Tag Archives: marriage

To love, cherish….and obey?

I, (name), take you, (name)
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish, [and obey]
till death us do part,
according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.
from The Marriage Service, Common Worship (Church of England) 

I got married a few weeks ago, and we opted to go for the more traditional wording of the vows. While the man says “to love and to cherish”, the woman’s vows say “to love, cherish and obey”. It’s funny how a single word can cause so much angst, but this one does. Not particularly because it is in there, but because, while the rest of the vows are the same for men and women, only the woman ‘obeys’.

I am sure that, if they noticed it, some of my feminist friends will have gasped (internally- I didn’t hear any out loud gasping, so well done) at the inherent inequality of it. But it wasn’t a mistake, I haven’t lost my mind, and it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. This blog is an attempt to explain to those who find it surprising my rationale behind making that decision. You may well not agree with me at the end of it, but at least you will hopefully understand more why I chose that route. (It will also act as a reminder for me on the days I am feeling disobedient why I made the promises I did.)

Firstly, and very importantly, it was my choice. Part of my understanding of the importance and role of feminism, is that it gives women the power to make choices in decisions that impact them, rather than decisions being made on their behalf. Of course, I discussed it, at length, with Husband and I was aware of his preference. Of course that influenced my decision; the opinions of those we love always do. But Husband was also clear that it was entirely my choice as to the final decision. These are vows that we have made before God and each other, and we intend to take those promises very seriously. Husband certainly didn’t want to  make me promise something that I didn’t agree with and didn’t intend to stick to.

We set out the boundaries in our discussions. In saying that I will obey Husband, that doesn’t mean anything he says I have to do. It is not a case that he clicks his fingers and I jump. In promising to obey, I have not surrendered my ability to discuss, disagree or express my opinion! For us, this bit of the vows is particularly pertinent to big decisions that we come across in life; for example, a decision on where any children we have go to school, not the colour of the curtains. We are taking about situations where a decision has to be made, but after discussing it, both listening to the other’s point of view, praying about it, discussing and praying some more, we still have different ideas of the best course of action.  A democracy of 2 simply can get stuck. In those situations, someone needs the casting vote. I guess this is my pragmatic side coming through in making this choice. We’ve decided that our default is for Husband to have that casting vote. Sometimes it might be me, depending on the situation. An obvious example is my work. Obviously Husband doesn’t have jurisdiction over my work decisions,  but it may well be that with other decisions we decide that it makes sense for me to have the final decision.

While we are talking about work, there was another aspect I had not considered before Husband raised it. He reminded me that in my future line of work (being a vicar), I am likely to be responsible for making a lot of decisions, every day. We cannot always predict the outcome of our decisions, but we all carry the weight of responsibility for the decisions we make. In a profession such as the priesthood (but also many other careers such as social work, teaching, nursing etc.), our decisions can have profound long term impacts on people’s lives, for good or ill. That’s a lot of responsibility. Husband’s job, on the other hand, while it involves decision making as all life does, doesn’t involve the same type of decisions. By taking on the role of lead decision maker in the family, he is also taking on the responsibility that carries, and taking it off me. He is not doing this to gain power over me, but to love and help me. (This again doesn’t mean that I am passive in decision making, nor does it mean I won’t take ownership of decisions we reach, nor that if it goes wrong I will ascribe blame to Husband, but he will still carry more weight of responsibility simply by having made the decision).

We would be foolish if we didn’t acknowledge that by me vowing to obey, I have handed power over to Husband. Not complete power, but there is still the possibility that he could abuse his position, demanding I obey in every decision, or make decisions that are in his interest, not ours as a family. In spite of all the other reasons above, this was the crux of it for me: Do I trust Husband? Do I trust him to make good decisions on our behalf, decisions which I can get behind and support because I know that they are made with love and thought and care? Do I trust him not to abuse this power? Yes, I do. If I couldn’t say yes to this, I couldn’t marry him at all.

The final part to my thinking, and possibly the most controversial, is that we want our marriage to model (as imperfectly as it may be) the relationship between Jesus Christ, and His bride, the Church. There is a really difficult and awkward passage in the New Testament which reads “21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy” (Ephesians 5:21-25. New International Version).

I don’t have space to unpack this passage fully now*. I find this a really uncomfortable passage, and it has been misused to cause great harm to many women down the centuries (specifically verse 22 “Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands”- those who misuse it tend to ignore the previous verse which is abundantly clear “Submit to one another” and verse 25). I might rail against the patriarchical society that first wrote it, but I can’t get away from it saying the wife should submit to the husband in the same way the Church submits to Christ. Admittedly, the Church (which is all Christians, not just specific denominations or groups meeting in a particular building), is in many ways terrible at submitting to (i.e. obeying) Christ Jesus. The list of ways in which the Church doesn’t follow Jesus’ teaching is shamefully long. But, for all its failings, the Church at its very core is trying to follow Jesus and be obedient.

I know that some of you will still be choking on verse 22-24, as do I (especially that “in everything” phrase). But remember the mutuality of verse 21 “Submit to one another”- the give and take of relationships, and when I keep reading I reach “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. Too often we never reach this verse, but quite frankly, having read this, I think I have the better deal. My Husband is meant to love me in the same way that Christ loved the Church: i.e. he is meant to show me the same self-sacrificing, costly love that led Jesus to set aside His own desires, comfort and well-being, and led Him to the cross. If Husband is making decisions with that attitude and approach, they are likely to be decisions which are in our best interests, and easy for me to agree with (though not necessarily easy to enact). I think husbands have the harder task in this passage.

