- Your heart sinks when you have to say “no” to something that someone has asked you to do.
- You often feel trapped, in a kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” circumstance. Whatever choice you make, you feel guilty.
- You are more aware of what other people want than what you want.
- You will make your day much harder (often at the expense of those closest to you such as your kids and husband) in order to make someone else’s day a little easier. You draw on the help of those closest to you so that you may go far out of your way to help people you barely know. You tell people your service is “really no problem”, when really you went way out of your way, disrupted your whole day, and even had to call in reinforcement to help cover for you.
- When you do an act of service for someone and they seem less than grateful, you either flat-line emotionally or blow up aggressively.
- You do a lot of negative or even hateful self talk when you feel you have failed to live up to someone else’s expectation of you.
- You lie awake at night obsessing over things you said that may have hurt someone’s feelings, came across wrong, or sounded stupid.
- You would not dare say “no” to your boss, even if you dread the extra workload he or she has asked of you.
- You are not really sure what you enjoy doing.
- You care a lot more about what others think about you than what God thinks about you.
It just kind of came to me one day, this ugly truth, after months of intensive emotional healing through therapy, transformation prayer, reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or EHS (Peter Scazzero). It was a long time coming, but it also seemed to come over me all at once in a single moment of revelation. I am a co-dependent person, attracted to controlling, emotionally manipulative, needy people. They fill my need to be savior, and I fill their need to be agreed with, praised, and approved of. I flinch even as I type it. Is it so bad? Am I quite so bad as to really think that I could play the role of savior? For the majority of my Christian life, that is how I lived. Now, I never in a million years would have termed myself savior, but the ugly truth was that I was in fact living that way. My heart was invested in my important relationships as the savior. I enabled, never challenged. I sought to keep the peace. I tip-toed around issues, trying to think of the response desired so that I might not disrupt the false peace that I had created all around me. Meanwhile, there was no peace inside.
I first realized that boundaries must be put in place in order for me to heal. I am not playing a victim card here. Co-dependency is a sickness in itself, and it is no better or worse than control and abuse. My greatest sin, and the one that colored every aspect of my life, nearly every relationship I had, was undoubtedly Co-dependency. In order to heal, there first needed to be a separation. Someone once told me that trying to heal a relationship while you’re still in it is like trying to fix a car while you’re flying down the highway. The truth of this statement has stuck with me. In order to heal myself and turn from my own sin of co-dependency and enabling behaviors, I had to first take a break from the relationships in which I was making a practice of this sin.
During the break, it was time to heal my mind…to go back in order to go forward. I had to stop denying the impact of the past on the present (another phrase taken from Scazzero’s EHS series). The impact of the past on the present is strong, whether or not I am conscious of it. I had to explore the roots of my co-dependent feelings and behaviors.
Having come to the place in my healing journey where I could understand the roots of my behavior and the lies that I was believing about myself, God, and others, it was time to begin to form new patterns of thought and behavior. This was the most grueling part of the journey. I was deeply embedded in the sin of co-dependency, hateful self-talk, and gaining a sense of worth from others. These patterns were not easy to break, and even today I can find myself easily slipping back into this destructive and sinful thought life.
I taught myself to recognize the warning signs of spiraling into these patterns. Once I could recognize the warning signs, I could make a conscious effort to combat the lies with God’s truth. No, that is not true. You are not stupid and worthless. You are cherished. You are loved. You are adored. God doesn’t make garbage. He has a plan for you. You are his precious daughter. He is captivated by you. He has forgiven you and sees you as perfect and holy, covered by the blood of Jesus.
At times, I chanted these truths to myself over and over. At times, I cried out to the Lord telling Him what I believed about myself and asking Him to speak truth to me. At times, I listened to a few key songs over and over until I began not only to know about God’s love for me in my head, but to feel it deep within my soul. More often, I listened to or read the Psalms throughout the day, over and over. In a few months, I read through all of the Psalms a number of times. They were like my life support in these days that felt like the valley of the shadow of death.
After a significant amount of time healing, some of my former relationships were able to be restored. Others were not. It really depended on the person’s response to my newfound ways of relating with people. My relationships with other people now flowed from a new confidence in Jesus. I did not need the approval of others any longer. I did not feel a need to preserve false peace. I did not feel like I had to tip toe around people, say the right thing, and keep people happy. That kind of enabling behavior was behind me, and I was working to make sure it stayed that way.
Some would respond well, adapting to the challenges of the new me, realizing that I was no longer simply a “yes-woman” but an empowered woman, a woman with her own mind who was confident enough to speak her true feelings in kindness and compassion.
