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.