Getting married is like climbing on the back of a tandem bike

[Note: I recently shared a few words about marriage at a friend’s bridal shower. This is the text from that talk.]


Show of hands—how many of you have ridden on a bicycle built for two? Like a tandem bike? Okay. So when I was about 13 or 14, my family went to Florida on vacation. And my older sister Sophie and I rented a tandem bike so we could go down the coast to the next town a few miles away.

So the first question when we got ready to leave was… who’s gonna be on the front? Who’s going to steer? Well, my sister, who has always been more the Type A personality, ended up in the front seat. So, okay. I climbed onto the back of that bike, and we started trying to move down the sidewalk.

Well, come to find out—it is terrifying to ride on the back of a tandem bicycle. You’ve ridden a normal bike before—you know what that feels like. But when you’re on the back of a tandem bike, you have to pick your feet up and peddle—as hard as you can for momentum—but you have no control over where you’re going. The balance is all weird. It’s like some kind of a crazy trust exercise. You start to realize that the success of the bike ride will depend on your trustful effort and coordination with the person who is steering the (enormously difficult to steer) bike.

So you must know where I’m going with this.

Being a Christian woman getting married to a man is like climbing on the back of a tandem bicycle.

It’s a little bit terrifying. When you marry a man, you are (humanly speaking) putting your life in his hands.

When I was young, I remember hearing about submission. I loved the sound of it. My dad would talk to us girls about how much power for good a woman has in her husband’s life if she supports and respects him. “You can be the wind in his wings,” he would say. And as a little girl, I was like, Oh yeah, I got this. I am going to be great at this—just look how sweet and supportive I am with my dad! I never say anything critical; I submit super well; I never question his decisions…

But what I didn’t understand was how when you get married, the stakes change. Suddenly, we’re talking about your life—the rest of your life—and if he ever makes a mistake on the front of that bike, you’re the one who will be experiencing the consequences. And you’re an adult, just like he is, so you have a better imagination about what those consequences might be.

And that’s when you begin to understand why submission in marriage had to be addressed in scripture. It had to be, because our fear makes something that should feel natural suddenly feel very unnatural.

It’s so important to understand your position on the back of that bike. From the rear, you can make the front person’s life very easy or very hard. You could go limp, and simply refuse to peddle, which means he has to use brute strength to push the bike forward, bringing you with it. You could throw your weight around, deciding where you think it’s time to go and leaning hard until you get what you want. I found with Sophie I could make her put her feet down on one side if I did, she couldn’t keep going. So you can stop the bike if you choose to do that, absolutely—in fact, Proverbs talks about a woman’s power to tear her house down with her bare hands. If that’s the kind of woman you want to be, go for it; every woman has that kind of power. It’s very easy to play the second seat poorly. Many women do.

On the other hand, it takes enormous strength and coordination to play the second seat well. You have to be a woman of the word. You have to be a woman of prayer. You have to be taking responsibility for your spiritual health—your husband can be a great spiritual leader, but he can’t force your growth. And you alone are responsible to feed on the things that will produce fruit in your heart, to feed on the Lord himself. That IS within your scope of responsibility on the back of that bike.

In submitting to your savior, you will learn the lesser art of submitting to the man he’s joined you to. You will be learning primarily to trust your perfect, omnipotent leader to bring you through exactly the sweet and sorrowful things he’s ordained for you and your family. You know he’s promised to eventually triumph and glorify himself in your life, even in failure. So if Christ is filling your vision, you’ll be much more able to pick up your feet and lean with the imperfect leader who is on the bike with you.

And you’ll learn specifically what that means to lean with YOUR husband. You’ll learn that not every husband is a big take-charge kind of guy—issuing directives all the time. Many—maybe most—men are more likely to let you know in other ways, what they would like to see, how you can be that helpmeet to them. I’m not even talking about big stuff. For me, it’s these sort of minor acts of submission— obeying what I know to be his wishes in this little thing—rather than the big moments of big decisions—that I personally find most challenging. Like, he wants you to keep the air on 72 instead of 78, or buy some better nail clippers, or stop putting kale in the soup, or vacuum more often, or not let the kids touch his books (these are just totally hypothetical examples here).

It’s also helpful to imagine what it’s like for a husband—he is a man, which means his primary directive has to do with work, with subduing the earth—he deeply wants to know he’s doing a good job. Now imagine that for all of life, he now has a witness, sitting right behind him. She’s seeing every turn he makes, every signal, every time he gets lost. And he’s going to know what you think about that move he just made. Because you’re going to let him know. Maybe without saying a word.

But you each have a position on that bicycle. Ali, Alex has been put in the steering position. He didn’t put himself there, you didn’t put him there; God put him there. Ephesians 5 says “22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Nothing, unfortunately, could be clearer.

I had to read this from a digital copy of the Bible because, let me show you my ratty old Bible—the one I use most often actually, and you can see what page has been ripped out. (Ephesians 3-5 is just totally missing, that one page.) You can see how hard things got in our first years of marriage. I’m just kidding, one of the kids ripped a page out—but I did think their editing choices were very interesting. Justin said the girls must be born egalitarians.

But God designed these two positions so deliberately, so carefully. It isn’t unfortunate at all.

Your position on the bicycle requires immense spiritual maturity and immense strength; and it is vital to the machine’s effectiveness. Your relational capacities will be maxed out. Your creative abilities, your problem solving abilities, your work ethic, all of those things will be maxed out. But your efforts will be so much better spent if you can understand your position on the bike. Your job is to tune yourself in to that front seat position, find out where he wants to go, and peddle. And ultimately, you aren’t peddling for Alex’s sake, you’re peddling in service to the one who is actually steering, who will not let you go anywhere he hasn’t ordained.

So get on there and prepare for a good long ride, a potentially terrifying ride, but a ride that God intends to use for your good, and Alex’s good, and indeed, for the good of Christ’s own bride. In those scary moments when you feel that you didn’t sign up for this particular ride, remember these words from 1 John 4:18-19: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”

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