Parenting in the Pews

I love seeing little kids at church. As a mother of not-quite-so-little ones, the smiles, the giggles, the sights and sounds of children fills my heart with joy. But parenting in the pews can be anything but joyful at times. Nothing tests the limits of parents’ patience quite like Sundays. From getting everyone dressed and fed and out the door on time to handling disruptions during worship and off-schedule naps and meals, Sunday is a uniquely challenging day for most of us. With all the busyness and struggle, it can be easy to forget why we bring our children to church with us.

For those of us who are Presbyterians, we believe our children are part of the covenant community. We promise to raise them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). But how do we do that practically? How do we parent in the pews?

There tends to be two extremes when it comes to discussing what to do about children in church. On one hand, there are churches that believe children don’t belong in the worship service. On the other, there are churches that believe children should never be separated from their parents for any reason (no nursery, Sunday School classes, or youth groups).

Most of us, however, fall in the middle. Our churches have nurseries for the littlest ones and age appropriate Sunday School classes, and our children are welcome in the worship service. So we have the challenge of helping them learn to worship.

There is lots of advice out there on how to get your kids to stay still/quiet/attentive in church. Some of it is helpful, some less so. It’s important to start by considering what our goals are. What are we trying to achieve?

As a parent, my number one goal for my children is that they grow up to love the Lord and be adults I’d enjoy being around. As far as church goes, I want my children to love the church and love worship. With that in mind, let’s consider some of the common concerns for parenting in the pews.

“Church is boring”

Without question, this is considered by many to be the biggest challenge for parents. How do we address the nature of church worship and our children’s response to it? There are a variety of possible answers.

Some try to make church entertaining and engaging even if it waters down the message. As we mentioned, some churches keep the children entertained in separate programs so that adults can worship without distractions. Going back to our goals and our commitments to raise our children within the covenant community, neither of these options really satisfy.

Some advice accepts the premise that church is “boring” and tells us it’s good for children to be bored on occasion. This approach has always bothered me. Yes, church isn’t “entertaining” in the same way a movie or basketball game would be. But worship isn’t boring once we understand what’s going on. Sunday worship isn’t “all fun and games, ” but it also isn’t “vegetables” or “liver and onions” that our children will eat “if they know what’s good for them!”

Along these lines are instructions on how to teach your children to sit still starting at a young age so that they can sit without fidgeting whenever you tell them to. While I agree that we do have to teach our children how to sit in church (or restaurants, doctor’s offices, school, whatever), the emphasis on outward obedience misses the point in the long run.

God calls us to worship and to rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30) because He loves us. We go to church and worship because we love the Lord. Our obedience should never be done with a cold heart or from a sense of obligation alone. That’s not what God wants from us, and that’s not what we should want from our children.

Learning to Love Worship

Like all good things in life, we have to learn to love worship. It’s an acquired taste. And teaching our children to worship from the heart starts by example. Our attitudes about church and worship will tell our children more than anything we say to them. When we make going to church a priority for our family, they’ll notice. When we sing joyfully, they’ll hear. When we pray fervently, they’ll see. When we’re attentive, they will be too.

As we do these things, we can bring our children alongside us so that they will learn (Deuteronomy 6:7). Some of the practical ways we can do this is by encouraging them to participate in worship. We have to have age appropriate expectations though. As the saying goes, “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

When children are old enough, they can sit and stand when the congregation sits and stands. We can explain to them the various parts of the service so they understand what’s going on around them. Children can look on with the hymnal and learn to sing along. As they learn to read, they can follow along with the Scripture readings and participate with the responsive readings. And they can learn to listen to the sermon.

When my children were smaller, they carried little bags with colored pencils and small notebooks to church. During the sermon, they were allowed to color. It’s hard to sit completely still, and having something quiet to do with their hands helped them listen to what was being said. As my boys have gotten older, we’ve encouraged them to take notes during the sermon.

After church, we ask them what they remember from the service. Do they have any questions? What did they learn? What did the pastor preach about? These questions help us understand what they’re learning and reinforce that they are part of the worship service.

