About a month ago I started dating a godly man from work. Almost everything has been going well so far, but I am concerned that it’s a lot harder for me to submit to him than I would have thought. I guess since I’ve never dated anyone before, it’s hard for me to let him do things for me.
My personality is to be a behind-the-scenes helper, so it’s really hard for me not to feel like I’m inconveniencing him when he offers to pick me up or get something for me. It’s even a little hard for me to fully enjoy dates because I feel bad that he has to pay for everything.
To me, it would be easier and more natural to cater to what he wants and do things for him. I know that there are godly ways I can serve him, but as far as day-to-day things, how can I get past feeling like an inconvenience?
I know I’ve already made him feel bad when I told him I didn’t need something and then another guy actually got it for me. I’d like to begin earnestly working on this now rather than waiting until something major happens.
Thank you for writing. I imagine some who read your question will think you’re right to resist his efforts to do things for you. After all, this is the 21st century, and you’re a strong and capable woman. I suspect others will read it and think you’re right to set aside your own needs and instead focus on doing things for him. I read it and think that what you’re doing, and not doing, is problematic.
Of course, figuring out how to relate to your boyfriend in view of how husbands and wives relate is a little tricky, because you’re not married yet. But still, this is a period for testing if you have the capacity to be married, to each other.
As you’ve noticed, it creates tension in your relationship when you decline your boyfriend’s gestures of care and gentlemanly provision. Certainly, when another man stepped in, he must have felt like he failed you, and possibly he worried that you were disappointed in him (maybe he should have been more persistent; more on his leadership style in a minute). First, let’s look at this issue of submission.
To know if you’re struggling to submit, you have to know what submission is. In his book This Momentary Marriage, John Piper helpfully defined it this way:
Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.
This, he writes, is in response to a husband’s headship, which he defines thusly:
Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant leadership, protection and provision in the home.
In our culture, girls are told from the start (by the likes of Sesame Street, Barney, the Powerpuff Girls and more) that they can do anything and be anything; that they’re strong and smart and independent. And in most cases, it’s true. There’s very little you can’t do for yourself. It’s understandable that you’d feel funny letting him serve you. But this isn’t just a modern dilemma.
Peter felt the same way when Jesus bent down to wash his feet.
[Jesus] laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’
Peter thought it was he who should be serving Jesus, not the other way around. Sounds noble. But Jesus rebuked him, saying,
If I do not wash you, you have no share with me (John 13:4–8).
I feel my own pride resonating with Peter’s response to Jesus’ servant leadership, the same sort of leadership husbands are commanded to provide their wives. The primary tasks assigned to men as husbands are providing for their wives, protecting them and washing them. For example, Ephesians 5:25-28 says,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
My pride also rises in me when I read 1 Peter 3:7,
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Our friend Randy Stinson, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and also the dean of the School of Church Ministries at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes what Peter means by “weaker vessel”:
Peter tells men to show honor to their wives as the weaker vessel. He’s not saying that your wife is of lesser value — because he clearly says to show her honor. She isn’t of lesser value, and she isn’t morally or spiritually weaker than you. What we believe Peter has in mind here is just sheer physical weakness compared to the strength of a man.
Too many men treat their wives as one of the boys — durable and able to handle a lot of wear and tear. But your wife is not one of the boys. You honor her by treating her as a weaker vessel — by not taking advantage of your greater physical strength, but giving her special care and attention.
My sin nature resists that description of being the weaker vessel. I want to reject it. I want to prove it wrong. I think, I’m not weaker! But I rail against this to my own harm. The verse isn’t saying I should be weaker, but I am. It’s merely describing what is.
I can despise it. I can reject it. But I can’t change it. If I reject it, I risk losing out on the benefits of a husband who is understanding. I know from my own relationship with Steve that there are few things as sweet in marriage as a husband who is actively working to live with me in an understanding way.
Where does this leave you? Hopefully in a posture of prayer. Ask the Lord to reveal any sin in your heart. Ask Him to help you discern this man’s character and potential to lead you as husband. And ask Him to prepare you to be a godly wife. This is prime time. If he’s not a good leader — either he’s domineering and proud or he’s weak and fearful — and if you’re not a good follower — either you’re controlling and manipulative or you’re weak and fearful — then you shouldn’t move forward to marriage. It sounds, from what you’ve written, like he’s attempting to provide for your needs in a gentlemanly way, but you’re uncomfortable with the idea that he is supposed to be providing for you.
Mercifully, you are not left to your own resources to learn to accept and appreciate this provision. And neither am I. Women who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit working in them, empowering them to receive this Word as descriptively accurate, and all of Scripture as God intended it: “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). If you are in Christ, you have this same power at work in you.
May the Lord who made you female enable you to understand your design, embrace it, and live it out in this relationship for your good and His glory.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.