I remember, in college, struggling with the ideas set forth in 1 Peter 3, the famous "weaker vessel" passage. I struggled because I didn't like the idea of women being weak, but I also was determined to submit myself to the truth of God's word. If I'd either liked the idea or if I hadn't cared about the veracity of the Bible, well, I wouldn't've had a problem. It ended up being one of those "Okay, I'm sure this is true somehow, but I really don't get it." You know, one of those "I'll take it on faith" passages. Because, as Peter said, "Lord, to whom else should we go?" I was willing to stick with the hard passages because I knew I had no other recourse but Jesus.
Well, I think the past few years, full as they have been of child-bearing and rearing, have helped me understand Peter's words a little better. I'm not sure I completely understand the passage, but I feel like I have more insight into it now.
First, it's talking not to women in general, but to wives. That is, to those who are likely to bear children. Even the word "vessel" implies someone who holds or contains something. And the truth is, when it comes to child-bearing years, I am weaker than my husband. Some writer in Touchstone (Anthony Escolen, maybe?) pointed out awhile ago, when talking about the sacrificial nature of parenting, that every child born into the world necessitated at the very least the sacrifice of its mother's body being broken.
And that's true. Pregnancy and childbirth, and even the whole menstrual cycle, weaken women's bodies amazingly. Even if you aren't bearing children, your body is either suffering from an excess or a dearth of hormones, from puberty through menopause.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I used to try to find some airy-fairy, abstract meaning behind St. Peter's words, and now I'm tending to take them more at face value, more literally. Literally, physically, I am weaker than my husband. I am more at the mercy of my body than he is, especially when my body is serving as the staging ground for a new life, when someone else is taking up residence inside of me and literally sucking its lifeblood from my own and pushing and shaping my very bones and sinews to its own purposes. St. Peter urges husbands to dwell with their wives "according to knowledge" or "with understanding". According to the knowledge, I think, that wives need care that husbands don't, as well as the knowledge that they are "fellow heirs of salvation".
So, for me, what that verse means (I know, I know, evangelical subjective Bible application, forgive me) is: Adam takes care of me so I can take care of our children. And that makes sense. Even to my slightly feminist-leaning self.
peace of Christ to you,