Editor’s Note: This article was also published in French on ServirEnsemble.
My husband and I rolled up to the train station in Bordeaux, France in the middle of the worst heat wave in French history. We were riding overly heavy rental bikes, grimy with sweat and road dust, and hauling a trailer that contained a broken two-man tent and our four-month-old baby. Our bike trip from Toulouse to Bordeaux had had its satisfying moments, but it certainly hadn’t been the most relaxing vacation we’d ever taken. Now we made our way through the summer crowds to the departures board, only to realize in dismay that 1.) our platform was on the other side of the station, and 2.) we had exactly two minutes to get ourselves, our bikes, and our trailer/baby onto the train before it left. Oh, and 3.) there was a long line for the elevator.
I might have given up at that point, but my husband immediately began heaving the heavy bikes down staircases and spouting out orders. “Take the baby! Go that way! Hold this! Stand there! Now run!”
Somehow, we made our train.
When I was first exploring what God really intended for marriage, I was often told by complementarians that “there can only be one king in a castle.” There was a reason they chose that particular metaphor. Even if he was a benevolent ruler, sooner or later there would be a crisis: the castle would be attacked, and then everything would need to operate with military speed and efficiency. This meant there could only be one person calling the shots. Any other arrangement meant the survival of the castle was at stake.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how to respond to this argument, except to say, “But I don’t want to live in a monarchy.” Now that I’m married, however, I have a much clearer idea of how navigating a crisis works in a mutually respectful, non-hierarchical relationship. I didn’t mind my husband taking charge and giving orders that day at the train station. If I’d stopped to say, “Wait a minute! Who put you in charge? What if that’s not the best way to do things? Shouldn’t we discuss this?” –then we would have missed our train. Instead, I gladly submitted to his leadership. But here’s the thing: I didn’t submit because he was the man in the relationship. I happily went along with what he decided because he was the European in the relationship. My husband is French, born and raised, while I am American. And that meant that he is far more familiar with trains and train stations than I. At that moment of crisis, I knew that he had the experience and capability to get us to our train on time, and I trusted him to make the decisions that would result in that outcome.
Just one day earlier, there had been a crisis of a different kind.
When we’d planned our bike trip for late spring, it was in the hope that we would have typical late spring weather: warm and sunny, but mild. A fresh breeze in our face as we pedaled along the famous Canal des Deux Mers . . . picnic lunches under the trees, our baby cooing on the grass…dinner over a camp stove as the first stars of twilight were picked out in the sky, followed by an early bedtime.
It was not to be.
Instead, temperatures that week in June of 2022 soared to heights that would have broken into triple digits if we’d been using the Fahrenheit system. We found ourselves rising at dawn to get as far as we could before the worst of the day’s heat set in, finding a shady spot for fitful napping in the afternoon, then biking again once the sun fell low, often continuing long into the night, setting up camp and making dinner by headlamp before collapsing on top of our sleeping bags around midnight for a handful of hours of real sleep before doing it all again the next day. If it had just been the two of us, we might have pressed on through the afternoon, but we knew that a new baby doesn’t have an adult’s ability to regulate body temperature, so we made the extra effort to avoid taking risks.
And we managed it fairly well, albeit with much exhaustion, as long as our bike path followed the canal. On our second-to-last day, however, our route took us away from its waters. As the sun reached its zenith, we found ourselves in a stretch of open country with few trees and fewer signs of human habitation. There was nowhere safe or cool to rest, and the mercury was climbing.
Fortunately, I’m from Arizona, born and raised. I knew how to handle heat—and my husband knew that I knew. And so, he chose to gladly submit to my leadership. Pulling up the GPS, I identified a nearby town with a church. Churches in French towns are usually medieval affairs of thick stone, dim light, and high ceilings: excellent places to shelter from the heat even in the worst summer weather. I told him that we needed to leave the bike path and make for the town immediately, and he went along with it without much discussion.
Once we arrived, however, we found to our dismay that this particular town’s church had fallen into ruin. One wall and much of the ceiling were missing, and it provided little shade. My husband went to give the baby another drink, but found he was too drowsy to take it. Again, without stopping for discussion, I unscrewed one of our remaining water containers and dumped the entire contents directly over our baby’s head, soaking right through his onesie and diaper. His eyes flew open with a start, and he immediately accepted the bottle. Then I ordered my husband, “Go along this street here and stop in every bar and restaurant until you find one with air conditioning. Then share your location and call me.” He didn’t argue.
He did indeed find a small restaurant that had had the foresight to invest in an air conditioning unit, and so we spent the afternoon with cool air blowing in our faces, sipping cold drinks and feasting on cold salad with cold cheese, while our baby gurgled happily next to us. Our vacation was saved—but we were both well-aware that things could have gone very differently. If my husband hadn’t been willing to recognize my experience and submit to my leadership, we could have ended that day in the emergency room with our tiny son being treated for dehydration and heat exhaustion.
My husband and I have very different backgrounds, which means that we have very different areas of expertise. Sometimes one of us is best suited to decision-making, sometimes it’s the other. A real castle would have been staffed and garrisoned by hundreds of unique individuals, some of whom might not even have known each other. In a time of crisis, a large and diverse population may indeed need one person who has been appointed ahead of time to take charge (hopefully by virtue of training and experience instead of genetics). But when my husband and I married each other, we chose to become one flesh. We know each other. We trust each other. So, when one of us knows what to do, they step up to the plate, and the other person lets them. And we have never yet encountered a crisis where we didn’t both immediately have a sense of who needed to take charge, and who needed to follow. Neither of us resents the other for taking this initiative. We’re just happy that the family castle has been saved.
Photo by Ground Picture on Shutterstock