Saturday, July 2, 2011

Unwritten Rules

(May 7, 2013 - The tone of this post is raw anger and a lot of sarcasm. I was processing a lot of pain in a difficult time of transition. I am leaving it *as is* to help anyone else who is in this transition time. I was hurt and said hurtful things. I am no longer angry or bitter as I was then.)

(Edited July 19, 2011 for content.)

We have a dear friend, a single young man, who is often daydreaming about how someday he will have ten kids and his wife will stay at home and home school them all. Paul and I listen quietly, but sometimes in the back of my mind I want to shake him. I dedicate this post to single men and women and to young marrieds who have not yet learned the un-written rules of Christian marriage and child-rearing.

Unwritten rule for newlyweds: When you are struggling in your first few months and years with trying to make your marriage work, you must not tell anyone. You must hold all your aches and pains inside and continually wear a happy face. This way you will not be alienated and rebuked when you are around your other church friends.

Obviously this rule is completely absurd, and it caused Paul and I extraordinary pain in our early years. All the other young couples we knew seemed to be doing just fine, so I would never have dreamed of opening up to them and sharing our problems. I wander now… were any of these same couples looking at Paul and I thinking how very happy we seemed? Were they afraid to talk to us? The trouble is that in most churches there are few real relationships, few safe places to have such vulnerable conversations. Granted, the pastor hears a lot of what is really going on in pre-divorce counseling… you know that last-ditch effort to save your marriage before you walk out. How many young marriages could be saved by older couples being honest about the struggles they went through at that time? Why can’t we all live as authentic Christians? No, I am not saying “walk around town and pour out your sob story to anyone who will listen.” I am saying that we need to create safe environments within our relationships and fellowships for people in need to share legitimate concerns without being crucified for their honesty.

Unwritten rule for pregnant women: You must never complain about feeling sick… even if you are so sick that you cannot function and your children are left for weeks on end to fend for themselves while Daddy is at work.

I think that part of the reason this rule has had such a stronghold on our family is because of all the years I spent writing posts that were in favor of the quiver full conviction (the conviction that women should leave all decision making of when to have children to the Lord, thus they might have as many as ten children before falling down dead from fatigue.) Paul and I used to hold to this conviction, but because of the extreme toll that having babies has had on my body (being pregnant or nursing for 10 straight years) we have come to a different understanding. We no longer believe that a woman should destroy her own health in this effort to please the Lord. As I have pointed out in a few other posts – our righteousness before the Lord is found in Jesus Christ. God is pleased because we have accepted the sacrificial death of His Son as being our own. We cannot do anything to add to that. We cannot make ourselves more holy by keeping rules (written or unwritten).
Ahem, back on topic – I was saying that when a person is “quiver full” then obviously he/she cannot complain about the real trials of pregnancy. Because anyone who disagrees with your position will be happy to point out that “you knew pregnancy would be hard, but this is your conviction, remember.” (Yes, we Christians can be very hard on one another, can’t we?)

But even in quiver full circles, and within the most family-centered churches, a woman ought to be able to admit that she has a need. When Paul was a pastor at the little country church in IL, I felt free to say I was feeling awful. And, the women helped me with cleaning my house, washing my laundry, and feeding my little tribe. What a blessing! And, no one there scolded me. In fact, many of the women said, “I remember those days, I wish someone had helped me…”

Again, I am not in favor of pregnant women walking around town trying to look pathetic and whining to ever passer-by. But, there ought to be a safe place where women can share genuine concerns with real friends and church family, without being rebuked for admitting weakness and fatigue. IN FACT, this should be the case all the more within such groups as those who are anti-birth-control, who know the difficulty of stairstep pregnancies.

Unwritten rule for parents of many children: You must never admit to being overwhelmed.

Seriously, how are we helping young, exhausted mothers by forcing them into pretending to be SuperMom? I have a new theory. My theory is that all families are overwhelmed, and that only one or two women care to admit it… the others are all faking it.

I am very angry about this point. I am angry at magazines like Above Rubies (and others) who print story after happy story of young families who are all smiling. I believe that the stories printed are true… but, I am concerned that if we were to see the other 98% of that family’s life we would see chaos, screaming, crying, hurting, etc. I am tired of blogs written by mommies of ten or so kids who “have it all together” and are always sharing happy stories where everything goes right. Or, even if everyone is sick, they are writing a post about how great it is clean up puke. I don’t buy it!

I know that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is joy, so it is possible that some of these families really are happy and love one another a large percentage of the time. But, in our experience, these families with ten-plus kids are locked into the bondage of legalism and rule-keeping… not the spirit-filled life.

