No one likes to submit. It feels foreign and dangerous, but we long for intimacy (in-to-me-see), so we taste and see if the other is good and safe.
There was movement and rhythm as the couple glided across the dance floor. He gently led, she moved in response. She would tilt her head, he would follow. This was passion. This was love.
There was grace and beauty, purpose and direction.
The music leads them both. The beat kept them in time, and the rise and fall of notes kept them riding the waves of the composers’ expression. It was an expression of perfect submission.
They to each other and both to the rhythm and rhyme. Floating in perfection, entranced in grace towards each other’s little failures.
The other couple on the floor, though, were struggling.
One wanted to Hip Hop while the other wanted to Line Dance and the music was strictly ballroom.
It just wasn’t working. No one submitted to each other, and there was no listening to the music.
Can two walk [or dance] together, except they be agreed? Amos 3:3
I long for perfect dance. A flow of perfect unity, but more often, I feel pull and push, demand and manipulation. ‘You will submit’ and ‘I demand you do …’
Relationships become policies and procedures, rules and regulations, real estate agreements, rather than walking in three-fold unison with something bigger than the relationship itself.
The word ‘submit’ can be like a trigger word for some. A word that sends you off to memories of compliance and abuse.
Its power over rather than power with.
The word comes from two words which essentially means to ‘send under.’
I don’t want to be ‘sent under’. I don’t think anyone else does too. We like control, to have a sense of self-efficacy, independence, to be embraced and not be under the power and control of someone else.
Yet, if we are honest, we would like others to submit to our desires.
To submit though, I think it is one of those places we come to when we have run out of options of living a fully self-contained life.
I need help beyond what is in my control.
Then there is that moment, or for some, it’s a chasm to cross, when we have to decide whether we trust what we are submitting ourselves to or not.
Under the knife
It wasn’t major surgery, but it was still something that I needed specialist help with.
My heart had had strange rhythms, and it was getting worse. I had been given some medication which didn’t really help that much, but then it was suggested I get some surgical help.
So I went to see a surgeon who, with all his specialist skills and learning, explained exactly what was happening and what he could offer. He told me the risks, the aftercare, and everything that could go wrong. But he assured me that he had done this procedure many times and with great success. The procedure was called Atrial Fibrillation Ablation.
Then he asked the question. ‘Shall we go ahead?’
Here was the moment of decision. Would I surrender and submit to have someone else in control, or would I stubbornly be self-reliant and keep battling the heart condition in my own strength.
It came down to my trust in the surgeon. Did I feel he had my best interests in his hands? Was there compassion and concern? Was he skilled, and did he have the knowledge to perform this operation? Was there love?
The day came, and I was given a mild sedative and wheeled into the operating theatre. The surgeon made a few cuts in my body and then threaded some thin wires into my heart.
With absolute precision, he found the misfiring area of my heart and activated it to be sure he found the right spot. My heart raced, he told me what was happening, and then he zapped it, burned it with some laser or something, and from then on I have not had that problem ever again.
The thing I remember most was that brief moment when he was in control of my heart.
He could do whatever he wanted. I had submitted to his knowledge. I had surrendered to his skills. I was totally at his mercy and his grace. I’m so glad that he was a lover of life.
Where there is great love
I’ve seen miracles happen. Right before my eyes, I have seen things happen that seemed totally impossible. In particular, I am talking about the traumas of the heart.
There always seems to be a strange, mysterious mixture of submission and sacrificial love.
A stubborn resistance to submit is met with an overwhelming expression of love. It’s like you can’t help but surrender and submit to this act of love because not to do so would be spitting in the face of perfection.
It would bring hurt to the giver of the gift.
I think that is what happens when we come to experience the depth and quality of love that God has for us at a heart level.
It’s the laying of one’s life down for one’s friend. It’s the giving with no thought of what, if anything, will be returned. No manipulation or strings attached. It’s pure love for the benefit of the other.
“Where there is great love there are always miracles,‘ he said at length. ‘One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”
For my surgeon, I’m sure there were multiple options he could have chosen as a career, but I wonder if the healing profession was something like a call of the heart.
He would have been compensated for his work financially, but perhaps there was something deeper going on that this was something of love for his fellow man that drove him to take on the risk of delving into a suffering human’s heart.
I submit to selfless love. I surrender to pure sacrifice.
Have I ‘walked the talk’ enough so that you would submit a section of your life to my inquiry?
Another medical story.
I remember seeing a doctor for some medical complaint and felt there was no genuine interest in wellbeing. I was a body that needed medication. Here’s the prescription, out the door, next patient/body. I never went back to him.
