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Irony and the Broken Heart

S ome friends and I discussed recently how often the patriarchy movement emphasizes emotional purity.  "Give us your hearts," parents urge. Courtship is better than dating, they affirm; one reason is so that a daughter's heart is kept safe and pure and whole. A young woman writes, 
"I love how my parents said to give them my heart so it would not end up broken, as it would if I gave it to a boy. However, my parents are so guilty of breaking my heart, they hold the record for the most times!!!"
I'd love to hear your thoughts. How has this teaching affected you ~ for good, for bad, or other? I hope to address this subject with more depth in the upcoming weeks.


  1. To give our hearts to anyone but Christ is idolatry. Even after we are married, our hearts belong to God. ANY HUMAN will break your heart. Christ never will.

    Maybe there needs to be a definition of what giving your hearts to someone means. :=)

  2. Agree a thousand percent. This teaching is in part rooted in Proverbs 23:26 My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.

  3. The comment that "To give our hearts to anyone but Christ is idolatry" is so true here!

    However, a couple other aspects of "giving your heart" come to mind:
    1) The verse in Proverbs seems to be speaking of "giving the heart" in reference to learning from the father--but learning, "observing the ways", is NOT (in my mind) relating to the father being the guardian of the child's heart, the owner of it. Another thing--this verse is speaking to the son, not daughter!

    2) In a way, we do give our hearts to those we love deeply: our spouse, close friends, close family. In a good relationship, the parents should have their child's heart--the child should trust, love, and hold them close. But (in a daughter's case), the part of her heart that will someday be given to her husband can't be replaced with her father. That's two very different kinds of love! It makes me sick to see those fathers who require wife-like affection and attention from their daughters. I'm all for healthy, close father-daughter relationships. But the romantic life that she needs from a husband and lover should never cross into the father-daughter area!

    I think the only way a girl can keep her heart safe and pure is to give it to Christ, and let Him keep it and direct the giving of it to a man. Parents should guide her to letting God guard her heart, not take the responsibility in their own hands.

  4. All of you took the words I was going to say...giving the heart to Christ alone is key. And as a wife, we are to cleave to our husband, with Christ as the head of our marriage.

  5. I can very much relate to the young lady who wrote that her parents broke her heart. I did go through a traumatic romantic heartbreak yet the scars from my upbringing are far worse. Still, I don't find that it's destroyed my ability to love my husband and children.

    As an aside, I strongly dislike the term "emotional purity" because it implies that romantic feelings are impure. Makes me wonder how it was possible for all those Old Testament patriarchs to be "emotionally pure" for their wives... when they had more than one at a time. But, oops, we're not supposed to talk about that - modern patriachs like to pretend that polygamy wasn't an integral aspect of Biblical patriarchy.

    PS - Hillary, you might like an old post I wrote titled "Bless the Broken Road" - it's under the label "courtship" on my blog.

  6. However, cleaving isn't to also make put our husband's in place of God Himself. I've seen that happen in communities where the father/husband is the ultimate ruler and the wife is to obey, obey, obey, obey the husband. Basically, usurping Christ's role in the marriage.

  7. It's kinda funny how at the church where Josh Harris'(author of IKDG) family teach/reside, many of the teen's aren't openly "dating", but they keep it on the down-low from their parents and the congregation. And fooling around (making out) happens, too, among church leadership's teens.

    This is well-known among the youth. The adults are the ones not facing reality.

    For the record, I haven't attended that church since the Spring of 2009.

  8. I can totally relate with the desire to spare our children avoidable emotional pain. And I think when we can, we should try to do just that. That said, I don't think I've ever been "emotionally pure". I've been a sinner from earliest memory. In fact I remember being very small and thinking I was a monster because of some episodes of rage. Sexual purity is not the only kind of purity there is, but parents seem to like to fixate on it.

  9. Oh the confusion that has been caused by fathers wrongly taking this teaching, common in many fundamental and homeschool groups, and seeking to control their children with it...especially daughters! Thank you for saying this and pointing out the error of using this passage in such an erroneous way. If I don't like my words to be twisted, I cannot imagine how God feels when people use His words to put rules in place, to control!

