I recently had an opportunity to speak on the subject of respect and thought I would post a blog version of what I shared.
I have typically found it easy to respect my husband, at least what I thought respect looked like. He is the oldest child from a Christian family. He got involved in ministry at a young age, playing music in church starting at the age of 8, and eventually becoming a pastor. He is a natural born leader. People easily follow and respect him.
I, on the other hand, was the only child of very dysfunctional parents. I often had to act like a little adult, taking care of myself in some ways, and being exposed to things that required more maturity than most young children have. I guess that some girls may have gotten use to that kind of self-reliance and found it difficult to submit to their husbands. For me, when people talked about submission in church, it sounded like a dream. Meeting someone who had an even stronger personality than myself was like a wave of relief. To have someone take care of me, to rely on someone other than myself?! As you can imagine, this dynamic had its own set of issues. Recently, while reading Real Marriage, by Mark & Grace Driscoll, I could see that I had been what they called the compliant wife, supporting everything my husband said and did without question, but that kind of blind submission isn’t real respect. When I was young in my marriage I made an idol of my husband. I feared confrontation, wanting to avoid Aaron’s disappointment or rejection because I had made him my savior. I am glad to be able to say that a few years into our marriage, God removed Aaron from that pedestal, and restored Himself to that rightful place. That was a difficult and painful process, because it involved me realizing that Aaron was a sinful human and would inevitably let me down, but it was vital in getting my priorities straight so that my relationship with God would come first and my relationship with my husband second. It works so much better that way!
Since that time, the holy spirit has helped me to become much better at sharing my feelings, concerns and corrections with Aaron. When I am tempted to fall back into my habits of avoiding confrontation at all costs, I have to pray for God to give me a humble boldness. I do well to remind myself that withholding the input my husband needs from me is not respectful.
Not all women are overly compliant. Some of us tend to be more contentious. There are plenty of Proverbs about this. My favorite is “A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.” Matt Chandler paraphrases this verse saying, “Your husband is literally being water boarded by you!” Some women are obvious about this, they are in your face, opinionated and pushy. If you often find yourself thinking that the way other people do things is foolish, or criticize people for thinking or doing things differently than you, you may be contentious. Still, some women are more subtle in their disrespect. One woman I used to know was less obvious about it. She and her husband were involved in music ministry together. He served frequently, with the heart of a deacon, and involved his wife and son in the things he was doing. Still she regularly complained that she wished her husband would really be the spiritual leader of their family. She would push him and nag him to lead devotion times, attempting to take control of the situation herself with these really specific expectations. From the vantage point of others, her husband was trying to lead their family. Unfortunately, she just refused to trust him with that leadership. While the underlying issue of the overly compliant wife may be idolatry or fear of man, the underlying issue of the contentious wife is usually distrust.
I could go into why this is, but I think most will be able to pretty easily link some life experiences to why you are reluctant to trust your husband, or why you are prone to avoid confrontation because of a fear of man.
The point is, whether you tend to be more compliant or more contentious, we all find it difficult to show respect at times. So what do we do? Well usually, we run to the next “7 steps to becoming a respectful wife” the next book, program, formula that tells us something like “If I show him the respect he desires then he’ll meet my needs and love me in the the way that I desire.” Our sinful hearts love formulas because they make us feel like we have control. But ultimately, formulas fail. Life is not a math problem. Formulas set us up with expectations, and when our expectations aren’t met we become resentful.
The truth is, I am at my best and most respectful as a wife, not when I’m following a formula, but when I am fully focused on the gospel. When I am remembering that because of no act of my own, nothing I can do, that it is simply because God is merciful and gracious that he loves me and sent his son to die for me! He saw me in danger of death and hell and intervened. Though I have failed to speak into my husband’s life and help him in the ways that only I can, Jesus stepped up and brought grace and truth to me in the way that only he can! Unlike a woman who struggles to respect her husband because she deems him undeserving, Jesus has not withheld his love and salvation because we are undeserving. In fact, we are more than undeserving and he died for us still! When I’m remembering the truth of the gospel, love and respect and graciousness overflows, onto my relationship with my husband because of the gracious way that Christ has dealt with me.