What is Submission?
About the Guest
What does it mean to be submissive? Courtney Reissig, a wife and mother of three, recalls her courtship with her husband, Daniel. Although she had left her feminist thinking behind and embraced submission in theory, Courtney tells how difficult it actually was to follow her husband's leadership in their early years of marriage.
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Courtney Reissig recalls her courtship with her husband, Daniel. Although she’d left feminism behind, Courtney tells how difficult it was to follow her husband early in their marriage.
What is Submission?
Bob: Courtney Reissig says she does not mind being a submissive wife; in fact, she says she delights in the statement her submission is making.
Courtney: My role, as a wife, who submits to her husband, is telling a greater story about God and His ultimate love and plan for the world. That’s what it’s ultimately pointing to. It’s not this arbitrary thing that God said: “This sounds like a great idea! I’m just going to make women submit to men.” Everything in life is a metaphor pointing to God’s ultimate glory in His creation.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll spend time today talking about what it looks like to embrace God’s design for your marriage for His glory. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
So I asked you earlier if you weren’t concerned about getting letters. You said, “No, no!” And now we’re going to move right in to talk about submission; right?
Dennis: We are.
Bob: You’re still not concerned about getting letters?
Dennis: I’m really not because we’re going to talk about it in a very fair, honest, and, hopefully, compassionate and loving way—but in a biblical way. We’re going to talk about it with Courtney Reissig. Welcome back to the broadcast, Courtney.
Courtney: Thanks for having me. It’s good to be here.
Dennis: Courtney is the author of a book called The Accidental Feminist. She is a pastor’s wife, married to Daniel. In fact, that’s how I want to start to get to this subject of submission. How did you and Daniel meet, and did he have any idea what he was getting when he got you? [Laughter]
Courtney: No! Well, yes and no. We met at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I was a seminary student and so was he. We met through a friend, who met him on campus, and who said, “You should meet this guy!” She was married, and she loved being a matchmaker. I was like, “I’m not meeting some guy!”
But we finally met. She orchestrated a way for us to meet, and then Daniel just took over from there.
Dennis: What attracted you?
Courtney: I just liked him. I liked talking to him, I thought he was cute, and we just kind of gravitated to each other. He was confident, but he wasn’t proud. He just kind of carried himself in a way that I wanted to follow. I was intimidated by people who would get married really quickly. But for some reason, I found myself really drawn to him and was like, “Well, if he wants to get married quickly, I guess that’s fine.” [Laughter]
I remember thinking, “What is he doing to me?!” Like on our first date, he kind of just said: “I’m not proposing to you, but I have a plan. We’re not just dating for fun.” I mean, we were 25 and 26—we weren’t like 19 and 20. We weren’t fresh, new kids in college or something like that. He just laid out a plan—like: “I would love for this to end in marriage. If it doesn’t, we’ll know pretty quickly.” I think the next day we hung out. We were watching a football game with one of his friends and then his friend left.
He said: “We need to leave. We’re not going to stay here when no one’s at my apartment,”—just real assertiveness—kind of like, “He’s kind of different than any other guy I’ve dated.”
Dennis: Setting boundaries,—
Dennis: —defining the relationship—taking it forward. So how did he ask you to marry him?
Courtney: Well, so, we met in September and went on our first date a few weeks later. Then, we got engaged in December—a few months later—and we got married in May.
Bob: So from September to May—that was from start to finish?
Courtney: Yes, it was a done deal!
Bob: So take us to your premarital counseling because you had some issues come up during premarital counseling that were kind of fresh for you; didn’t you?
Courtney: Yes. We talked about submission. One of the questions they asked us with submission was, “Courtney, what is your basis for submission?” As I thought about it, my basis for submission was not the man that I was submitting to—it wasn’t Daniel. When Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands, it’s “as unto the Lord.”
