"It doesn't matter; wherever you want," I would reply. I did have preferences, yes, but I had learned to always set them aside for the desires of another.
My poor husband would smile through clenched teeth and answer, "Just tell me what you want."
Why was that so hard?
The following reasons all contributed to this, for me.
- Low self-esteem and sense of worthlessness. Your opinions, wants and desires do not matter.
- Learned false humility. Be like Jesus! Consider all others as better and more important than yourself.
- Learned false-generosity/over-spiritualizing. Be giving. Let others choose what they want to do. It's okay to be last/least/sacrificial.
- Reinforcement of past poor choices or decisions. You make foolish choices. You need to think! You are not being smart!
- A learned sense that at the core, I truly do NOT have a choice in the matter.
I have written to some extent regarding self-esteem and low self-worth. I plan to explore humility and over-spiritualizing in a future posting; today I wish to discuss the last bullet point which is the learned sense that when all is stripped away, we often find that we truly do not have free choice, or that it includes such devastating consequences it is obvious that free choice is not the intention of those in authoritarian control.
Bait and Switch
"You are not held here against your will," Annie's parents said, shaking their heads with a scoff. "You know you are free to leave whenever you want."
Annie hung her head, the tip of a worn shoe peeking out from her long blue dress. She tried to think of words, but all of the emotion inside her heart could not find coherent sound. A hot tear snuck down her cheek. How could she explain what she felt?
"Why are you crying?" The impatient voice of her father pierced her consciousness. "If it's what you want to do, we won't stop you."
Annie's lip trembled. "But if I do, you will hate me." A life of pain lurked under those eight simple words. How could she verbalize all that God had shown her? All that she was learning?
"Annie, we won't hate you!" Her father was growing incensed while he spat the words. "We may think it's a bad idea, but that is between you and God now, as far as your mother and I are concerned. We just think you are making a serious mistake! You know we love you!"
Annie sighed, knowing full well what that meant . . . a loaded statement, for the Bible said to love one's enemies. Her wide-eyed brothers and sisters peeked through the doorway, silent and absorbing. She studied their scared little faces, her own heart aching.
"You have always been the one who hated the family," her mother accused softly. "What about your witness? I hope that the kids don't pick up your attitudes."
That was it. "That's not true!" Annie cried out, bursting forth into tears. Beneath the unflinchingly hard gaze of her father, her soul shriveled.
Help me God, she wept. She knew that ever since her older sister had begun to question some of the doctrine her family believed, that their parents had all but cut her off from a relationship. About once a month, highly-supervised visits were tolerated. When her sister would leave at the end, the entire family was subject to a thorough sermon on the culture, worldliness, rebellion, and feminism that was rampant in the church. The night would end with hearty prayers that the wayward one would recognize the error of her ways, repent, and come home.
How could Annie explain that she felt as though she were dying for want of knowing Jesus more deeply? That hours upon her knees and in Scripture had raised doubts about the way they were living? How could she express how weary she was, even at the young age of 23? Yet anytime she tried to bring it up, her parents ranted that she was being deceived, and that if she weren't careful she would be responsible for leading her brothers and sisters astray since they looked up to her so much.
"We will pray you make the right decision," her mother interjected once more, sadness in her voice. She sighed deeply, mournfully; the sound burned Annie's ears.
Her father did not waver from his glare. Solemn tension could be tasted in the room. Even the toddler looked serious as he gripped his pillow on the floor. Annie's tears flowed.
"I have to follow God," she whispered, arms clasped tightly as a wave of coldness swept across her being.
Her father leaped to his feet, unleashed. "You have a rebellious heart!" he thundered, pacing towards her with fire. "The Bible says that God will give them over to delusion, to believe the lie!" He was unstoppable. "Just as Eve was deceived, so you are deceived! You just want the comforts and conveniences of the world!"
Annie glanced at her mother through her tears; a rapt expression was on the face of the one who bore her . . . admiration at this tower of strength who proclaimed his convictions with fervor.
Her father continued, ". . . So leave, if you want! Don't care about your brothers and sisters, or your poor mother, or what anyone else thinks! If you feel you need to do this, you go right ahead! I pray that God has mercy on you and that you will repent before it is too late!"
Is conditional choice free choice?
In the example of Annie, we see that her parents had allowed her to make her own decision regarding whether to move out, or not. And yet, let us examine the threats and subtle messages she received if she were to go ahead and do so:
- she needs to repent
- she is in error
- she is selfish
- she is hurting her family
- she is deceived
- she is rebellious
- she is under delusion, believing a lie
- she is worldly, and seeking worldliness
- she is a disappointment
- she brings sorrow
- she is leading others astray
- she is not hearing God
It is said that when one makes a choice, they are also choosing the consequences of what accompanies the decision. Likewise, when someone makes a choice, two are actually achieved: the person also actively chooses not to have the alternative. For instance, when a husband chooses who he wishes to marry, he is simultaneously choosing not to marry anyone else.
