Many years ago, my husband and I were studying with a couple we had met in our community. Our families got along well and spent a lot of time together, along with another family from our congregation. This couple had begun attending services with us regularly, along with their precious kiddos. Everything seemed to be going well until the idea of submission came up. At this point the wife looked at my husband and I and said, “If you tell me I have to submit to him, I’m gone.”

This woman seemed to adore her husband, and her husband treated her respectfully. It was in no way an abusive or domineering situation, so why did she react so strongly to the idea of submission? Why do so many women, even sisters in Christ, balk, struggle, and rebel at the mention of submission? As a Christian woman, minister’s wife, and licensed therapist, I believe there are many reasons for this reaction, but I believe the heart of the struggle is found all the way back in Genesis 3:16,

“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing: in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, and he shall rule over you.’”

Many versions translate this as “your desire shall be for your husband”; however, “contrary to” seems to more accurately convey the original meaning. Part of the punishment for Eve’s sin is that woman will desire to be in charge, yet that is the role God has specifically given to the husband. Not because women are inferior to men but because that is the order God has established. And we don’t always like that very much, just as God predicted back in Genesis three.

One very wise woman said it this way, “Submission begins when you disagree.” If I “submit” to my husband when I fully agree with him and support his decision, really, I’m just getting my own way. But when I disagree, perhaps strongly, that’s an entirely separate issue. If I believe a decision is not in my family’s best interest, if I believe I’m not the priority in the decision, if I believe my husband doesn’t have a good attitude or motivation regarding a decision, that’s an entirely different animal.

This is when it’s vital to note passages such as 1 Peter 3:1-2,

“Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”

Notice the complete lack of stipulations in these verses. God doesn’t say, “Wives, submit when your husband makes it easy for you.” He simply says that we are to be subject to the man we choose as the head of our house.

It’s also important to note the attitude that accompanies this submission: respectful and pure conduct. This is because biblical submission is from the inside out. It is a conscious and intentional decision to place someone else and their will above our own. It’s a mindset. The idea of, “I’ll submit, but I disagree, and you’re going to regret it!” Is completely contrary to Scripture. Giving our husband the cold shoulder or snubbing him while “going along” with his decision is in no way pleasing to God.

Biblical submission is not easy. In fact, for opinionated, stubborn women like me, it is a daily struggle, even though I am blessed with a husband I have full confidence in and who cherishes me. My struggle with biblical submission hit me flat in the face about two years into my marriage. My husband and I were diametrically opposed about a decision for our young daughter, and distraught is a mild way of describing my emotional state at the time. I truly believed it was a safety issue for my daughter, and I was putting my foot down in opposition to what my husband wanted.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but somehow, I ended up on the phone with my godly daddy, sobbing about the situation. I can’t imagine how hard it was for him, but over my crying, my daddy said, “Lacy, your husband has to come first. You have to support his decision.” I cried even harder, “But Daddy, you don’t understand! I’m worried for her well-being!” “Lacy, I do understand, but you have to put your husband first. You have to respect and support his decision.”

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I listened to this godly wisdom. I quit fighting against my husband and started supporting him and working with him, and it was absolutely a game changer for our marriage. Ironically, in this particular situation, I was right, and things did not go smoothly with our daughter (although she was never actually in physical danger). But I believe this is what Peter is referring to in 1 Peter 3:1 when he says, “That they may be won without a word.

Once my husband had a supportive wife, once he no longer had to fight me to lead our family, he was free to truly consider us in his decision-making. When the decision he made went badly, he was loved and supported enough to acknowledge it, own the responsibility, and apologize. Amazingly, how he handled making a poor decision (without my nagging in the way) actually served to deepen my trust in him and my submission to him. Thus began a beautiful cycle that we have worked to cultivate over the almost two decades we have been married: I strive to submit from the inside out even when I disagree with him, and he ensures I intentionally consider my wants and needs and the kids in any decision he makes.

As someone who very much had an “I am a woman, hear me roar!” mindset early in life, the dynamics of our marriage today still sometimes baffle me. Believe it or not, I have grown to love submission. I am so thankful for the pressure and responsibility that my husband willingly takes on his broad shoulders. I give my input, sure, but now that I don’t fight him to be the boss, I have a sense of peace and freedom that I had never experienced before.

For many women today, even in the church, submission is a bad word. To them, it implies inferiority, and thanks to Eve, it’s contrary to our nature. Yet the truth is that biblical submission is a beautiful thing. After all, no one views Christ’s submission to the Father as a negative thing (1 Corinthians 11:3). The truth is that I’m not really submitting to my husband; I’m submitting to my God and His design for our family. I’m modeling my children’s submission to their fathers so that they will have an example of what it means to submit to their Creator. No sisters, submission isn’t a bad word; it’s a beautiful calling. It’s a beautiful calling that, when embraced, will increase peace in our homes and in our hearts. The challenge for us is to remember that submission begins when we disagree.

Lacy Crowell
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Lacy Crowell is the Dean of Students at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, TN. She has been married to the love of her life, Jonathan, for over 20 years. They are blessed with four amazing kiddos whom Lacy has had the privilege of homeschooling. She has also served alongside her husband in full-time ministry for 15 years.  She is a graduate of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her great joy is working to help others become excited about studying God’s word, and helping couples thrive in their marriages. She is a member of the Come Fill Your Cup team and the author of two Bible study books for women: Proclaimed – Jesus the Messiah which is a study of the Gospel of Mark, and Pursued – God’s Plan for Intimacy in Marriage: a study of the Song of Solomon.