When I hear the term ‘submission’ I think of someone overpowering someone else, the final move of a fight where one person conquers another. No one wants to be on the other end of a submission. It’s humiliating and weak and shows the world that you are beneath the one you are submitting to.
I was about twenty years old when I first read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. It’s a spiritual formation book where he walks through different disciplines. Meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, silence, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration all are needed to mature and grow in our spiritual walk. Each of the disciplines leads to a corresponding freedom. For instance, the discipline of simplicity will lead you to a freedom of anxiety. The discipline of fasting leads us to being free from extensive want and instant gratification. So the goal, as this book suggests, is to practice these disciplines routinely in order to live a life of freedom. Sounds great right?
However, there is one particular discipline that always terrified me. See most of the disciplines I could make happen. Study? No problem, I do that anyway and I love to read. Simplicity? Easy, I don’t need anything to be happy. Service? Yup, I love taking care of people. Confession? I’ll share anything.
The discipline that I have been actively ignoring since I can remember is submission. Why in the world is submission a spiritual discipline? Why would I submit to anyone? What good is it going to do me, an adult, to practice submitting to people? Submission sounds like a trap. It sounds like a fancy way of saying deciding to be weak. Submission sounds like what everyone in authority used to tell me to do if I was getting annoying with all my questions.
Similar to discovering your Enneagram number where Rohr suggests that “who does not perceive it as humiliating in some way, has not found their ‘number’ yet,” there will be a certain aversion that you would have towards the discipline that would be the most beneficial to you. I took the liberty of guessing some of the disciplines alongside the different types that may likely be a good starting point. I’m not entirely sure about all these, I’d be curious for the other types that I don’t relate with as much if these would make sense for you?
Needless to say, the discipline that I have avoided at all costs is one of submission, and this is the very thing that I should be focusing on. The discipline of submission is one that leads to the freedom of the need to be controlling.
My problem hasn’t been so much that I need to control everyone and everything, but rather I have a driving fear of being controlled which infects many interactions. Sometimes the only way that I can avoid being controlled is to become controlling. So instead of working for someone else, I will start my own businesses so I’ll never have a boss. Instead of voting for someone else to lead a project, I will volunteer to be the leader so they aren’t telling me what to do. When I think about submitting to someone, my entire body gets tense and my mind starts racing for justifications and ways out of it. So you can imagine how difficult I would be to be in a relationship with, where mutual submission is supposed to be a shared ethic, and I’m spending all my time thinking of every way possible that I can get out of it.
To make matters worse, when I see no way out of submission, I start doing mental gymnastics to convince myself that it was my idea all along, convincing myself that this is what I always wanted, just so I can bring myself to do what was asked. If I failed at convincing myself this was my idea, you don’t really want to be around me when I’ve finally acquiesced to do what is required, because I am annoyed, frustrated and feel taken advantage of. And this is just for simple things, like taking out the garbage on someone else’s timing. I’ll do it when I want! I can’t even imagine how annoying I would be for major things. I want everything to be what I want, or mutual, but God forbid it is something that I don’t want that someone else wants.
I wish I could say that I have overcome this, and that since I knew this was going to be a vice for me at twenty, that I slowly worked on evolving into a cooperative individual that overcame my ego and that I lovingly submit within my relationships and I am free from fear of being controlled. Unfortunately, it’s still there, sometimes I think worse than it ever was. I have this gnawing anxiety that I am not fully autonomous and that I am not a man of my own making and that everyone else wants to make me their puppet. Don’t get me started on how much I try to avoid being controlled by government or tradition. The ironic part is, if you know anything about me, you would know that I live the literal opposite life of being someone else’s puppet, or subjected to the man, so why do I live my life in constant fear of if it could happen at any time?
In an attempt to practice submission, I have surrounded myself with people that I trust and love and regularly seek their advice. That said, it is extremely difficult to heed their advice if it isn’t something that I want, or I don’t agree with their rationale, or if it won’t affect them like it will affect me.
Submission is a lesson I wish I would learn one day. For too long, my aversion to it has affected my relationships negatively. I want to be able to be in relationship with people, and not have my back up against the wall, and trust that they want what is best for me. I want to be able to live freely in society without feeling like every law and rule is keeping me down. Others can see my blindspots. They can offer perspective. More importantly, submission would help strengthen my relationships and diminish my egotistical need to be in control. It’s difficult for anyone else to be in a relationship with me if they are feeling like I either have to do it my way or I’m going to be a major grump going along with their preference. I’m slowly coming to see how my need to not be controlled makes those that I love feel, but also how limiting it is to my own life. If I can’t find more places in my life where I practice submission, then I’ll likely stay frozen with a fear that I’ll get taken advantage of, and that’s no way to live a life.