  10. This teaching also assumes that parents know better than their daughters whom they should marry. Whilst not wishing to downplay the experience and knowledge that parents do have, it simply isn't true (at least not always) that they know best regarding potential husbands. If my father had insisted on doing the choosing for me, rather than merely saying what he believed and having me ignore his advice, I would have been married to a man who was emotionally and spiritually abusive, who ended up stalking me for some years after I married the man my father didn't want me to marry, who is now high in my father's good graces because he takes such good care of me.

  11. My parents did not use the wording that fundamentalist do, but basically the thought was the same. It was the father's responsibility to guard his daughters from "impure" relationships and anything that might lead to a "unequally yoked" marriage. I remember rejecting that thinking at about the age 12 after reading a novel about a Quaker romance. The woman made the comment that no one would walk her down the isle to give her away to the groom, because she was the only one who could give her heart away. It wasn't her father's place to do that or anyone else's. That just made so much sense to me. And it still does. (I'm not sure how my parents let a book with a quote like that in it slip through).

    My parents blocked me from getting to know just about every man who was interested in me when I was living at home. The guy they approved of I would have rather died then married!) There were two that if given my choice I would have perused. But one was divorced and the other was too old in their opinion.

    Though I was very angry at the time, I realize now that they did me favor. I am very grateful that I did not go straight from living at home to marrying. At the very least, I would have married someone who shared my parents beliefs, at least to some degree, about women being less then men.

    My parents beliefs and actions that they could control who "courted" me only made me feel trapped and angry. (Dating was totally out of the question and being alone with a guy for any reason.)

    Ironically, when I did finally marry, 10 years after leaving home, I married someone who was both divorced and much older then myself.

    I don't understand the concern about giving away a piece of your heart to each person you love. That means a widow could not give her whole heart to her second husband, yet people with this belief system have no problem with widows remarrying.

    Frankly, I think my husband is better person for already having been married once and making a lot of mistakes in his first marriage. He learned a lot about what not to do in that marriage. Even though he loved his first wife and makes no bones about that, I am his beloved now, I have no doubt his whole heart belongs to me. He didn't leave a piece of it with her.

  12. I once asked the mom of a patriarchal family [as she was extolling the virtues of "the father needs to guard his daughter's heart" after a conference she'd attended], "So what about families where dad isn't present?" The reality is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and I was one of those teenage girls whose dad wasn't around to "guard my heart."

    Dead silence.

    Then another lady at the table said, "I guess it would be ther mother's job then."

    The first woman apparently didn't like that answer, because she ignored it and said, "I guess I'll have to e-mail [the workshop speaker from the conference] and ask him about that."

    I agree with other commenters who say that it is the individual's job to guard their own heart. Our parents cannot guard it for us.

    Broken hearts are a part of life, and a wise parent will be there to support his or her child as they are experiencing one - not isolate them and refuse to give them the tools to help them deal with the inevitable!!

  13. Thank you all so much for the great thoughts! I am really looking forward to fleshing this out in the next several weeks.

    Christi ~ I looked for the article you mentioned and couldn't find it. Will you post a link? <3


    Laurie ~ I agree, and I think any good / godly parent does want to protect their child from the pain of living. To protect their children from going through what they perhaps experienced in their own upbringing. There is such a fine line, sometimes . . .

    Miriam ~ excellent comments. "Parents should guide her to letting God guard her heart, not take the responsibility in their own hands." ~ crux of the issue.

  14. When I think about "emotional purity" it sounds so good to be pure but it really is very religious. It's a subtle lie to get our focus off Christ and growing in Him & on to ourselves and comparing ourselves to others. First of all, if we have the identity of Christ then we have His identity therefore are as pure as He is. Yes, we are as pure as Christ is. So there's no "trying" to attain purity & performance. Also, this concept of EP only breeds attitudes of comparing, for example, "Did you kiss during your courtship before you were married?" We did not so we are more pure than you are. That kind of stuff comes from the pit of hell.

    I do believe that guarding one's heart can be wise especially if you are @ the tender age of a teenager, however, doesn't God love these children more than we do and know what's best for them than we do? Than why try and force a formula like system on them & why not ask the Lord for guidance in how to "guide" the daughter to what is best for her. I wished that my parents had modeled this for me but instead pushed me into obedience which breed contempt for them and for authority.

    Great post Hillary!

  15. this is an intriguing post. i have 2 daughters and i am always trying to encourage and build them into emotionally and intellectually stable young women so that when the time comes i can pull back and trust them to make good choices in their relational pursuits on their own.

