The talk I gave on a Wife’s Role in Singapore during the Before I Do Seminar for soon-to-be-wed couples…
Edric and I met in college. What I liked most about him was that we shared the same values, that he was God-fearing, that we could talk easily about anything and everything and that he was simple and easy-going. He wasn’t pretentious, insincere or complicated.
Two years after college, we got married. We both wanted to get married young and start a family while we were young. But, honestly, our romantic bubble burst pretty quickly. The first year of marriage was difficult. We had a whole lot of conflict, arguments, and tension in our relationship.
I discovered that Edric was short tempered and easily irritable, which I really did not like. And he discovered that I was disrespectful and strong-willed, and insubordinate to his leadership when I didn’t trust him. I would challenge his ideas, his decision-making capacity, and I would correct him when I felt that he wasn’t being a godly husband. My intention was to help him become the man that I thought God wanted him to be. But I was turning into the wife that he didn’t like to be with. We both reacted to each other and reached our capacity to tolerate one another’s personalities.
Both of us believed that we would never ever divorce, but I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why did I ever get married in the first place? If I had known it was going to be this difficult, then I would have thought twice!”
At a certain point, both of us had to stop and consider what we were doing wrong. I remember God telling me something like this, “If you want my blessing in your marriage, you do things my way.” Up until this time I had blamed Edric for the way our marriage was. I thought that if he would just be less temperamental and less irritable, and more positive and affirming, it wouldn’t be this way. I would readily submit and trust his leadership. But God said, “Look at your own heart. Look at your own life. Stop focusing on what you want your husband to change. You change the things that you need to. You have A LOT to change. Change yourself. Edric is my problem. Let me work in his life.”
So I surrendered my marriage to the Lord and began praying for Edric. I started focusing on my role as a wife. It wasn’t easy because I wrestled with my pride and selfishness. But as I began to apply God’s principles for marriage, I began to see changes in my relationship to Edric. Edric also began to change, first in small ways, then in big ways. He began to step up as the spiritual leader of our family. Romance started to blossom again. Our marriage became sweeter and sweeter. It wasn’t without its imperfections or problems, but we understood the main issues. We learned to address and solve the fundamental problems. (Our marriage is still a work in progress, but by God’s grace, we are experiencing the blessings of keeping God at the center of it).
Almost always, the problems we experience in our marriage boil down to roles – my role as a wife and Edric’s role as a husband.
A few years after we were married, I learned a very beautiful description of the woman’s role. It is found in Genesis 2:18.
Genesis 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
In this passage, we see two words that describe a woman – HELPER and SUITABLE. Read in plain English and defined by an English dictionary, these words are not very inspiring. So we have to refer to the original Hebrew text, where we learn that the Hebrew word for HELPER is EZER, and the word for SUITABLE is KENEGDO.
The word Ezer in the Bible is not only used to describe Eve but to describe God.
For example, Psalm 54:4 “Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.” Or “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you.” (Deut. 33:26).
Therefore, more accurate definitions of “Ezer” are words like “to rescue, to save, to strengthen.” Author, John Eldredge, in his book, Wild at Heart, proposes that the word means “lifesaver.”
The word Kenegdo, on the other hand, means “corresponding companion, partner to.” God created a perfect partnership. Without Eve, God’s creation was not complete. Something was missing. God knew that Adam needed Eve. She was the only one suitable. (Genesis 2:18) This is why the Bible also tells us that woman was created for the man’s sake and not the other way around.
1 Corinthians 11:8-9 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
God designed us to empower and strengthen, to be life-givers to our husbands. The question is, are we doing this? How can we be the empowering, strengthening and life-giving companions that our husbands need? How can we help, assist, encourage, and support her husbands so that they can accomplish God’s purpose for their life and for our marriage?
1. Home management. Husbands and wives can share division of labor if they are both working and have no house help. But the Bible does encourage women to be “workers at home.” It doesn’t say that women are the only ones who can run a home. I know some guys who are great cooks (better than their wives) and who can clean a toilet bowl very well. Yet, men are called to a different battle – the responsibility of provision and leading the family rests on their shoulders. Women can pursue careers and develop their professional skills, and God does gift all of us with unique abilities, but not at the expense of the home.