Discipline in the Pews

Disciplining our children during worship includes everything from gentle reminders to be still or quiet, giving “the look” or the “death whisper” (as we called it growing up), and carrying them out of the service when they have meltdown. No matter how sweet and precious our little ones are they will at one time or another throw a royal hissy fit in church. When that happens, we need to show them grace and protect their dignity as we discipline them.

What we should be careful not to do is discipline them for the benefit of those around us. It’s tempting to do. We’re embarrassed by their behavior. We don’t want other parents thinking we’re bad parents, etc., but maintaining our reputation shouldn’t be our focus. The goal is training and correcting our children, although we do want to be kind to those around us by limiting the distractions.

Going back to age appropriate expectations, there’s a difference between normal noises/wiggles and misbehavior. Babies coo and giggle. They wiggle and squirm. Older toddlers smile and wave and fidget. Children will want to ask questions or move to see what’s going on. As they get older, we can gently redirect their attention and encourage them to listen while not having unrealistic expectations.

Each child is different and will need encouragement and discipline suited to them. My oldest son was active and loud. I would have gladly kept him in church with us from the time he was newborn, but he needed space to move and be loud. Nursery was a blessing for him. My middle son hated nursery and was content and quiet as long as he sat with us. My youngest hated nursery and was active and loud. I listened to many sermons from the church’s cry room.

Encourage Each Other

Whether you’re a parent of little ones, your children are grown, or you don’t have children, you can still play an important role in parenting in the pews. No, the role isn’t giving disruptive children (or their parents) dirty looks. The role we can all fulfill is encouraging one another.

Parenting in the pews is hard work, and it’s easy to be discouraged. A smile and a kind word can go a long way. Serving in nursery or offering to walk a colicky baby are a couple of other ways you can help. We can also show  our love for each other by being patient and gracious with those around us, especially if we feel distracted. We’ve all been there, either as parents or as children ourselves.

As a parent, it helps me to remember that those interruptions aren’t keeping me from what I should be doing. They are what I should be doing right now. I’m not saying we should let our children do whatever they want and run wild during church. But helping them learn to love the Lord and love worship is what we’re supposed to do.

So, this Sunday as we get ready for worship, let’s think about how we can encourage and nurture the little ones in our churches (and their parents too). And let’s rejoice that God has filled our pews with so many blessings.

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:2-4, NASB

Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14, NASB

Innocence Lost … and Regained

The young couple, with stars in their eyes,

Walks hand in hand with joyful hearts.

A day of excitement and wonder awaits.

What will the future bring?

A boy full of energy and laughter?

A girl with bright eyes and sweet smile?

Anxiously they wait for their turn,

Surely only a few minutes more.

 In their minds are pictures of a nursery

With soft blankets and toys on the floor.

Then it’s time, the wait’s almost over.

The tech starts to measure and scan.

But what’s this? She seems worried and tense.

Why won’t she answer?

“The doctor is coming to talk,” she says.

The sweet couple sits in silence.

The tears begin falling,

The first of so many to come.

His arm around her, She sits on his knee,

That small comfort keeping her from falling apart.

The doctor looks sad,

“Your baby is dying.”

“You did nothing wrong. It just happens sometimes.”

The young couple leaves heartbroken and shocked.

The poor tech is in tears as they walk by,

Sympathy etched on her face.

The young couple, with tears in their eyes,

Walks hand in hand with sorrowful hearts.

——————-

And the baby? A girl.

Born still and too soon.

Their hearts grieve, but with hope.

They will see her again,

And never be parted.

——————–

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21: 4-5 (ESV)

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness

I don’t generally get involved with the various “awareness” months. However, there is one that is very dear to my heart. October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Fifteen years ago, Matt and I lost our first baby girl to Turner syndrome. She was born still at 21 weeks gestation. The list of my friends and family who have had pregnancy or infant loss is very long. All of you are in my thoughts and prayers today. If you have someone in your life who has had or is going through this trial, hug them and tell them you love them. Don’t spout platitudes. Just be there for them. They need your love and support. No matter how long it’s been, they have not forgotten the pain. Talking with them about it will not cause them more pain. They will be grateful that someone remembers their little ones. Our babies are gone, but never forgotten.

Here is my story. I pray Bethanne’s short life will be an encouragement to you.