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t expect to end up writing about Ephesians 5. I probably wouldn’t have started writing it if I had. Promising to obey is controversial these days, and talk of submission even more so. I expect may who read this will still disagree with my decision, but it is done, and though he will not always get it right, I trust Husband to love me well.

 

* Here are some blogs which look at this passage/the idea of submission in more depth. The first is from a writer whose book ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ was one of the most liberating things I’ve read. The other two are written from a queer theology perspective.

Rachel Held Evans – Humility without Hierarchy

Queer Ephesians 5:21-6:9 – Guest Post Ben Allison

Queer Ephesians 5:21-33 – Wives be Subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord

 

When “If” becomes “When” again

Just over 3 years ago I started this blog. Various friends were encouraging me to try blogging as they knew I enjoyed writing, but the final trigger was me writing a piece called ‘When “When” becomes “If”’.  Click the link to read the full piece but in summary it was about me attempting to come to terms with the idea I might never get married.

Two years ago I wrote about my foray into online dating with ‘Choosing a balloon’. Well, much to my surprise, it went very well. (Letting you into a secret, my chosen ‘balloon’ helped edit that piece, though we hadn’t quite started dating at that time). Now I find myself no longer considering ‘if’ I will get married, but ‘when’.

In fact, the ‘when’ is imminent. In 8 days I will be standing next to the man I love, making my marriage vows in front of God, a vicar and a whole crowd of friends and family. And I am SO EXCITED!

I can’t wait till I get to legally commit my life to this wonderful man, can’t wait till we get to live together, till our daily patterns and routines are tied up and intermingled with each others. I am excited about getting to know him ever better, and being known by him more deeply every day (and yes, I’m looking forward to sex too). I’m also looking forward to seeing where God takes us and gets us doing in ministry together.

Married friends tell me it’s the little things that are the biggest things in a way. I know I am looking forward to being able to come home to a hug after a hard day, to having a sounding board for my concerns, ideas and visions (maybe that’s not a small thing), being able to curl up next to a human radiator on cold days, and having someone who will keep the DVDs and bookshelves ordered. I know he is looking forward to me making crumble (probably some other things too, my crumble isn’t that outstanding!). I’m enjoying the excitement in anticipating the wonderful ordinariness of doing life together.

 But I am also  terrified. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m about to make some of the biggest promises I will ever make. I mean, what if it’s all a terrible mistake? What if I am not enough for him? What if I hurt him? What if things go wrong? What if I am a rubbish wife?

Deep breath: it isn’t; I’m not; I will; they will; I will be sometimes; but that’s ok.

Let me unpack that a bit more. It is a lifetime commitment, and a lifetime is (God willing) a long time to be with someone if it’s all a terrible mistake. Except, if I had even the inkling that this was the wrong move, I wouldn’t be making it. I’ve had plenty of time to consider what I’d want in a husband, and God has provided it, and more. Husband-to-be and I have now had a couple of years of getting to know each other, and while that might seem fast for some people, we’ve approached this with prayer and openness and the support of friends and family (who would tell us if they thought it was an error of judgement on our part).

I won’t be enough for him. I never will, I never should be. Well not in the sense of being able to satisfy all his needs. He won’t be enough for me either. For both of us, our first priority is our faith and our relationship with God. God is the only one that would ever be enough for either of us. We will need other friends as well. If we only have each other our relationship will get claustrophobic and inward looking. We want to be generous in our marriage- and that includes hospitality, time, and love for others. Having said all that, Husband-to-be is more than enough for me in terms of a romantic partner- I won’t be looking anywhere else for romance.

I will hurt him. I have already, I will again. Because I am human, and flawed and will be selfish and misjudge situations. We have quite different points of view on some things, and I am convinced that one of the reasons God has brought us together is that we can show each other the world from a different viewpoint. My prayer is that I don’t him hurt deliberately. But when we hurt each other, I will work to forgive and restore anything we have lost in our relationship. That’s the same when things go wrong, which they will. We have already faced a number of fairly stressful situations in the past year alone, so I know that though they are hard work, we will work hard to keep communicating, keep loving, keep growing closer together. Sometimes the things that go wrong won’t be our fault, and then we will need to hold each other tight and support each other through it. When it is our fault we will still need to hold each other tight and support each other through it.

I am certain there will be times when I am not the wife that I think he deserves. Sometimes that might be because I am setting my expectations unrealistically high, and in fact am trying to be ‘super-wife’. I know then that he will remind me that I can’t do everything and remind me I am loved anyway. At other times I will get my priorities wrong, or let him down in some way and then I will need to apologise.

It is daunting, and I think that is right. After all I am about to step into the greatest adventure of my life. The adventure that all my other life adventures will be contained and framed by. It is also thrilling. I know that in amongst all the unknowns, all the highs and lows that the future brings, God will be with us. However much we fail each other, or hurt each other, or have reason to celebrate and rejoice, and however much we love; God loves us more, and He is faithful and will not leave us without support.