By Lisa Vitello
“Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” 1 Peter 3:6
Haven’t we all read 1 Peter 3 again and again – seeking for the gentle spirit, the restful demeanor, so that we might be “precious in the sight of God?” I know I have for at least the last 20 years of my married life. (I won’t say my entire married life, because, believe it or not, scriptural teaching on wives was not emphasized in the first couple of churches I attended as a new believer.)
But something always seemed to be eluding me as I studied this passage. I was holding back, and I knew it. I was able to maintain the façade of a gentle spirit for a few days until my husband said or did something that sent me spiraling down the whirlpool of fear, resentment, and self-pity.
Let me emphasize at the outset that Guy is a good man, a loving husband and father, and a diligent provider who loves the Lord. Being that none of us are faultless, however, we have had the usual ups and downs, disagreements, and discord that any normal marriages can expect to experience.
Perhaps many of you will understand that my husband doesn’t have to commit any earth-shattering sins in order for me to go spinning off into “anxiety-land.”
It can be an innocent remark or a perceived lack of concern about my latest pet project or any other myriad of minor infractions. And “poof,” there goes my gentle and quiet spirit.
I truly did pray, entreating the Lord to give me wisdom and show me what I was missing. I re-read 1 Peter 3 again. And then one day, in a jolt of clarity, it hit me. Fear. Peter said we were to “do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” I realized that fear was the chief motivator behind most women’s struggles with submission and trust.
Let’s think about the example Peter gives us of a holy woman for a moment. He chose to point out Sarah, the wife of Abraham, for us to emulate. You might be tempted at this point to think, “Well, after all she was married to Abraham – the patriarch, the ‘friend of God.’ It must have been easy to submit to such a man in a spirit of gentleness and faith.”
Ahem…let me refresh your memory a bit.
This was the same Abraham who urged his wife to lie to the Egyptians and say she was his sister without any forethought as to the consequences for their deception. He was thinking more of his own welfare at the moment than for Sarah’s. And, of course, the result was that she was taken into the house of Pharaoh to become one of his wives.
Even after Pharaoh lavished gifts upon Abram – sheep and oxen, donkeys, male and female servants and more – Abram didn’t open his mouth on his wife’s behalf!
Now, what she must have been thinking as she sat in the courts of Pharaoh being groomed for her “wedding night” no doubt, we can only guess. But Peter does give us a huge indicator as to the state of her spirit. He says she “hoped in God” (verse 5.) And, that hope bore fruit. God did not let her be taken by Pharaoh as his wife. God protected her by striking down the house of Pharaoh with a plague. Pharaoh gave her back quicker than a baby with a dirty diaper.
This is where we so often make the wrong choice, ladies. We keep hoping that our husbands will do everything the way we want, fulfilling all our dreams for security and serenity. Most of us are married to very decent men. They truly want us to be happy. They try to give us what we want. But we are all sinners, who fall short of the glory of God. They will make mistakes. We will have unrealistic expectations. Neither husband nor wife is always going to hit the mark. Our hope should be in God.
So, when things don’t turn out exactly as we had hoped, we women tend to start playing the “what if” game. “What if he doesn’t do the right thing?” ”What if I and the children suffer from his mistakes?” “What will happen if I submit to his leadership?” “What if he just lets things go?” The “what if” game is always based on fear.
One of the areas where I believe this fear-based behavior plays the most havoc in a marriage is that of spiritual leadership.
Who’s the Boss?
I have seen it so many times. A woman gets impatient, believing her husband is dragging his feet in some issue she feels is spiritually significant – things like family devotions or choice of church. Or she grows unhappy with their fellowship arrangement. Or she becomes captivated with a particular teaching and wants her husband to go along with her.
Whatever the case may be, the temptation for her will be to get ahead of her husband, instead of waiting for his leadership in the matter. When the woman takes the spiritual reins, it will not produce the results she was hoping for; it’s just that simple. I have seen families come to the brink of divorce and ruin because the man abdicated his role as spiritual overseer of his home to his wife.
Let’s look at our sister, Sarah, again.
When Abraham was 75 years old, God gave him a mighty promise. The Lord told him He would make him a great nation. His descendants would be like the stars of heaven, so many would be their number. This promise was reiterated in Genesis 15:4 when God assured Abraham that, even though he was old, a son would come forth from his own body. Abraham believed God, “…and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
Fast forward 10 years. Still no baby. Sarah (still called Sarai then) decided that the Lord probably had some mysterious plan that she needed to figure out and act upon. Plus, she was tired of waiting. You know the story. She comes up with a solution. She decides that she needs to solve this problem and get things moving. And, regretfully, Abraham “…listened to the voice of Sarai.”
The result of this dual error – Sarah’s lack of understanding and faith and Abraham’s capitulation to his wife’s course of action – brought them nothing but heartache. To this day, the nation brought forth from the union of Abraham and Hagar is still at odds with the descendants of Isaac.
Over the course of my Christian life, I have observed this phenomenon repeated again and again. If you could ask most couples whose idea it was to attend their current church, you’d probably find it was the wife’s the majority of the time. Many of the convictions held by Christian families (those of the “non-essential” variety) originated with the woman reading or hearing about a particular doctrine and sharing it with her husband. Sometimes her influence is overt. Most of the time it is through subtle manipulation. “Wow, honey! The Smiths have started wearing only blue on Tuesdays and they are so excited about it! It seems like the Lord is sure blessing them!”