  16. Oops, sorry Hillary, I had the label wrong! Here's a link: http://christisrealm.blogspot.com/2006/08/bless-broken-road.html

  17. R.e. the Proverbs verse "son, give me your heart..." Hillary referenced earlier...

    That verse is actually a father speaking to his son about avoiding the wiles of a seductive woman. It has absolutely nothing to do with daughters giving their hearts to their fathers until marriage.

    Those who use it to convince their daughters to give their hearts to the parents alone pull it entirely out of context. Twisted scripture, anyone?

  18. Grace ~ speaking of twisted Scripture, have you read the book by the same name by Mary Alice Chrnalogar? I think you would like it.

    Christi...thank you! I started reading it and something came up...going back to finish it this evening.

    theholyild ~ you model grace.

    Frogla ~ Amen!

  19. It was interesting reading all of the comments, from primarily young women so far as I can tell. I am encouraged to hear how many are seeking *first* a right relationship with Christ!

    May I caution, before I comment, that all of us be careful not to lump people into a "movement" of some kind because of outward behavior or appearances. Just as one individual frowns at a woman in pants and accuses her of not being a Christian the woman in pants looks back at the one in skirts an accuses her of being legalistic. Both assume the other is off-track, when in reality both could be pursuing Christ with all their heart. In essence, one eats meat and the other doesn't eat meat, but they both do it to the glory of God. Their condemnation of each other is what begins to reveal their true hearts.

    That said, I am the mother of eleven (no, I don't think everyone, or anyone, *should* have a big family; no, I didn't have a goal of having a large family; no, I don't think anyone's choice of birth control is anyone else's business) with four married children (3 boys, 1 girls) and one daughter with a serious boyfriend. I have had children who "dated" and one who "courted". I don't like either of those terms and I don't believe that there is a "method" that will make everything work and turn out all right and prevent heartache. I believe that a Christian child is being led by the same spirit that I am. My husband and I communicate very openly with and give advice to our adult children--not demands. Most of the time they have respected us knowing that our desire was for their good, not because we were following the rules of the latest conference speaker. For the times when they haven't taken our advice, there have been some regrets and some where they're very content with their choices.

    When our oldest son was engaged we advised him not to be alone in an apartment or home with his fiancee. There are obvious physical temptations ("but we're going to be married soon anyway") and we knew their desire to leave intimacy for marriage. My son looked at me and said, "You know, I don't see the big deal about being alone and I think we'd be just fine. But, I trust you and I've had a few other people tell me the same thing so I'm going to take the advice, even though I don't see that I need it." I was blown away by his maturity. Because maturity is not just being grown up and able to discern right and wrong and good and bad. It also means knowing when you don't have all the answers and trusting someone else.

    Raising a child is not an easy thing. It takes a huge amount of energy and TONS of communication. No one way is best and it is a challenge to try to find out what way will work best with each child. What devastates one child just brushes over another. For many parents it's easier to follow a system or a manual or pattern after someone who seems to be doing it all right.

    Parents are loving their children by sending them to school and by homeschooling them, by sending them off to college and by sending them to get a job, by letting them date at age 12 and by following a rigid courtship pattern, by enrolling them in sports clubs at age 5 and by introducing them to art museums at the same age. These things all work for different people who have different needs and different interests. Have more than one child and now you're looking at possibly needing to follow different methods or patterns with each child.

    In the end, the only thing they ALL need is to be truly loved and to have their sins forgiven and live in a right relationship with their Lord. How that is worked out practically in their own lives and in the way they train up their children needs to be done circumspectly and with a deaf ear to the roar of criticism that is CERTAIN to accompany any choices they make. It also needs to be done with an open ear to the voice of God with eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.

  20. Kiethslady ~ thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! I really appreciate that you stated:

    "these things all work for different people who have different needs and different interests. Have more than one child and now you're looking at possibly needing to follow different methods or patterns with each child.
    In the end, the only thing they ALL need is to be truly loved and to have their sins forgiven and live in a right relationship with their Lord."

    This is so true!