One of the most important parts of this journey was the process of giving myself grace for mistakes. I did not go about this process perfectly. Looking back, I can think of so many things I would have done differently. I would have been more gracious with the people from whom I needed to take a break to heal. I would have communicated differently. At times, it was difficult not to slip back into self-hate because of these mistakes.
The healing process was pretty rocky as well. I did at times fall back into old patterns of co-dependency and self-loathing. I did at times seek approval from others. It would have been easy to get into an even deeper rut when I slipped back into my old patterns, telling myself that I would never succeed at changing. But I knew that I was not going to change overnight, so over and over, day after day I fell on my face before the Lord and asked Him to change me, to speak to me, to remind me of my identity in Him. Day after day, I immersed myself in the Psalms, songs, and prayer.
Forgiving self was the key component to successfully allowing God to heal and change me. Some Christians hear about therapy and inner healing, they immediately think that it is wrong or irrelevant because it is all about “self love” and that is clearly not biblical. But I challenged that view in my own heart. Self love is not the same thing as selfishness. And it is in no way exclusive from loving God and others. In fact, the way that I understand self love, is actually just allowing yourself to recognize and be aware of the presence of God.
I fondly remember my grandpa telling me to “practice the presence of God”, but I never really understood it until now. To practice the presence of God is self love, or rather recognizing God’s love for you on a regular basis. Throughout the day, in the still moments, I remember that He is right there with me, that He cares for me, and that I am His.
Scazzero suggests that people who are hateful, critical, harsh, and judgmental to themselves will unwittingly be so to others. To love and forgive yourself is not selfish, because love and forgiveness for others will flow from that. To recognize God’s love for you and His forgiveness of you and to make an effort to stop the hateful self talk and self criticism is, inadvertently, to love others. Because ultimately, you will treat others the same way you treat yourself.
These changes felt so very slow, but looking back I honestly can’t believe how quickly God changed me. Nothing is quite so difficult to change as the mind and soul. It is quite easy to move locations, to end relationships and begin new ones, but it is not so easy to change your mind. And wherever you go, your mind will be there.
To free your mind through healing in Jesus is the only real way to be liberated, free, and whole. I use to long to escape from myself. But Jesus gave me something better. He gave me healing so that I could forgive myself, recognize His love for me, and experience true freedom and joy.
I understand that not every day will be pure joy and wholeness and happiness. There will be days where I am tempted to slip back into self-loathing, and there will be days where I succumb to temptation. There will be days where I behave in co-dependent and enabling ways. There will be days where I seek approval from others. There will be days where I skirt issues to preserve false peace. I know that I will not do this perfectly, but now that I have the power of forgiveness buried in my heart, I can get through these days and move on toward a brighter and more hopeful future in Jesus.
So, yes, the ugly truth is that in the flesh, I am a co-dependent and enabling person. But the beautiful truth is that in Jesus, I am forgiven and cherished, confident in my identity as a daughter of the King.
This is not going to be the obligatory Christian blog post about your singleness and how they are the best years of your life and you should cherish them blah blah blah.
I know. You have a biological clock that’s a tickn and you are going to throat punch the next person who tells you to live it up now because you won’t be able to when you have a husband and kids blah blah blah.
I’m going to give you some advice that may, ironically, expedite the process. Or it may not. Only God knows. But this advice, if taken, will make you more attractive and more prepared for marriage. And, if you choose to remain single, you will still find joy and satisfaction if you do this.
Here it is:
Convince yourself that marriage is not going to make you happy. I am dead serious about this. You must know this. When you know it, you will be more ready for marriage than ever before. Do you know how many women dream of marriage, but never think a day beyond? It’s like they think life is a Disney fairy-tale that ends after the wedding day. We are products of our culture, I tell you. The day after your wedding will come, and it will not be happily ever after. No matter who you marry, there will be hard days. There will be lonely days. There will be difficult times. There will also be good times. But if you go into marriage expecting that it will be the source of your happiness, you will destroy it. Marriage was not meant to make you happy. It was designed by God to sanctify you. Joy may very well be a byproduct of sanctification, but there will be little to no joy if you expect your spouse to be the source of your happiness. It will drain him. No one can do that for you but Jesus. Jesus can do that for you now. You don’t have to wait to be married to be happy.
When you are deriving your joy from Jesus, you will become one of the most attractive people around. People will long to be around you. Why? Because you are filled with the Holy Spirit. You are filled with confidence that you are loved and cared for by the Creator of the Universe. You know that you don’t need to snag a husband to be happy. You know that being single does not mean you are undesirable or unloved. You are happy and confident now, and that makes you irresistible.