Fourteen years ago, on February 25th, Matt and I were waiting with great excitement for our big ultrasound. I was 20 weeks pregnant and had just started wearing maternity clothes, even though I didn’t really need them yet. We had our VHS tape in hand and couldn’t wait to find out if this was a little girl or boy.

When they started the ultrasound, I knew the tech wasn’t allowed to tell us anything good or bad, except the gender. So, I waited and watched. I knew from friends that they would measure the limbs, get a good look at the internal organs, and other body parts. We listened to the heartbeat. Then the tech excused herself. I began to worry a little bit. My OB had told me that we would talk about the results at my next visit. If there was anything that needed watching she’d call, and if anything was badly wrong she’d meet us there in the room.

The tech came back with the doc that oversaw the radiology lab. They turned the screen and whispered and pointed. The doc agreed with whatever the tech had seen and told us that our OB would be there in a few minutes. They left so I could get dressed. I told Matt something was wrong. This was not good. I called my dad on my cellphone and asked him to pray. I sat on Matt’s lap with tears in my eyes as we waited for the OB.

She came in a few minutes later. She sat down and told us that our baby girl had Turner syndrome. That it was terminal, and that she would advise termination. I looked at her in shock. How did this happen? She assured us that it wasn’t our fault. That it just happens some times. Two days later, at the appointment with the specialist, we found out that our daughter’s heart had stopped in the womb.

On March 1, 2002, my OB started my induction. As I changed clothes into a hospital gown, I cried out to God, “Dear God, I do not want to be here.” Let me tell you, when you are only 21 weeks pregnant, your body does NOT want to go into labor. Hours and hours passed. Nothing seemed to be happening. Physically it hurt, but the worst of the pain was emotional. My parents and Matt were with me through all of it. I know it was hard for them to watch and pray. There was nothing anyone could do for me. Finally, after 28 hours of labor, Bethanne Grace Miller was born on Saturday, March 2, 2002 at 11:08 am. It was a very bittersweet moment.

I got to hold my sweet baby girl. It was so precious. It hurt so much. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. She was so very tiny. No bigger than a baby doll. I could see that her eyebrows looked like Matt’s. Her little mouth looked like mine. It was joy and agony.

Today when we go to her grave and put some beautiful tulips there to remember, I am sad as I always am this time of year, but I rejoice knowing that I will see her again.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ” Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (NAS)

Children Are People Too

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Eph. 6:4 ESV

 
In the last couple of days, I’ve read two articles on kids that rubbed me the wrong way. One was an attempt at humor about “The 14 Kids You Find in Every Youth Group“. The post was supposed to be descriptions of the types of kids in church youth groups:

Ahh, youth group. That sweet collection of terrible awkwardness and overpowering body odor. If you’ve spent any length of time in church, you’ve probably attended or sent your kids to youth group. If so, you know that it’s a perfect microcosm of both the church and society. Here are the 14 kids you find in EVERY youth group

The author outlines embarrassing sketches of various youth stereotypes:

The Homeschool Kid – The homeschool kid has the social skills of a highly trained manatee, but he/she manages to overcome this deficiency with stunning amounts of enthusiasm. No, they cannot sustain a conversation or eye contact for more than 4 seconds, but they go absolutely bonkers during youth group games. Their enthusiasm is primarily due to their ecstasy over getting to interact with other humans.

The Awkward Sullen Sound Guy – No one actually knows Awkward Sullen Sound Guy’s (ASSG) real name. Despite having never missed a meeting, he has said a grand total of 6 words over 4 years. He typically speaks in a series of grunts and clicks. ASSG is best friends with ASLG (Awkward Sullen Lyrics Guy) and will grow up to be Awkward Sullen Sound Grownup Guy.

The Too Spiritual For Youth Group Girl – Too Spiritual For Youth Group Girl (TSFYG) has never actually attended youth group because her family is fundamentally opposed to the idea. She, along with her 19 brothers and sisters, attends church functions with her parents. Often time TSFYG and Homeschool Girl are one and the same. She also only listens to The Gaither Vocal Band and wears her hair down to her ankles. She will graduate college by age 16.

It brought back every bad memory from junior and senior high. I’m thankful that if my youth leaders thought this about us they kept it to themselves. If I had known that they thought this about us, it would have confirmed my deepest, most humiliating fears.

