My parents said that I always wanted adventure—an observation implying bad, branding me with the label “discontent”.
In hindsight, I think that I wanted to matter. We read Martyr’s Mirror, and my thoughts drifted to foreign lands, where somehow I took the place of innocent young women patiently waiting their fates—my fate—while remaining faithful and devoted to God. And while sore fingers scratched page after page of stories in faded gray pencil, my characters reflected the inner angst that yearned to do something great for God—something glorious, that made Him say, “Well done.” I wanted approval. I wanted that certain air of pride that comes, not from selfish ambition, but rather from the sense that “She’s mine. And that is a good thing.” I wanted to matter, to have a purpose, and to make a difference—yet it seemed that every day was exactly the same.
This post has been on my mind for some time. In every movement and every culture—religious or otherwise—there are extremes. Within the homeschooling, conservative, and Quiverfull world, there are some families who go to great lengths to observe dogmatic, legalistic, and austere patriarchal standards. These are the ones who often gain national attention as the waves of public interest ebb and flow, inciting controversy and awareness of “peculiar” lifestyles and beliefs.
However, there are others within this Christian sub-culture—typical, traditional families, with perhaps a few non-mainstream practices. Not often found on the covers of magazines or the subject of articles or books, many are still well-known and well-liked within their church and community. Perhaps they aren’t dresses-only; some do not live on a farm, others might have “only” 3 or 4 children. Some home-school, yet participate in local sports or other extra-curricular activities. Those who relate will understand clearly.
No one has hurt me, so why do I feel hurt?
Daughters within these conservative yet non-extreme households face a unique challenge that I believe is not shared by their more dogmatic sisters. Many of the same emotional and spiritual struggles which arise from this lifestyle impinge them as well, but with a twist that can potentially crush life from the spirit.
These young women feel that since their external situation or lifestyle is not that “bad”, it would be fraudulent to acknowledge the mystifying internal effects that such an upbringing can have. They embrace denial rather than admitting pain. Using phrases such as, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me,” or “That’s not how it happened in my family” tends to dismiss deep, lurking, real hurts which need the healing touch of Christ.
A lovely young wife and mother writes:
“. . .my story was far from extreme, yet I have the same wounds from the same lies as the extreme cases. But they’re harder to identify. My parents said things like “You have a rebellious heart”, “You’re going to lead all your siblings astray”, “If this were God’s will for you, He would tell us”, ” You should want to spend time with your family more than your friends”, ” You’re too independent” etc. They used guilt and the Bible to keep me from going to college, from getting married . . .Then when I still chose to do those things, they acted like I had rejected God and our family. We were forced to wear dresses because “beauty is dangerous and you could defraud your brother”. And on it went. Yet, on the outside, we didn’t look too different, except for our dress. My dad was a teacher in the church and my mom very active in our church community. They counseled many families and many marriages. We went everywhere and had every opportunity you could imagine. But on the inside, our hearts were broken and there was much fear, shame, and guilt.”
The myth of “normal”
It is an identity crisis. The roots are the same—shame, fear and guilt—but they are made much more insidious by the choking fog of confusion. How can you acknowledge something you can’t identify? How do you verbalize something you can’t explain or understand? It is like watching blood slowly trickle down your arm and yet not find a scratch or mark. This is very disorienting—there is no apparent source. One is left troubled and aching, without knowing why—and especially not knowing how to address the issue and seek healing.
Those who have born years of emotional and spiritual abuse, neglect, shame, and depression find it easier to brush all aside when external factors do not make sense. It is easier to succumb to pressures that insist you are making it all up, that you are crazy and imagining things, or that the problem lies within you. The reality of alone-ness is compounded knowing that those closest to your family would not believe you, if you told them what you feel and what has been said or done; when you consistently hear, “What good kids you have!” gushed to your parents; when your family is held up as a model of virtue or shining example; when your parents think you are either over-dramatic or simply can’t understand your own conflicting emotions. This internalizes, and places another layer of shame and confusion upon a slowly withdrawing heart. It must all be me–hormones, or something, you might tell the pain which dwells within, effectively shutting her up for one more day.
When we strip all away, a foundation rife with falsehoods can be often found at the core of our being. Believing these lies exacerbates all of the problems; until the light of Jesus illuminates error and transforms the heart, symptoms will only grow worse. Possible lies which may become ingrained into one’s mind—and therefore blanketed across every element of life—could be:
• Physical abuse is worse than emotional abuse, so I shouldn’t feel this bad
• I am stupid for feeling like this; there is no reason for it
• I just need to get over this–whatever it is
• I am just under a spiritual attack
• Others have it worse so I should just be thankful and pray the depression goes away
• I must not be reading my Bible enough
• It’s not like I am being beaten or going hungry or anything, so. . .*shrug*
• It’s no big deal
It is amusing when little children insist they are not tired. Yet they go willingly to bed after gentle reminders that they didn’t take a nap, that their eyes will not stay open, and that they are face down in their mashed potatoes. It is similarly ironic when those who insist they are well, but flushed cheeks, warm skin, glassy eyes and lethargy indicate fever.
Have you ever staunchly refused to believe something until finally faced with a list of symptoms, the truth is undeniable?
Even if your family appears non-extremist—normal—within this conservative movement, if you are exhibiting the symptoms of deep, serious issues, I beseech you to sit with these things in stillness and prayer before God, asking Him to reveal to you what it is that you need to know. It is my humble belief that God desires truth to be known by you—the truth of the source of your pain. Abuse is abuse—whether it is physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual—and all of it grieves the heart of God. Minimizing it and shrugging it away does not honor God nor does it bring the healing that He longs for you to have. Wait on Him and His timing, trusting that whatever it is you find He will give you strength to bear. In the meantime, He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Signs and times
In most cases, symptoms and features indicate that something is wrong. In our fallen world, peopled by sinful creatures who bear the image of God and yet tarnish His name, the sad reality is that we have all been hurt at some point in our lives. When these wounds are caused by those meant to protect, nourish, and love us the most, we bear the most excruciating pain. Our loyal tendency is to excuse and dismiss hurtful actions—“They were just doing the best they could,” or “It’s okay,” or “That was so long ago; I don’t even really remember that,” or “I was just a baby.”
As I have written before, forgiveness does not mean its okay. Forgiveness is a separate issue; forgiving someone who has wronged you—while a godly spiritual discipline—does not miraculously ameliorate the scars inflicted upon you. That is the work of our Heavenly Father—who sometimes allows symptoms to smolder under the surface, occasionally erupting until they become present enough to sustain your attention.
It is here, into the pain, that our Savior invites you. Here, into the darkness, where His light can shine. Here, into the brokenness, where His hands can heal. Here, into the unknown, so that He can become known.
It is here we learn that we have significance.
It is here that He meets us, in our woundedness and vulnerability, in the shame of our nakedness, in the raw and the wild. It is here that He is glorified, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness. In the secret shadows of pain He infuses the light of His truth—redeeming, revealing, and restoring.
If you feel as though you are the proverbial “middle child” within Christian culture—not as extreme as some, yet more conservative than others—and stumble trying to find your voice among the confusing messages you receive, take heart, dear sister. You have been created and chosen, as you. Your wounds and your words have equal validity. You matter dearly to God, and He has a purpose for you. Perhaps your testimony will not elicit ooohs and ahhhs from the congregation; likely you will not become a martyr from foreign lands. As you dwell faithfully however, daily showing your devotion to God, it is quite possible that somewhere, your story might grant an exhausted young woman in the midst of dishes and laundry to catch her breath in hope—and keep going for just one more day.