We have a better model of who we’re submitting to than our husbands because our husbands are going to fail us. I’m submitting to Daniel as I submit to Christ—so I’m submitting, ultimately, to Christ, who is Lord over my life but also Lord over his life.
So, when he’s not the man he should be—in the same way that I’m not the woman I should be—I’m still called to submit to him. Obviously, if he’s in sin, that’s another ballgame. But for just the general, day-in/day-out, I’m married to a sinner. I’m still called to submit to him because I’m submitting, ultimately, to Christ and His Lordship over both of us.
Dennis: It wasn’t long after you married then—he came to you with a decision that he was about to make that was going to test this theology of submission that you so beautifully described a few moments ago.
Courtney: Yes. We were both seminary students when we got married, and I loved seminary. I loved every bit of it—I loved studying / I loved writing papers. We had my income from my job—I had a pretty decent job at the time.
He was working part-time at the church and then part-time at McDonald’s®. We couldn’t afford for both of us to go to seminary. He’s very wise with our finances, and he wasn’t willing to let us go into debt to go to seminary. He knew that God was calling him to the ministry and that, as the man, was calling him to provide for his family.
The best choice for us was for him to do seminary and for me to drop out. At the time, he said, “Let’s try one class.” Our first year we were married / the first semester, I took one class online. Even then, I was mad. I was: “I just want to go to seminary. I want to do what you’re doing.” I thought he was against me, and I didn’t understand why he wasn’t letting me do what I wanted to do. I felt like I was letting people down who wanted to see me write and wanted to see me do things.
Six months into being married, we were driving home from my parents’ house. My parents live in Florida, and we were driving home at Christmas time.
He had been thinking about it and praying about it. He said, “I love you; and I know how much you love seminary, but I just don’t think we can swing it financially.” The frustration in my heart that I had felt three, four, or five months earlier had, over time, had dissipated. It had really helped me to see that Daniel was for me. There were a number of times, in our first six months of marriage—where he looked at me and said: “I’m for you. I’m not against you. I believe in you. I just—we can’t afford it.”
I felt like the Lord really worked in my heart by that point—six months later—to really see that God was using Daniel to protect us. For us, we needed for me to step back and not finish. I had to submit to his leadership in that regard and trust that what I wanted to do—writing and ministry more full-time—could come later; but, at the time, I needed to submit to his leadership in our life and trust what God would do with the outcome of it.
Dennis: And there would be those listeners—as soon as you started telling that story and they saw where it was headed—the back of their necks—the hair would stand up.
Dennis: They go: “Why would you do that? Why did you submit to that?”
Courtney: Well, because I believe that God has called me to submit, I believe that it’s the role He has given me as the wife to Daniel. I’m called to submit to his leadership. Daniel will give Him an account for how he leads our family, and I’ll give an account for how I submit to him and trust his leadership of us because, ultimately, it’s trusting in God.
I’m not submitting to Daniel insomuch as I’m submitting to him as though he’s like my god. I’m submitting to God and His ultimate authority over me and His ultimate love for me. He has given me Daniel to shape me and to sharpen me in the same way that I’ve been given to Daniel to do the same thing. That is the role that He has given me, as his wife. I believe that I’m submitting to God’s ultimate authority over me and trusting that He’s going to continue working.
Dennis: What I hear you saying—and I want you to affirm this because I don’t want to put words in your mouth—you believe—from Ephesians, Chapter 5; from Colossians, Chapter 3; from 1 Peter, Chapter 3—that wives are called to submit because their husbands have been placed in a position—a structural position—not one of value / but one of being responsible—to give leadership to his wife and his family—that you are called to follow that leadership; right?
Courtney: Absolutely! And everything is pointing to an even greater reality—like I say in the book, how we are image-bearers. We are imaging God and telling a story about Who God is. My role, as a wife who submits to her husband, is telling a greater story about God and His ultimate love and plan for the world. Within the godhead, we see submission and an authority structure. The Son submits to the Father and the Spirit submits to the Father. The Spirit was guiding the Son, as He was on this earth and was living out His role, as a man.