The article was cruel in its execution. It did not show love and respect for our youth, nor did it protect the dignity of the kids in our churches. It wasn’t merely an attempt to laugh at ourselves. Despite the author’s attempts to identify himself with several of the caricatures, there is no way that he or the other two men who helped write the list were laughing at themselves in the description of “The Short Shorts Girl” among others.

Most of us had a rough time in our teen years. The best of what came from those years was empathy towards others going through such an awkward time. It helps to be able to tell them that their lives will not be defined by who they are in junior high or high school. But this article showed no empathy or compassion.

The other article I read was “When Quitting Soccer is a Moral Dilemma.” When I saw the title I guessed that it was going to be a piece on how soccer games and tournaments can put stress on families and can lead to tough decisions about attending church versus playing, etc. But that’s not even close. The topic of the post is on whether or not to re-enroll the author’s six-year-old son in soccer when he doesn’t like playing it.

My six-year-old son doesn’t like soccer, and it’s raised a surprisingly complex parenting dilemma. Should we sign up for the next session anyway, encouraging him to persevere and build mettle? Or should we let him quit and find his niche elsewhere? Perhaps gymnastics might be his thing. Or chess. I surveyed other parents for advice.

The author comes to the conclusion that they should continue to put their son in soccer, even though he doesn’t like it, to build his character and teach perseverance.

This brings me back to the soccer dilemma. For now, I think we’ll re-enroll him. A novice can’t find their niche. Honed skills, with their accompanying freedom and beauty, come with hours of sweat and discipline. Niches aren’t discovered so much as carved. So we’ll sign him up again, and let him carve his groove rather than hope he’ll find it. And if he complains, maybe I’ll resort to that line from parents older and wiser than me: “Stick with it, son. It builds character.”

The reasons I dislike this article may not be as apparent. I’m not sure it’s a wise or good thing to insist that a child continue with a completely optional activity when he doesn’t like it. Children are individuals with their own likes and dislikes. Certainly, they also are sinful with their own tendencies to particular faults and besetting sins. As parents, we must learn to address the sins without attempting to make our children fit into particular molds. Having preferences isn’t sin. Demanding our way can be.

I also find it unnecessary to manufacture hard things for our children to build their character. There are so many, many things in life that they are going to have to do when they don’t want to, crucial and important things, things they need to live productive lives. They are going to have to learn basic hygiene, even when they really, really, really don’t like to brush their teeth or wash their hands. They are going to have to learn to read, write, spell, and do math, even when they hate a particular subject or struggle to master it. They are going to have to fight every day against their indwelling sin, even when it’s so tempting not to. We don’t have to turn every choice into an object lesson. Nor do we need to make childhood as joyless as adulthood can be.

Ever had a job situation you hated? Certainly, we have to learn to persevere in such things. But, did you look for another job? Probably. As an adult, are there things you don’t like to do? Do you have preferences about the foods you like or the sports you enjoy? Do you have favorite clothes you like to wear? Our children do too. I’m not suggesting that we give way to their every whim, but life is full of enough difficult things that we do not need to make life more difficult on purpose. It seems arbitrary and unkind. Let’s not deny our children the opportunities we allow ourselves.

After reading these articles and the social media discussions around them, I had some thoughts about our children and how we should treat them. First, we need to remember that our children are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). They don’t become imago dei when they turn 18 or 21. They’re born deserving of the honor and dignity of men and women created in God’s image.

Secondly, the children of believers are covenant children and should be treated as our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 7:14). This means that we should encourage them and interact with them with mercy, grace, and forgiveness. They may grow up and leave the church, but we hope and pray they will grow in faith and love.

Third, our relationships with them, as parents and church leaders, should not be antagonistic. They are not the enemy. We are to discipline them, but out of love and for their ultimate good. We teach them to obey God’s commands and not merely our preferences. They need to know that the standard we hold them to is the same one we are held to and that it is not arbitrary or capricious.

My husband and I have two main goals as parents. We want to see our children become believers responsible for their own relationship with God and serious about their faith in Him for their salvation. We also want them to grow up to be adults we would enjoy being around. We want to have a strong relationship with them.

