"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dear Mrs. James ...

It comes with the turf. Writers and bloggers are going to hear from people who love what they're doing, as well as from those who hate their work, think they've crossed the line, and who sometimes cross the line themselves in how they express their differences.

I can't remember the exact specifics, but several years ago I read something Philip Yancy said to the effect that it takes a dozen or more good letters to overcome the impact of a single bad one.

My experience confirms Yancy wasn't blowing smoke. But I also find him wonderfully reassuring and often think of him. I know I'm not alone. Even the gentle Jerry Bridges, an author I admire and count as a personal friend, gets slammed from time to time, if you can believe that. Once he received a scathing letter about one of his books. It was days before he could talk about it.

Ok. So the criticisms come, and I have stretches when I can't talk either. I get that. Thankfully, encouragements come too.

But sometimes (and no doubt despite a critic's intentions) the negative emails and comments backfire. They have a way of reinforcing why I do what I do and stiffening my spine. The comment below is a perfect example. Posted recently under the bold name "anonymous," it is a belated response from a young single woman to the first blog I ever posted: The Return of the Ezer.
Mrs. James,

As a young woman in the church I look forward to marrying a godly man and submitting myself to him. As women, God has called all of us to be wives and mothers. Even if God does not bless us with a husband and children, we need to be spiritual mothers to the children of the church. We must not try to reinterpret the Word of God and by doing so, justify our disobedience and rebelliousness. When God said women are made to be man's helpers, He meant it. Yes, men need women. God created men and women equal, but He gave us both different roles. Husbands were made to protect, provide for, and rule over their wives. And wives were made to submit to and love their husbands. Stop denying this. Accept God's will for you and He will bless you with great peace.

I have been and will continue to pray for you, dear sister. Do not continue in your rebellion. Embrace the role God has given you.

Anonymous
Rather than let this commenter's words remain buried deep beneath several years of blog posts, I thought her comments warranted more attention. Having been single myself for several years post-college, I know the longings she describes. A lot of singles, widows, and divorcees can relate.

I also once shared her assumptions about calling and marriage. But singleness and infertility forced me to ask deeper, harder questions of scripture. Is it possible that God would call his daughters to something that remains beyond the reach of some through no fault of their own or that we can lose or be cheated of God's purpose for us as women? Despite our natural longings does God mean to tell us that his design is that for all of us the fulfillment of our highest and first calling is to be found in marriage and motherhood, which inevitably means anything else is second best?

The narrative of the ezer's creation in Genesis 2 rescues us from this kind of limited, stalled thinking and brings God's purposes for his daughters into the active present regardless of how young or old we are or what season or circumstance we're in.

It saddens me when women don't see this.

The honest truth (which this commenter admits and reality confirms) is that God doesn't provide every woman with a husband and children. Even for some wives and mothers those callings can be tragically short-lived. I just heard the story of a woman who was widowed in her twenties and when she remarried several years later found she wouldn't be able to get pregnant. God doesn't give every woman the same calling, but we can be sure of the fact that he does give every woman a calling, and he is endlessly creative and free in distributing all sorts of callings to us—sometimes multiple callings all at once. And he reserves the right from time to time and without notice to bring one calling to a screeching halt and start up another.

I am currently witnessing the marvel of my mother's embrace of a new calling to the people she lives with in an assisted living retirement community. This follows 32 years of having at least one of her four kids at home and 69 years as my dad's ezer (that's how he described her to me). She isn't finished. God has more for her to do, and she is courageously following him into this new chapter, despite the daily grief of missing my dad.

As for submission ... I've written extensively about submission in The Gospel of Ruth as an attribute of Jesus that all of God's image bearers—yes, men too—are called to emulate. Submission is a call to something much deeper and sacred, much more demanding and thoughtful, and far more gospel than what we typically envision. Submission is not the abdication but the embrace of responsibility. It doesn't mean bringing less of ourselves into marriage, but our whole selves. We trivialize submission with the notion of a tie-breaker or the typical "Ok dear, we'll do it your way" brand of submission so often accompanied by the gritting of wifely teeth and the build up of resentment. Submission isn't so much about conflict resolution as it is a call to a bone-of-my-bones oneness in marriage that requires mutual sacrifice, putting the interests of another ahead of ourselves, and working together to make wise decisions. This is radical. This is how the gospel is lived out in marriage.

