Monday, October 29, 2007

A Christian Mother's version of PERFECT MADNESS

Currently, one of the books I’m reading with great interest is Perfect Madness by Judith Warner. She discusses the “mess” so many talented, high-achieving women in suburban Washington, D.C. (and elsewhere ) have found themselves in. Their husbands work a zillion hours to support an upper-middle class lifestyle in an outrageously expensive area. She purposely excludes from her discussion the lives of single mothers and women earning less than the stated lifestyle. Their problems are a totally different variety.

It would be refreshing to hear a Christian author tackle the same topic in a well-to-do [or even plain old middle-class] area for Christian mothers. Sadly, Ms Warner has no real contact with this group. She does vividly use the tragic Andrea Yates story to illustrate “Motherhood as a Religion” gone amuck. What follows are some of what I hope that writer would deal with.

This is not meant sarcastically. It’s not pointing fingers in any bad or disrespectful way. It is, however, “shot from the hip.”

I wonder how a Christian author would summarize the “Mess” Christian Moms have gotten themselves into? Women who must have a home as perfect as Martha Stewart’s while homeschooling and hiding a career that pays real money although done at home? Women who run the home school co-op in such a fashion that not just “any” children—not even any Chrisitan children—get in? Women who stay in marriages with husbands addicted to internet porn or online gambling. Women stuck in shacks with debt-free maniac husbands and an endless stream of children emerging to form full quivers. Women who can’t get out alone—even to the bathroom!

What about mothers who MUST work—husband or not? I can here people. That’s “Sad.” If only they’d be frugal. Make their own laundry soap. Shop the coupon deals at CVS and Walgreens, hit the resale shops, Dave Ramsey themselves into a coma? Feed their family TVP. Grow their own everything.

What about women left alone to raise children? Left alone—thru divorce they didn’t seek or thru death? [Yes, husbands do still die.] How do they deal with the pressure to be Martha Stewart. and to homeschool their kids to love “Pilgrim’s Progress” and quote more chapters of the Bible than the 10 P’s in a Pod family? How do they scrapbook their child’s every waking moment, journal their faith and keep faithful to their attention to both their prayer request list and their 18 different to-do lists? And what if they can’t maintain their weight thru obedience to “full” and “empty” as God ordained? Do they dare take their children to Easter Service if they don’t have matching smocked outfits? Handsewn, of course, at the heirloom sewing store? Tuck them in each night under polar fleece throws instead of heirloom quilts?

What about the angst that comes from not knowing if you truly have a Walk with God? Maybe you’re making it all up? Or maybe you really are “hearing little voices.” [Sidebar time: nothing has ever made me so made as Chloe Bryer in The Close when she snickered at a woman with a “personal relationship” with God]. What if you can’t abide Beth Moore of if Ann Graham Lotz gives you the creeps? How are you to cope? What if “Bible Study Fellowship” is about as relaxing as a pelvic exam and you dread it with the same anxiety you used to have for calculus but have to go because you got a slot and are the envy of the waiting list?? What if you can’t think up a way to make a cactus out of a milk jug for the VBS Corral? How will people respond to you if you take yet another carton of deli potato salad to the pitch in? Or worse—call and have a pizza deliver [and use a credit card to pay for it.] What if you “Weekend To Remember” was memorable for all the WRONG reasons? What if you secretly listen to Classic Rock instead of Focus on the Family while you are NOT doing your dishes?

What if, as a Christian mother, you think vaccinations ARE ok , that buying your bread at the store or at least using a bread machine is good? Or if you can’t stand even the thought of breastfeeding? Or WANT to co-sleep? Of really do enjoy Oprah….and about 17 other things on tv each day?? What if instead of tv you are addicted to blogging?? What if you think Enzo or the Duggars or both are just plain nuts? What if you think the public schools are just fine and wish you could stick your kids out at the bus stop and stop the whirling doubts of the curriculum fair in your mind? Wordly Wise? Vocabulary Vine? Saxon? Teaching Textbooks? Classical? Charlotte Mason? Abeka? Bob Jones? What if you yearn to try, just try….even just sneek a peek, at “Secular” materials to have a break from the Bible once in a while. Heresy I know. What if you can’t ever understand the King James version and do your BSF homework in the Message for speed?

