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When the Hands are Loving, Where Does the Pain Come From?

C arolyn doesn't know why she's crying. "It doesn't make sense," she says. "I don't go hungry. I have everything I need. We are a close family. I've never been hit. I know I'm a sinner and have asked God over and over to show me what I've done wrong and what I need to change, but nothing gets better ~ in fact, it gets worse! From the outside, everything looks great. But inside I'm going crazy. I can't take this much longer."

Adult daughters like Carolyn write me often, agonizing over the cognitive dissonance of external versus internal. Of appearance versus heart, which is a theme revealed early in the pages of Scripture:  So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam.16:6-8)

This passage describes looking at the flesh and drawing spiritual conclusions. I believe we can find a parallel between the context of these verses and patriocentric homes where almost always, everything looks "right". Children are buried in schoolbooks or romping cheerfully around the yard. Sons are chopping firewood or plowing fields. Daughters are baking bread or sewing. We might be inclined to exclaim a similar injunction to Samuel's: "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him!" But as we see, there is danger in looking at the flesh (outward appearance, actions, and other external features) and assuming that because it looks godly and biblical, that it is ordered by the Lord. Or because there is no overt abuse, that everyone is okay on the inside. Where the heart is. And while Jesus cares about our entire being, body included, His healing isn't limited to flesh. He cares about things unseen. And we should, too.

The Problem with Appearance

It's a horrifying truth that physical abuse and sexual abuse exist, even within families who make an effort to live holy lives apart from the influence of a wicked culture. Many have told me, in the agony of alone-ness, that no one within their own, like-minded community ever knew what really happened inside their homes. But overt abuse is not the only kind, the worst kind, or even the most common within families who heartily endorse the doctrines of Biblical Patriarchy. There is other abuse that alters not one's appearance, necessarily (although it may over time), but the heart. And when abuse affects someone's relationship with God, understanding of Scripture, and leads to serious emotional and spiritual pain, it means that something terrible is happening!

Have you ever felt a raindrop land on your face? Or walked by a pool, only to be lightly splashed by children? These little droplets are relatively inconsequential. Although historical accounts of this practice are debatable, the use of water is described in the following method of torture: "A prisoner was tied to a table or the floor, and his head was strapped in place so that he couldn't move anything. Water was then dripped onto his forehead, one drop at a time. It drove the person insane, and after a period the victim would reveal the secret, confess to the crime, or agree to do anything his or his captors requested to get them to stop the torture. This was particularly favored in circumstances where torture was necessary, but no evidence of physical damage could show."  Source While obviously an extreme example, this situation illustrates how seemingly innocuous things can, in fact, over time have a grave psychological and behavioral effect while bodily signs never appear. How many adult children of patriarchy are emotionally and spiritually constrained? How many live with constant dripping on the face, held firmly by straps man-labeled, "God's way"? "Biblical womanhood"? "How to honor your parents"?

Consider the conflict in an adult daughter's heart when she looks at hands that have fed her, bathed her, stroked her hair, tied her shoes, bandaged her knees, and folded in prayer for her. She knows these are kind gestures. Christ-like, even. How to reconcile them, then, with messages ~ verbal or implied ~ like these?
  • If you move out of your parents' home for any reason other than marriage, it will be like committing parental adultery.
  • Having a job in the world is against God's plan for women.
  • Your depression is demonic. 
  • Godly womanhood means that you will not be given any calling other than motherhood, or that other callings are less important.
  • Biblical womanhood means that your father will have a vision for your life and that you were created for the purpose of being a wife and mother. This is what the Bible teaches, and there are no exceptions to His will.
  • God won't reveal His will to you. Your father will hear God's voice for you, and tell you what His will is for your life.
  • Because Eve was deceived, you cannot discern for yourself what is from God, or what is from the world. You are listening to your flesh.
  • The Bible says to honor your parents. Therefore you need to do what I tell you. Otherwise you are foolish and disobedient.
  • If you choose a college education, you are going against God's plan.
  • If you believe God is calling you to the ministry or anywhere outside of your home, you are wrong and obviously don't know the voice or will of God. God doesn't call women to leave their home.
Many beautiful, seemingly idyllic families use these messages and more to influence the lives of their adult daughters. While some might appear to have basis in Scripture, a closer look and a testing of fruit offers a devastating reminder that appearances can be deceiving. It feels like torture to consider that perhaps these messages are acquired apart from the Spirit of the Lord. It feels like betrayal to suggest that maybe these teachings are abusive even when they are delivered with gentle hands and a soft tongue.

