Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Submission
There are few things that humans are attached to more than determining their own fate. We like to be in charge, to make our own decisions, and to feel as if we are in control of the direction of our lives.
That is why Jesus’ words are so difficult for us to accept. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” No one truly wants to deny themselves—it is something we must teach ourselves to do in order to become disciples of Jesus.
Submission is self-denial. As Richard J. Foster puts it, it is “the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.” We begin to value the wants and desires of other people rather than putting our own first, and learn how to better love our neighbors through this.
What self-denial is not is self-contempt. God does not ask us to pretend as though we have no worth; in fact, it is God who is constantly reminding us that we are worthy. Worthy to be a part of new creation and to become his living temple. Self-denial is not an intentional rejection of our own value, but an intentional elevating of the value of the people around us. Submission is the act of living the cruciform, or cross-shaped, life that Jesus lived, rejecting life that is built on power over others and obsession with self.
It is important to note that it is not only those are are already in places of submission in the ancient world that are asked to submit (women, children, and slaves), but those are are in positions of power (men, fathers, and masters). In the past, there are passages that have been commonly abused to support the practices of slavery and domestic abuse. But what we must realize is that Paul’s words in his letters are putting the brunt of the burden on those who were not traditionally required to be submissive. It is the men, husbands, fathers, and masters who truly had to learn to replicate the actions of their counterparts. It’s those of us who have often not had to submit to the will and needs of others that will find this discipline the most difficult.
The spiritual discipline of submission is the process of letting our lives not be guided simply by our own wants, but by what others need. When we can begin to master that, we can begin to understand what it meant to carry our cross.