To achieve those goals, there are some important aspects to how we treat our children. These are what I found lacking in the two articles mentioned above. Children (or youth) need to be treated with respect and dignity. As adults, we need to protect them and not expose their faults publicly. We cannot ridicule them or leave them open to ridicule.

We do have to address sin in their lives, and that is not pleasant. But in doing so, we must not be harsh or hard to please. Their sin is ultimately against God, and we should care more that than for being embarrassed or inconvenienced by their behavior. Only He can change their hearts (or ours). We need to be more concerned about their hearts than simply their outward behavior.

We also need to be careful not to impose our preferences on our children. They may not like the same foods or sports or music we do. These things are not important in the grand scheme of things. We shouldn’t confuse their preferences which differ from ours with sin.

For example, my oldest may never like potatoes. But his dislike for them, while inexplicable to me, is not a sin. I’ve taught him how to politely refuse or kindly say “no thanks” when offered food he doesn’t like. Out of kindness for him, I don’t force him to eat potatoes, and when I fix them for the rest of us, I include other foods that he does enjoy.

Back to the two articles above. If our youth are behaving in ways that are sinful, we should address it gently because we love them. If they are behaving in ways that are just embarrassing to us or inconvenient, we should show them the mercy and grace we’ve been shown by our Heavenly Father. He holds us close even when we’re a mess. If our youth have foibles and personality quirks that seem amusing to us now that we’re older and “more mature,” we should learn to enjoy them for who they are as individuals and remember we were once as they are now.

If our children are developing character traits that are sinful, we need to correct them lovingly. If they are simply developing their own character, we should give them the space and encouragement they need to do so.

Our children are born with inherent worth and individual traits. We should remember that in raising them. It’s amazing to watch our children grow up and become the men and women God has planned for them to be. Each one is unique and has unique challenges and unique gifts. They may not fit our “mold,” but they were made to fit the place God designed them for.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is from Matthew 18. Jesus speaks about the worth of children. He uses them as an example of the faith we should have. He welcomes them to Him. And He warns about those who would cause them to sin. It’s a beautiful passage and a good reminder to us all:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6 ESV)

Parents, our children are people too. Let’s not exasperate them through our actions.

Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

“So, what are your kids dressing up as this year?” This question always gives me pause. You see, we don’t “do” Halloween. Never have. While I don’t have any reservations about our decision not to participate, I hesitate about the right way to answer the question. I don’t enjoy making people uncomfortable, and I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their own minds about it. We just have decided that Halloween celebrations are not for us.

Increasingly, I’ve heard more and more discussions among Christians about what our role is as Christians in Halloween. Some Christians, like us, choose not to take part in Halloween. Others see it as no big deal. Still others believe that Halloween is a great opportunity to engage the culture or reach out to their neighbors. There are many differing opinions out there.

While I’m aware of the arguments for the Pagan, as well as the Christian, origins for Halloween, I’m less interested in determining which origin story is the more important to today’s culture, and more interested in how Halloween is actually celebrated today. Halloween in today’s culture is a dark and disturbing celebration. From risque costumes to violent images, I just don’t see any redeeming factors in the celebration of Halloween.

Many people argue that Halloween is “no big deal,” that dressing up and eating candy are fun. Dressing up, of course, is a lot of fun, and who doesn’t love candy (actually I don’t really, but I know that makes me very odd. Now ice cream would be a different matter.) What’s wrong with having a good time? Nothing, in general, but what is being celebrated? The dead? Monsters? Evil spirits? Witches? The Occult? While there may not be anything wrong with celebrating Halloween, I just don’t see anything particularly right about it either.

I’ve read articles that say that Christians who choose not to participate in Halloween are letting fear rule them. They say that since Christ has defeated death and the evil one we have nothing to fear. Absolutely, we have nothing to fear from Halloween. I am not afraid of Halloween. However, I do believe that there is a devil and that evil spirits are both real and active in the world around us. Spiritual warfare is a reality, and it isn’t something to ignore or to take lightly. Along these lines, I have no desire to expose myself or my family to the darkness that runs rampant through Halloween.

I thought Dr. Al Mohler’s article really summed up my thoughts well on the matter:

While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. …

Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.

The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.”

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God’s Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ’s church on earth. Let’s put the dark side on the defensive.