This kind of dissonance creates confusion. While teaching is intended to support and defend God's plan for living, a thoroughly patriocentric core emerges in the daily praxis of home and family. Perhaps a better way to understand patriocentricity is found in James 3: self-seeking. Where there is self-seeking, we learn from James, there is confusion and every evil thing. Jesus reminds us that those who desire to enter the Kingdom must become as little children, and yet daughters of patriarchy discover all too often that entrance to the Kingdom itself is barred by those who hear God on their behalf.

“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”

This can be done gently.
This can be done sweetly, with biblical, loving, concerned words.
This is abuse.

Image Source

33 comments:

  1. "This can be done gently.
    This can be done sweetly, with biblical, loving, concerned words.
    This is abuse."


    Is it ever. The illusion of godly virtue doesn't change it.

    Awesome post, Hillary.

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  2. Boy, can I relate to this! And the hard thing is, sometimes the parents can't even see it. My mom still can't understand someof my hang-ups. She keeps saying how they took care of us, affirmed us, gave us everything they could, etc. so how could we possibly "blame" them for our heart-issues. It IS confusing, when put that way. Like the quote in "The Myth of Normal"...everything looked so right, how could there be so much wrong?? Saying you show grace and actually showing it are two very, very different ideas. Saying your proud of your kids and acting like it are also very different things. How many times have we heard "But I always told you I was proud of you? How can you possibly think you weren't good enough for me?" Yeah. :(

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  3. Ouch! My daughter has said those words to me, and I have responded in kind! I was truly mystified.

    Why would she think I wasn't proud of her?

    Honestly I didn't get how the constant, daily devotions and/or lectures were telling her that she would never measure up. I thought I was saving her from heartache.

    I just took the word of the Christian book industry that this was the way to raise happy Christian children who would never ever stray. I believed that if I was a good enough parent, a "godly" parent, that my children could come to life without ever "going astray".

    That whole teaching, er marketing strategy, preys on pride and fear. Pride that it all depends on me, fear that it all depends on me. It's all "on me" either way.

    Now I know it's all about grace and unconditional love. I have to remind myself of this everyday. But it's good. I feel the presence of God with me, and while I wish I had figured it all out earlier, I know Jesus is going to work it all out for everyone's good.

    Maybe your generation will be the one to do this parenting thing right, ladies. =) I hope so.

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  4. This reminds me of my mom. If I ever tried to point anything out to her...it always somehow became my fault. It was a lose, lose. I remember one time pointing out that she never praised me or thanked me for chores done, although she would criticize me for not doing them or not doing them well. Her take on it...I was supposed to do the chores so there was no reason to thank me. I never really felt like I could measure up to her, either.

    Our situation was not patriocentric, but it was definitely off base. But then...what do you want for a situation where a child is made responsible for a parent's sanity and happiness?

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  5. So true. So much good mixed with some bad things equals a lot of confusion and shame. Thanks for putting it into words!

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  6. thank you so much, friend, for your comment on my post today. your heart resonates... you bleed compassion. it's beautiful.

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  7. Thank you, Lewis. Illusion, like a veil. Blogging on that soon.

    Darcy and SS...I know that many of the topics here deal with patriocentricity, but I've been thinking a lot about matriocentricity ~ more of a matriarchal dynamic. I know for many families within patriarchy, often the mothers are the ones pressing for the paradigms we see.

    SS, I think there is both good and opportunity for growth within every generation. It's part of the journey and one reason why focusing on Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit is so important. Your daughter is in the Lord's hands ~ and so are you. <3

    Sharon ~ <3

    Emily, you are a sweetheart. God bless you.

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  8. Excellent thoughts and perfect timing for some things going on in my life right now. I spent yesterday thinking about a dear friend who is on the cusp of slipping into patriarchal teaching. So hard to articulate how something that looks go good leads to an awful end. I kept thinking of Samuel wanting to pick David's brothers to be king and how it is the Lord who sees the heart and can look through all the "beautiful" trappings and see the heart of the matter!!

