Wednesday, February 11, 2009

PART II Addendum: Spiritualizing All Activities, First Time Obedience, Multigenerational Faithfulness and Unquestioned Obedience

I am a little amused this week, as I did not even intend to post anything about First Time Obedience in reference to multigenerational faithfulness, the code word for conformity within patriocentricity. Then, a few people asked me questions about Voddie Baucham’s online audio teachings about this issue of expectations from small children, all along the lines of “the breaking” of children through discipline. When I went to listen to a new audio of Baucham that I hadn’t yet heard, I noted that the message in this discipline oriented presentation differed little in content from his multigenerational faithfulness messages, and all of these issues were also addressed in his book. And I intended to pull out and comment on sections that I had already marked in his book when I read it about two months ago or so. I figured one blog post would take care of this aspect of multigenerational faithfulness...

How can men make 200 year plans, when I cannot manage to plan a blog post and make it work out as I intend? ;-)

And though I have worked through so much of these emotions and made peace with these aspects of my past, I am still amazed at how deeply this material still pierces into my own personal experiences. In yesterday’s blog post, I noted many families that I observed and those I know well who treated personality traits in their children as faults of sin. One particular young lady who I once carted around on my hip in whose personality I delight represents only one of many of these homeschooled kids. My friend, a mother of 7, says that I get to claim 2 of her children as my own if anyone asks, and I proudly claim this one daughter who I dearly love, lip ring and all. And there is good reason for this – that being that I am also one of those whose bore certain character traits that were treated as sin and error. My dear friend's daughter is much like me (sans lip ring).

I shrink back from certain topics sometimes because I do not want my efforts to communicate information about spiritual abuse to be all about my own experience. That tendency can be a particular problem for only children like me, as we “only-s” (sp?) tend to see the world from only our limited perspective sometimes, just as a consequence of our own development. Things are more personal, intense and we CAN TEND to assume that our own perspective is more universal than it actually is. One consequence of that can be that we project what we feel and know on others, assuming that our own perspective can be the only perspective or the most valuable. So I guard against this projection, as I do not want efforts of educating others about spiritual abuse to become some kind of use of others, a type of exploitation. I don’t want people to become pawns in my own quest to find healing. But at this point, I think it is important to note my own experience, as it relates well to this topic, and I know of no better way to communicate it here.

I did not grow up in a patriocentric home. I was raised by parents who were products of the 1950s, and like the religious groups like Gothard and Vision Forum and the “Passionate Housewives,” there is a common denominator or “moral standard” there. There was a great deal of push to make my life fit that kind of mold as I grew up, coming of age in the early ‘80s. I would not say that my parents would be thrilled if I became Donna Reed, but I believe they desired my life to conform to the ideal standard of the fantasy that they held for themselves, circa 1958. They want me to look like them and be like them and love the same things that they do, and I can’t really fault them much for that at all. I wish I could have made this entirely true, as it would have made life so much easier for all of us. Unfortunately, after spending a great deal of my life pursuing that end, I have been painfully unsuccessful, but not for lack of desperately trying.

Without delving into a great amount of detail, we had some unfortunate experiences that put that ideal fantasy of what life should be like for me well out of reach. And what I find most significant is that I have a very uncommon temperament. Every personality test (like the Meyers-Briggs and Tim La Haye’s writings), spiritual gifting test (like were popular in the ‘80s and one like Willow Creek offered once) and vocational test (Strongs and Campbell) that I have taken put me in anywhere from 2% to 5% of the population. Every single one of these tests lists me as very uncommon. As a comparison, looking at vocational job-satisfaction scores, everyone in my family including my husband falls into a category that accounts for 40% of the population. And my childhood development really brought these obvious traits to bear for my parents. I presented with unique concerns that most other parents did not have with their children. And though my personal history is far more complicated, for our purposes, lets just say that unlike most kids who are like a peg that fits into 40% of the holes that a parent tries to nest them in (be that activities or social situations), I am like a square peg that will slide easily into only about 2 holes out of every 100.

Perhaps one of the most painful difficulties I’ve struggled with has been my penchant for speaking the truth. My parents taught me to be truthful, honest and wholehearted above all things, yet it is their natural tendency to be phlegmatic and to "not make waves." But this is their identity and how their personality manifests devotion to truth, not my own. So when I acted faithfully to the values that they gave me, how I manifest that tends to be their worst nightmare, a matter of their preference which they perceive as error on my behalf. Their tendency is to silently support the truth through actions that are not notable. My tendency in the service of the truth involves speaking that truth, defending that truth and advocating for those who have no voice. And rather than spending my energy while developing into an adult by “playing to my strengths,” all attention was spent punishing many of those strengths to eliminate them while requiring me to perform with perfection in those areas where my natural and inherent abilities were quite weak. My parents loved me and did much good, and they never intended to do harm. Yet some harm was done, mostly, I believe, out of ignorance and some of their own issues of shame that God had not yet healed in their own hearts.

