My husband recently matched into a residency program on the other side of the country, far from the area I have considered home the entirety of my short life. The Pacific Northwest, with its mountains kissing ocean, its gloomy rain and gloomier culture, has shaped my childhood and most of my adulthood. The enormity of this move isn’t something we took lightly when my husband applied for residency programs, but when you look at the whole of life: our purpose and what’s truly important, suddenly the comfort of home, familiarity, and even preference, fade in light of the hope of following God wherever he leads. It’s a bit terrifying as we gaze at this great chasm of eternity that opens up with limitless, unknown possibilities for our future; but simultaneously peaceful as we rest in the knowledge that our eternal future is already secured, and all these moments in between are held in the hand of a good God.
Through the process of applying to residencies I had countless people ask me how I felt about the move; if I wanted to go wherever it was my husband’s career took him; or if I was okay with his specialty choice. It was a weird line of questioning to me. Of course I want to go wherever my husband’s career takes him. I will do everything a reasonable person can to insure that we are in life together: all of its changes, unexpected chaos, pain, delights, adventures and joys. I want to support him and help him succeed in the career he loves and labors for, as he pursues what he believes God has directed him toward. Everything about our lives is one: his success is my success, his failure is my failure, his hurt is my hurt, his joy is my joy. We are indeed one flesh.
It’s saddening to think that beneath all those questions is a view of marriage that is broken. It isn’t surprising; divorce is common, pre-nuptials are expected, and many marriages look more like business deals than unity. It’s a common idea to consider marriage a partnership: Two separate lives, two plans for the future, two different bank accounts, two leaders taking turns, agreeing enough to meet in the bedroom. I suppose that can be constituted as a relationship, but that isn’t marriage. Portraying marriage as a partnership is a popular idea, but it isn’t a biblical one.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
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. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
We often shy away from what the bible says about marriage. We do exegetical gymnastics to make it more palatable, and we point fingers at our spouses for not living up to their end of the bargain. We excuse our own failures and justify our own preferences. As our former pastor once preached, “biblical passages on marriage are not difficult to understand, but they are difficult to accept”.
We want so badly to throw out this design, but this design speaks to something so much bigger than just us and our marriage.
When we see those rare glimpses of marriage done well, of a husband leading his wife with love: laboring over decisions because he wants to do what is right, and prayerfully seeking how to best serve his wife, it is there we see Christ who served us best in his death, who seeks our good and leads us there perfectly. And when we see a wife who respects her husband: gladly submitting to his leading, and joyfully going wherever he goes, it is there that we see the Church submitting to Jesus, gladly going wherever he leads us and rejoicing in His glory. When a husband loves his wife in her darkest hour, we get a glimpse of how Jesus loved us when we were his enemies. When a wife follows her husband in the most difficult and uncertain decisions, it is there we see the Church submitting to Christ even in the moments that feel impossible and terrifying.
All of the decisions that my husband had to make leading up to this point in our lives he made with my input, taking deeply to heart how it would affect me, and asking me how I felt in each decision along the way. Had he not considered me in the process he certainly would have failed to obey God’s command for him to love me as Christ loves the Church. In the event of his failure would I still be required to submit to his decisions? By the grace of God, yes; because his failure surely doesn’t warrant my own. In marriage we are each commanded to do impossible things: he has to lead even when the way seems totally uncertain, looking to provide and care for his family and seeking to help his wife flourish in her faith; she has to submit even when he forgets her, even when he makes mistakes, encouraging him even in his failure (which is really when he needs it most). These things are impossible, and it is in that impossibility that we find ourselves on our knees before our God by whose strength alone we can accomplish his commands.
We look at broken marriages, at abuses, at hurting people, and instead of recognizing it as a result of humanity being humans, we try and throw out the design we’ve been handed. We’ve seen the misuse of words like “leader” and “submission” and we’ve opted instead to look at marriage as a compromise of separate lives. Exchanging one bad idea for another bad idea.
At the root of many questions thrown my way in the last few years is the idea of partnership: a view that my husband and I are two individuals with two different dreams that we’ve somehow compromised enough to make it work.
But marriage isn’t about two lives coming together and compromising where the road splits, it’s about two lives joining and becoming one life, on one road for better or worse. We can make that promise because Christ makes that promise to us first,“if we are faithless, he remains faithful” (1 Timothy 2:13).
I remember the moment my life transformed from being my life to being part of a singular unit in marriage. When I stood before an audience of people and pledged with steady hands that until death I would love, honor and serve my husband in every season of life, submitting to God’s word to us about marriage. I remember his confident gaze as he pledged the same. It was there that it was sealed, that our love was not ours to hold between us, but committed to God and his design. Our lives were no longer our own but we belonged to one another, wound together as one mysterious unit.
Before that windy day in August, when I stood in white, sand between my toes and a gold ring on my finger, I had already made the choice to give my life to that man. It was a moment, quick but imprinted still on my ever-fading memory: standing beneath a lamppost in the rain and watching each droplet catch the light as it fell, waiting anxiously for whatever words he was holding that had him rambling as we walked–like verbal pacing. When he finally stopped moving he asked me, “will you follow me wherever I have to go?” It was a serious question from a very serious man. There was an entire ethos held within those few words: was I going to change the trajectory of my life for him? Was I willing to gladly go to whatever country, culture, or difficult lifestyle he believed he was called into? Was I willing to trust and follow him even when he made mistakes? Was I going to love him and offer him respect even when he failed me? Was I willing to let him lead me? I felt the weight of that reality and yet it was with confidence that I said, yes. And my answer has been yes ever since.
This life united has taken us through valleys of difficulty with conflicting worldviews, and the complexities and demands of medical school; it has changed each of us as we’ve wrestled with our own selfishness and the call to love the other more than ourselves; it has taken us to another country and many different cities; it has brought us two wild and beautiful children and many sleepless nights; it has brought passionate fights and tender moments that only we share; and it has brought me a greater understanding of my God who brought us through each moment.
When we are obedient to the design he’s handed us we see glimpses of this great mystery of two individuals becoming one. It is there we somehow grasp that we are one with Christ in the same way.
So, how do I feel about my husband working 80+hour weeks for the next four years, in the most controversial field of medicine in our country, in a state that is totally foreign to me? I feel a whole host of human emotions; but above all I am confident in the God who has led us there, guiding my husband gently and surely in each decision (even in the most desperate, challenging and unknown circumstances) while preparing my heart to exchange the familiar for the strange.
*I’ve been on the internet long enough to know not everyone agrees with Complementarian view of marriage, for more resources on the topic I recommend the following books:
*I welcome disagreement (though in the midst of a move I may not have time to respond), and in the spirit of welcoming a diversity of opinion any disrespectful or unhelpful comments will be deleted.