What I call: Baited Choice
The example I gave of Annie's struggle demonstrates just one of the hundreds of instances that arise within the lives of women within authoritarian, patriocentric families. She is presented with an opportunity to choose ("You go ahead!") and yet if a choice is made that is not supported by the family, one thing becomes clear:
free choice is really not intended within the heart of those who control.
To me, this lies on the side of deception. Others may determine that it is a legitimate case of choice and consequence, but consider the Bait and Switch tactic used by some advertisers. An attractive "sale" or "deal" (choice) is offered to lure a customer into a store. Once there, either the item is "no longer available", "sold out", or contains hidden fees or contracts upon purchase. Most of the time the goal is to sell a substitute item of higher price, thus creating expenditure that the customer was not expecting, prepared for, planning for, or wanting. In the end she might go ahead and still decide to make the purchase, but interestingly the practice of Bait and Switch is illegal and subject to legal recourse by consumers.
In similar vein, I believe that presenting a "choice" in such a manner that contains brutally devastating hidden expenditure on the mind, heart, body and soul of an adult daughter creates and causes offense to come to these women.
So what are parents wanting to "get" out of this?
I agree that many fathers and mothers truly only want what is best for their children. What motivation might some have to offer this type of baiting choice? Some reasons might include a legitimate fear that their child may become lost and degenerate. Others have a root of pride knowing that their family is a witness and therefore cannot allow any hint that anything is "wrong". Others cannot admit that they may be in error themselves. Some may feel pressure from organizations or church or friends to live a certain way, and when their offspring begin to question, they feel threatened because of it. Some parents take it as a personal affront when their children believe differently; some fear their grown child making mistakes. Some fear that they will lose control of additional children, and so must make the scapegoat or example out of the one they consider the Prodigal.
While these parents have my sincere sympathy for the myriad struggles, heartaches, and 'drama' that they undoubtedly face, it is my humble opinion in the case of many, that a lack of faith in our heavenly Father lurks at the root of these things. Fear is entwined; fear that their child is deceived, or that they will be considered a poor parent by their peers, or fear of "how it looks" or of "what people will think". Some fear being a "poor" witness, because the lifestyle perpetuated by militant fecundity is done so in order to raise an army for the Lord, to transform our culture through the sheer numbers from those who follow a Quiverfull lifestyle.
39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”a]"> 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”Most Quiverfull, authoritarian, and conservative families claim to live their lifestyle of choice out of trust and faith. I humbly submit that one area where trust and faith are not often demonstrated is, ironically, in the lives of adult children. I do not infer that it is easy, by any means, particularly if one's daughter makes choices that go against the parents' stated belief system—however, what better testimony not only to others but also to the children themselves, than to display the very real blood-and-guts aspect of true, living faith and trust in Almighty God? The Abba Father who loves the children of parents even more so than they could imagine loving them, themselves?
Paul reminds us that whatever is not from faith is sin.
Have you ever been allowed to have a truly free choice? By "free" I mean: a choice that was independent of implied—
Seriously; pause to think.
Often, the case is rare-to-never within patriocentric households. At first some may laugh, "Of course I made free choices!" but upon reflection, find that those who have experienced some form of authoritarian control or spiritual abuse cannot recall many instances where this is true.
Learning to choose
Sadly, this can be a debilitating, challenging exercise. Many women have become persuaded that due to the error of Eve, whose hands bear the consequences of deception, personal choices and decisions cannot be trusted.
4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
Seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and then trust that He will grant wisdom to you. The key is to ask in faith. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, we are reminded in Hebrews.
Practice making choices . . . this may sound elementary, but for adult women who have not been granted the freedom to actually make a real decision on their own, practicing is a vital step. Sometimes this will reap the consequences of a mistake which is anathema within authoritarian families, but it is not so with God. Mistakes are a crucial element of learning. I will go so far as to say in some cases, they must happen. Prolonging them out of fear 1) prevents growth 2) prevents healing 3) prevents learning 4) prevents faith.
Go with God
"What do you want?" asked my husband of me, many times. Through his gentle, patient, and sometimes humorous prodding, I began to realize that not only is it okay for me to have preferences and make choices, it can be a good thing; helpful, even, to others. It is healthy. I hope and pray that there are godly people in your life who encourage and help to guide you along this process. It is important to be surrounded by those who edify while you seek wholeness of mind, heart, soul, and body. There will be times that you will feel as though you stumble along, sometimes ungracefully . . . yet this is how one learns to walk. Walk, and then run! The Lord will be your strength! Trust in Him!
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the LORD,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.