How Being Different Made Me Feel Whole
(By Celeste Chute)
Editors' note: Below is part two of a four part blog series on one person's thoughts and journey about gender and gender roles.
This is the second post in a series I’ve written about my experience with complementarianism. If you haven’t read the first one, I hope you will because I think it’ll help explain where I’m coming from. I love complementarianism, but even more than that I love my brothers and sisters in Christ. If you don’t agree with my view, I want to clarify that I am not here to convince you of one thing or another. I'm not here to prove you wrong or change your mind. I just want to share how I began to see God's beauty and design in complementarianism and how it has changed my personal life and my church life for the better.
Before I was a Christian, I felt confused about gender roles. I had always felt that men and women were different on a natural, innate, and historic level. In some damaging ways, society was proving this correct, with gender pay gaps, sexual abuse, and objectification of women. I knew that was not the way men and women were supposed to be different. On the other hand, society was also claiming that there shouldn’t be any differences between men and women. While professionally, I believe that is true, it didn’t match with how I felt personally. It made me feel guilty that I hoped to one-day stay at home for a few years with my kids. I felt like it was wrong to embrace some of the traits I had, that I needed to dismiss the parts of me that were sensitive, emotional, and nurturing. Society wasn’t just saying that I could do and be everything a man could, it was saying that I should.
As I learned more about complementarianism, there was this tension within me. Part of it felt really peaceful; it was relief to think that I didn’t need to be everything to everyone all the time. I loved the idea that God made us to complement each other and that together we completed His idea of creation; that once He made man AND woman, He saw that it was good. I love that God designed marriage to reflect His beautiful Trinity; that wives and husbands have completely equal worth, value and importance, but have distinct roles and responsibilities. What a gift that we get to reflect the very essence of God in our own marriages!
But part of learning about complementarianism was really painful and stressful and hard. I felt very resistant to the terms and phrases used in the Bible to describe this relationship. I realized I had to tackle one hard phrase at a time and really learn what God meant by those words, rather than solely relying on what society told me those words meant.
"So maybe leading means that my husband will be an example of how to love, he’ll lead in forgiving and seeking forgiveness, he’ll seek God in how to guide our family, he’ll lay down his life for me."
The Bible calls husbands to lead their wives. I know for me, I immediately associated ‘leader’ with someone who was better, more capable, smarter, more worthy, more important and who could make decisions that impacted my life whether I liked it or not. The more I read my Bible though, the more I felt sure that men and women are created equal in value and importance, in closeness to God, in intelligence and worth. And yet there were still many places that it talks about husbands leading their wives. Maybe leading, at least in this sense, wasn’t what I thought. Maybe leading meant going above and beyond to serve, honor and support their wives. Husbands are called to love their wives like Jesus loves the Church. On a love scale of 1 to 10, that must be a bajillion. That’s the kind of love I want - a husband who each day seeks to love me better because he knows he’ll never love me as much as Jesus loves the Church. So maybe leading means that my husband will be an example of how to love, he’ll lead in forgiving and seeking forgiveness, he’ll seek God in how to guide our family, he’ll lay down his life for me. When I started to view ‘leading’ like that, I realized I wanted nothing more than a husband who would lead me in this way. (And I found him! I get to marry him in September!)
Wives submit to their husbands. Ugh! That’s still a hard phrase for me. Submit has so many negative connotations. Maybe this is just me, but the word submit makes me think of when dogs roll over on their back and show submission. Not exactly the role I’m looking for in a marriage. Thankfully, that’s not the wife the Bible calls us to be. And Godly men aren’t looking for a wife like that either. So what was I going to do with sentences like that in the Bible? I didn’t want to dismiss them or even change them, but I needed to reframe them in my head. Culture and society have associated so much negativity with the word submit, that it’s hard to overcome. So I started to think of submitting instead as trusting, respecting, following and loving. I trust my (soon-to-be) husband to make good decisions. I respect his role and responsibilities and how they relate to our marriage. I’ll follow him through thick and thin. And I’ll love him through it all - both when things are going great, and in the moments he isn’t the husband he hopes to be.
"Slowly I was able to wrap my head around the idea that authority doesn’t equal value. Authority is a responsibility and a role; a part to play both in marriage and in the Trinity but not a measure of worth or importance."
The Bible also says that wives are to be under the authority of their husband. There’s another doozy! This one took me a long time to unpack and figure out. In my head authority equaled value, which didn’t match the truth I knew that men and women have equal value. So I knew I must be viewing authority incorrectly. This is an area where I was able to look right to the Trinity for answers. There are times when Jesus clearly submits to the authority of the Father, but I know that all three parts of the Trinity have equal value and worth. Slowly I was able to wrap my head around the idea that authority doesn’t equal value. Authority is a responsibility and a role; a part to play both in marriage and in the Trinity but not a measure of worth or importance.
“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The word helper is another hard one, but I will start by saying that I now think the term is incredibly beautiful and I feel honored to have that word associated with my gender. Most of the times the word helper is used in the Bible, it is referring to God as a helper. Surely, I can’t be insulted when I am being compared to God’s character. The negative connotation behind helper again seems to come from our culture. Because there is shame in needing help, there is also shame in being a helper. We also view helper as someone who’s not quite capable of the job, but maybe can pretend to help. Wrong! When God was helping His children in the Bible, He was more than capable of accomplishing the job Himself but instead He offered Himself up to help out of kindness and love. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so He completed His plan for creation by creating woman. This role should not be taken lightly and I want to challenge men and women alike to view this woman, and the term helper, with great reverence.
"God’s beautiful design lets us be who we are and flourish with the gifts He’s given us. I can be me, a woman, and have that be enough because I know where my value comes from."
I’ve found that when I take passages or ideas from the Bible that offend me and really dive into the meaning of them, I’m usually less offended or even love them by the end. That’s not to say that I’ve had some magical epiphany and that these things aren’t hard any more. Of course they’re hard. I have moments of resentment and bitterness. There are times when I avoid God’s truth. But I just remind myself that it is God’s truth. And I can believe it without fully understanding it, or even always liking it, and that’s okay. And when God’s word doesn’t sit well with me, I know that the only solution is more of His word. God’s plan for our lives is for our good. God’s beautiful design lets us be who we are and flourish with the gifts He’s given us. I can be me, a woman, and have that be enough because I know where my value comes from.