Where does that leave me today? Well, at this stage in my life, I believe that God knew and chose with all perfection just whose womb to put me in and just the perfect parents to whom to entrust me. And all of the experiences that I have had, painful as they were, have been to serve His purpose in my life and for the benefit and blessing of others. Maybe it is just for such a time as this, that I can say that I know well what it is like to have demands placed upon me that I could not meet in any way, save to go through the motions in order to meet my parents expectations to avoid punishment and rejection of my true self. Maybe all of this was for such a time as this moment so that I could plead with parents to stop to consider that perhaps a character trait that you see in your child that troubles you might very well be God’s instrument of righteousness in your child’s life to be used and wielded as His weapon of righteousness, far above and beyond anything that you’ve ever imagined.

With the imagery of children as arrows in the hand of the Lord, consider that they are in His hand and not in your hand. The Lord of Hosts aims and shoots those arrows, perhaps at targets that you would protest or perhaps ones that may even bring you great shame in your own flesh. But He is their maker and He is the archer that sends your children to the place and calling that He intends for them. Though children are arrows in the hand of the Lord and He blesses the man whose quiver is indeed full, what is the chief purpose of an arrow? Is it to remain in the quiver only? Is it only an ornament for the man who bears the quiver on his back? Or is the chief purpose and end of an arrow to be at the ready in the quiver for only a time? And should that arrow not be designed well, not to accommodate the convenience of the quiver but to be fit as a most effective weapon, designed to accomplish His intended purpose with expert precision as its Sovereign Designer intended? And it so breaks my heart to realize that I had to leave my parents’ quiver in order to find the warriors who found me to be a most desirable and celebrated instrument, uniquely designed for uncommon targets to do good service in the hand of the Lord. My husband is chief among them who celebrates me as his wife, and I am grateful to him and those like him who celebrated the very things so many others despised.

My parents wanted to give God the best and to do the best job by preparing me, though they didn’t have all of the resources that they needed to avoid some of these pains, spending much energy trying to conform me into what they expected and what they preferred. That was all part of God’s sovereign plan to put me here in this moment to declare this message. I hope that for those who have an uncommon arrow and for the uncommon arrows themselves, that they would learn from my experience. Think about whether the quiver was made for the arrow or the arrow for the quiver or for the intended target. And consider celebrating your uncommon arrows as God’s precious, albeit frustrating, gifts to you. Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit. Systems to help you become a more effective parent should serve the goal of preparing your children to be dynamic, power-house Christians on fire for Jesus, hopefully above and beyond anything you could ask or think.

Consider that rather than desiring one day to look back to say “This child did precisely as I intended and I did well” that you might be better to say “Look what the Lord has done with this child. He has done exceedingly abundantly above all I could have ever asked or thought for His glory in a way that I never dreamed.”

In closing this post, I would also like to state that as a consequence of trying to conform to my parents standards and eventually abandoning what was a fantasy of idolatry for me, I did suffer something I deeply regret. I learned to be easily brainwashed by anyone who was like my parents or by anyone who occupied a position that seemed parental to me. I learned to sell out my mind for the greater good to any authority that I trusted, and particularly any authority that reminded me of my parents. If I could identify the worst and most terrible consequences of my all the experiences of my life related to what I learned by trying to conform by basically denying and even attempting to destroy who God created me to be, it would be this core of idolatrous self-hatred for identifying my identity in Christ as sinful.

Learning this process and wrongfully defining it as obedience to my parents has predisposed me to errors in judgement that have resulted in being molested and raped as a child (by one whom I identified as a trusted authority figure to whom I should submit) against whom I had no recourse. As an adult, it predisposed me to submitting myself to the unjust spiritual abusers and religious authorities in a very damaging, cultic Evangelical church that preached the Gospel and laid hands on the sick and operated in the gifts of the Spirit that I believed qualified them as trustworthy. For this reason, I believe that the costs of unquestioned submission and ideals like “First Time Obedience” do far more damage than good. It is convenient for parents who believe that they are acting in the best interest of their children, but I believe that trusting and naive young girls and women very much like me have reaped terrible consequences of this type of unqualified and demanded obedience.