  21. I never quite realized how much my parents have loved me. Though there have been moments of disagreement, times of walking away to cool off, or times of accepting that my father and I don't see things from the same perspective-- I know that they've sought to love me in a Biblical way. For the first 14 years of life, my father was my pastor. I was a follower of Christ, but I didn't exactly have the understanding of all that the Christian life involved. I was stubborn inside my heart and did not want to seek my father for advice. As I grew older-- and he was no longer my pastor, I began to search out what living the Christian life really entails. We weren't forced to have "quiet time" neither were we forced to live a formula Christian life.
    I began to read Oswald Chambers devotional and that challenged me through and through. I guess that was the beginning of my journey of living in Christ- and not seeking to live under legalism (which I found many paths leading to--but I had not been raised in legalism I just wanted to know what was RIGHT).
    I've spent many months with Mennonites and am thankful that my parents did not put us through that. I have watched friends rebel under such strict boundaries. I'm utterly convinced that when we place boundaries and exalt them to equal what the Bible says-- it's sin. That being said, I'm thankful that my parents have sought to keep away from that. They've encouraged modesty, they have not forced a particular dating/courtship plan.
    This I know, they've raised us to be independent, Love the Lord, and follow in His ways!
    Our family is far from perfect. But I am certain that the Grace of God has been the "oil to the gears".
    Now I'm a college graduate, my father was one of the most influential professors I had-- especially in my Christian walk!
    If "letting go" can be defined.. I think it's entrusting children to the Lord-- and letting Him have his sovereign way. I'm moving to Asia and my parents are thrilled--they'll miss me, I'll miss them but I know that we serve a risen savior who will lead my paths. (not some form of legalism)

    I'm so thankful for the insights you've posted here-- it has made me appreciate life, and so much more!

  22. There is much I could say.

    My former bride-to-be was heavily indoctrinated into the notion of "I don't give my heart away" and her father being her protector. She was/is in her mid 20s. The result was a was a woman morbidly afraid of her own shadow emotionally, a woman who was continually laden with guilt about expressions of affection for me.

    Her father is a very troubled man. What's he done with her, and her siblings, hasn't been done to look out for their best interests (as I believe it is done, perhaps misguidedly, in the case of many Christian parents). It was done to make up for his own personal deficiencies by exercising power over them.

    That's the problem with this type of formulaic belief. There are no contingencies for situations where no father is availed or the father is lacking as a man of moral character. As one commenter noted, when faced with this kind of formula flaw, most who follow these formulas turn to the people who teach them so heartily to find their answers and don't rely on a personal understanding of the scriptures as revealed by the Holy Spirit, making the formula and those teaching it into idols.

    I write from what is still very deep pain, so I apologize if it comes across as raw. My encounter with this belief has been the most hurtful and bizarre experience of my life.

  23. Hugs to you Lewis. I can imagine the pain of having married a person who is not free to respond to your love with contented trust/joy nor free to return that love with the enthusiasm/appreciation. That must be devastating, and no less painful even though you know the reason and it is not your wife's choice to be so fearful, guilt-ridden and emotionally crippled. I hope she finds healing for her wounds.

    As to what about those of us who grew up fatherless? I am sure we are considered just as damaged and cursed as the orphans who have neither parent around.

    Gothard makes a mockery of the gospel, and yet he has the people sending him money and hanging on his every word believing that they are they only faithful Christians and that somehow God is pleased with their piety and abuse in His name. Ugh.

  24. I understand why my parents bought into the emotional purity Josh Harris and Bill Gothard style. All they knew was that their teen years where messed up and they didn't want that for us. So they eagerly grasped the first thing that came along and just as eagerly shoved it down our throats. The thing is, as a very young girl who wanted nothing more than to live pleasing to God, I bought it hook, line and sinker. It sounded so GOOD, so righteous. And it promised life. Isn't that what we all want? Abundant life?

    And, can I admit here...I was proud of my stand. I looked down on those who weren't enlightened as I. Those who had crushes and "liked" guys. I would often claim that I had never "liked" a guy and didn't intend to until I was married. Oh, the embarrassment of a woman looking back on herself as a girl...when I thought I knew everything!

    But God is good. He knew what I needed. He jumped out of the box that I had put Him in and broke every one of my rules. When I finally realized it, the fear of what my parents would think overwhelmed me. But God's love overwhelmed me more. I've written the story on my blog, of a girl who chose to follow God even in the face of opposition to everything she formerly believed in. It was worth it. I have never regretted it.

    To my own daughters I will say, follow God, not some arbitrary rules a man made up. Any formula that promises life by following it is a fake. Only Jesus can give life and He doesn't use formulas.


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