The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy

Yesterday I read an article by Vyckie Garrison, founder of No Longer Quivering, on her move from “Christian” patriarchy to atheism. Vyckie was once a leader within the patriarchy and quiverfull movements. In the article, she describes the abuses she suffered and makes her argument for why atheism is the only appropriate response to those abuses.

I really, really feel very sad for Vyckie and her family. I agree with her that the patriarchy and quiverfull movements are full of abuses. I completely support her decision to leave an abusive marriage and to protect herself and her family. I am also very profoundly sorry that she equates patriarchy with Christianity. It truly breaks my heart to read her story.

In her article, Vyckie discusses each type of abuse she experienced in the patriarchy movement. I would like to go through her points and address each of those points. My argument is not that it isn’t abuse, but rather that what she experienced was not Christianity. I understand why she equates patriarchy with Christianity, but I would urge others who read her post to consider that what she was taught was a twisting of Scripture. Most of all, I would like to encourage those interact with anyone who has experienced abuse and rejected Christianity to treat the abuse survivor with gentleness and much mercy. May God show them His love.

I’m going to start with one of Vyckie’s last points. She sums up why she believes that rejecting patriarchy means rejecting Christ:

I did file for divorce and rescue myself and my kids from the tyranny of patriarchy. But for me, the primary break up was with Jesus. You see, being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” he means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.

When the very definition of perfect love is sacrificing your children and martyring yourself, there is no place for emotionally healthy concepts like boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality. I could not say that my husband’s patriarchal behavior was abusive so long as I was committed to a relationship with “The Big Guy” who exemplifies the abusive bully, and who commands his followers to imitate His very warped and twisted idea of “love.”

It’s hard to know exactly where to start. The truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection and of the Father’s love for His children has been so distorted here. God loves us. And because He loves us, He sent His Son as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. While it’s true that we are called to live lives willing to put others needs before our own, we aren’t called to “sacrifice our children” and martyr ourselves. Scriptures does teach “boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality.”

The Ephesians passage that speaks to the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, etc. begins with the following verses:

be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b-21 ESV, emphasis mine)

We are called to submit to one another. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, women and children are not the only ones called to submit. As Christians, we are all called to consider the needs of others for the purpose of building them up. Not to the exclusion of caring for our own needs, but thinking of others and showing them love.

God loves us and does not give us the punishment our sins deserve. He isn’t angry and looking for ways to chastise His children and keep them in fearful obedience:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 ESV)

And,

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 ESV)

It’s important to go back, though, and consider how Vyckie got to this point. She gives an excellent summary of what it’s like to live in a patriarchy/quiverfull home:

Growing up in a Quiverfull home means being raised by a narcissistic father and having a mother with a huge martyr complex. The kids are treated as property to be hoarded. They are isolated, coerced and manipulated, abused and deprived socially and educationally. As surrogate moms, the older daughters bear the brunt of the work: cleaning, cooking … even homeschooling and disciplining their younger siblings when the Quiverfull mothers become too worn down and burned out from perpetual pregnancy and trying to keep up with this unsustainable lifestyle.

She goes on to explain that at one point a counselor gave her a “power and control” wheel to help her work through the various ways she had experienced abuse. She starts with Emotional Abuse and Intimidation:

Plus, I knew that as a woman, I was particularly susceptible to deception by Satan. How many times, when we were discussing an important decision, had my husband said to me, “What you are suggesting SOUNDS reasonable, but how do I know that Satan isn’t using you to deceive me?”

And,

Was I afraid of my husband? Not in a physical sense, but I was always hesitant to contradict or “disrespect” him because God had placed him in authority over me, and God-given authorities can be considered “umbrellas of protection.” Patriarchy is God’s umbrella of protection.

I have said that I believe patriarchy to be emotionally abusive because it creates an antagonistic relationship between husbands and wives, men and women. This is a good example of it. If any advice your wife gives you is automatically suspect because women are more prone to deception, then what kind of help meet can a wife be?

This is not the Biblical picture of a marriage. A marriage should be marked by mutual respect, love, and tenderness for each other. A wife should complement her husband and vice versa. We each have weaknesses and strengths, and as spouses we should help each other. A wise husband will trust his wife and hold her in great esteem. Look at the picture of the Proverbs 31 woman. Her husband trusts her judgment so much he can go about his own work without concern. And he praises her!

