In the Christian culture that was part of our early marriage, “egalitarian” wasn’t a word I ever heard. In fact, I never heard the word “complementarian” in any of the bible studies and small groups I was in, either. They just talked about what men were supposed to do in relationship and what women were supposed to do. The story usually went like this:
Men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders.
Women needed to submit to their authority and let go of control.
In those days, I constantly heard women talking about how “they were praying their husband would be the spiritual leader of their family” (and how he never seemed to want to, so they would keep waiting.)
Honestly, that wasn’t something I was overly concerned with those days; my husband, Jose, and I were pretty decent teammates on the whole.
Until I began to want something different.
I wasn’t looking to become a pastor, but when I was suddenly asked to come onto a big church staff more than 13 years ago, I was shell-shocked. I had been doing all kinds of healing ministry within the contexts of Bible-based, community churches where I was fairly respected and loved but never considered part of the pastoral staff. (That was for the guys.)
To be asked to come onto a growing church’s staff as the Care Pastor was a watershed moment in my life.
However, I turned down the job.
Because it didn’t work for my family. Jose didn’t want me to take the job, and some of my close friends concurred, too. The twins were still in preschool, and they felt I needed to wait.
The truth is I desperately wanted to step up and into this role, but I just didn’t have it in me to stand for what was deep in my heart at the time.
After I called the church and passed on the job, I cried nonstop for a week.
After a while I moved forward on the outside. Inside, however, I thought about it almost every day.
Resentment started to set in.
I realized I said no to make everyone else happy.
A year later, after attending a popular Christian leadership conference in Chicago together, I finally broke down and shared with Jose how deeply I regretted my decision. He listened (he really had no idea because I just pretended like I was fine with it—I’m good at that.) He held me and said he was sorry. It helped to just say it out loud.
A month later, out of the blue, I received the same phone call from the same person at the same church, offering me the job again.
This time, when I told Jose, he immediately responded, “This time I’m not going to mess it up for you.”
I went through all the paces required to get hired and started working in a position I loved, doing what I love to do. Jose was on board for the first month or so until he saw the hours that I needed to work, the stress I was under, the reality of this change in our life.
Then we started to fight.
After 12 years of staying home raising babies and keeping things rolling at home, I was ready for the fight in a way I never had been before. I was ready for someone to adjust to me, to make a sacrifice for my time, to make my food when I came home from work, to think about taking care of the carpool arrangements, to do some of the things I was so used to doing for him.
I was ready for a truly equal partner in every sense of the word.
Even though Jose and I were good friends and pretty solid teammates, subconsciously, the trap of the roles that church had taught us, was being challenged underneath. If you talk to Jose now, he will share freely that his life was easier when we were operating under those rules because it totally worked for and around him—in the moment.
He will also tell you that changing was one of the best things he ever did, but that it didn’t come cheap or easy.
I stood up for what I wanted in a way that I had never stood up before.
I was tempted to quit and do what it took to keep the peace, but I felt God’s stirring running through my veins and I knew I just couldn’t turn back.
So we fought.
Oh, we fought. (The worst year in our 25+ years of marriage.)
But this wasn’t petty fighting.
This was fighting for my soul. For our souls.
For a true equal partnership where we truly adjusted to each other, carried the load together, and broke down the hidden assumptions and damaging theology.
There were times where I truly thought, “Are we seriously going to end up divorced over this stupid ministry job?” But I knew there was something deeper brewing underneath that was far more important than a job.
This was about shifting the tectonic plates of an imbalanced complementarian marriage to a fully equal one.
After 12 months of pain and wrestling and trying to figure it out, something finally shifted in Jose all the way. I will never forget that moment. He cried. He apologized. He asked me to forgive him.
And he said the words that have been his truth ever since:
“I am so sorry that I’ve been your anchor, dragging you down, holding you back. I was just so scared. Now, I’m fully committed to being your sail, to helping you fly.”
It might sound silly to some but for us, in the world we had lived in, it was no small thing. We finally shifted from one-over-the-other to being truly side-by-side.
To mutual submission. To equality. To a love that changed our story forever.
Image courtesy of Kathy Escobar