I grew up in fundamentalist churches where women were taught to know their “place” and stay there. My parents accepted these ideas in theory, but not so much in practice, and at the same time they questioned many of the other things these churches taught. During my freshman year of college, my parents ended their lifelong affiliation with this denomination and began attending a new church.
Throughout my high school and college years, my father and I developed a deep friendship. We would often stay up late into the night “philosophizing,” as my mom called it, or just talking about Jesus. We discussed many issues, but the issue of a woman’s role in marriage or ministry never came up. I wrestled with the issue briefly in college, but ended up just sweeping it under the rug in my mind because I didn’t notice it causing me any problems. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I decided.
Just a few short months after I graduated from college, I married the man of my dreams. Nathan challenged my heart and mind, passionately loved Jesus and, like me, was a musician. I was so enthralled with him that I unconsciously worked to become like him in my thinking. His parents held traditional gender roles in their marriage, so naturally I thought that conforming to this model would please him.
This led to our first major and recurring fight over who did the cooking. Nathan loves to cook and wanted to take part in it. I, however, felt strongly that this was my role, and I defended it like the God-given calling I believed it was. I realize now that because I placed huge boundaries around my role as a wife, I was extremely hurt when Nathan tried to step inside the box I had drawn for myself. It was only so big, and if I got squeezed out, there would be no place for me.
As I became more entrenched in trying to work out this model of marriage, I began to delve into my past without realizing it. I patched together things I remembered learning in church, and then handed my ideas over to Nathan. I learned somewhere that my husband should be my “spiritual leader,” but that I shouldn’t push him into leadership because then I would be domineering.
It was all very confusing, but I did my best to manipulate him into the role I believed God had designed for him. I knew what I wanted but couldn’t tell him, because that would be interfering with his leading. My silent manipulation wasn’t working though. I ended up telling him quite directly that he needed to be doing more than he was as spiritual leader — specifically, leading us in Bible study and prayer together, and also praying at meals. That was his job, I told him, and then felt sick because I was breaking the rules about my own job.
At the same time I was plagued by tremendous fear for him, because he was spiritually accountable for me (another lie from somewhere in my past). What if he wasn’t doing his job right? At my best, I felt it wasn’t fair for him to be responsible for another’s soul, just because he was male. At my worst, I felt lucky to be female and free from responsibility for myself. Of course, in my heart of hearts, where the Holy Spirit lives, I knew this could not be right.
About this same time my father read Gilbert Bilezikian’s Beyond Sex Roles, and he couldn’t stop talking about it. As he told me later, this was one issue he had decided he didn’t need to rethink — he was closed to the idea of men and women as equals. But he heard Dr. Bilezikian speak at a church conference, and his words really challenged my father, who immediately bought and read the book. I too was challenged by some of the ideas my father shared with me from his reading, and it was then that I began opening my mind to the idea of biblical equality in theory, but not yet in practice.
At this time God also began to speak to me that he had a unique calling for me, and I started opening up to his leading. I realized I had a responsibility to invest in the gifts he had given me, instead of burying them in the ground. I began spending more time and energy in songwriting, and I found it so fulfilling.
I also began to see that our marriage was suffering. Nathan will readily admit that he can tend towards being overly opinionated at times, and this made it easier for me to defer my opinions to him. This behavior was my idea of submission as well as my natural inclination, since I tend to be more withdrawn. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with my own thoughts, and Nathan noticed it. My husband — the very one I was trying to please — told me he sometimes resented me because I was always deferring to him instead of sharing my thoughts or desires.
This all came to a head a month or so before my 25th birthday, when Nathan told me about a marriage conference he had seen advertised in Prism magazine. A group called Christians for Biblical Equality was presenting it, and it would be held in Minneapolis, the very city in which we lived! He was thinking of taking me there for my birthday and wanted to know if I would be interested. I was amazed, because I had just seen the same ad and felt a strong desire to know more, but I had thought Nathan would disapprove of anything other than the traditional model of marriage.
We discovered that the conference would cost us more than we could afford, but we would be able to volunteer in the bookstore to lower our price. Then my parents called in the middle of our discussion about whether we could go, and offered to take us to their church’s marriage conference for my birthday. I was further amazed, and shared our story with them, so they offered to help us pay for CBE’s conference instead. Later Nathan told his parents about the conference, and they offered to cover the remaining cost for us. We took the subtle hint from God and decided to go!
Neither of us knew what to expect at the conference, as we didn’t have any former contact with CBE and we hadn’t read any books on the subject. We already knew quite a lot about the traditional view of marriage though, so we decided we could learn something that might help us open our minds to a different viewpoint. We were not disappointed. At this conference we encountered gracious people who loved Jesus and respected one another, people who sought the truth, not personal gain or power. We learned the concept of mutual submission, and I realized that all the great marriages I could remember were in practice egalitarian, though some of them were made up of very vocal traditionalists. I brought home a pile of books, which I read hungrily. I was waking up; I felt so alive and free.
Perhaps the most thrilling thing for me was Nathan’s response. Nathan, who I had thought was not open to these ideas, was instead very excited about them. We were both overjoyed to hear an explanation of Ephesians 5. Finally the passage made sense! Nathan told me later that in college he too had wrestled with the issue of women’s roles in ministry and marriage, but it hadn’t been clear to him, and he had sensed God telling him that he wasn’t ready for the answers yet. At this conference he began to get some of them.
When we came home after the conference, Nathan asked me if he could please not be solely responsible for praying before meals anymore. He shared how he had always been uncomfortable in the position of “spiritual leader.” We soon discovered that mutual submission has freed both of us!
All along in our marriage we have both seen the incredible ways we can work together and help one another. Now I feel free to take off the limits and be all God wants me to be. I am learning to take responsibility for my own walk with Christ and for the development of the gifts he has given me. Finally, I’m learning that Jesus really wants me to scrap the molds everybody else made for me. Instead of trying to squeeze into another mold, I’m waiting as God shapes me.