Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holy Submission

(This entry is prompted by a discussion at "Complegalitarian" called "Biblical Submission Illustrated.")

One of my earliest memories is of bathtime with my Grama. It is a happy one.

Grama was the mother figure in my life; I went to live with her from the time I was about 15 months old until I was nine. She remains the only family member who mothered me, despite there being a mother and two step-mothers in my family. Grama, quite simply, loved me. It was mutual.

The last time I was able to visit my grandmother, who lived half-way across the country from me, she was in her late eighties and well into the Alzheimer's disease process. She was in "assisted living," but no one got close enough to really notice that Grama wasn't bathing. (My uncle visited her each month to take care of her business affairs, but just didn't notice the gradual decline). I met her at breakfast time and once she figured out who I was (between the dementia, legal blindness, and significant deafness, it took a while), I went back to her little apartment and spent the rest of the day and the next several with her.

One task that first afternoon was to get her bathed. I had to soak her feet in warm epsom salt water in order to get the shredded nylon knee-highs off her edemic feet and ankles. She had to have been wearing them, day and night, for at least a week. At first, I was afraid it would take a trip to the doctor because they strands were so embedded and causing sores, but after a while, it worked. Her foot bath took over an hour. Later, I ended up having to get into the shower with her, bathing her very much as she bathed me as a little child. We even shared her "pet names" for various body parts, to her delight that I even remembered. My childhood bathtimes were in that long-term memory that still functioned.

The "hired hands" at Grama's facility, in all fairness, weren't expected to bathe or perform other hygiene tasks for their residents. Grama had slipped past the point where her independence was too limited to belong in that level of care. But the needs were real and someone needed to meet them.

To me, submission is about meeting others' needs (which are quite different than wants). Grama, for example, wanted to go back to living in her house (it was being sold to finance her end-of-life care). She didn't especially want me to wash her feet or dry her hair. I couldn't accede to many of her wants, but I could meet several of her immediate needs. As a person who loved her, I saw it as both my responsibility and my privilege to do that. Just as she submitted to me in my early childhood by caring intimately for my body, I did so for her (for far too brief a time) in her old age. I've never done anything holier than bathing and tending my grandmother for those precious days.

The more I consider the relationship teachings of Scripture, the more I see them rooted in the submission we all owe to one another. I had never, before that visit to Grama, thought about the fifth commandment's connection to submission. I had known for many years by that time, that honoring one's parents was not simply a matter of a minor child's obedience to them. We submit to our parents as they age, in a manner similar to how they submitted to us in our childhood: We are to care for them when they cannot care for themselves. Our aged relatives are not to be cast out and allowed to die, as is the way of things in most of the rest of the animal kingdom.

Just as biblical submission is not about wives being subordinate to their husbands, it is also not about obeying or placating our parents. It's not about bowing down to authority figures. It's all about taking up the authority we have as Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to serve one another according to the other's needs. Husbands and wives are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, according to the apostle Paul. Parents quite obviously submit to their children during their childhood. The fifth commandment makes it clear that children also ought to meet their parents' needs, particularly as this commandment was given to the adults of the community, consequently referring to elder parents. If children are brought up to obey this commandment, it truly WILL go well for them and they will live long in the land: They'll teach it to their own children, who will honor them in their old age . . . and on and on, down the generations. As I think about it, this submission to one's elder parents is just as mutual as marital submission is; it's merely delayed a generation to allow for the children to mature into adults equipped to do for their parents what their parents once did for them.

I love you and I miss you, Grama. Perpetual light shine upon you.


molly said...

That was very beautiful.

zorra said...

Powerful and true. Thank you.