What I think is that most families with a half dozen kids or so is a lot like mine has been: We have posted pictures where we are all smiling (which does happen on occasion). We have mainly published the posts where things were going well, keeping with the fa├žade of having it all together. We have not admitted to very many people that we are completely overwhelmed, completely over our heads… and most days I wander if I will even make it through the day.
I have a whole new sympathy for Andrea Yates (a Christian woman who snapped and drowned her five kids in the bath tub.) I feel genuinely sorry for her! Was she deceived like I have been? Was she involved in sects that (more or less) require women to have baby after baby to fit in. Add to that the pressure to be the perfect mother – cook the right foods, discipline the right way, have children that sit perfectly still in church, wear all the right clothes, etc. I have a new sympathy for Mr. Yates! Was he was supposed to be the perfect husband, the perfect father, the perfect provider, in order to be a good Christian. Were the poor Yates’ victims of these lies? My heart breaks for families like this who I consider to be casualties of legalistic Christianity.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into another anti-legalism post, I really didn’t… but it is so heavy on my heart! I would much rather talk of GRACE. To those of you who are currently locked into rule-keeping – can you please admit how destructive it is? Can’t you start by admitting that your own family is falling apart, that you are depressed and miserable, that you know something is not working out as it should?

I ADMIT IT! After five or so years of putting on a happy face, I have finally come clean – and it feels good (read the previous posts). Our family never was perfect. Our marriage never was perfect. Our kids never were better than anyone else’s. We never truly felt any closer to the Lord. In fact, the more we got caught up into legalism, the farther away from God we felt. The more rules we were trying to keep (but not at all able to keep!) the more we doubted our salvation. We just kept beating our heads against the wall wandering, “will I ever be a good Christian? Will I ever get it right?!” What a horrible way for a Christian to live.

So, I am writing this post as a way to be freed from the rule-keeping. Maybe I will print out these unwritten rules and burn them in effigy (not really, I’m not that bitter). But, seriously, I want to remember what nonsense it is to pretend to be perfect. In Christian homeschool circles we have a tendency to strive for perfection… in a bad way. We want the on-looking world to see only the best of what we have to offer. Don’t believe me? Have you ever been to a homeschool convention? I have not, but I know what they consist of. I recently had an offer to attend the St. Louis conference for free and I happily turned it down. I saw the list of speakers… some of them famous within the vision-forum crowd. But, as I read the print out of speakers and topics I started having a panic attack. I don’t need any more pressure to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, and the perfect homeschool mom. Find me a conference with speakers who are real… whose only agenda is to push Christ crucified. A conference whose speakers admit that they are not perfect and who certainly will not call the audience to perfection. A conference from which I walk away loving Jesus more, loving my family more, and feeling renewed – ready to face the many trials that we all face.

I just read this post out loud to Paul and the children. Rebecca said something along the lines of “you’re not really going to post that, are you?” Then, she proceeded to name all of our friends that she hoped would never read this post.

What Becca does not yet understand is that – I am posting this because I care about people. I hate seeing people’s lives ruined. I hate seeing women snap under pressure.

I HAVE to publish this post, because women are suffering. Families are being destroyed. How many more women have to snap before the truth of legalism comes to the surface?

Please, Lord, please show your children where they are in error, thinking that following certain rules will bring them assurance of their salvation? Oh, please, God, won’t you break in upon their hearts and cause them to admit that this is not really working. Oh, Jesus, please, please spare hurting women who are at the point of suicide and homicide because they cannot begin to keep all the rules they feel obligated to keep. Please, Father, please use this post to prevent more loss of lives. And, God, please, please bring healing to the lives of Andrea and Rusty Yates. Fill them with your Holy Spirit and give them joy and peace in the midst of a lifetime of pain. I ask all this in the name and for the glory of Jesus, Amen.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.
There is so much I want to say, I wish we were talking on the phone!
I know this was hard and it's not popular (among people like us, anyway!) but it was worth it.

Bethany in mid-MO said...

Anonymous, Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your encouragement. If you have more to say that you think might help me process all we have been through, feel free to email me or leave another comment.

Leslie Gelzer-Govatos said...

Wow, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this post (and others you have written recently!) My whole life I've had perfect people in front of me like you describe and I've considered them legalistic while secretly believing that they probably were better than me! I think about the gospels and it's amazing how much we in the church try to emulate the Pharisees and religious people, rather than the broken, socially outcast sinners who just knew they needed Jesus. Thank you for your honesty and your gentleness...

Bethany in mid-MO said...

Thanks for your comment. So many of us are feeling these same things. I just want to spread the word that God loves us - even if we are imperfect. What's more, He knows we will make mistakes! That is exactly why He sent Jesus!

So glad you stopped by,

Simple said...

Loved your post, thank you for sharing...It seems our walks are once again very much the same.

Someone asked me if this was our last baby. Which I'm pregnant w/ #5. I said..."I'm on God's side and what's best for my family. I'm not on the team that says we're done, and I'm not on the team that is quiver full." Why do I have to pick one? All I have to do is seek the Lord and His best for "my family" which He has blessed me with.

I have stopped reading many blogs because of the "we're perfect look on the blog." Can't take it anymore. I want to see a woman be REAL, HONEST, and a admit she's a SINNER saved by Grace and comes short of it.

As always dear friend, be blessed!
Kris in IA

Bethany in mid-MO said...


What freedom there is in doing things your own way.

God has brought our families out of great darkness. I sometimes cannot even fathom all we have been through. Praise God for His goodness and grace