Ephesians 5:21-25 still frustrates me. I don’t like the idea of being “subject” to anyone. Maybe it’s the red-blooded American in me, maybe I’m actually a closet feminist (not likely), but most likely, it’s just my fallen humanity saying, “I am the master of my own life.” Despite not really caring for those verses, I know that in order to be a good wife, I have to let my husband lead me, and I know that in order to be a good Christian, I have to follow Christ as well.
“As to the Lord”
Whenever I get too cranky about my role as a “subject”, I remember the next verses, 26-33. My job as a wife is to obey my husband, as long as what he is asking me is in line with God’s Laws. I’m not called to be “subject to my husband, as to his work schedule”, or “as to his stomach”, or “as to the amount of sleep that the baby let us get last night”, but I am called to be subject to him, “as to the Lord.” It’s really not awful.
He, on the other hand, is called to love me as Christ loved the Church. My boss loves Ephesians 5 for weddings. Even if the couple hasn’t picked Ephesians 5 (which, let’s be real, no one does anymore. But they should.), he brings it up, just so he can say: “How did Christ love the Church? Well, like that!” and he points to Christ crucified behind the altar. I definitely don’t envy my husband’s vocation.
When St. Paul calls wives to be submissive to their husbands, he is not calling us to just be nice all the time to them and debase ourselves to their every whim. He is calling us to help our husbands love us as Christ loved. If our husband is being prideful, being selfish, or being mean, we aren’t bound to obedience, because that is not how Christ loved the Church.
Sometimes you don’t have to be subject
My buddy Paul used to tell me, “Being loving isn’t always being nice. Being loving is doing what’s best for them.” When we marry someone, we take on some responsibility for their eternal salvation. One of our primary objectives now becomes getting that person to heaven with us. Whether they like it or not. If a wife is constantly submissive to the selfish, prideful, or mean-spirited demands of a husband, she enables him to persist in those behaviors that are keeping him from union with God.
Now of course, if a wife is constantly assuming that she just knows better and doesn’t have to listen to her husband because he is dumb or always a mean person, you’ve got bigger fish to fry, and an amateur blogger isn’t going to help you much. However, there is absolutely a time that it is appropriate for a wife to tell her husband “no” because what he is requesting or demanding is not in a spirit of love.
Needs vs. Wants
One really good time for wives not to be subject to their husbands is when they have a legitimate need that is not being met. If a choice your husband is making leaves you with a serious unmet need, you are well within your Christian rights to put your foot down and demand the situation be resolved. Why? Because God gives us our Daily Bread in abundance, and our husbands are called to do the same.
God doesn’t give us tomorrow’s bread, and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but He does give us what we need. It’s vital to discern if what we are missing is a legitimate need or just a want.
For example, I want to spend a few hours all on my own every week, to regain my sanity. What I actually need is about a half hour of calm with no demands. I figured out I can get that by putting the baby in the stroller, giving him a plume of grass, and going for a half hour walk. That’ll do it for me.
I want my husband to speak my love language (Words of Affirmation) spontaneously with beautiful long declarations of how much he loves me and how lucky he is to be married to me. What I actually need is for him to occasionally verbally remind me that I am loved by him, nothing fancy.
Making sure needs are met in a marriage is absolutely vital. Affairs don’t happen because of boredom or convenience, affairs happen because one spouse has a need that is not being met, and they look for that need to be met elsewhere. Beyond that, unmet needs very quickly breed resentment. After a few years (or even months) of constantly downplaying your needs and trying to convince yourself that you don’t actually need whatever that need is because you’re a good Christian wife who needs to be submissive, you will become very bitter and resentful towards your husband.
And he is actually probably a good man, he just needs a little direction. There are some universal needs, such as food and water, love, security, sleep, etc… but guys and gals have very different needs, and we don’t innately understand what makes each other tick (understatement of the century). Even within genders, every person has specific needs that are unique to them. You aren’t a bad husband or wife just because you don’t always notice or realize what your spouse needs. So if there is something you need don’t feel like you’re being prideful, silly, or demanding in asking for it, even if your husband (or your wife for that matter) initially thinks you are being ridiculous.
Ephesians 5 does call wives to die to ourselves, to sacrifice our desires out of humility. It does not call us to downplay our true needs. That is not true humility, in fact, it is closer to pride and presumption, saying that you are a superhuman who needs nothing. Humility is an acknowledgement of reality, of who God made us to be and all that entails.
Husbands and wives are called to support each other in their vocation. We’re in this together, we’ve become “one flesh”. Wives, don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a Christian by throwing Ephesians 5 at you when you’re drowning. Christ doesn’t want us to drown. That’s not what the verse is for. Ephesians 5 is for helping both of us get to heaven. Sometimes that will mean sticking up for yourselves.