This post is by Marg Herder. Marg is a new friend to me. She writes a blog called Where She Is, in which she uses pretty much entirely female pronouns for God, which is, hello, threatening. But when I close my eyes and use my soul eyes, I know exactly what God Marg is talking about. And it is a gift, and a thrill, to meet across the differences that way. That’s canyon-work, I say! And I’m very grateful that Marg showed up today to say what she has to say about the S-Word.
As a lesbian feminist, I’ve always been skeptical of what some people call Christian Submission in Marriage. Binary gender roles are pretty far off my travel path, so the way I understood Christian Submission had little meaning in my own life. Besides feeling like it was a really good system for perpetuating patriarchy, I just thought it was kinda weird. Why would any woman allow someone else to make decisions for her? Why would any woman limit her life to working within what someone else decided was “her place?” Why would any woman submit?
I didn’t get it.
So I started trying to figure it out. It sure seemed like a set up to keep women from having any power. But if that was the case, why did the women play along? That’s the part I got stuck on. So I thought about the things I did know. Like how most people are doing exactly what works for them. And how it’s enough trouble making decisions for one person, let alone making decisions for someone else too. I realized that there must be a good, practical reason women allow it and men consent to do it.
And eventually, I got it.
To explain what I figured out, I’m going to tell you a story.
I was probably 16, maybe 17, years old. We were in the car, my mom and I. I think I just blurted it out. “I want to study music in college.” I had been waiting for an opportunity to say this for weeks.
I was talented. I had been doing music for years, was featured as a soloist often, and was in one of the top choirs at our high school, a school known for its excellent music program. I felt like my entire life had been about one thing— learning to illuminate the Sacred through music. Our lives, my mom’s and mine, revolved around the music department at our church. Her mom’s had too. You could say I expected to live my life as a church musician, but that would not convey the certainty of it.
At the time I also knew there was an expectation that I would study something more “academic,” more “practical,” in college. It had taken me a long time to find the courage to say I wanted to study music.
I must have expected what she said next. That must have been why it took me so long to say it to her in the first place. She said no.
I don’t even clearly remember what else she said. I think it was something about it not being realistic, and how I needed to study something I could do for a job. Something about music being a fine avocation, but not a vocation, because it was too hard to make a living at it.
I started crying as soon as she started speaking. Not crying. That’s not enough of a word. Sobbing sounds too dramatic, and this was not dramatic. There should be a word for the kind of crying you do when you realize that the thing you always thought your life would be is simply denied by another who has the power, for whatever reason, to deny it to you. And I don’t remember what happened after that, except even after seeing my tears she didn’t change her answer.
That potential life and all the shaky belief I had managed to create in myself as a musician simply ceased to exist.
Looking back it seems very strange that I let this answer stand without challenge. It seems like I would not have submitted.
But I did. It’s so easy to get mixed up and put the 52-year-old me into that 16-year-old body. It’s so easy to imagine it’s the same person typing tonight who was sitting in the front seat of the car with my mom. But it’s not. And that’s where I wrap this whole story up into something that relates to this week’s discussion of Christian submission.
At 16 I was not yet myself. I was a very fragile combination of who I was supposed to be, who I dreamed I might be, and the person I was terrified I might become.
Had I believed in my own potential a little more, had I cared a little less about my mom’s approval, had I a different understanding of how little “screwing up your life” really means in the end, had I felt less shame about doing something that was clearly not specifically rooted in serving other people, it might have been different.
But the only thing that could have happened in that moment, in the car, happened. I submitted to my mom’s understanding of how my life should be.
And this is so important— what happened, what my mom did and how I reacted, was not right and it was not wrong.
She said “no” not from a need to exert power or control over me, but from an authentic feeling that she had a better understanding of the situation than I did. And I accepted “no” because it was the only thing I could do right then. It was not because I had no other choices, but because I didn’t believe I had other choices.
It would not have helped me for someone to say that my mom was controlling, or that I was being weak and making a mistake by letting her control me. This oversimplification would not have felt true and I would have dismissed it.
But I do wonder what would have happened if there was someone around to help me understand that I actually had choices, that they existed.
And I wish there had been someone around who knew this one thing that I know now, that whenever we authentically trust and pursue our own calling, there’s no right or wrong, no success or failure, there’s only the exhilaration of living into our own magnificent expression of Her Creation.
So I’m not inclined to look harshly on those who submit, and especially those whom they submit to. Instead I’m just going to try to do what I can to make sure everyone understands that grace means each of us can make the choice, whenever we are ready, to live into the fullest expression of our own particular Divine image.
(c) 2013 by Marg Herder
Marg Herder is a writer, audio artist, photographer, and feminist spiritual seeker. She currently serves as Director of Public Information for EEWC-Christian Feminism Today.
The primary focus of her creative work is exploring the connective tissue between incarnation and spirituality, especially as it relates to issues of gender and LGBTQ justice.
Learn more about Marg and her work on her website, www.margherder.com.