It isn’t the man’s burden to manage the home. His burden is to lead his family and give his wife the resources she needs to effectively manage their home. So if a woman pursues a career and yet her home suffers for it, she needs to ask herself if her priorities are in order.
I know women who are very successful in their careers or professions of choice and yet, they are able to run their households with excellence. They create schedules for their children, for their staff (if they have househelp), and they have systems in place for getting laundry done, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. So it is possible to do both with excellence. The Proverbs 31 woman described in the Bible was this kind of woman – a major multi-tasker. But her priorities were clear – she didn’t earn money at the expense of her husband’s or children’s needs.
Early on in my marriage, my dad asked me to work for him. It would have helped Edric and I financially but after consulting with Edric, he told me not to do it. At first, I felt bad because I wanted to be able to help my dad out who needed my assistance for a certain set of skills. But I also knew that my dad would be demanding of my time and energy (he’s a great dad but as a boss, he can really pile the work on). So I turned down the financial opportunity because I didn’t want to be in a position where I would not be available to Edric if he needed me. Looking back, it was a wise choice. My priorities were clear and God has continually provided over and above our needs.
2. Submit. The word “submission” doesn’t sit well with a lot of women. My mom was counseling a lady some years ago who told her, “I’ve been reading my Bible and highlighting it. Do you want to see?” She showed my mom the verses she had read on submission and my mom laughed. The lady had highlighted all the verses she didn’t like with a black marker!
Ephesians 5:22-24 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
People like to avoid talking about submission because women are uncomfortable with the idea that they are to be “subject” to men. Historically speaking, subjugation of women has been an issue – we have seen women abused, violated, taken advantage of, misled, and hurt by the wrong kinds of men. Today, many women are still oppressed in different parts of the world. But this was never God’s design. He wanted marriage to be the context in which men and women experience the most beautiful, intimate kind of love. Women were to be cherished and appreciated the way they desire to be, and men trusted to lead and protect as they should.
But sin marred this picture. Sin brought confusion, disruption, division, destruction. And people used human means and wisdom to solve a spiritual problem. We didn’t go back to the Maker. We invented our own solutions – feminism, being one of them. But feminism had to have a second and third wave just to correct its first wrongs. Today the spirit of the independent woman is nothing new. Eve had the same issue. God said don’t eat the fruit. Eve said, I will eat the fruit. Well, there were consequences back then and there are consequences now to going against God’s design.
Submission is a choice. The Greek word for it is “Hupotasso” which means to voluntarily complete, arrange, adapt to within a legion, so as to make a complete whole. It is a choice to come “under” the covering of our husband’s authority for our own protection and good. God doesn’t force us to submit. We are free to choose what we want to do but not free to escape the consequences.
God speaks through our husbands. When there are instances when I don’t agree with him or his decisions, I try to pray instead of contradict or disobey. Since my husband in under God’s authority, I appeal to the Lord to speak to him or change my perspective and heart if I am wrong. This always works! Either God changes Edric’s decision or he changes my heart. It’s a win – win for all.
At the end of the day, when we submit to our husbands, we are submitting to God. It is an act of obedience – an act of faith. The Bible verse says, “submit as unto the Lord.” If we make our submission optional and dependent on whether we like what our husbands tell us to do or whether we trust them, we are missing out on the blessing of submission. Submission is something we do as unto the Lord, because we trust that he is the one looking out for us, that he has our best interest and our good at heart.
During a difficult counseling case, I had to encourage a wife to practice being a submissive and godly wife to her husband even if he was an adulterer. He was never physically abusive to her but he was mean and unkind. Honestly, I hated the guy and I wanted to tell the woman to leave him and “good riddance!” But, I also knew that I was accountable to the Lord for the welfare of her soul. And I had to tell her something like this, “I really want to tell you to leave your husband, but it would be wrong of me to do this. Beyond human reason but in faith, I am asking you to continue to be submissive…as unto the Lord. Look to the Lord and claim his promises of blessing even if it seems so impossible to imagine that your situation can change.” She followed this advice and months later, I received news from this woman that her marriage had been restored. Only God could have done this!
