arolyn doesn't know why she's crying. "It doesn't make sense," she says. "I don't go hungry. I have everything I need. We are a close family. I've never been hit. I know I'm a sinner and have asked God over and over to show me what I've done wrong and what I need to change, but nothing gets better ~ in fact, it gets worse! From the outside, everything looks great. But inside I'm going crazy. I can't take this much longer."
Adult daughters like Carolyn write me often, agonizing over the cognitive dissonance of external versus internal. Of appearance versus heart, which is a theme revealed early in the pages of Scripture: So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam.16:6-8)
This passage describes looking at the flesh and drawing spiritual conclusions. I believe we can find a parallel between the context of these verses and patriocentric homes where almost always, everything looks "right". Children are buried in schoolbooks or romping cheerfully around the yard. Sons are chopping firewood or plowing fields. Daughters are baking bread or sewing. We might be inclined to exclaim a similar injunction to Samuel's: "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him!" But as we see, there is danger in looking at the flesh (outward appearance, actions, and other external features) and assuming that because it looks godly and biblical, that it is ordered by the Lord. Or because there is no overt abuse, that everyone is okay on the inside. Where the heart is. And while Jesus cares about our entire being, body included, His healing isn't limited to flesh. He cares about things unseen. And we should, too.
The Problem with Appearance
It's a horrifying truth that physical abuse and sexual abuse exist, even within families who make an effort to live holy lives apart from the influence of a wicked culture. Many have told me, in the agony of alone-ness, that no one within their own, like-minded community ever knew what really happened inside their homes. But overt abuse is not the only kind, the worst kind, or even the most common within families who heartily endorse the doctrines of Biblical Patriarchy. There is other abuse that alters not one's appearance, necessarily (although it may over time), but the heart. And when abuse affects someone's relationship with God, understanding of Scripture, and leads to serious emotional and spiritual pain, it means that something terrible is happening!
Have you ever felt a raindrop land on your face? Or walked by a pool, only to be lightly splashed by children? These little droplets are relatively inconsequential. Although historical accounts of this practice are debatable, the use of water is described in the following method of torture: "A prisoner was tied to a table or the floor, and his head was strapped in place so that he couldn't move anything. Water was then dripped onto his forehead, one drop at a time. It drove the person insane, and after a period the victim would reveal the secret, confess to the crime, or agree to do anything his or his captors requested to get them to stop the torture. This was particularly favored in circumstances where torture was necessary, but no evidence of physical damage could show." Source While obviously an extreme example, this situation illustrates how seemingly innocuous things can, in fact, over time have a grave psychological and behavioral effect while bodily signs never appear. How many adult children of patriarchy are emotionally and spiritually constrained? How many live with constant dripping on the face, held firmly by straps man-labeled, "God's way"? "Biblical womanhood"? "How to honor your parents"?
Consider the conflict in an adult daughter's heart when she looks at hands that have fed her, bathed her, stroked her hair, tied her shoes, bandaged her knees, and folded in prayer for her. She knows these are kind gestures. Christ-like, even. How to reconcile them, then, with messages ~ verbal or implied ~ like these?
- If you move out of your parents' home for any reason other than marriage, it will be like committing parental adultery.
- Having a job in the world is against God's plan for women.
- Your depression is demonic.
- Godly womanhood means that you will not be given any calling other than motherhood, or that other callings are less important.
- Biblical womanhood means that your father will have a vision for your life and that you were created for the purpose of being a wife and mother. This is what the Bible teaches, and there are no exceptions to His will.
- God won't reveal His will to you. Your father will hear God's voice for you, and tell you what His will is for your life.
- Because Eve was deceived, you cannot discern for yourself what is from God, or what is from the world. You are listening to your flesh.
- The Bible says to honor your parents. Therefore you need to do what I tell you. Otherwise you are foolish and disobedient.
- If you choose a college education, you are going against God's plan.
- If you believe God is calling you to the ministry or anywhere outside of your home, you are wrong and obviously don't know the voice or will of God. God doesn't call women to leave their home.
Many beautiful, seemingly idyllic families use these messages and more to influence the lives of their adult daughters. While some might appear to have basis in Scripture, a closer look and a testing of fruit offers a devastating reminder that appearances can be deceiving. It feels like torture to consider that perhaps these messages are acquired apart from the Spirit of the Lord. It feels like betrayal to suggest that maybe these teachings are abusive even when they are delivered with gentle hands and a soft tongue.
This kind of dissonance creates confusion. While teaching is intended to support and defend God's plan for living, a thoroughly patriocentric core emerges in the daily praxis of home and family. Perhaps a better way to understand patriocentricity is found in James 3: self-seeking. Where there is self-seeking, we learn from James, there is confusion and every evil thing. Jesus reminds us that those who desire to enter the Kingdom must become as little children, and yet daughters of patriarchy discover all too often that entrance to the Kingdom itself is barred by those who hear God on their behalf.
“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
This can be done gently.
This can be done sweetly, with biblical, loving, concerned words.
This is abuse.