The third point from the “power and control” wheel is Isolation:

We taught our kids at home to protect them from the evil influence of godless humanism which we believed was the religion taught in the “government schools.” We eventually got to the point where we were so “biblical” that we felt the local Independent Fundamental Baptist church in our town was too liberal, too compromising … so we began homechurching with a couple of “like-minded” families who also were leaving their family planning up to God and homeschooling their many children.

This is the result of what I call, “parenting by fear.” While I absolutely agree that children should be protected from evil influences, isolating your family from everyone who does things differently from you isn’t healthy, and it isn’t biblical.

Scripture frequently uses imagery that we as believers are living as strangers and aliens. We are exiles. We are to be in the world, but not of it. We are also called to be witnesses and also “salt and light” to the world around us. That does require some level of interaction with people who disagree with you. We teach our children and instill good values in them. But then we have to trust the Lord to protect them (and us) as we are confronted by challenges to our faith.

The next two points, Minimizing, denying, and blaming and Using children, really get into the issue of quiverfull:

Sure there were times when submitting to my husband’s decisions was a hassle, and yes, the pregnancies nearly killed me every time, BUT … who was I to complain, considering everything that Jesus had done for me? If I thought “almost” dying was bad, just imagine how horrible it was for Jesus, who actually died!!

And

The whole point of having a quiver full of babies is to … out-populate the “enemy,” … that would be all of you; and to shoot those many arrows “straight into the heart of the enemy.” And by that, we meant that our children would grow up to be leaders in all the major institutions of our society.

There is not a strong consensus within Christianity on the use of birth control. As long as we are talking about true contraceptive (nothing that causes an abortion), there is truly no biblical evidence forbidding it. The bits and pieces that get used to support a completely anti-birth control approach are mostly proof texts taken out of context.

Do we believe that children are a blessing? Absolutely. Does that mean that every family regardless of health (physical and emotional) and financial needs should attempt to have as many children as is physically possible? Nope. Does the size of your family determine how much God loves you? No. Isaac had two sons. Jacob had twelve. God blessed them both. How many children should a family have? That is a decision that should be made by each family with much prayer and consideration.

There are two points in particular that I would note from Vyckie’s article here. One, we are not called to nearly kill ourselves joyfully so that we can be like Christ. The Psalmists regularly call out to God to hear us when things are tough. God cares. He listens:

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)

Two, the idea that we are called to “out breed” our political opponents is nowhere in Scripture. Nowhere. Dominionism or theonomy or reconstructionism are all political ideologies made up by men. Scripture calls us to live at peace, as far as it depends on us, with those around us. We are also called to be good citizens. We are not called to take over the government.

Should Christians who are called to government service seek to serve God in all they do? Yes. Should Christians vote for good leaders? Absolutely. Should Christians recognize that our leaders were put there by God? Yes, for our benefit or judgment. Should Christians be active in politics and seek to make good laws and good leaders? Yes, if they are called to do so.

The next topic that Vyckie addresses is Male Privilege:

I wouldn’t say that my husband used male privilege to control and dominate me and the kids. Male privilege was his rightful position. As Paul says in the book of 1 Corinthians, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. And man was not created for woman, but woman for man.

This is a sad abuse of Scripture. I do believe that husbands are to be the spiritual leader of their families, and I know that Vyckie would probably lump me in with the patriarchy guys because of it. But I don’t believe that this is license for a power trip on the part of husbands. Biblically to be a servant leader means that husbands are to put the needs of their families first. They are to love their families and care for them gently. Jesus even warns about those who seek to promote themselves:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

Vyckie then discusses Economic abuse:

My God will supply all my needs,” and “I have never seen a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread” … It was really just a matter of trust, plus careful money management.

According to what she experienced, and what I’ve seen elsewhere, families are taught:

  • to have many children, regardless of the ability to feed and cloth them
  • never to take government assistance (food stamps, etc.) even if they are in need
  • wives are not to work outside the home, even if the families can’t live on the husband’s income
  • to live debt free, so cash only and no credit use

These are all extra-biblical ideas. I know that many patriarchy supporters will point to various verses, but honestly, these are man made rules. God blesses us with children, but also with wisdom. We must take care of the ones we have. Does that mean that if families must be able to afford to pay for college for each of their children? Not necessarily. But basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing (and attention) should always be considerations in how we live and care for our families. And it should be noted that the Proverbs 31 woman worked and brought in income.