So keep those emails and comments coming. They make me think and rethink and more often than not inject fresh energy and resolve into my calling.

21 comments:

Angie Mabry-Nauta said...

Excellent thoughts, Carolyn! I love the positive spin...very helpful. Looking forward to meeting you at the Redbud retreat in October.

Peace,
Angie

Carolyn said...

Thanks Angie! I'm excited about the RB retreat too and looking forward to making new friends. Glad to know you'll be one of them. See you there!

Lis Ho said...

Thank you Carolyn for your heartfelt article and your deep questioning of God's word. The mix of your own personal life experience alongside scriptural truths is what keeps me coming back to your writing.
Accepting criticism or rejection of our thoughts requires incredible humility at times, as well as letting go of the fear of failure. In the 21st century west, this gets harder and harder to do as the world promotes perfection everywhere we look! But with God's strength we can and we will.
Thank you and look forward to seeing you this weekend for Lifesprings.

Linda Wightman said...

Ironically, you are doing exactly what Anonymous recommends: embracing the role God has given you. :)

Sadly, I see in her people I know, as well as myself in the earlier days of my Christian walk. Some lessons are only learned through suffering.

Anonymous said...

"Submission is not the abdication but the embrace of responsibility. It doesn't mean bringing less of ourselves into marriage, but our whole selves."

Fantastic explanation.

May your voice be heard and your influence multiplied as you spread the message of God's calling for women as reinforcement troops & co-vice regents along with men to be engaged and taking responsibility in the stewardship God's good creation.

Angie

Ann Wecks said...

Thank you,Carolyn. I have for many years believed that so many of the problems in American churches have arisen because women were not free to use their gifts as the Lord intended. With an attitude of a servant, not a usurper, a wise woman is such an asset in any part of the Kingdom. My daughter told me of a missionary leader who was asked by pastors of a group of churches in an Asian country, what to do to give their churches fresh vitality and growth. He told them to free up their women to minister with their giftings. They did and the churches flourished in phenomenal ways. Be encouraged! Your message is so needed. Ann Wecks

Unknown said...

Excellent and challenging response by which I mean loving and stretching to this person with "limited and stalled thinking". Wow. The extra biblical interpretation on her part amazes me; "helper"? Really? This often translates in Church circles as "She loves him and he loves him and aren't we all happy". No wonder the world doesn't see the witness of Christ by the Church.

Hough said...

The girl didn't really say anything hateful, it was of differing opinion, but not hateful or rude. If anything, your response was snide and degrading to take her view which is also the history of the Church's view until recently as "this kind of limited, stalled thinking."

By responding with arrogance and oversensitive frustration at comments like this girl you will only get very angry people who disagree with you or worse a bunch a people who agree like a unreasonable mob. You'll have to show more grace and less arrogance if you wish for people to engage in what you are trying to teach them.


Carolyn said...

Hough,

Her email was critical and, yes, reflects a differing opinion. I believe you are the only who has described what she said as "hateful" and "rude."

The concern I'm raising (and if you are a pastor or have daughters, you may encounter this first hand) is that believing a woman find her God-given purpose and fulfillment in marriage and motherhood means for little girls God's true purpose is down the road some where and not here and now. For single women, this can lead to some rather halfhearted living, as I and some of the commenters here can attest. We've lived with the "limited and stalled thinking" I describe.

I believe scripture teaches God's purposes are now, not down the road, and not something we can lose or miss. Sometimes it's hard for folks to understand the problem if they haven't faced it themselves or for someone they love.

CJ

Hough said...

CJ,
I don't know much of your writing having only read this post, I'm not here to critique your views. In fact I just followed a link someone I respect posted on facebook. He referred to this as "grace when haters hate..." and so I was disappointed to see the author of what seemed like a fairly kind disagreeing comment get shamed for her view of Biblical Womanhood on the grounds that it's outdated (that's how stalled comes across).

