Submission and Obedience

How do we teach submission & obedience in a world where those things are so dangerous?  Is it ever our job to teach our children the blind, all-encompassing obedience of the popular Christian culture?

The biblical teaching on submission focuses primarily on the spirit with which we view other people.  Scripture does not attempt to set forth a series of hierarchical relationships but to communicate to us an inner attitude of mutual subordination.” – Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

“The person with the most power in any given relationship is the person with the least to lose.  “

I think submission is the same.

The true strength of submission, where we find the power to turn the other cheek, is in showing our master or offender how little we are affected by his or her actions.  This could be accomplished with a haughty arrogance.  But it could also be accomplished by a meek and humble deference for Christ.   I submit to my children’s needs of the moment not so that they will feel powerful or that I could be a martyr but so that Christ can be glorified.  I submit to staying home with my children because God is raised up when I do.  I have had to eat some crow by doing this.  I am being judged by Christians for the way I sacrifice for my children, I am being judged by feminist friends for the way I sacrifice for my family.  If I cared one whit about their judgments, I would be in bondage to them.  I would be at their mercies.

Nothing can put people into bondage like religion, and nothing in religion has done more to manipulate and destroy people than a deficient teaching on submission.”   -Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Submission is not the goal.  Submission was never the goal.  Christ didn’t ask us to only be submissive.  The goal is to be liberated from our own narcissism.  In submitting to my children’s needs I find freedom from the tiring work of forcing happiness into my life.  If I were not submitting to my children, I would instead be teaching them to submit to me.  I would be determined to find my happiness in their quick and effortless bedtime.  In their quiet and appreciative munching at dinner.  Instead I submit to their young needs of help into sleep and guidance toward healthy food.  I need not impose my will nor cower under theirs, instead I let my focus be on God and the way He served so many.  He listened seriously to people who were disregarded (women) and washed the feet of people who were certainly old enough to wash themselves (disciples).  Christ was free from his own wants.  He wasn’t trying to get people around him to be more convenient or easier to manage or simply obedient.  Why do we try so hard to get our children to be those things?

I wonder if we are simply trying to reclaim our power.  “I hate you” is not the most hurtful thing you can say to a person.  “I don’t care” is much worse.  A complete indifference to and for the other is a much more powerful position.  And repeating to your children that they matter ‘less than’ (less than your spouse, less than your schedule, less than your other commitments) is reaffirming indifference to them.  Affirming your children does not require your husband to step aside.  On the contrary, my husband and I submit to each other on a deeper level and in a much more complex and spiritually fulfilling way as a result of our growing family.  Our marriage is the foundation for our family.  Our children are born of our marriage.  Trying to separate them into castes is like trying to divide and rank the persons of the Holy Trinity.

The result of submission, the freedom that comes as a result of complete submission to God, is “the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.”

Are toddlers even capable of this?  Do they know that ‘other ways’ exist?  When we walk kids through decision making processes and listen to their objections openly and honestly, we’re encouraging toddlers & small children to find their way.  To try things and try to do things and develop their own pattern & routine for their actions and decisions.  Or, in our efforts to raise ‘good Christians’, are we simply manufacturing ‘right thinking’ drones?  If I teach my child what to think and when to think it, I have not raised an independent part of the body of Christ.  Nor have I raised an interdependent part of Christ’s Holy Fellowship.  I have raised only a dependent child who follows orders or repeats previous routines.  These are not the people of the early church.  These are not people in keeping with Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, or Jesus of Nazareth.

I want more for my children than that manipulated mindset.  They have to feel free to make mistakes.  They have to have a safe place to try and experiment and work on their technique so that they can learn how to navigate their lives.  It’s not that mistakes have no consequences, it’s that their obedience is no longer the goal.  “Disobedience is not a problem if obedience is not the goal.”  When my goal is higher than obedience, I have the freedom to stop worrying about punishments.  When I lift my eyes from obedience and focus instead on Christ, I can serve them in a way that leads them to God.  And not to a choice between outright rebellion and brainwashed emptiness.


Filed under Christian Parenting, mama life

11 responses to “Submission and Obedience

  1. Your post here makes me stop and ponder, and that’s a good thing! While what you say certainly appeals to part of me as a parent, I’m left wondering how you would apply verses like “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” and the concepts that as Christ is the head of the church so the man is the head of the woman.

    I mean, what I get from the whole of Scripture is a sense of order, specifically imposed since the Fall.

    There has to be a balance, and perhaps I fall too often on the obedience side, I think that you can go too far the other way.

    • The idea that man is the head of woman is a perversion I think. A quick google search found this explanation, which is lovely I think. The summary is thus: the original texts never tell women to submit to their husbands. We’ve added that part in as a continuation of the verse before, but a more accurate understanding would be that all Christians are to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. The bible does instruct children to obey their parents, but only within a certain context. Ephesians 6:1 says this: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” but if you look, the Lord comes first here. Ultimately, children are called to discern God’s will first, then decide if their obedience to me fits into that.

      When you refer to balance, I’m not sure what you’re balance with obedience. Could you clarify? What/where is the other way?

      • I’ve skimmed the article right now, but I will have to spend more time to read it in full. The problem that I have with it is while it seems to do a good job looking at the individual “trees” as it were, it seems to miss the forest.
        I mean, a big argument on the page is that the woman should choose to submit to her husband– since I wasn’t arguing that a woman needs to obey her husband, but submit to him, where’s the difficulty here?
        I don’t take the command to submit in a vacuum that doesn’t also take into account the role of loving the wife as Christ loved the church, but it’s pretty clear from what I see that Peter talks about Christian women being like Sarah who called Abraham, “My Lord” and Paul talks about how the women should be silent in church, learning from the man because he was made first.
        Obviously the site you linked is trying to prove a point and interpreting the other passages with that point in mind– and perhaps I am guilty of doing it as well. But it’s pretty plain with the English that there is a mutually loving family with a divine order of responsibility and headship.

      • You weren’t arguing that women should submit to men as a part of a mutual submission to one another and to Christ. You referenced “the concepts that as Christ is the head of the church so the man is the head of the woman.” That idea is the one that regards women as subservient (obedient) to men, and dismisses Christ’s command for masculine submission.

        You don’t have to believe me. You don’t have to take my opinion as your own. But the more time I spend in Scripture the more clear this becomes. The article I linked earlier gives a pretty good overview of the biblical basis for a mutually submissive relationship. If you read it, I’ll discuss it. But I’m not going to approve any more comments that attack something you didn’t read.

      • This comment is much more snarky than I meant it to be. I apologize.

        I think the two views (mutual submission and wifely submission) diverge when people look at the English translation and the original text. The original text leads people away toward a ‘headship’ and the current English translations lead people toward ‘headship’. If you’re interested, I can link to some really great sermons on this. I always like listening to the ideas I want to contemplate first. Plus, it makes housework go faster. 🙂

  2. This is pretty powerful stuff. I keep coming back to this – “And repeating to your children that they matter ‘less than’ (less than your spouse, less than your schedule, less than your other commitments) is reaffirming indifference to them.” I’ve gotta bookmark this and come back to it…frequently.

  3. Only recently have I figured out how hurtful “I don’t care,” can be, but this is so true. Thank you for caring. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Submission and Children | Why Not Train A Child?

  5. One of my favorite things about the gospel is how Jesus openly treated women and children differently than the culture did. He treated them with kindness, and focused on them as well as on the men. They were important too! 🙂

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