We see all of these authority and submission structures in the godhead—that’s what it’s ultimately pointing to. It’s not this arbitrary thing that God said: “This sounds like a great idea! I’m just going to make women submit to men.” Everything in life is a metaphor, pointing to God’s ultimate glory in His creation.
Bob: In fact, there’s nowhere in Scripture that we see any indication of the Father submitting to the Son.
Courtney: Yes, and also it’s pointing to the metaphor of how He has saved us. In Christ, we see the church is submitting to Christ. Christ came to redeem a bride for Himself. The church is submitting to Christ. Christ came, and died, and purchased us—we are now His bride—we are now in His family. Christ doesn’t submit to the church, but the church always submits to Christ.
Dennis: The Bible talks about this being a mystery—
Dennis: —it’s that a husband and wife together in this dance—of him loving, serving, leading / and the wife respecting him, submitting to him, and following him—
—that somehow, in God’s design, we are reflecting Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church.
Dennis: Sometimes, we get hung up on this because we want everything perfectly nailed down.
Dennis: This really is a mystery. We don’t understand all of what’s taking place here.
Bob: —which doesn’t mean that we’re now free from having to respond to it or to submit to God’s authority. The fact that you can’t understand it doesn’t mean, “Oh, well, if I can’t figure it out, then I don’t have to do it”; right?
Courtney: Absolutely! And I think one of the things I say, too, is that submission is no more beneath us than it is of the godhead. If Christ, who is fully God and fully deserving of all that entails—being fully God—submits to the Father, then why would we revolt against that? Why would we shake our fist and say: “That’s not fair!” Well, Christ submits to the Father, and that’s a beautiful and glorious thing.
Bob: So, wasn’t there something that happened on your honeymoon that kind of brought this whole issue to the surface for you guys?
Courtney: Yes. I thought that I knew what it meant to be a godly wife and mother. Much like with being a mom, I feel that with each passing year, I know less about motherhood—with each passing year, I know less about what it means to be a submissive and loving wife. [Laughter] But we were driving—I believe we were in North Carolina. My husband has a love for finding stadiums, especially college campus stadiums. He wanted to find Duke’s stadium. We were driving around and he thought: “Well, we’re just going to explore. We’ll just go kind of follow the signs.” I thought: “Oh, exploring. It sounds so wonderful. We’re on our honeymoon.”
And we have very different definitions of exploring. I like structured exploring, which means we kind of know where we’re going. He likes “Let’s just see where the wind takes us.” I was hungry and it was getting later and later. My husband has a different definition of hunger—he can let it just kind of linger for a long time. [Laughter] I’m a very scheduled eater. We were driving, and we got lost. He still says we weren’t lost, but we were lost in my opinion. We were just driving. I was so mad!
He was not thinking about how we needed to eat! It was time to eat dinner.
Dennis: But you don’t understand—he was on a mission!
Courtney: He was on a mission.
Bob: You’re exploring!
Dennis: But you’re starving to death, and he’s on a mission; right?
Courtney: Yes! And we had found Duke’s campus—we just couldn’t find the stadium. Finally, we just were driving around and I was like: “This is ridiculous! You’re not listening to me. I’m hungry and I want to go.” I tried to get out of the moving car because I was so mad at him.
Bob: Wait! You what?
Courtney: I always threatened to, but I’m too scared to really open the door. He kept locking the door—“You’re not getting out of the car.” [Laughter] We both come from different family backgrounds—so we both handle conflict differently.
Courtney: We are just different. He’s not a real a go-getter with conflict. I’m like, “This is my opinion, and I’m going to tell you what it is right now!” [Laughter] I really hurt his feelings; right?—understandably. I freaked out on him about something that was so small.
