me the wrong way, and I’m sure there’s plenty he could say, but holds back, too. Love truly covers a multitude of sins. On the other hand, there are things I will fight for in my marriage, because I’ve learned that fighting in marriage can be fighting for your marriage. My husband never intended to marry a clone of himself. One look at us in the mirror should have made that obvious, but I missed it in the tyranny of the “shoulds.”
My husband and I have completely different gifts, and I think in the beginning I was intimidated by that. I thought that his gifts were more important than mine. Another thing we heard in pre-marital counseling went something like this, “If both people in a marriage are exactly alike, one of you would be unnecessary.” We get it now, and the last seven years of our marriage have been a lot more fun than the first seven.
I still believe in biblical submission. I just have a clearer, more freeing understanding of what that means. I understand submission as “sub”(coming under) his “mission.” I come under his mission. I stand behind and assist him in his calling. Sometimes that means doing what he’s doing, going where he’s going. Sometimes that means cheering him on, as I hold down the fort. Often, it means noticing what a great job he’s doing. Sometimes, it means kindly suggesting a better way or offering my strengths where he’s weak. He hears me, so when he digs his heals in the sand, because he’s really convinced about something, I trust him. We’re still working on it, but it has become a natural part of how we relate to one another.
He, also, supports my calling in Christ. He makes sacrifices so that I can answer my own call, too, by taking care of the kids many weekends after long work weeks, so that I can go to classes and many other things. This blesses me more than he’ll ever know. Sounds a lot like submitting to one another in love for Christ, doesn’t it?
I’m happy to say that I am a lot more of an asset to my marriage, because my husband knows the things I have more discernment about than him, and he listens to me. I also recognize the things he’s better at seeing than I am, and I adjust.
Do you want to know one of the things I learned in school? One of the best predictors or marital satisfaction and longevity is that a husband will take his wife’s advice. The alternate, whether a wife will take the advice of a husband, does not predict marital satisfaction or prevent divorce at all. This is probably, because women are socialized to accept the opinions of others, while men are not. Women will often accommodate their husbands whether their marriage is good or bad.
I’m so thankful I learned to speak up for myself, and that my husband did, too. He pursues me in our differences until we hear each other and come to a mutual resolution. He serves our whole family in the way that he leads. I’m glad we both are learning to hear each other’s hearts, and resist the urge to be defensive. By the grace of God, it has saved our marriage. Besides that, it’s a whole lot more fun than it used to be.
(Credit for the family photo belongs to Kristy Meade).