What if your husband IS a domineering Ass Hole? And you are Smarter than he is and you DO want a divorce? What if you husband is gay? How do you deal with this. After all, you are supposed to be Trusting God. What if your husband become a debt free zealot and moves you and the kids into a 29 year old mobile home and brings home goats that you are to milk?? How do you really KNOW this is God’s will? What if you LIKE birth control? Sadly, what if you are really convicted that birth control is wrong and hubby says NO MORE KIDS?

As a Christian mother the angst-giving facets of Christian life can overwhelm just as completely as those of the worldly Mother. Instead of getting into the Perfect Preschool its into the perfect homeschool support group or home Church? What if you can’t stand crafts or your idea of decorating is to leave the paint color that was there when you moved in and never bother to adorn your table with anything but dinner? What if you HATE candles?? How about not ever wanting to help in the nursery? Or be anywhere near the Junior High Sunday School Room? Can’t face another women’s retreat or marriage seminar? Does the phrase “Sermon Series” send shock waves of lethargy thru you? Do you just want to push the kids out at the park and gun the minivan over the next hill and on to…say…Wyoming? Just to be ALONE for a while. Just to think your OWN thoughts and not what you SHOULD be thinking?

This is not meant in any way to be sarcastic. We as Christian Women are told that Jesus set a “higher standard” for us all. Two weeks ago my pastor confessed that he had never developed the habit of “daily quiet time.” A pastor. Bible College Graduate. Or course, in some Churches [happily not ours!] he would be fired faster than Ted Haggard was for his little indiscretion. Other Churches would blame it on his wife for chewing gum in Church, not hanging out rocking babies in the nursery and for WORKING ….at.a.JOB or for letting her daughters dress like normal high schoolers. I blame it on …..HONESTY. Give the man a break—he willingly drives a beat-up old minivan.! [ok, that is a joke. He does drive it, but I’m seriously doubting the “willingly” part. Not with that hair and that tan!]

We set ourselves up in the mold of the very perfectionism we claim so loudly to eschew. Yet who hasn’t witnessed an overly stressed Christian Mom hiss at the ball field—“shut up and eat your nachos—that’s dinner” and UNDERSTOOD. There’s a limit. We are supposed to smile and Volunteer. Smile and Study the Bible to Seminary levels. Smile and memorize Scripture. Smile and teach ourselves Koine Greek. Smile and mentor younger women. Smile and never say No to husband. Smile and Never say no to Church. Smile and never say no to our children. Smile without anti-anxiety or mood-elevating medications. Smile and go quietly insane.

What if, like a friend years ago, you had to hide a six-figure career by saying you “help” a friend with their “little” business…..that almost went public because you made way more than your husband? What if your husband only made it to and thru law school because you rewrote his papers when you typed them? What if ? What if? What if? What if all these “what ifs” were real fears gnawing at your brain night and day? What if you found the courage to ask for prayer in Sunday School and people looked out the window in shame and a few “friends” earnestly hugged you and told you Bible verses to focus on? What if you had to drive 100 miles to be sure you didn’t run into anyone from Church, BSF, Co-op or Homeschool Support Group or your husband’s accountability group when you filled your Zoloft and birth control each month? What if you did earnestly thank Him for the Ritlan that makes your 8 year old tolerable?

God tells us “Do not worry about your lives” and “who of you by worrying can add a single hour to their life.” This is His Truth. But he made us imperfect. How do we conquer that innate imperfection and accept his Grace? Accept that in spite of raising goats, or kids that won’t read or a husband who spends way too much time “checking his stocks” online, God really does care about each and every one of us as individuals? How do we accept that we truly are blessed? That he really, really does know the plans he has for us to prosper? Or that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that accepting Him is all we are asked to do.