And when someone falls in love with this beautiful, confident, joyful woman, he will have the luxury of being your husband without the pressure of being your source of joy. When our emotions are dependent on what our husbands say or don’t say, we drain them of life and leave them feeling like failures. Because let’s face it, the greatest man on earth will never be able to meet our need for attention and validation. Only Jesus can do that. So if you let Jesus do that for you now instead of thinking you need a man to do that for you, you will not only become a more attractive person, but you will have a mindset that is ready for marriage. You will be ready for a marriage where you are filling up on the Holy Spirit and pouring out into your spouse rather than trying to fill up on your spouse, who will never be able to do that job like Jesus can.
So whether you meet your future spouse tomorrow, ten years from now, or whether you remain single, you can be full of joy if you start really believing that marriage will never be the source of your happiness and that a man will never be able to give you the kind of validation that you will find in Jesus.
Moms….fellow believers. I have to say that I am so tired of the blogs, videos, and memes that essentially make moms feel like they are helpless to take control in their homes. I get it. I hate the “mom-shaming” too. And no, I would not condemn the woman in Target whose toddler is having the tantrum of his life. We’ve all been there. I get it, trust me. But this anti-mom-shaming movement gives me the sense that moms are simply supposed to succumb to this idea that we are totally helpless in controlling our homes. We are just supposed to take the good with the bad and say, “Well, that’s how motherhood goes. It’s a trade off.” I’m calling B.S on that. Really, mothers, you are not helpless! You have the power to create a peaceful environment in your homes. You have the power to love and to discipline in a way that will make your children bring joy to you. The Bible promises that! Proverbs 31:28.
Instead of taking control of our home environments, implementing consistent and loving discipline, I am seeing even Christian mothers succumb to this idea that angry toddlers are going to run their lives and it is simply a part of motherhood, and no one better dare suggest they make an effort to get their children and homes under control because…you know….mom shaming. Guys, I hate mom shaming, too. I really do. And I am not saying this to shame you, but to give you hope and to empower you. You really can create a totally different atmosphere in your home. I am not saying that you will never again have the occasional meltdown in the grocery store. We will all have those moments. But I am saying that 90% of your time with your kids should not and does not have to consist of meltdowns and bad behaviors.
You and your children will be so much happier when you realize that you are powerful enough to change your home life! You have what it takes to direct, instruct, love, and discipline. You have been given everything you need to be set apart from the moms of the world. You have all of the tools you need to raise kids who will be different from the children of the world. You can make a change, and you do not have to succumb to this idea that you just need to roll with the punches and take the good with the bad. No, you can take control and run your house the way you want it run, and instruct your children to be the kind of human beings you want them to be. Yes, it takes work, but when you implement these habits, your life with your kids will be so much more peaceful and full of love and grace. You will not be run by your children. Rather, you will run your home according to godly principals.
A great place to start is with Paul David Tripp. His book on Parenting can be found on Audible.
Press on, sisters! Motherhood is the most difficult job you will ever do, but through Jesus, you have the power to take control of your home. So let’s stop buying into the world’s lie that you are helpless to create a peaceful environment. You are not helpless. You are full of the love and power of Jesus Christ.
What is Godly Submission?
One of the greatest disservices Christianity today has done society is to display an inaccurate understanding of godly, biblical submission. The type of submission I am talking about is empowering, not belittling to women. If that seems paradoxical, it is only because we have greatly mistook the meaning of the word. When you hear the word “submission” what you are probably thinking about is not the biblical definition of submission at all. Instead, the thoughts that run through your mind are most likely those of enabling behavior, which is not godly submission at all. When women enable disrespectful, belligerent, or even abusive men, it is not godly submission, and it is certainly not what God has called us to. In fact, the Christian woman should be the strongest among women because we know that we are not defined by what men think of us. We are not defined by our beauty, intelligence, or marital status. We are defined by God and Him alone. We know that creation was good, but not perfect until God graced the earth with a woman. Only then, did He say that the World was perfect. Only then did He rest. Women of God know that we are not only lovable, but that we are unendingly adored, that we are the crown of creation, and that nothing on this earth can take that value away from us. Therefore, women of God ought to be the strongest women on earth.
So how does that coincide with the Bible’s definition of submission? There should be no trouble understanding that at all, if only we will take the time to understand what godly submission truly is, rather than assuming that it is to be a doormat for men, to enable selfish and condescending attitudes toward women, or to go through life miserably accepting a status that is lower than that of our male counterparts.
Godly submission is empowering to women. In fact, it gives us great sway and influence not only in the lives of the males around us, but in our families, our communities, and our societies.