If what you are doing is encouraging young (or old) single women to serve and minister to others in the name of Christ then I applaud you. Again, I only wish to encourage you to handle criticism of your view with actual grace. To the degree that I have misread your post I apologize.

Carolyn said...

Thanks Hough. I appreciate your response. I hope you'll find time to poke around the WhitbyForum website and read a little more and maybe have some follow-up conversations with that FB friend you respect.

CJ

Janet said...

I love your thoughts on submission being something so much greater and deeper than most of us realize. The simple version of submission really is the easy way out - not necessarily a Godly response! It takes guts to submit, one to another, and wisdom and strength to know when it is appropriate. I'm looking forward to reading "The Gospel of Ruth" and hearing more of your thoughts!

Susan said...

Hough, could you help me understand your thinking? The commenter "anonymous" described CCJ as disobedient and rebellious because their views of the ezer differed. Yet you seem to find fault with CCJ and not with the "anonymous." One thing I respect about CCJ's post is the way it demonstrates an active submission. She respectfully disagrees with the "anonymous" explaining the reasons why. In other words she brings her insights and resources to bear on an important and complex issue, but doesn't accuse or ridicule. This kind of dialogue is crucial for the church. Rather than entrench ourselves behind rigid and unexamined lines, coming out only to take potshots at those who disagree, we need a loving, respectful but strenuous discussion that will require courage as we re-examine the depth and breadth of scripture and God's character and the growth he longs for for all of us.

Mary DeMuth said...

Well said (written). I find myself either paralyzed or emboldened by these kinds of responses to my writings. This encourages me to keep going... Thank you.

Carolyn said...

Don't even think of stopping, Mary!!

idelette mcvicker said...

A beautiful, wise friend often says, "This is a time for clear thinking." I so appreciate YOUR clear thinking. You responded with grace and wisdom.

Your definition of submission is radical and Christ-like. Beautiful!

idelette mcvicker said...

I just noticed that you have REED as one of your strategic resources. The friend I quoted above is Michelle Miller, executive director of REED. #smallworld!

Carol H said...

As a young woman I shared the thinking expressed by this anonymous writer. I was blessed with a husband who shared my christian commitment, who worked very hard to support us so I could stay home and raise our 5 children. I'm thankful for these blessings. However, I took submission to the extent of becoming like a wind-up doll myself in response to my husband's verbal harshness over his displeasure when his needs were not met to his satisfaction. Now after 30+ years of marriage we find ourselves sitting for hours in the counseling office trying to right a ship gone badly off course. I wish I had had someone speaking the truths of what it really means to be a woman into my life years ago. If I had learned to be a warrior for the hearts of my husband and children and myself, maybe we wouldn't bear so many relational wounds now. My hope is in a God of redemption who brings glory to himself by healing our brokenness. Please keep speaking these truths for my heart is hungry to learn.

Melanie @ Only a Breath said...

Thank you for this post. I often get these same types of comments because I am a "working mom" (work outside the home) -- any thoughts on this topic and whether or not this is outside of God's plan?

Thank you,
Melanie

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people think women can only becalled to one thing but men can be called to many different things. This only serves to continue the oppression of women in our society. We, as women, think (generally subconsciously) we are not as capable or as "called" as men, and somehow we are not as important to God because we can only do one thing. This thinking kept me from believing I could be anything that wasn't a caretaker as a young woman. Now at almost 40 years of age I am having to rethink my calling and find that true potential that God has called me to, whatever that may be.

Karen Metz said...

Anonymous said, "Husbands were made to protect, provide for, and rule over their wives. And wives were made to submit to and love their husbands.". Eph 5 says that husbands should love their wives as their own bodies, that the wife should respect her husband, and that the two shall become one flesh - a profound mystery.

How this important and much misunderstood description of marriage, and how (whether?) it applies to relationships between men and women in the church and in society needs to be considered in this conversation.