Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Extreme Heart Makeover: Submit Or Suffocate?

With one single observation, she changed everything.

"How can your husband learn to be the leader and head of the family if you give him no say and no opportunity?"

We should all have a best friend brave enough to speak the truth boldly.


The truth hurts. I had done it again... I hadn't been respectful of my husband's role as the leader and given him an opportunity to learn to lead, and she was calling me on it. She knew me inside and out.

A few weeks back, I had expressed my concern to her about my need to become more disciplined with my priorities and my time. Balancing family/kids/adoption, church & Bible Study, a full time job, mission work & fundraising, advocacy and writing/photography... it's a challenge many of us face, and one I had been praying about.

So imagine her surprise when I excitedly called her last Thursday to tell her about a ministry opportunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa, where we both feel led to work. This organization covered so many interesting opportunities; micro-finance, sponsorship, orphans & widows, education, health care, and so much more. They needed someone bilingual to help create a Canadian chapter of their organization. I understood their vision, loved their Christian foundation, I already had a heart for Africa, I knew how sponsorship worked, and I speak fluently in French and English. Perfect, right? They thought so.

My husband had been away on business for a few days, and I hadn't had much of a chance to talk to him about this opportunity. In the meantime, I decided to keep meeting with the head of this organization to learn more while my husband was away. The more I learned, the better it sounded, and the more my excitement grew.

Until her statement stopped me dead in my tracks.

I'll admit that I felt a little defensive initially. If I talked to my husband about it, would he actually listen? Most of the time, he didn't seem to, so was there much point? Would he really understand? What if he said no? Is this something he'd consult me about if the tables were turned? I'll be honest, getting involved with this organization was something I wanted to do, and I briefly felt somewhat resentful that I had to ask his permission.

The more I prayed about it, the more I realized she was right. My attitude and actions in this did not honor my husband or our marriage. What I needed to do was to submit to his leadership and yet lead by example -- needless to say, it's a very delicate balance that requires an incredible amount of faith and courage for a woman like me.

Ask any abuse victim -- they'll tell you that the word submit is a difficult one for them to swallow; a word that until a few years ago sent chills down my spine. I could die to self for God, for my children, for my friends... but for a man?

I spent the first 18 years of my life controlled by a man determined to destroy me, I was forced to die to self for him until I died on the inside... and that led me to spend most of the next 18 years determined never to trust another man with my life -- my husband included. As you can imagine, that has made for a very difficult marriage. Being under his secular leadership has been very difficult, and my reaction was to attempt to protect myself by keeping him at arm's length and digging my heels in even more. In the end, my determination to not be hurt had managed to hurt me by robbing me of a healthy marriage.

By not submitting to my husband, I was seizing the life out of our marriage, suffocating his potential as a leader. Men need to feel respected and adequate in order to feel loved and wanted, and my actions did the opposite. I felt remorse.

I desperately wanted a husband I could trust to lead me in the ways I needed to be led, but I kept getting in his way. How can I complain about his leadership when I haven't led him in the way I want to be led? When I haven't respected him the way I want to be respected?

When I haven't given him a chance?

Wouldn't he be more responsive to my needs if he knew that I had his best interests at heart too? It had to begin with me, again.

If I want him to be a Godly husband and leader, it starts with me. I need to become a Godly wife in every aspect of my life.

"Change ME, Lord, into the woman you need me to be for him, so that you can change him into the man You need him to be for You."

I knew the "change me" prayer very well. It's been a process I've been walking for the past few years. God has been generous with opportunities to put it into practice, and I recognized this as yet another opportunity. I'm not worthy of the patience He bestows, and yet He richly blesses me... I didn't want to waste this precious lesson.

I called my husband and specifically told him that I wanted to talk to him about this opportunity when he returned home. On the way home from the airport, he honored his word. We talked... and he listened. Really listened. I explained what I knew of the organization, how it worked, what they needed, what our potential roles might be... there was an opportunity for him to do some architectural design work, and for me to work in various roles. I asked him if he had any thoughts, concerns or objections. He agreed to meet with them about the architectural project, and voiced his concern about the investment of time. He pointed out that he already struggled with my commitments to various Christian activities, such as two Bible studies and church on Sundays, and add to that time at the gym, he felt I was away from home quite a bit already and that he would find it difficult for me to spend even more time away from home.

Taking time to pray over our conversation, I began to realize that not only would I need to meet with this organization several times a week, but once it took off, it would require even more of my time.

How much time would that take away from our three children? Would it be fair to our family for me to continue with this commitment? What would become of this commitment once we got the call about our adoption? Would it be fair for the head of this organization to keep investing time in me when I may have to drop everything in a a few weeks/months when we finally get that call?

Thinking back to the conversation I'd had with my best friend a few weeks ago about praying and surrendering my time to God and let Him help me set my priorities, I realized that by speaking to my husband about this, God was helping me answer those prayers.

What would I have missed out on if I had refused to submit?

I approached my husband about it, and explained that although I had a passion for what this organization was doing and that I knew I had a lot to offer, I had made the decision to heed to his leadership and step down as a potential candidate. It was important to me to honor his feelings and respect his concerns about time commitments, and I made sure to let him know that this was a decision made intentionally with him and our family in mind. I needed him to know that he was right, and that I agreed with him. (I may or may not have grinned and told him he might want to have that in writing...) I also explained that I wanted to be careful not to give him a negative impression of Christian mission work, that there were ways to be involved in Christian mission work without it compromising our family relationships. Last but not least, I told him that if I wanted him to be a good leader, if I wanted him to also respect me, I had to be the one to lead by example. It was important to me to communicate all this to him because I wanted him to understand the reasons for my decisions.

It was obvious by his response that he was appreciative of how I had handle this and of my decision. I could tell that he didn't take it lightly, and that he understood how significant a turning point this was.

In the end, God showed me that when I struggle to trust others, I need only to remember to trust Him. When I struggle to submit, I need only to remember that by submitting to my husband, I am submitting to God's plans for my life. I saw evidence once again that leading my husband to become a leader by submitting to him is possible, and the only way I'll lead is by example -- by changing myself so that He can change everything else through me.

Submitting to him had answered my prayer to protect establish priorities and protect the time I was given to take care of those priorities.

Ironically, where submitting once felt suffocating, like a death sentence... it has become the extreme opposite. It has given life to my marriage and liberated me from the chains of my past.



Lisa notes... said...

What a courageous and loving friend you have to speak such words of boldness. And how bold of you to pray the “change me” prayer… Trusting him with that prayer for me, too.

JD said...

I smiled when I read your comment, Lisa -- I'm always telling my best friend that she is beautifully brave. I'm blessed beyond measure to have her.

Although she has shared many scriptures with me since God crossed our paths, Proverbs 27:17 was one of my favorites, because she helped me understand it through example.

"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."

Our Family said...

What a wonderful reminder. My marriage is probably the greatest (earthly) strength in my life. But even the best of relationships can be made better with the proper perspective.

Thank you for sharing and putting me back in the right frame of mind as well.


Anonymous said...

For some reason, when I submitted to my husband's authority - I experienced more freedom - spiritual, emotional and in life. However, it's tough letting go of the reins - especially when you have difficulty trusting. I understand that and I understand your story. Funny how God's things don't always adhere to man's logic:)

I still struggle - but I'm doing better every day:)

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