This is why God commands wives to godly submission- that we may honor and bless him, support and influence our husbands, raise our sons to be kinder and our daughters stronger than the generation before them.
The reason the Christian women can and should be that much stronger than the average woman is because we don’t have to deny our inner need for love and affirmation. We don’t have to pretend that we can do it on our own. We don’t have to pretend that we don’t need someone to be enthralled with us. We know that we do. But we also know that because of our Heavenly Father, we don’t need anything from any other human being to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
Author and Theologian Gary Thomas explains it remarkably well in his book, The Sacred Influence. “Men can be very cruel with their cutting comments; if you aren’t receiving affirmation and affection from your heavenly Father, you’re going to feel emotionally empty and perhaps even worthless-and will feed that into your husband’s response and tempt you to become even more of a doormat” (Thomas 137).
Godly submission never calls a woman to be a doormat. God never calls one of his daughters to be trampled over by her husband, or any man in her life. Instead, God gives us submission as a powerful weapon. It is a weapon not to be used against men, but to be used to influence them for good. Rather than explain how it works, I will attempt to demonstrate using common situations in which the husband is clearly not loving his wife as Christ loves the church, but in which the wife is still called to godly submission. For each situation, I will provide three types of responses.
The first will be enabling behavior. Well meaning Christian women often practice enabling behavior under the guise of submission. Do not be fooled. Enablement and submission are far from the same thing. Enabling behavior makes a doormat out of the woman and often a monster out of her husband, whereas submission makes a woman strong and a man malleable in her hands (and I am referring to positive influence, not manipulation).
The second reaction will be one of pride. While the prideful woman refuses to be trampled on, she also forfeits her power of influence.
The third reaction will be one of godly submission. It empowers the woman, encourages the man, and creates a stronger and more peaceful relationship.
Joe is critical and often mean to Lisa. He speaks harshly to her, and is always finding something to complain about. He comes home after a long day of work and asks, “Why does the house look like this?”
Enabling behavior: Lisa responds with, “I am so sorry. I will try to get it cleaned up.” She may then even proceed to berate herself in her mind. She defines herself based on her husband’s evaluation of her. She will continue to spiral downward, and her husband’s critical attitude will continue to get worse.
Prideful response: “Don’t you dare speak to me like that! I have worked just as hard if not harder than you did today. If you want it done, do it yourself!” If Lisa responds this way, she does not allow herself to be a doormat, and for that I commend her. But, she has also given up her God-given ability to influence Joe for good. She has responded harshly, which will only make Joe dig his heels in and continue in his stubbornness. It will also put strain on the relationship.
Godly Submission: “Joe, I realize you had a long day at work, and I want you to know that I really do value how hard you work for this family. But I need you to understand that I work very hard, too, and it is just not acceptable to talk to me like that. If you would like the house to be cleaner, I would gladly help you with it after work if you could work on asking me for help in a respectful way”. Now, Lisa has challenged Joe to step up to the plate in helping around the house, but she has not belittled him. Instead, she has shown appreciation for his hard work, and offered to help him in maintaining a cleaner house. In this way, Lisa has not allowed him to trample her. She sees her value as a person, but she also has not given up her power of influence in Joe’s life. And both will be better for it. Even if Joe does not respond well to Lisa the first time, consistency in standing up for herself with a gentle and even grateful response will allow her continued power of influence in his life.
Mark has a terrible spending habit. He and his wife, Emily both work full time jobs but barely make ends meet because Mark likes to have every +new thing he wants. He buys a boat, the newest car, and all the latest technology. He seems obsessed with upgrading to the next best thing. He is thereby driving his family into financial ruin.
Enabling behavior: Emily works overtime to support Mark’s spending. She continuously gives up more and more time with the children so that Mark can spend the family money however he sees fit. She never says a word when he goes into more debt or purchases something he cannot afford.
Prideful response: Emily tells Mark that he is a worthless husband, that he is driving the family into poverty, and that she would be better off without him. She refuses to take another shift of overtime and threatens to open her own bank account where he will not have access to the money.
Godly submission: Emily calmly explains to Mark that he may need to seek some help controlling his spending habits. She expresses thankfulness for all of Mark’s strong points such as spending time with the kids and being a kind and gentle husband. But she gently tells him that she can no longer support his spending habits, that she cannot take any more shifts which take her away from the kids, and that if he cannot find help in managing his spending, she will have no choice but to open an account to which he does not have access. She affirms him, tells him that he is a good man, a better man than this, and assures him that she will be there for him every step of the way as he seeks help in his spending habits.