I’m not trying to make all of us out as evil, conniving shrews. I’ve done the same things. We are women who love the Lord and want all of the spiritual blessings Jesus offers. It’s just that we are susceptible to becoming anxious and fearful when our husbands don’t respond or act in such a way as to secure those blessings in the manner and with the speed we desire. Remember, Abraham was not a perfect man. And neither was Sarah a perfect woman. They were real people with real weaknesses. Just like us.
Sarah could not imagine how the Lord would fulfill His promise. His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways. She thought, “I’ll just do it.” Now, I know none of my lovely readers ever do that. I know I certainly don’t (!) but I have heard rumors that some Christian women actually behave this way. “He’s never going to do it, so I guess I’ll just have to do it.”
Why? Why do we do this? Because we are afraid. Afraid we might miss out on the will of God. We decide there is a need and then we decide that need might never get met. We fear what the consequences will be if that is allowed to happen. So we take over.
The result of this spiritual coup is to relegate our husbands to the back seat, while we take the driver’s position. It’s like we have said out loud, “You are incapable of leading.” This is the message the man receives and very often, believes after a while.
We have a tendency to speculate and meditate endlessly on what might happen if we don’t take matters into our own hands. But we don’t really know, do we? Sarah could not even conceive of the glorious thing God had in store for her. And the Lord, in His infinite mercy and kindness, still allowed her this great blessing. But it came at a much higher price than if she had waited and trusted, both in her husband and in her God.
I am not for a minute suggesting we never open our mouths. I like what Virginia Fugate said in her book, “On the Other Side of the Garden.” We make our opinion heard once and then leave it in the hands of our God and our husband. (This is the ideal for which I strive, by the way. I haven’t exactly achieved perfection in this area yet.)
This life is an adventure, a journey. I love to picture marriage like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: Two followers of Christ walking and talking down the road together with Jesus, learning and sharing. For Guy and I, there have been times along the way where we have been joined by other believers, and times where it was just us and the Lord.
But, when we hit a fork in the road, someone has to decide to go right or left. God had declared that it should be the husband, under the headship of Christ, who will have that responsibility. “Christ is the head of every man and the man is the head of the woman…” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Does that mean the man will always be right about everything? No, as a matter of fact it does not.
This is where the part about Christ being the head of every man comes in. We can rest assured that our God will eventually bring our man around to the place
He wants him to be, because He said He would. This might mean we will follow after a few rabbit trails, get caught in the thickets once or twice, and maybe even have to face a wolf or two. But we will do it together, as husband and wife and, in the end, be stronger for the trials.
We won’t really know what God has in mind, if we never let things get beyond our ability to control them. “What if my husband leads me to the edge of my comfort zone and asks me to jump off?” Well then, honey, bring your parachute. Maybe your husband won’t always make the right decision, but suffering the consequences of mistakes, errors in judgment, and bad decisions can serve as life lessons under the gentle tutelage of our Sovereign God. If you don’t allow your husband to step off that cliff once in a while, you will be doomed to going through the same problem over and over.
This is what I love about the Word of God. We are not presented with stories about people who always made the right decision, who never took a wrong turn.
We become intimately acquainted with all of their triumphs, as well as their blunders.
Sarah’s life is such a lesson for us. We first come to know her as a woman who is living with her husband Abram in the thriving metropolis of Ur of the Chaldees. But then, her husband tells her that God has called him to set out for this unknown land called Canaan. He says God has promised to bless him and make him a great nation there. He went out “…not knowing where he was going,” the writer of Hebrews tells us. They travel 900 miles to Haran, skirting the Arabian desert, and following the rivers west. For a while they settle there, but Abraham cannot ignore the voice of God. They set out again, toward the south.
A famine takes them into Egypt, and we already know what happens there. But, because of this incident, Abraham leaves Egypt rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.
In their sojourning back to the north, they face the dilemma with Lot. I’m sure most of us would have urged our husbands to choose the well-watered land of the Jordan valley. It just seems logical that the elder Abraham should be given the first pick. But, no. He allows his nephew to take the better ground. Or so it seems. What would you have said? As far as we know, Sarah stayed quiet.
They settle near the oaks of Mamre. Just when things seem to be getting comfortable, Abraham gets involved in a war to free his nephew Lot from the clutches of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. It was after this that Sarah encouraged her husband to take her maid as his concubine and conceive a child for them, perhaps fearing her husband may be killed in another war or conflict?
They move from Mamre to Gerar. Here Abraham lies again to Abimelech the King and, again, Sarah is taken to his tents to become his wife. The Lord intervenes on her behalf yet another time. Once more, Abraham comes out of the deal with more herds, servants and silver.
Sarah gives birth to her son, Isaac, at the age of 90. She had waited 25 years from the time God had made the promise. Thirty seven years later she died in Hebron. She sometimes exercised great faith and at other times, she stumbled in fear. She followed her husband though all his failures and his successes. In everything, her faithful God watched over her, protected her, and walked with her through the long journey of her life with her husband, Abraham.
He will do the same for you.
Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
1 Peter 3:6