Her last point is Coercion and Threats:

Because I believed our family had an ENEMY who was determined to steal, kill, and destroy our souls, and the souls of our children, for all eternity! Our only protection from spiritual disaster, was within that one little secret spot of safety which Corrie ten Boom called, “The Hiding Place.” “The Hiding Place” isn’t any physical location … instead, it is a very specific, very narrow position … directly in the center of God’s will. There, and only there, we could safely trust in God’s protection.

This again plays in to the “parenting by fear” approach common within the patriarchy movement. They take various verses, mostly from Proverbs, and use them to determine the rules to follow to guarantee God’s favor and blessings. If they do the right things, teach their children the right way, then God will be happy and bless them.

This is treating God like a capricious ruler and like a cosmic genie. God isn’t out to get us. He’s not looking for us to slip up so he can punish us. There is no perfect formula for raising children that guarantees a good outcome. Scripture doesn’t teach one. There is no list of rules that will keep you and your family from harm. Bad things happen to good people. Even more amazing, good things happen to bad people.

This whole approach looks so much more like what the Pharisees taught than the grace that Scripture teaches. Jesus said about them:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:4 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus calls us to Him and promises rest:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Vyckie is right that the patriarchy and quiverfull movements are abusive. She was right to abandon those teachings and to seek protection for herself and her children. I believe, though, that she’s wrong to say that Christianity is equivalent with patriarchy and quiverfull. Not that there aren’t those who make that claim. Not that she wasn’t taught that it was the truth. But based on what the Bible actually teaches as a whole, patriarchy and quiverfull are not only not synonymous with Christianity but are actually antithetical to Christianity, to grace, to mercy, and to the love of God.

People Say Stupid Things: What Not to Say When a Baby Dies

Years ago, when our daughter Bethanne was born, I realized that when faced with difficult circumstances people often say stupid things. I know that most of the time the stupid comments come from good intentions. People mean to be kind, generally. They simply just don’t know what to say. Here’s a small sampling of things I’ve heard people say:

  • It’s for the best.
  • God needed another angel.
  • You’re young. You can have another one.
  • At least you know you can get pregnant.
  • They’re in a better place.
  • At least you have other children.
  • It happened for a reason.
  • I’m sure you’ll get pregnant again soon.
  • It’s better than having a child born with problems.

My “favorite” one from when Bethanne was born was the mom who told me she understood what I was going through because her son had been born autistic. Apparently, having a child born with a disability or with some challenges is like having your child die. I don’t doubt that there is a mourning that parents of children with disabilities face. But I wanted to shake her and tell her that I would have given almost anything to have Bethanne here every day to hug and kiss not matter what challenges she faced. After my anger faded, I realized that I just felt sorry for her and especially for her son. She couldn’t see the joy of her son.

There are so many others, but most are basically versions of the same. It doesn’t matter that many of these things are true. None of these things are kind. As Christians, we should seek to comfort each other. While we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, it’s appropriate to recognize that death is sad. It’s wrong, it’s horrible, it’s painful. It’s right to acknowledge that loss and to mourn.

Consider Jesus’ reaction to the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus knew that Lazarus was about to be resurrected. He knew that the pain and loss was temporary. He knew that joy would soon follow. But faced with the death of Lazarus and the mourning of Lazarus’ family, Jesus didn’t offer platitudes. Jesus wept.

Mourn with your friends. Comfort them. Given them a hug. And if you must say something, here are my suggestions:

  • I love you.
  • I’m so very sorry.
  • I’m praying for you.
  • Can I bring a meal, watch a child, clean your house, etc?

If you can’t think of anything to say, just stick to these and offer your friend a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. They will need, at some point, to talk about their child. You are not hurting them by asking if they want to talk. You are not hurting them by remembering their child. After a short while, it will feel to them as if no one remembers, as if their child is forgotten. Love them, encourage them, and listen.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV