Posted by: minnow | December 16, 2013

In This Season, part 2

IMG_3632Guilt has long been my friend.  Add an inbred sense of duty, a desire to be loving, generous and a peacemaker, oppressive teachings in the name of Jesus, and you concoct the recipe for emotional self censorship I consumed for most of my adult life.  My feelings didn’t matter.  My opinions didn’t matter.  My reasoning didn’t matter.  In fact they were all at risk of worldly corruption unless they were first approved by the correct mouth pieces.  My job was to honor and obey my parents and later to sacrifice all things “me” for my  family, especially my husband.

I learned both subtle and overt messages regarding the proper behavior of a daughter, wife, and Godly woman.  Do not contradict authority.  Serve the fellowship (in the nursery, Sunday school, and at the hospitality table).  Train up your children in the way they should go, as directed by your parents, your husband, and the Lord as interpreted by the Bible, as interpreted by the pastor, as interpreted by the Godly women of the fellowship whom the pastor trusted to lead other women only.

If the gentle teaching I received wasn’t enough to keep me in line with my duty to God I was admonished and instructed to bring my petitions (complaints) to God in prayer thereby avoiding divisiveness and gossip, understand that His ways were not always my ways (especially when they didn’t line up with the Man of God in the house), be silent, and submit.   The subtext to this instruction went something like this: If you want relationships within this fellowship, you will follow the rules and not make “us” admonish you publicly.  Such a step would most certainly reflect badly on your husband and children and result in your exclusion from the more inward circles of fellowship.

People from the first half of my life might wonder how I was pulled so quickly into the cult like mentality of this form of Christianity.  After all, I was raised in a family with  a strong female roll model.  My Mother was a strong minded, independent thinker, well educated, capable of doing anything she wanted to do, and equal to my Father where decision making was concerned.  How could I so quickly and easily be controlled by such an oppressive mind-set?

Two words answer the question–love and guilt.  Or, better yet the lack of the former and over abundance of the latter.  While I never experienced physical want as a child my family of origin was emotionally reserved and in general unavailable–passion, outrage, intimacy, mess–none were acceptable.  Calm, reasoned, methodical, private, orderly–those adjectives described my family.  For a little girl full of creativity, curiosity, and emotional energy the atmosphere was stifling, void of opportunity for self expression, and dismissive.  I felt like a left over puzzle piece–unnecessary and unappreciated.

Whenever I left the house my mother’s words: Remember whose daughter you are, trailed after me.  My mother was so active in the community I thought she had eyes everywhere and would be told about everything I did.  Additionally, I believed I would only be allowed to take up space in their lives so long as I complied with an endless list of expectations.  Always be polite.  Never ask for more.  Dress appropriately. There is a correct way to do everything.  Defer to parents, their friends, and all other adults–first.   Speak when spoken to–clearly and with proper grammar.  Never dominate the conversation.  Get good grades.  Make the right friends.  Always do your best.  There is a correct way to do everything.  Play quietly…  In short, love in the environment in which I grew up was experienced through a barometer of approval and disappointment.  And, I was continuously guilty of not meeting the standard.  In the end, I had been perfectly groomed for the cult like Christianity I stepped into as an adult.  Dangle the carrot of love.  Keep them with the threat of disapproval.

I have tried to explain my process of emerging from the cult like Christianity I experienced in other posts so I won’t rehash that now.  (Follow the links if you’re interested). I titled this Part 2 of In This Season because I am, in this season of my life as a wife and mother, wrestling with the messages I have passed on to my children, messages I regret like those which contributed to the pain my youngest son experienced and his choice to pull away from our family (the focus of Part 1), messages I still believe but that have gotten tarnished by the difficulties of the last few years, and messages I hope my children can hear now with different words.

I regret…In my efforts to “honor my husband as the head of the house” when my children were young I gave them the message that he was the rule maker, that he controlled our lives, that he was to be feared.  I failed to take responsibility for my choice to not speak up even when I did not agree and so never advocated for my children when I should have.  My behavior deflected blame but at a huge cost.  The subtext message, that women are less valuable, not as capable, and weaker than men, not only hurt my daughters but my sons as well.  I made a similar mistake when it came to messages from the fellowships we attended.  Thus without intending to I  endorsed an extreme conservative mind-set which often came across as self-righteous, isolationist, moralistic, and judgmental.  These are the attitudes and messages I’d like to erase.

Other messages I know have been tarnished yet I still embrace.  I still believe in service to the greater community as well as one’s own family.  I still advocate a generosity of goods and spirit and would add stewardship of the planet.   I embrace the ideal of living at peace with others in so far as one is able.  I simply no longer believe it is possible to honestly walk out those principles while sacrificing one’s voice, ignoring injustice, or remaining isolated.

The road indeed is narrow–like a tight rope–but staring at ones feet (continually measuring one’s world by a book of Law) does not improve one’s balance.  Even though I want my children to do good works,  I hope their works are a response to the abundance of love and grace flowing into their lives.  While I desire that their choices bring them greater understanding of how deeply they are valued and how much they are appreciated, I also hope their own strength of character and core knowledge of what is right does not require recognition in order to act.  I hope they realize how rarely life is limited to either/or especially when the choice seems to be between relationship or principle.  I want them to choose both/and even when it is more difficult, more costly, and more time consuming to do so.  Yet most of all, I pray the rest of the life I walk out in front of my children will be walked out less often with a measuring stick and more often with an embrace, less frequently with a microscope and more frequently with a blindfold, less habitually with a megaphone and more habitually with a whisper and the still small voice of the Perfect Counselor.

*  *  *  DISCLAIMER: In the name of being honest, the above is only a partial description of my childhood feelings and my subsequent adult experience.  Yes, they were painted in a negative light as I tried to connect the dots, as much for myself as for the reader, of how I got from one place to another and finally to where I now stand.  I remember laughter in my childhood home and quite summers in our cabin at Seeley Lake.  I always felt physically safe and know of only one time when my Mother raised her voice to me, though she showed her disapproval in other ways.  And, while my Father was often absent from my daily life (He was an accountant and worked long hours.) I remember skiing with him, and sailing with him and fishing with him.  To me my life was normal, which actually contributed to my longing for the connection promised but ultimately lacking in my church related experience of Christianity.

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Responses

  1. your wounds make me cry,Mama Meg! I cry,w/o much self-control,at all, every time I read one of them..,I am so sad for your time/but rarely your thoughts,eh? away from your Caleb. I appreciate your honesty and your soul-searching… & to Christ Goes The Victory( and of course, you will be so satisfied in it… YES!!). love your gift with expressing your insides so well. it isn’t my gift, obviously! hope this is clear…. xxxPJ

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


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