Amie said...

Great post...truly.

Milehimama said...

Wow, it sounds as though a lot of people have been really judgemental to you!
I hope you are not basing this solely on blogs/internet sites. So many times, the 'fringe' - and I think that includes me - start a blog because they are all alone in their 'real life'.

For example, I blog about vaccines to clarify my thinking and also because I am the ONLY person I know who does NOT vaccinate.

I blog about homeschooling for the same reason - when I was in a different state, at a different church where everyone homeschooled, I rarely blogged about it. I do now because I'm looking for community.

I did have to laugh because in our family *I* am the Dave Ramsey Full Quiver nut. My husband goes along because I am better at not bouncing checks and because he loves me.

And - the horror - my ONE magazine that I pay to subscribe to is Entertainment Weekly. Shhh. Don't tell the other Christian moms.

(BTW - don't like Beth Moore, Elizabeth Eliot, OR Anne Graham Lotz!)

I think the heart of the problem is that we (the collective we) are relying on other, fallen people to tell us what a Good Christian Mother is, instead of seeking virtue ourselves and relying on His judgement.

A Dusty Frame said...

Good post! I don't like to listen to Elisabeth Elliot either;) she makes my skin crawl. Same with J Vernon McGee!

But! here's the deal, I've been reading posts like this lately, and I wonder why do you let it bother you?

If you are confident that what you are doing is what God wants you to do then it doesn't matter what anyone else does, expects, or says.
It truly does not.

I don't understand why people feel badly that they haven't made the same choice another has.
The only thing I can come up with is
1. The individual is insecure.
2. The individual is not keeping their eyes on the Lord and looking to him for decision making.
3. The individual feels a nudge from God in an area and instead of praying about if God wants them to change their opinion or try things a different way, they proclaim how badly everyone makes them feel.

I am NOT saying you are doing this, I am just saying that while things bother me that people say, they in NO WAY sway me or move me off the course God has for us. If something really bothers me I pray and seek confirmation from God and it's amazing how he shows me something that needs to change or that I'm obeying him.

I think that some personalities really love cooking/decorating/crafts, etc and some don't. SO WHAT! If you don't like it you have to pursue the gifts and talents God gave you. You don't have to scrapbook because I do! You only scrapbook if YOU want to. That's not a Godliness issue;)


HopewellMomSchool said...

Follow up:
I really just want to show the kinds of doubts and pressures we face trying to keep our eyes on God. The ways worldly pressures get disguised as Christian life.
You guys have given great replies and will keep me thinking for a while!

bonnie: said...

First time here! Glad I found you.

I went through this horrible "refining" period all last year. My husband and I were slipping into the "Vision Forum" brand of perfectness (or legalism, if you're honest). The way they see it, and the way hubby and I began to see it, was that if *I'm* convicted to do it a certain way, and you *aren't* doing it the same way, you are in *sin*. That, my friend, is legalism and following the path of the Pharisees (considering I've read one post of yours, I hope that isn't too religious of a word).

Thank God that he's dragged me through the mud- just so I'd let Him wipe me off. It was tough learning humility, and grace, and mercy, and to stop judging people and myself so legalistically and/or harshly.

I thought your post was brutal, and it seems there might be some open wounds, but I understand. I hate that other women are still in this kind of "bondage." And getting freed from it wasn't so fun, either.

I highly regard "real" people, and try to stay away from women who can't be real with me- Christian or not. Put honestly, I have no use for people who pretend to be perfect. I was there, I felt the pressure to *be* there, and I am so thankful God has brought me out of it and set me in a place where I'm real at all cost. Overweight and acne ridden as I may be, I'm free.

lindafay said...

I just want to reach out across the ocean and hug you.

Remember where John was at that last meal with his closest friend? I hope that's where you find yourself today.


Natty said...

I am so there with you

Little Towhee said...