I have submitted some of the deep stories of my heart to people who I thought were safe, but instead of being heart surgeons, I discovered they were mechanics and lawyers.
There was no compassion, the moving of the gut. Instead, there were the systems and harsh rules enforced that I had to submit to.
So the walls go up. We become reluctant to submit the depths to people living in the shallows.
This submission teaching seems to be particularly hardest on women.
With ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.’ brought out as a stick.
What would it be like though, for a woman to discover love from a man that totally has her best interests in his focus? So much so that he willingly puts every self-interest he has to the side. Her wellbeing, her heart, her very essence are his focus.
What would it be like to have a man be fully vulnerable to a woman’s love?
Would you submit to that love?
The husbandry of love
I was raised on a sheep farm here in New Zealand, and I remember going out with my father at lambing time to care for the ewes (female sheep) who were giving birth.
Whether it was a beautiful spring day or in the midst of a wild wet storm, we would walk the hills and see if the flock was ok. Now and then, we would see a sheep in distress. Then a decision would be made whether to intervene or not.
The sheep wouldn’t just come up to us and ask us for help. Instead, it would run and flee from us.
It thought that we meant it harm. But, eventually, after much effort, we would catch it, and it would stop fighting us.
It would submit. We would help it give birth, and then leave it and its newborn lamb to get on with bonding and feeding. We would step aside and watch and make sure everything went as it should
To be a husband is to care for the soil, the land, the sheep, the household. Jesus was the perfect husband.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
Jesus not only gave up his life, but he gave up his demand that we submit to him. It’s a choice we have if we want to submit to him.
He still seeks out our lostness.
By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently [read submitting to his love]. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased.
They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” [read the people were no longer submitting to their rules, giving them honor] Their grumbling triggered this story.
“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it?
When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’
Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. Luke 15:1-7
Both men and women are like that wayward sheep. We think we know best, so we will not submit to perfect love, a sacrificial love that goes out into the wild storms of life to meet us where we are.
We buck and strain at the idea of submitting. That’s until we collapse, fall, surrender, and rest upon the shoulders of one that has pursued us into the wilderness.
The Traumas of the heart
What does the word submit do in you? What does it trigger?
For many people, it’s a word that has three other words bound to it. ‘I will never.’
I will never submit.
Submission can be enmeshed with the word abuse.
You will submit because
- I am your mother
- I am your father
- I am bigger than you
- I am the church leader
- I am your husband
- I am your wife
- I have the power
So often, the submission has been a demand to get something for themselves rather than being something wholeheartedly good for you.
But possibly to submit has an invite to taste and see.
To taste and see
I want to taste and see if this love is pure.
Is this a person that is safe to hold my heart? Can I submit my heart to their care?
So I test the waters. I submit a little and see if there is love and respect.
I dance with the Christ and see if there is a demand to do something out of tune. He leads, guides, pushes, pulls, and I submit to his moves.
I flex, he follows.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him. Psalm 34:8
I taste and see if this person is good. Are they safe?
I submit a little and see if there is an unselfish movement towards me.
When I submit to God, I submit to have their full way with me, but they never take advantage of it.
They know much better than I about what I need. There are no strings attached, no selfish desires, nothing to do with them at all. They have my best interests at heart.
‘I will not submit’ moves to ‘can I taste more so I can love more.’ It’s a dance of embracing and surrender to each other.
Quotes to consider
- Compassion changes everything.
Compassion mends the broken and restores what has been lost.
Compassion draws together those who have been estranged or never even dreamed they were connected.
Compassion pulls us out of ourselves and into the heart of another, placing us on holy ground where we instinctively take off our shoes and walk in reverence.
Compassion springs out of vulnerability and triumphs in unity.
Judy Cannato, Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology Is Transforming Spiritual Life (Sorin Books: 2010), 8.
- Opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked. Rob Bell
- Can you be vulnerable yet? We all need touch and hugs, but first, we must take down the walls that have been built too high around our hearts. D. Riddell
- Any approach to life that doesn’t center in trust eventually produces misery. Larry Crabb
- Only love can soften a hard heart. Only love can renew trust after it has been shattered. Only love can inspire acts of genuine self-sacrifice. Only love can free us from the tyrannizing effects of fear. David G. Benner
- God is no stranger to the process of repairing damaged relationships. His trust has been broken many times by those he loves. John Townsend and Henry Cloud
Questions to consider
- Where have you discovered or seen abuse related to the word ‘submit’?
- What makes it safe for someone to submit?
- What would it be like to have someone give love fully to you with no expectation of return?