A lot of it was that we had different definitions of exploring. If we’d just understood the definition of exploring, then—and if I had just understood and not gotten so upset about it—
Bob: So, when you look back on that episode now—
Bob: —and you’re sitting with a young wife, what counsel would you give her about what she should do if her husband is just kind of wandering around the roads and she’s starving?
Courtney: Well, don’t try to get out of a moving car!
Bob: That’s good. [Laughter]
Courtney: That’s your first step. But I would just say that so much of the Christian life is a long-term view. I think, sometimes, we’re—especially now, we’re surrounded by such good teaching on manhood and womanhood—that, as men and women, we can really have a very high expectation of how our spouses are supposed to respond to things. I’ve really learned that I was expecting my husband to be like someone who’s been like 20/30 years down the road, as a husband, as opposed to someone who, really, had only known me for about ten months and who had only been married to me for a week.
When I look back at our marriage—I mean, we haven’t been married that long, but I look back—and I see so much growth and change in both of us in how we have learned to adapt to each other and to appreciate the differences we have that are good—and have really sharpened us, and made us more Christ-like, but also have made us just better people, I think, too.
Dennis: So, as you submit to him, I’m not hearing that you become this wallflower/—
Courtney: No, I hope not.
Dennis: —this doormat.
Courtney: No, no.
Dennis: You haven’t lost your voice. He has given you voice.
Dennis: Listens carefully—usually; right?
Dennis: That’s his assignment—he has to live with you in an understanding way.
Courtney: Yes, and that takes time too. I think that we have this expectation that our husbands are going to just be there immediately. It just takes time. Marriage is not easy; it doesn’t just flow naturally from us because, if it did, then we wouldn’t need to rely on Christ to sustain us and to give us the grace to do it.
Bob: But don’t you still want to be in charge?
Courtney: Yes, unfortunately.
Dennis: You’re really grinning big!
Courtney: I do; I do! It’s bad. [Laughter] One of the biggest ways we see that now is that we have twin boys, who are two. I can be a micromanager when it comes to their well-being.
Dennis: You don’t view your responsibility, before God—as being a wife, who’s called to submit to her husband, and as one who is referred to in the Book of Genesis as “a helper suitable” for her husband—you don’t view that in a demeaning way?
Courtney: No! One of the things that is helpful about that passage is that it is “a suitable helper” for her husband. Everything that I possess—that God has gifted me in—is uniquely designed for Daniel and to make him into the man that God has called him to be.
One of the ways we saw this in our early marriage—that took me a little bit to kind of come to terms with—was because he doesn’t like to write / he’s a verbal processor. He’s got to talk through the things he’s learning.
So, when he preaches / when he was writing a paper, he wanted to talk through every piece of the stuff he was studying. I would get so frustrated because I would be like: “I’m trying to read a book right now,” / “I’m trying to watch a show. Why are you interrupting me?”
What I finally started to see was—my love for all things seminary, at the time, was given to me to be a help to Daniel as he was a student in seminary. Now, as he’s a pastor, who preaches and has to work through difficult texts—which I can’t help with because I don’t know Greek—but as he’s working through texts, and just thinking through writing, and how to craft a sentence, I can help him in that way. That’s just one of the ways that God has created us to work well together. But I don’t think, in any way, it’s beneath me at all.
Dennis: One last question: “If you and Daniel were chatting with a young couple, who were getting ready to get married and start out their marriage together, and they said, ‘You know, this stuff about Ephesians 5—about the man is supposed to be the lover, the leader, etc., and be the head of the home and this thing of a wife submitting to her husband—we just think, contextually, that’s for back then. Now, we’ve found a better way. It’s just both roles are equal.’”
Bob: “Well, it says you are supposed to mutually submit. Doesn’t it say that in the Bible?”
Courtney: It does.
Bob: “So, how do you deal with that, Ms. Submissive?”