Whoah, watch out for the Judith Warner indeed as she and her set seem to think that the government (i.e. taxpayers) ought to raise our children, or at least foot the bill for these kids. . . she's lived in France and likes that set up.

I myself don't fit in anywhere it seems. . . I live in an area filled with Judith Warner types on one hand and on the other, competitive Christian mommies who all think their way is the right way when it comes to rearing their children and reading the right Bible translation. It's an extremely cut-throat area in the Southeast full of relocated desperate Yankee housewives and Southern Belle mamas doing their hair and attitudes all up like Beth Moore (who is someone I can appreciate for her ministry but cannot understand the trendy mass appeal of her hair and look - I detest that she is supposed to be the quintessential Southern woman).

I just can't buy into it. "It" being one of those prefabricated lifestyles. I'm so tired of having "lifestyles" marketed out the wazoo at all of us.

I thank God daily that He blessed me with five sisters, for female socializing, with whom I can actually converse without being bored or offending to the point of ostracism. I can't seem to find a community where I fit. I just don't fit, and that's okay. I've found solace in staying private at home and venturing out when I feel like it instead of the pressures of umpteen weekly playdates and ladies' nights out. It's safer and more peaceful to be home and quiet than to go out in the prefabricated world of mommies today.

You should see how I am treated at church. Thankfully my husband supports me in being the individual Christ made me to be. I'm certainly not perfect, but God knows and grows me. I am loved by the King, and I don't care if anyone thinks I ought to wear some make up, keep my intelligence to myself in a room full of men, attend more ladies' activities and Bible studies, or whatever. . . I'm doing what the Lord directs me to do.

Women, be wary of buying into a "lifestyle". God is the only giver of a truly meaningful and authentic life.

Anneatheart said...

Wow! That was an awesome post, one that I've secretly been wanting to do myself :) I myself have been so stressed out on many of these areas-how dumb is that?

The internet can be a wonderful, terrible thing huh?

HopewellMomSchool said...

To Little Towhee
Something tells me you'd fit in here! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this post.

Ingrid said...

:-D :-D I love it! Thanks for voicing this!

Belle-ah said... that was a lot for my lazy, sitting in my jammies, kind of Saturday morning blog reading!!!! Good thoughts - on both sides of the fence (BTW...who built that stupid fence anyway???). (((hugs)))

Organizing Mommy said...

We've all been on some part of that scenario. Just serve God and the rest will fall to the wayside. Do it your own way--not someone elses. Carve your own path to the Lord and stop pleasing others.

Civilla said...

That was GREAT! Yes, brutally honest, but truthful. There is mutiny on the blogosphere! It's about time! Why do I let it get to me? Because I admire the dedication and energy of these super-Christian moms, I guess. Knowing that they would not fellowship with me or give me the time of day because I do not do most of those things (homeschool, bake my own bread stuff) makes me feel bad.

I feel like am trying to "crash" an exclusive club, and they're not going to make an exception for me.

Did I forget to mention that, oh God, I am a pastor's wife!! I have been going through the worst couple of years of my life, and have been in the where-did-I-go-wrong mode, which is why I received the condemnation so readily.

These people put heavy burdens on people (especially the young women) but don't lift a finger to help.

Oh, and you hit the nail on the head about Anne Graham Lotz: she is kind of creepy. So is Elizabeth Elliot, kind of. Beth Moore, however, is a sight for sore eyes for somebody like me who lives in the Midwest (but is not a native) where every woman is a Plain Jane.

Thanks for a good post.

Grafted Branch@Restoring the Years said...

What a roller coaster ride that was! Sometimes I was in complete agreement; other times I wondered if you might regrettably "throw out the baby with the bathwater." I watch a fair number of women fall by the wayside in rebellion because they've previously signed on for the legalism.

And on both sides, they exercise a fair amount of judgment on others.
But, in the end, we all stand before Christ--alone--and answer for it all. It is good to live here with that in mind.

I hope you're finding healing from whatever you've been through, and if not, I hope you'll give yourself more time and persevere in loving Christ.

helenw13 said...

