By Sonja Corbitt
The biblical account of the Garden of Eden teaches us that God designed us in a state of perpetual need for community. Neediness is a result of not fallenness, then, but createdness. To need one another, to need help, to need guidance, and to need God is not because Adam and Eve did anything wrong.
Their neediness was not sin; it was ultimate perfection. Their relationship with God and one another was perfectly designed so that they could easily recognize their needs and transcend them by resisting self-sufficiency and depending on God to provide for them. Upheaval entered with the grab for independence.
But the hope and promise in the protoevangelium, and their fulfillment in the cross and resurrection of Christ, tell us that right now an even higher, more perfect state than Eden is possible despite sin. The painful chaos in my “Eden,” even when it’s of my own making, can be reordered in a way that is even better than it would have been had I or someone else not made such an awful mess of things through sin.
How does God reorder? If redemption began with Mary’s willingness to completely obey and follow God in the context of her regular duties and station, what does that mean for me? What if the redemption of my own hot messes begins the same way?
Redemption Begins Like This
In our twenty-three years of marriage my husband and I have had only two ongoing fighting issues, one of which is his unwillingness to carry a balance or even use our one credit card versus my willingness to carry a small balance and the need to use it for travel and ministry.
Every time I used the card he would get mad, even if it was, in my mind, absolutely necessary. We have always agreed on only ever having one card, so I began either telling him I had bought something ahead of time or putting the cash aside to cover my purchases ahead of the statement, because it seemed to be the surprise on the statements that irritated him.
Well, that didn’t completely alleviate the conflict either, and we’ve had several doozy fights over this issue. He just didn’t want any balance on the card, ever.
I have many other glaring faults, but I am not and never have been motivated by money; we have very little debt, and I don’t buy much (we’re both this way, actually), so I found his zero-use policy completely irrational. I am, after all, a grown, frugal, intelligent woman, able to make my own decisions and pay my own way without any need whatsoever of consulting him.
I never stopped using it, and I finally told him in as haughty a voice as I could muster that I never would, but we were not going to fight over it ever again. Ever. Again. Because I was sick of his attempts to force and control (power grab) and would buy whatever I needed or wanted within reason whenever I needed or wanted it without necessarily consulting him (the retaliatory power grab), and he could puff up like a bullfrog all he wanted.
He stopped huffing and puffing over it just so I wouldn’t carry through with my threat and there was a stalemate. But then I had a most enlightening conversation with a friend.
Eve Likes Her Pretties
A fellow book lover and homeschooler, she had gotten an Amazon rewards card with which she paid every household bill and expense so she could rack up thousands of points a month to use toward free books. UPS was at her house almost every day of every week. When I saw how she was working the system for all those books, I could smell the new pages of all the books I would get and feel their crispiness in my hands.
I knew it would never fly, so I applied for the credit card without telling him and used it secretly for three months. I had the statements delivered and paid the payments electronically. I used it for groceries, gas, and airline tickets. I was rolling in free books!
And about a month in, just as I was basking in my wisdom, the Lord began bringing it up in daily prayer: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). Oh, boy.
Why had I not trusted Him with the outcome of talking to my husband about the card, when I had done so with everything else? Did I not think God could provide whatever I needed and even wanted without being deceitful?
Hadn’t He had a free antique piano delivered to my door that time I tentatively asked him for one? And then there was the exorbitantly expensive stained-glass church window I couldn’t afford and asked Him for years ago; hadn’t He surprised me with two of them? Had He not proven over and over that all I needed to do was ask Him and He would do something if I would wait on Him?
I was cut to the heart.
So I pitched the card idea to my husband, systematically laying out the whys as if it were a high-stakes business negotiation. He said no.
I waited a week and then made sure he knew how important it was to me and how practical for homeschool curriculum expenses. He said no.
I asked a week later, whining a little and getting angry, but he wouldn’t budge. I was stuck in the guilt of deceit and rebellion against my husband.
Or, to put it more acceptably since letting one’s husband dictate her behavior is said to be unacceptably weak, I was stuck in “rebellion” against him.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, ladies: I have heard many Eves say they must wear the pants in their family because the husband won’t, but may I suggest necessity is rarely the issue?
Isn’t the truth, rather, that we won’t wait and keep our hands off the circumstance long enough for God to handle it through our husbands, and when He does, we don’t usually like how He does it?
Aren’t we afraid to trust God through a decision we wouldn’t have made, a financial difficulty, a parenting fail, or any other inconvenient thing He might let our husbands “get us into”?
Jesus challenges that approach: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:38).