Courtney: Well, I think if mutual submission was the pattern for how men and women are supposed to submit to one another, then I don’t think Paul would have gone on to clarify what that kind of looks like. We are called to submit to one another, as believers—as people who are in a covenant relationship with God. As human beings, we are all called to submit—so all of us are submitting to somebody. Submission is only offensive to people when they’re talking about it in the husband/wife relationship. I think that’s why it’s so offensive—is because wives are like: “Why do I have to submit to my husband? It’s unfair!”
Well, you submit to your boss, you submit to your pastor, as your children submit to you. No one would ever look at a child and say—well, you shouldn’t look at a child and say: “You don’t have to submit to me. I’ll submit to you.” That’s absurd!
So, I think when we look at mutual submission, we’re not doing away with gender roles as much as we’re honoring, and loving, and submitting to one another, as believers in Christ.
Dennis: And just a further thought on mutual submission—if Ephesians, Chapter 5, had ended at verse 21—
Dennis: —and didn’t have the rest of the chapter—and didn’t have other sections of the Bible that make it real clear—
Dennis: —there is a distinct responsibility of a husband and a wife—unique responsibilities, for each, that God spelled out.
Dennis: I didn’t—I didn’t create this. But if the Bible didn’t have those passages, then we would be left to believe: “Hey, we just all submit to each other. There are no distinctives. It’s all good.” But the chapter doesn’t end there.
Courtney: No, it doesn’t. And the rest of the Bible doesn’t end there. From Genesis to Revelation, there’s this pattern of the bride and Christ. Christ is always the head of the bride—that was God’s plan from the beginning. Even more than that, within the Trinity, there is no beginning and no end to the godhead.
We don’t really get to define that. We’re the created—God is the creator. He defines us—we don’t define Him. So, we’re living out what it means to be created in His image. We don’t suddenly get to rewrite the rules because our culture has shifted.
Dennis: So, back to the question I asked you earlier—if I was counseling a young engaged couple—and that’s basically what they said they were going to do: “You know, we’re both going to share equally in all decisions. There is no one really responsible. We’ll just agree.” I looked at them and kind of smiled—I said: “You know, I understand. I really do. There is a belief that is supported—that is even taught within the Christian community—but let’s open the Bible and let’s take a look because, what if her job results in her getting a promotion and getting transferred to another location?”
I looked at him and said, “And you’ve got a great job. It’s going to mean you either move out of your great job or you live in two different cities or something.
“How are you going to make that decision?” I said, “Let’s just walk this through.” I used a resource we have called Preparing for Marriage. I just walked them through that and, hopefully, prepared them for the reality that I know they faced.
I just have to thank you, Courtney. You’re a great thinker, and I’m glad you’re writing. I know there may be a season where you may not get to write as much as you wish you could because of some little mouths that demand to be fed.
Dennis: But you are choosing a tremendous calling in being a wife and a mom. I just applaud you, as a person, and hope you’ll come back and join us again on FamilyLife Today.
Courtney: Thank you. I would love to do that.
Bob: Well, let’s hope a lot of people will get a copy of your book as well. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see information about Courtney Reissig’s book, The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design. As I mentioned, earlier this week, you may want to go through this book with a number of women in a small group setting, or a book club, or just a few of you getting together and reading through a chapter or two at a time and talking about it. I think this is a good and helpful book around this subject of God’s design for women.
Again, the title is The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” to order a copy of Courtney’s book; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can request a copy when you get in touch with us. Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”; or order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I think, for every one of us, the question of how our life is aligned with what God teaches us in His Word—that is a fundamental question that we all have to be asking and addressing because that’s what God has called us to—to follow Him. We have to be asking ourselves, every day, “Are we following Him?” whether it’s the issue we’ve addressed today in terms of God’s design for womanhood, or God’s purpose for marriage, or God’s thinking about children.
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Now, tomorrow, we are going to introduce you to a remarkable man who decided to adopt the high school football team in the town where he lived—I mean, literally adopt players from the team. We’ll introduce you to Bishop Aaron Blake tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today
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