Submission is simply not a value in American culture. We applaud those who "follow their dreams" and "don't worry what anyone else has to say." Independence is one of our highest values. This can be both good and bad - we value the uniqueness of each individual. But we also often place very little value on the good of the whole, opting rather for the good of the one.
So it's no wonder that when the Bible talks of submission it can sometimes seem hierarchical, archaic and unseemly. It's no wonder that women buck under Paul's letter that states, "Wives, submit to your husbands." It's no wonder that the picture of Christian masculinity in America often more resembles the strong warrior Joshua than it does Jesus - who "made himself nothing" and "humbled himself and became obedient to death."
We'd rather picture ourselves as strong warriors or American Idols than humble nothings, as Christ made himself.
But submission is what every Christian is called to - not just women as we so often focus on. We all are called to submit to one another:
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21
Wisdom itself is submissive:
"The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." James 3:17
Ultimately, our submission to others is a mirror of our submission to God:
"Submit yourselves, then, to God." James 4:7
And the gold standard for one who willingly does not seek His own good, but places others above Himself is Christ, as it states in one of the most beautiful passages of all Scripture:
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" Philippians 2:5-8
In that light, what an honor it is to follow Christ's example of this upside-down world.
If that weren't enough (although it is), I find it comforting to think of Eastern cultures. In many Asian cultures, such as in Japan, submission is a matter of honor. To only seek our own good, putting our desires and dreams above any other consideration, would be dishonorable. But giving reverence to the elderly, to the family, and submitting to the good of all is honorable and noble.
How interesting that this largely non-Christian culture may have a better understanding of the beauty and honor of submission than our culture, which was founded on Christian values.
So my resolution is this: When I cringe under the commands to submit to others, to put their needs and wisdom above my own, instead of secretly feeling it's unfair, archaic or patriarchal, I will remember that I am a product of my own only-out-for-yourself culture. I will remember the quiet honor that other cultures place on one who seeks to support and honor others. But, most of all, I will remember what an honor it is to be called to live in a way worthy of Christ, who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28