Shannon Popkin is a speaker and writer from Grand Rapids, MI. Shannon enjoys blending her love for humor and storytelling with her passion for God’s Word. Shannon’s first book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control From 7 Women in The Bible will be published by Kregel Publications in 2016/2017. Check out Shannon’s blog at www.ShannonPopkin.com, where she shares “Tiny Paragraphs” from everyday life as a wife and mom, which are tucked back into the One True Story of God.
By: Shannon Popkin
God doesn’t use swear words; I know this full well. But if I’m honest, the word “submit”—which God uses often when He instructs wives—sometimes feels like a dirty word.
Picture this. You’re at the mall, and you see a husband and wife who are obviously having an argument. Their body language is terse and their tone is sharp. The wife looks frustrated and angry, as she folds her arms across her chest and turns her back toward her husband. Should you, at that moment, approach this wife and suggest she submit to her husband?
I know I wouldn’t. But this is exactly what God does in his Word. When I am the angry, terse wife, crossing my arms—convinced that my husband just doesn’t understand, God whispers softly, “submit.” But often, as that word clanks against my iron will, I bristle. It feels degrading and insulting. I’m to submit, simply because I’m a woman? How can that be right?
God’s Curse Word
There’s another word which God did speak as a curse over women: the word “desire”. After Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God told her, “Your desire will be for your husband.” (Gen. 3:15, emphasis mine.) This word always baffled me because I thought it meant a sexual desire. I figured if I had more of that kind of desire, my husband would not consider it a curse.
Then one day, I was painting my laundry room and listening to John Piper preach a sermon on the curse of Genesis 3. He used parallel language from the next chapter in Genesis to explain that this word “desire” was a desire for control[i]. God was telling the woman that she would be cursed with a desire to control her husband. Now that did make sense to me.
With paintbrush in hand, I realized that I, too, as a daughter of Eve, am cursed with the desire to control my husband. For me, this was like finally—after a lifetime of suffering its effects—being diagnosed with a degenerative disease that had been passed on to me from generations back. Suddenly all of my symptoms made sense. I always wondered why I was so testy, obstinate, and even surly toward this man I love so desperately. Now I understood. As a daughter of Eve, I am infected with a desire to control him.
That day that I was painting the laundry room was over a decade ago. I’d love to say that understanding my “condition” has healed my desire for control, but this is not the case. As long as I live under the curse, I will struggle with a desire to get my hooks into the people I love. I have, however, gotten better at recognizing my desire for control.
Recognizing my Desire for Control
Recently, my husband and I were driving to our daughter’s swim meet. In the back seat was our angry tween, who was wishing he could be at a birthday party with his friends. This privilege had been revoked because of his attitude (which wasn’t improving).
I’ve noticed that my desire for control seeps beyond the bounds of marriage and into all of my relationships—especially parenting. And especially when my child is being rebellious and rude. As we drove down the highway, I felt the desire for control rising up in me. “His insolence is going to destroy his life,” I said to myself. “I’ve got to stop him. I’ve got to do something right now!”
And so I did. My swelling desire for control erupted in the form of white-hot, spewing words. My voice was loud and commanding. My words had manipulative undercurrents and harsh overstatements. I lectured. I shamed. I warned. I demanded. I gave full vent to my desire for control.
And how did my son respond? He recoiled. He folded his arms in anger and said he didn’t care. There was stubbornness, not remorse, in his tone.
Just as I began to launch round two of my lecture, my husband cut in. “Shannon, stop.”
Stop? I couldn’t stop. I shouldn’t stop! I ignored him and kept going.
“Shannon, stop.” Quietly, but forcefully, my husband put his hand on mine. “Stop. It. You’re making it worse,” he said quietly.
“No, I’m not! He needs to hear this!” I said in a loud whisper. But my husband wouldn’t back down. He calmly assured me that he would handle it. For the rest of the drive, he wanted me to be quiet. Then when we arrived, he wanted me to get out of the car and let him deal with the situation. Alone. Without me.
Well that pretty much felt like a total loss of control, especially for a Control Girl like me. My arguments were burning a hole in my heart. My son needed my correction. He needed it right now! From my dark corner in the passenger seat of our car, I cried out silently to God. Was He seeing this?
Just then, the word “submit” flashed through my conscience. It’s in moments like these that this word feels like a swear word to me. It seems degrading for God to ask me to defer to my husband. Especially when I know I’m right!
Yet I’ve learned that it rarely feels like I’m living out the curse in the moment I’m doing so. Taking control often seems right and good. And submitting to my husband feels quite wrong.
A Moment of Choice
Oh how I wanted to overrule my husband and continue my lecture. My heart was screaming with the desire for control. But rather than giving in to myself, I gave in to God.
I always picture yielding to God as a quiet, peaceful experience; yet it is some of the most grueling, challenging work of my Christian life. Yes, I was sitting quietly on my side of the car that night, but inside I was doing battle with my flesh! Stepping from that car and deferring to my husband was my way of passionately yielding to God—trusting that His ways are better than mine.
Fifteen minutes later, as I sat in the bleachers overlooking the pool, I saw what I couldn’t see back in the car. My husband was right. I had been making it worse. My heart had deceived me again. My words had been like a harsh, driving wind, causing my son to hold tighter to his pride and belligerence.
Just as a tear of remorse trickled down my cheek, my son slid onto the bleacher seat beside me. He put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a warm squeeze, saying, “I’m sorry, mom. I was so wrong. I see that now. Will you forgive me?”
Have you ever noticed that the wife’s instructions to respectfully submit to her husband come before her husband’s instructions in the Bible? Since he is named the leader, I would expect his instructions to come first, but it’s the opposite. (Eph. 5:22-25, Col. 3:18-19, I Pet. 3:1-7). Why is that?
I think it’s because my husband can’t lead me if I’m not willing to submit. Ken can shut down my lecture, yes. But he can’t make me submit to him. He can only invite me to. But when I do, God blesses me. Sometimes I even get the warm squeeze and apology that I was hoping for in the first place. And even when my husband doesn’t handle a situation with wisdom, or things don’t turn out well after I defer to him, God uses submission to reverse the curse—this wretched desire I have to control everything—in my heart.
Submitting to my husband is exactly what my controlling heart screams for me not to do. So when I submit (which is the opposite of taking control), I break the curse’s hold on me. I free myself to be healed of sin’s effects. I invite peace and restoration to my relationships. This is what God has in mind when He asks me to submit to my husband. He knows that my desire is to control, and He’s gently leading me to do the opposite.
Is “submit” a degrading curse word against women? Hardly. It’s actually the way that wives like me can break free from the curse, and be healed.
What Is Biblical Submission?
Biblical Submission Is Not Passivity
Biblical Submission – a Huge Key to Peace
Can a Wife Overdo Biblical Submission? – by Nikka
The Pendulum Effect – we are all tempted to go too far one way or the other (too passive or too controlling)
Fear Fuels Our “Need” to Control
What Causes a Woman to Become Controlling? – Peacefulwife Video
Fully Trusting God with My Husband
Posts about Control – by Peacefulwife
Spiritual Authority – a general overview of a foundational doctrine
A Husband’s and a Wife’s Authority in Marriage
Husbands Are Never the Absolute Authority
What Is Godly Spiritual Leadership?
What Biblical Headship/Submission Look Like at Our House