By jumping in to “handle” things, we give nothing to God; we risk next to nothing in trusting Him and then complain that we get next to nothing from Him and our husbands.
I’m not blowing sparkles and bubbles in your face. I understand terrible husbands, but Jesus is not one of them. Unless there’s abuse involved, why not try asking God for what you need, back completely off (totally), and wait as long as it takes to see what he does?
And if that prospect is simply untenable, can we at least admit it’s so and stop pretending we’re following God in this area?
I wonder how long Mary waited on God to send Joseph the dream that confirmed her purity? How hard was it for her to refrain from defending herself in the community while praying God would do it for her?
While waiting for him to decide, did she pack up the baby and the house and tell Joseph it was time to go to Egypt while mounting the donkey and “letting” him walk? Did she complain when he took her to a barn to give birth to the Savior of the world?
Is it because Mary is so submissive to God that she is so powerful?
Because my entire spiritual education has been based on learning a proper understanding of authority, I get this pop quiz on a regular basis. I know it’s not really my husband to whom I “submit” but God himself (Rom 13:1-2, 1 Sm 15:22–23). And that makes it easier, truly.
Obviously I don’t practice this “submission” as well as I know I can and should; I knew getting that card in the first place was stepping outside the community of my marriage in deceit; that’s why I hid it. And keeping it after my husband expressed serious misgivings was disobedient to God’s “no” and remaining there.
Repent, Return, Re-enter, Relate
I knew there had to be a good reason for God to say no through my husband even though I couldn’t see one under all the “advantages” of having it. I knew if my husband found out he would be angry and hurt.
I finally repented (meaning to change direction), returned to God’s provision, and reentered the circle of relationship with both God and my husband; I cut up the card under the excruciation of saying goodbye to all those free books.
I did not tell my husband about any of it even after I had cut up the card. Instead, he found out when an “errant” paper statement arrived before I could formally close the account (Wis 11:16; Rom 6:23). I was so proud that I had cut it up, but he understandably felt deeply betrayed by my deceit because I had never done something secretly like that before, and our relationship was painfully strained for weeks. See how grasping outside my relationship with God and my husband was a move for personal power and independence that disconnected me to some degree from both of them?
That I should have something God did not want me to have and that I could take it for myself rather than receiving it from Him without incurring consequences was a lie meant to separate me from myself, from God, and from my husband (Num 32:23). And it worked.
Attracted by the promise of loads of books, I made the power grab and stepped out from under God’s provision and protection, caused a division in my marriage, and felt the fear and guilt of being found out.
Only because I fully repented and reentered the relationship circle by both asking for forgiveness and cutting up the credit card was I willing and able to simply experience my husband’s disappointed, angry reaction, and even the reality of my own sin without judgment. Trust and intimacy with God and with my husband was reestablished.
And because the guilt was removed from my conscience and out in the open, I was “returned” to myself. I had returned fully to the community that protects, provides for, and reinforces me.
That beautiful section in Ephesians about sacramental marriage as the mysterious reflection of Christ’s relationship to the Church begins with, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). The Church submits to Christ because he sacrifices everything for her.
You may say your husband does not sacrifice everything for you, but do you defer to his wishes? Someone has to sacrifice in humility first to begin renewal.
God suffered humility for our renewal in Christ. Mary, full of grace, suffered humility for our renewal. What if that’s what grace, particularly marital grace, is for?
Every woman likes to think, Of course I want to be closer to God. But most of the time we only submit to others if they deserve it or if we’re going to gain from it ourselves somehow. When we survey the tangled, contentious messes and gaping deficiencies in our relationships and the sin in our “Edens,” we don’t think first, for example, Let me surrender what I want so he can have what he wants. Instead, we think, I’d love to be less selfish, but he doesn’t appreciate me.
But “God entrusted the human being to woman” because she has a specific sensitivity to the human person’s true welfare (John Paul II, “Christifideles Laici”). I am woman; renewal begins with me.
I must repent of my gracelessness, return everything involved to God’s provision, reenter the communion of God’s embrace, and re-late to others in and with the supernatural grace that flows from that reinforcement. In doing so I am open and able to receive those around me, flaws and all.
Mary illustrates the promise of the protoevangelium for all women of redemption. No matter how gory my upheaval, it is my full fiat that begins redeeming my Eden.
Article adapted from chapter 4 of Fearless, Conquer Your Demons and Love with Abandon, available now, everywhere books are sold.
Sonja Corbitt is the Bible Study Evangelista and the creator of the LOVE the Word ™ Bible study method based on Mary’s personal practice and your personality and temperament. Find her at biblestudevangelista.com