Please consider this following technique of self-deprecation used as a tried, tested and true technique of thought reform. I believe that just as adults who are subjected to spiritual abuse suffer these consequences, I believe that these are very similar dynamics that I learned in my own home because I did not fit the expected norm. And I believe that this made the process of religious conversion in a Bible-based cult all the easier and more familiar for me, almost seeming to offer a solution to my primary problem: my perpetual failure to earn my parents acceptance. If I have lusted after anything in my life, surely nothing has compared to the idolatrous lust I’ve followed in seeking after my parents’ approval. And the quest to satisfy that lust has hurt me far more than any other factor in my life. My parents never intended this to be so, but they didn't understand that they were fostering idolatry in my heart. Surely they never would have done so if they had known. None of us knew.

Son of David, have mercy on me for having served them, my own lust for their acceptance and the wounds of my own heart. All I ever really desired was You and wholeness in You through your Atoning Blood. And I didn’t know any better. Please spare Your people this same pain. My heart is ever contrite before You, my Creator. Ever let Your strength be made perfect in my – Oh so many – weaknesses. Search me, know me, see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

From Biderman’s Chart of Coercion on the reFocus website:

Devaluing the Individual

  • Creates fear of freedom
  • Creates dependence upon captors
  • Creates feelings of helplessness
  • Develops lack of faith in individual capabilities

Abusive leaders are frequently uncannily able to pick out traits church members are proud of and to use those very traits against the members. Those with natural gifts in the areas of music may be told they are proud or puffed up or "anxious to be up front" if they want to use their talents and denied that opportunity. Those with discernment are called judgmental or critical, the merciful are lacking in holiness or good judgment, the peacemakers are reminded the Lord came to bring a sword, not peace. Sometimes efforts are made to convince members that they really are not gifted teachers or musically talented or prophetically inclined as they believed they were. When members begin to doubt the one or two special gifts they possess which they have always been sure were God-given, they begin to doubt everything else they have ever believed about themselves, to feel dependent upon church leaders and afraid to leave the group. ("If I've been wrong about even *that*, how can I ever trust myself to make right decisions ever again?").

Warning Signs:

Unwillingness to allow members to use their gifts. Establishing rigid boot camp-like requirements for the sake of proving commitment to the group before gifts may be exercised. Repeatedly criticizing natural giftedness by reminding members they must die to their natural gifts, that Paul, after all, said, "When I'm weak, I'm strong," and that they should expect God to use them in areas other than their areas of giftedness. Emphasizing helps or service to the group as a prerequisite to church ministry. This might take the form of requiring that anyone wanting to serve in any way first have the responsibility of cleaning toilets or cleaning the church for a specified time, that anyone wanting to sing in the worship band must first sing to the children in Sunday School, or that before exercising any gifts at all, members must demonstrate loyalty to the group by faithful attendance at all functions and such things as tithing. No consideration is given to the length of time a new member has been a Christian or to his age or station in life or his unique talents or abilities. The rules apply to everyone alike. This has the effect of reducing everyone to some kind of lowest common denominator where no one's gifts or natural abilities are valued or appreciated, where the individual is not cherished for the unique blessing he or she is to the body of Christ, where what is most highly valued is service, obedience, submission to authority, and performance without regard to gifts or abilities or, for that matter, individual limitations.
Consider that this is what you are doing to your children when you demand your way and your desires for their lives, even from the time they are small and seek only to run to you and hide themselves in the comfort under the shadow of your wings. No parent desires to reduce their children into automatons or two dimensional beings with no depth of character to leave them wounded and confused. But that it what happens to many of us. We were not made for the Sabbath rest but the Sabbath rest was made for us. Yet for many of us there is only striving to meet demands of perfection wherein there is no rest for the people of God. So many of these parenting paradigms are millstones, hung around the necks of little ones. And we weep.

06Mar09 UPDATE:

We gave much cause for great hope. Today, within an hour, I read two new similar blog posts that describe aspects of this problem with multigenerational faithfulness from a different perspective. Please read these two posts for this broader perspective:

From "The Unconventional Approach" by Richard Sandlin:
You choose what you’re comfortable with. That’s the way to decapitate the foe that faces you. Never let anyone force you to go in their armor; you were not fitted for it, and it certainly does not fit you.

From "Giving our Children the Freedom to be Different ~ Grace in Parenting, Part 3" by Karen Campbell:
As I read these words, I realize how often I have been loath to extend grace to my children and have allowed my own tastes and opinions to be presented to them as a holy standard, when the truth is that God’s Word is the standard we ought to be pointing toward. How often I have even been tempted to put my own spin on Scripture in order to “prove” that my preference is the “right” one. And I have remembered the times when my first thought was “what would other people think about me, especially as a homeschooling mom, if my kid does x, y, or z.” It has caused me to repent of my own sin of loving myself more than I have loved God or my children.