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  9. I'm a recent reader, and while I don't know that I "enjoy" your blog (how could I enjoy knowing that you have survived abuse and are working through it, like many of the rest of us?), your writing is always thought-provoking and gentle.

    Take care and God bless, Hillary.

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  10. This is a painful thing for me to hear in more ways than one, but I am not 100% convienced about these issues that you discuss in this post, or in your book (which I am still slowly plodding through because I read slow). I guess I am not "getting it," or maybe there is nothhing to "get" in the first place?

    I.R.

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  11. Anonymous...

    If I may ask, do you feel that these beliefs, listed in Hillary's post above, are scripturally based, spiritually accurate, and emotionally healthy?...

    "If you move out of your parents' home for any reason other than marriage, it will be like committing parental adultery.

    Having a job in the world is against God's plan for women.

    Your depression is demonic.

    Godly womanhood means that you will not be given any calling other than motherhood, or that other callings are less important.

    Biblical womanhood means that your father will have a vision for your life and that you were created for the purpose of being a wife and mother. This is what the Bible teaches, and there are no exceptions to His will.

    God won't reveal His will to you. Your father will hear God's voice for you, and tell you what His will is for your life.

    Because Eve was deceived, you cannot discern for yourself what is from God, or what is from the world. You are listening to your flesh.

    The Bible says to honor your parents. Therefore you need to do what I tell you. Otherwise you are foolish and disobedient.

    If you choose a college education, you are going against God's plan.

    If you believe God is calling you to the ministry or anywhere outside of your home, you are wrong and obviously don't know the voice or will of God. God doesn't call women to leave their home."

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  12. Wonderful, wonderful post.

    "For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam.16:6-8)
    I was thinking about this verse just today, after reading a blog entry by a young woman in a patriarchal family who believes that a woman who shaves her legs/underarms is engaged in sin. How sad that this has become her measure of worth before God!

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  13. Hillary,this is absolutely right on the money. I think too many people caught up in the system think "Well I am sure there are some parents who abuse their children but..." What they don't get is that the system IS the abuse. The teachings that promote idolatry of the trivial and place men into weird boxes, that these "ARE" the abuse.

    As I have been preparing for this week's podcast and rereading many of the women of patriarchy books over the past month, I can see so clearly that patriocentricity isn't just a movement that damages women, it is terribly harmful to men as well. Women are expecting from men only that which God promises to provide. Fathers and husbands are doomed to failure because of it. And the women continually promote the sins of "flesh feeding" in their men. My new phrase for this.... These patriocentric teachings, when you really examine them in light of Scripture, aren't for God's glory at all and certainly aren't his standards. Instead, the personal preferences of women and their husbands have been elevated to biblical proportions.

    This is one of your best reads.....

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  14. Anonymous, I would encourage you to listen to my current podcast series on this topic. I have tried to take a huge body of material and condense it down, hoping those who are interested will expand it back out and examine these teachings in light of Scripture. You can find the series here

    http://www.thatmom.com/?page_id=2648

    along with the first series I did on patriarchy/patriocentricity in 2007.

    http://www.thatmom.com/?page_id=2659

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  15. "I think too many people caught up in the system think "Well I am sure there are some parents who abuse their children but..." What they don't get is that the system IS the abuse. The teachings that promote idolatry of the trivial and place men into weird boxes, that these "ARE" the abuse."


    Amen. Well stated, Karen. It's an important point.

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  16. I.R.,
    ARe you questioning whether these things really ARE real issues, whether they really are wrong and abusive and unbiblical? i'm just trying to understand your question. :)

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  17. I just got the book and am so excited! So far I've only read the first few pages and some of the last ones, but it definitely seems God-breathed. And much more gentle than I would be, ha!

