"Remember, I'm not one of your troops," Judy McChrystal consistently reminded her chaplain husband, Col. Scott McChrystal, when he returned from deployment, training, or just a long day at work for the Army.
Years later, says McChrystal, he finally figured out what she meant. "I never thought she was one of the troops," he says, "but when you spend all day telling people what to do and what not do to do in very pre-elementary terms, that easily transfers when you walk through the door."
When it comes to leadership, the military way of doing things does not reflect the order the Bible tells us should exist in our homes; service members must deliberately switch paradigms when they return to their families.
Mutual Submission: Be Subject to One Another
Husbands and wives are to demonstrate mutual respect. Ephesians 5:21 says we should "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." The practice of yielding our own wills out of respect for another human being is unnatural, but God calls all of us to be humble enough to do so (see 1 Peter 5:6).
While showing respect can be done in many ways, careless words can sabotage your efforts at home. To be safe, lay some ground rules in your marriage to avoid feelings of disrespect and distrust:
- Don't criticize your spouse in public.
- Don't tease your spouse in public.
- Don't embarrass or act disrespectfully to your spouse in public.
Make Bible reading and prayer a priority for your lives. If you aren't submitting your will to God, it's unlikely you will submit to your spouse.
Servant Leadership: Husbands Love Your Wives
Paul states in Ephesians 5:23 that "the husband is the head of the wife." He also tells husbands: "love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:25,28, NIV).
In God's hierarchy, leaders serve. Jesus says, "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matthew 23:11, NIV). Christ demonstrated servant leadership Himself when He willingly died on the cross for our sins.
Leadership, or headship, is not a right to command and control as one might in a military setting. Author and pastor of Bethlehem Bible Church in Minneapolis, Minn., John Piper defines headship as "the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection and provision in the home."
Tips for Practicing Servant Leadership
So, how do you provide leadership in your home, especially when you may not be physically present for weeks or months at a time? Here are a few tips:
- Study your wife and kids. Learn as much as you can about them so you can better relate to them.
- Invest in the spiritual well-being of your family. Attend church, lead devotions and/or volunteer in the community.
- Encourage and build up your family, whether you are home or away.
- Maintain the household so that things are in good order when you leave.
- Help with family responsibilities. Change diapers, prepare some meals and help with housework and yard work.
- Be an active parent. Play with kids, help them with homework, pray with them and put them to bed. Offer guidance and instruction, regardless of where you are in the world.
- If finances allow, consider hiring some help (i.e. a gardener, babysitter or maid) to relieve some of the burden while you're gone. Or, talk to other families about arranging a babysitting or yard work co-op.
"If I've seen anything over the years, it's not leading perfectly that counts," says McChrystal. "It's having an attitude where I'm trying and my wife sees that I'm trying. That is the most important thing she needs. This knocks the props out from anybody who says 'I can't.' You can. Anybody can try."
Submission: Wives Respect Your Husbands
In Colossians 3:18-19, Paul says: "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them." Most women do not need to be told to love their husbands; that usually comes naturally. But did you know that when men don't feel respected in the home, they don't feel loved either?
Regardless of whether the wife is the service member or the "dependent," submitting to her husband is a quality worth cultivating. Piper preaches that submission is "the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts." The Christian wife need not give up her own God-given gifts and interests in order show honor to her husband. Submission is an attitude and an inclination the wife can nurture whether or not the husband is physically present.
Tips for Practicing Submission
If submission is an attitude, behaviors serve as barometers of the heart. Here are practical ways you can demonstrate a submissive spirit to your husband:
- As his helper (Genesis 2:18), give him helpful suggestions, not sarcastic putdowns.
- Listen to him without interrupting. Don't finish his sentences for him.
- Keep your house in order as a service to your husband and family (Proverbs 31:27).
- Think through possible solutions for family or household issues, and present them to your husband for his consideration.
- Make an effort to talk to him before making big decisions.
- Keep him in the loop about family and household affairs while he's deployed.
- Accept constructive criticism. We all have room for improvement.
- Pray for the right words before serious conversations. It will help your tone be more respectful.
With frequent separations common in a military lifestyle, practicing biblical headship and submission in Christian marriage may be a challenge. But while perfection may not be attainable, progress certainly is.