“I don’t know how you do it,” one of my friends said to me recently. “Your house is beautiful, your nails are never chipped, you read your Bible every day, and you make the best cookies in the world. You’re the perfect Proverbs 31 woman!”
“Oh, I’m nothing special,” I murmured, eyes modestly downcast. “It’s just because I have such a godly husband as the head of our family. Life just works perfectly when we each fulfill our roles.” No need to tell her how hard I still work to take captive those rebellious, unfeminine parts of myself and force them to conform to the way I know all women are meant to be.
I grew up in the Deep South, a mystical land where a woman’s greatest gifts to the world are her face, figure, and home cooking. As a child I was trained in the art of being “ladylike.” This included such commandments as, “Thou shalt not burp,” “Thou shalt not use words like ‘pee’,” and “Thou shalt always keep thine knees together or thine legs crossed.”
Of course, these social graces of womanhood were only part of the entire package. There were also the spiritual disciplines: patience, gentleness, a quiet spirit, hospitality, submission, nurture, and above all, modesty. These I cultivated at church events, where I volunteered in the children’s ministry, sought counsel from pastoral staff on major life decisions, and submitted to my father’s rules, advice, and protection until the time that he would hand my care over to my future husband.
In my church, we women were taught that we should expect to be doted on by our husbands. When it came to choosing a husband, there were only two questions that mattered. “Is he a Christian (preferably evangelical and charismatic)?” and, “Does he have a job?” A man who couldn’t provide for his family financially was not suitable husband material.
When my husband and I were engaged, I was cornered by a pastor at my church who asked me these two fundamental questions. The first one I could answer confidently, but the second left me stammering and blushing as I explained that my fiancé was still a student like me, but that he would surely have a job by the time we were married and that he was interested in becoming a pastor. This last detail was my trump card. We might not be reaching God’s ideal yet, but there was the hope that in the future, I might reach that pinnacle of womanly virtue—pastor’s wife.
In college, I had a friend who would award “wife points” to us girls each time we did something that showed our promise as good future wives. Babysitting, folding laundry, memorizing Scripture, and baking while wearing an apron would all earn points. I never found out what the points were good for, but it didn’t really matter. After all, our reward is in heaven.
Growing into a godly woman was a challenge, but becoming a godly wife was much harder. It’s easy to know the right answers before you are actually in the situation, but it’s more difficult once you have to put those beliefs into practice. When I got married, my Jezebel spirit came out in new ways.
As everyone knows, all men want to have sex all the time. So after our wedding, when I discovered that my husband wasn’t pushing to have sex all day, every day, I knew the problem was with me. It took some time, but once I learned that my interest in intimacy was wrong and probably the result of an impure heart before marriage, I was able to make sure my husband was always the initiator and instigator. I learned to stifle my sinful desires and submit to his leading which built his confidence.
Of course, marriage is about more than just sex. There’s also money.
When we were first married, we almost ruined everything on the money front. I was working as a nanny and my husband was working at Starbucks. My hourly pay was higher than his, which made me the primary breadwinner. This was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, our near-crisis was averted when we factored in the insurance secured by my husband’s job and the fact that my job was essentially homemaking, not any kind of corporate career path.
In marriage, I was also faced with big life decisions about where we would live and work and go to church for the first time. About a year into our marriage, my husband received a job offer that would have involved moving. We were both incredibly conflicted, praying without receiving a sense of the right way forward. And then came the crucial moment.
“What do you think we should do?” my husband asked, looking up at me from where he sat on the side of the bed.
I knew this was a trick question. I wasn’t really supposed to help him make this decision. That would be emasculating. It was his responsibility to make decisions for our family. This was a test in submission. I sat down on the bed next to him, looked down into my lap, and said as sweetly as I could, “I trust you to make the right decision. If you think we should go, then I will go and I will support your decision.” Nailed it.
He acted frustrated that I wasn’t offering a stronger opinion, but I know I did the right thing.
While we’ve ironed out most of the major aspects of our roles by now, there are still little things—like deciding whether or not to share my thoughts on this Sunday’s sermon just in case I accidentally teach him something he doesn’t already know, or realizing too late that I walked outside in my lust-inducing tights when I was running out to the car with the lunch he’d left on the counter. But the great news is that there’s grace for that. As long as it doesn’t happen too often.
After all, we all know there’s only one right way to be a woman. It might not always come naturally, but that’s only because we are sinful creatures. With God’s grace we can overcome our sinful desires to steal men’s authority, to cause men to stumble with our bodies, and to serve them store-bought meals. It might seem like a lot, but it’s really pretty simple. All you have to do is act like a lady.