Hi there,

I hopped over from the Flourishing Mother post about weekend reads.

I wish I could have a hot beverage with you and say thank you...that was a very brave post...but I had tears at the end of it.

God has been working on me for quite awhile about stripping away perfectionism...some areas have been easy to see others have been really hard.

One thing that I continually see is that our desire to be these perfect Christians does not bring connection and intimacy. When we can come together with our messy lives in our messy houses that is where authentic friendships grow.

Truly I think it breaks the heart of God that we wrap our lives in all this stuff that we are supposed to do and not realized that we are called to love and enjoy God...there should be a lot more freedom in that...

I could go on but I just wanted to say thank you for such a well written post. I am on a bit of a blogging hiatus myself but it is encouraging to read blogs that are real.

Tammy L said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

It can be a challenge to only glean positive and uplifting fruits from "the blogworld", can't it? I doubt anyone could say they have *never* felt insufficient or incapable when mentally comparing themselves to "the next person"... or always stop the twinge of jealousy that can arise when we see that someone else has been blessed with something they really want for themselves...

Others have left such good comments... we have to be the best *us* that we can be, before our Creator. We have to let go of all the things we feel we should (or really just WANT!) to do and seek God first. HE can give peace about our path in life! :)

Anonymous said...

This is a WONDERFUL post. I admire you for having the guts to post it. I can so totally relate.

The little old mom who lived in a shoe said...

I blog-hopped from, "Gee, wonder what MaryBeth Whalen is up to," to Fourishing Mother because it has such a cool title, to yours. Wow! I've been reading a writing book and one of the things the author says she loves about reading/writing is that "Oh, wow, I thought I was the ONLY one who felt that way. Thank God I'm not alone." You expressed thoughts/feelings in this post that I have been hiding in my heart without fully knowing it until just now reading your words. I have one friend who laughed when I told her I was getting ready to cook Spagettios for dinner. I so want to be a good mom and a good wife. I've been failing miserably. I'm not a fun mom anymore. I'm trying to remember when that started. There really is a lot of pressure out there from other Christian women on how to be a Christian woman. How to be a submissive wife. How to be the homemaker your family deserves. I've had all this guilt lately that really should not be there. I agree with one of the comments about feeling convicted and recognizing it for truly being God's nudging. But you are so dead-on-right about taking on all this other garbage! Thank you for your perspective. I believe God was leading me in my blog-hopping tonight. :) Jenny

Civilla said...

I did some posts on the legalism thing. One is still listed on my sidebar: Scrupulosity -- When Perfectionism Goes Over Niagara Falls. I did about four others just previous to that one: Perfectionism, Uber Legalism; Just Religion; Just a Discipline, and Just Strict. They are all under "Legalism" and "STRICTNESS" on my sidebar.

Why does all this strictness appeal to us so much? It kills all joy, and usually has nothing to do with God. He is so often forgotten in our quest for strictness.

adventuresinmercy said...

I love you.

Okay, so I don't know you. But well said. A million times over. We tsk-tsk the Mormons and other "cults," but me thinks we've done gone and formed one of our own. Thanks for being a voice of sanity. Please don't stop.

From another "been there, done that" woman...

anya* said...

You should write the book. Seriously. I will buy it.

Hopewell said...

Thanks, Anya!

Persuaded said...

*Really* great post.

You wrote:
"Does the phrase “Sermon Series” send shock waves of lethargy thru you?"
and I admit I LOL'd. For real... and probably a bit too loudly;)

I have one question for you dear... do you happen to be in need of a new best friend? Because if you do, I can make myself available. ;)

SundrySunny said...

Thanks for putting your truth out there. If all of us were brave enough to do that, the world would spiral into a better place, I'm sure!

Very encouraging.

Keep it honest, keep the joy,

Yvonne said...

OH my God!!!! LOVED this...I'm a preacher's wife and can relate to everything you wrote! LOVE it!


Yvonne said...

we have also adopted 2 girls from Ukraine:)