The Spiritual Formation Practice of Submisson

I have been thinking a lot about submission these days. Actually this has been going on for sometime, but it is only recently that I am discovering this as a significant practice of spiritual formation. The discipline of submission does not surface very often. In a culture that embraces and pursues individualism, any conversation about submission, even within the body of Christ, is not going to be received with much enthusiasm.

We see something very different in the life of Christ.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

Then [Jesus] went down with (Joseph and Mary] and came to Nazareth, and He was obedient to them. (Luke 2:51)

The most dramatic model we have for submission comes from God in the form of the Son, Jesus. Jesus, through whom all things were made makes the move from omnipotent God to a human in the form of a baby and submits to God’s own creation. Hidden and often overlooked is the submission of the Creator to the creation, and the Creator becomes obedient to the creation. There is no human who can claim to have made so great a leap of submission as Jesus does in the form of a baby and then as a boy. We gloss over this Lukan passage missing the beautiful offering of submission.

[Jesus] got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied to around him. (John 13:4-5)

Jesus, knowing where he had come from and where he was going, takes the lowest place at the table by washing the disciples feet. What is striking here is the offering of submission to all who were present. Jesus willingly takes the place of a servant in order to show us what life is really all about. This offering of submission is even extended to the one who was to betray Him.

But the ultimate act of submission that Jesus offers is the willing submission to God the Father before all those involved in the injustice of of his crucifixion. Rather than resisting this injustice, Jesus submits to it.

Though Jesus was in the form of God,

he did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited,

but he emptied himself taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

Here, Paul writing to the Philippian church, calls on the church to take on “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” as a model for the Church’s life together. He calls on them to be obedient even unto death.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

And this type of submission is an act of worship unto the Lord. It is in this act of submission that we encounter the living Christ.

Submission as a practice of spiritual formation strikes at the heart of the false ego self that rules much of our lives. The image of ourselves that we put before others does not allow for submission. Submission is viewed as something forced upon us and therefore is not to be allowed. But that is not submission; it is oppression.

Submission is the posture of the True, God-created Self, because submission is an inherent quality of the communal Triune God. Thus we experience who we are truly created to be when we willingly offer submission one to another. God, present with those created in the image of God, manifests Godself in the free offering of submission.

But I am learning that my posture is most clearly seen not in the big offerings of submission, such as employee to employer, but rather in the small things that are likely to not be noticed by others. Throughout the day there are these little opportunities for the offering of submission that present themselves, each of which are a joyful opportunity for growth of who God created me to be and the death of who I create myself to be.

I was standing in line with several others who were purchasing lumber and other building materials at a local store. The line had been going rather slowly, but I was patient in the waiting. It was all fine until an older woman stepped in front of me. I suspect that she did not see that I was in line because I had to stand back to allow space for others to pass through the line. I was immediately frustrated by this and I believe I was rightly in the position to ask the woman to get behind me as gently as I could. Instead I saw the opportunity for spiritual formation through the practice of submission.

I discovered that there is an outward form of submission and an inward form of submission.

Outwardly, my physical actions were allowing her to remain in line. I passed the first level of submission. But inwardly, I was not settling very well into submission. I was resisting it. And it became especially hard when it was taking her a long time to get checked out as she and the cashier were enjoying a lively conversation among themselves, both seemingly unaware of my offering of submission in this ‘unjust’ situation. But rather than getting all riled up over this, I found my way to settling into this and offering an internal submission. 

And isn’t that the journey that we are called to, the journey to be still inwardly? To move from the outward appearance of spirituality, to an inner formation?

May God grant us the grace to move in this direction. 

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