1 Peter 3:1-3 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
Submission can seem like a ridiculous and unfair expectation of women who are in problematic marriages but I am a believer in the validity of God’s word and his promise of blessing to those who obey him.
3. Respect. The number one need of a man, whether we like it or not is respect, with sex as a close second. This is a scientific truth. Men are wired to desire respect. A man will look for it in the workplace, among peers, from strangers, while driving on the road, but most especially from his children and his wife.
Our husbands marry us hoping that we will support them, believe in them, follow them…that we will be their number 1 fan. They don’t want to lose our respect. Some men will go to the extent of hiding the realities of their finances, their jobs, or other issues from their wives because they don’t want to lose the trust or confidence of their wives.
Respect is so important, God makes a specific command just for us.
Ephesians 5:33 And let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband – that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates him and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him and loves and admires him exceedingly.
It is in the little things – complimenting our husbands in private and public, responding with a tone that is kind and not harsh or irritated, not being a nag, not comparing them to others or making them feel like they have to earn our respect, etc…
There is a book called Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs which talks about the Crazy Cycle of marriage. Men desire respect and women desire love. In marriage, when a woman doesn’t feel love, she disrespects her husband. When a husband feels disrespected he doesn’t feel like loving his wife. And the cycle continues.
In contrast, a husband who feels respected desires to love his wife. I’ve experimented with this phenomenon many times in my own marriage. It is a proven theory. When I respect Edric by appreciating him, giving him attention, communicating my admiration for him, following through with the things he asks me to do, and responding to him with a pleasant tone when he corrects me or tells me what to do, it’s like a magic formula for lovey-dovey feelings in him towards me. In contrast, when I am antagonistic, easily irritated, confrontational, too busy to take care of him, and de-prioritizing his needs, he shuts down emotionally. There is no tenderness. He doesn’t feel like being romantic or sweet towards me.
When I talked about this topic at a retreat some time ago, I requested that the wives ask their husbands to rate their “respect-o-meter”. Ask your husband, “On a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being the highest), do you find me respectful? How can I change or improve?” Be prepared to humbly listen and be willing to change when you do this!
In summary, the role of a wife is to be a helper to her husband. The word is EZER-KENEGDO – which means to empower, to strengthen, to be life-givers to our husbands by managing the home, and submitting to their authority with an attitude of respect.
My eldest son asked me yesterday morning, “Mom, is marriage easy?” I paused for a little bit and I said, “Marriage is not easy. It is actually difficult. But it is worth it.” He had a far-off look in his eyes like he was trying to take in what I had just said. So I followed up with the question, “Do you know what makes it difficult?” I waited for him to answer but he was waiting for me to explain so I said, “What makes it difficult is that people are not perfect. We are sinful and selfish.” I shared with him that God designed marriage to be something good and wonderful but when we don’t follow God’s design, we don’t experience marriage the way God wants us to. He understood this and he replied, “I used to think that in marriage people just love each other. Like it’s just natural. Like daddy loves you and you love daddy.”
His fairy tale idea of marriage had just been thrown out the window, but I wanted him to understand at this very young age that without God, marriage is not a fairy tale. Marriage is not happily ever after. That’s the pin to his bubble, to everyone’s bubble. But the other reality is that marriage can be the most amazing relationship if a husband and wife choose to fulfill their God-given roles and keep God at the center of their marriage. Later on in the day, he shared with me. “I want to get married someday. I want to love someone and take care of someone and I want to have children.” Whew! He’s still excited about marriage! That’s a positive indication.
Of course, I was also thinking to myself, You are just 9 years old, so spend the next fifteen years preparing to be the man who will do that! In the meantime, Edric and I have to role-model a healthy, God-centered marriage for all our kids. We can give these marriage talks over and over again but it all means nothing unless we live the truth ourselves.