Matthew spends most of his free time in the bars. He is uncomfortable in situations where it is not socially appropriate to have a drink in his hand. He begins to miss work more and more, claiming illnesses. He is no longer showing up to church or family gatherings. People begin to notice something is wrong. His wife, Martha, is working many hours to keep the family’s head above water, while Matthew continues to drink.
Enabling Behavior: Martha makes up excuses for Mark every time he doesn’t show up to a family reunion or birthday party. She often says he is sick or has migraines. She does not want the family to know that he was out drinking the night before. She has even called into work for him and made up an excuse as to why he could not make it into work yet again that week. She often believes these excuses herself.
Prideful Response: Martha tells Matthew he is a worthless scumbag, and tells him that he will not have a penny more from her.
Godly Submission: Martha approaches Matthew in love to tell him that she is concerned that his love of drinking has turned into alcoholism. She tells him that she will not be allowing him access to any more of the money she makes, not because she doesn’t love him but because she does love him and she knows that he needs help.
In any of these situations, the woman does not necessarily have control over how her husband will respond. In fact, he may blow up. He may not respond in a godly way. Separation may be needed. But separation does not always lead to divorce. Sometimes, it can even be a step toward healing in the marriage. Even so, I am convinced that the godly submission in each situation is the action that will most likely result in healing. To continue in enabling behavior will never benefit the marriage. It will destroy both partners. To respond in pride will often hasten the deterioration of the relationship. But godly submission is the response that will promote healing and peace.
After reading through these situations, I hope that the difference between godly submission and enabling behavior has become quite clear. It is unfortunate that many Christian women have practiced enabling behavior and labeled it submission. This has caused much confusion about the word.
The Bible clearly states that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for God (Ephesians 5:21). But immediately after, in verse 22, wives are specifically called to submit to their husbands, not because men know better, but because godly submission is a great force for good. I do not believe for a moment that this command is to make women less than men or even to give men control over women. On the contrary, I believe the command is actually to give women influence in a man’s heart. A woman practicing godly submission values herself as a child of God, and seeks to help her husband through admiring him, affirming him, building him up, and challenging him in his areas of weakness.
When a woman responds to a man’s weakness in pride, she may well hold her head up high and refuse to be trampled on, but she also forfeits her opportunity to influence him for good in his life, in her family, and in this world.
I would like to note that in any of the previous situations listed, the woman may practice godly submission but may be met with harshness and in extreme cases, even violence. In marriages in which the wife has practiced enabling behavior, and the husband believes that behavior to be submission, there may be conflict when first applying these biblical principles of submission. In such cases, it may very well be necessary to seek help from the godly authority figures in your life. Namely, your pastors. Godly submission never asks a woman to endure emotional, mental, or physical abuse. In such cases as these, it will likely be necessary to involve an authority. Women who have lived under this kind of behavior may find it difficult to tell if they are being emotionally or mentally abused. Richard Massman, founder of Recovery in Christ ministries and substance abuse counselor of over 40 years suggests that if you are unsure if you are experiencing abuse, ask yourself this question. “Is my husband using anger, fear, shame, manipulation, or physical force to get me to comply with his demands?” If the answer is “yes” for any of those, then it is likely you are living in an abusive situation. In this case, it is highly probable you will need to involve your spiritual authorities and possibly even outside authorities. While you are considering this question, you will do well to examine your own heart. Are you using fear, anger, or manipulation to move your husband, to change his mind, or to get something you want from him? If so, you are likely practicing emotional or mental abuse as well. God can heal you from this, and He wants to teach you to use godly submission as a tool for positive influence instead.
Godly counseling from your pastors and from professional Christian therapists and counselors can help to turn these habits around by pointing you and your husband toward godly, biblical principles to break the habits of controlling and enabling behavior and start walking the path of healing and godly submission and biblical leadership.
Godly Submission is Empowering
There is a reason that God said Adam needed a companion. God created women to have the things that men so often do not have. He created women in His own image to reflect the beautiful feminine attributes of God. He created women to have incredible influence in the lives of men. Men can be so much better because of the influence of a woman. That is why God commanded women to godly submission to their husbands. Not to undermine or belittle them, but to empower them and to give them the opportunity to influence the men in their lives for good. Think about the kind of place the world would be if all men were under the gentle, kind, yet strong influence of a godly woman.
That is what God calls us to as women. He calls us to strength, dignity, and godly submission. And yes, these go hand in hand.
Godly submission is empowering. It is a mighty force for good. It empowers women. It moves men.
A woman practicing godly submission does not seek affirmation from a man. For she knows she is deeply loved and cared for. She is the crown of creation. She is made in the image of God. She submits out of reverence for God, knowing that God has given her the power to have positive influence for change in this world.