    Once I finish reading it and sharing it with my family it will be donated to the local library - we have many, many patrio families in this little town and most of them are regulars at the library. I am hoping and praying that the book will reach most of these families. Quite a few of the leaders mentioned in the book are connected to the homeschoolers in this area and come here to speak. I know several of them myself and I am really praying for the daughters of a couple of them, especially. You can see the sadness and guilt and fake joy and I just want to help so badly. Thanks so much for this book, Hillary - I am going to write a bit in the front before I donate it adding a brief part of my story of how hard it is to realize that your parents may have seriouly sinned against you even though they loved you a great deal. I want to tell people that even though it feels like betrayal, admitting that something is wrong can lead to SO MUCH freedom, not just for you but for your whole family.

    L

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  18. (Not that that msg is not in the book already - just I think it might help to see another personal testimony right in the front when they pick it up and know that it's from someone in their own town).

    L

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  19. (Going backwards)

    L, awesome idea! Thank you! I hope it makes a difference...and thank you for praying for those who are in and perpetuate these teachings.

    Thatmom, thank you. I really appreciate this statement: These patriocentric teachings, when you really examine them in light of Scripture, aren't for God's glory at all and certainly aren't his standards. Instead, the personal preferences of women and their husbands have been elevated to biblical proportions. And this is where spiritual confusion comes in for those trying to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance and to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

    TC, thank you for your comment, and for the reminder that YES, some of these messages really are that ... I am at a loss for words to describe it. How DO you describe equating your standing before God, as a girl, by whether or not you are too young (or that it is too worldly) to shave your legs??????? :-(

    Sheena...thank you for joining the conversation and I know exactly what you mean. God bless you!

    Paula, thanks for stopping by also! I'm sad to hear about your friend...keep encouraging her to seek the Lord first and to keep her eyes on Him, not those who may or may not claim to teach about Him. He will show her His way.

    One Survivor, my heart aches at this pain. :-( That "lose, lose" feeling is indescribably hard because it reinforces shame...{hugs} so sad!

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  20. Ah yes... the "matriocentric" undercover as "patriocentric". I've seen it more than once and it's not always easy to spot. I believe now more than ever that a sweet, submissive exterior can be (not always, but can be) a trojan horse for a mindset of oppression and abuse. Remember the line from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding".. "The man may be the head but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants". There's a lot of truth in that statement. And even if she isn't turning the head, so to speak, there are a number of women advocating the mindset as outlined in the list Hillary cited and Lewis quoted. I think these women can be just as dangerous as the knuckle-dragging neandrethal control freaks who lead by force and intimidation. These women are frosting a poisoned cake.

    Blessings,

    Jim K.

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  21. Hmm, poison cake. I think I'll have to use that now. Instead of "don't drink the Kool-Aid" it'll be "don't eat the cake". :P

    (sorry, that was totally random. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming, er, DE-programming....)

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  22. I've stumbled into all this nearly by accident! A Facebook friend posted a link to one of Lewis's blog posts on her wall and I clicked over and read it. So here I am. I think I'll be exploring some more and may have some things to contribute to discussions.

    I'm a homeschool grad and very proud of it. My mom never worked outside the home, my dad is the bread-winner and the head of the family. We subscribe to the belief that the man is the head of the home, just as Christ is the head of the church and LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HER. That is the key phrase in having a Biblical home, one that many Christians overlook. To their detriment.

    My dad is my protector. I love him dearly. I chose of my own free will to remain at home until I married. I got married last spring, but now I'm back at home because he turned out to be abusive and we were afraid he would try to kill me. Right now, of my own free will, I choose to be back at home under my dad's protection. Because he loves me and he won't let my "husband" hurt me anymore.

    For me, I was created to be a wife and mother. That is my highest calling. But God also gave me an active imagination and the desire to write. So I do that too. I chose not to go to college because I believe that's what God told me to do. Does that mean I won't decide someday to take a college class or two? Not at all! I just didn't see the point in spending four years in college when I all I want is a home of my own, a husband who loves and cherishes me and children.

    I do greatly value my papa's advice and perspective. I am him made over and he's trying to teach me how not to make the mistakes he made. I don't hear God through him. I hear God for myself. Sometimes God uses Papa to speak to me, but He uses other people too.

    It's frightening to me that there are really families out there who teach their daughters the things you listed. My "husband" subscribes to many of them, in his own pagan way. He lied to us, and I fully believe it was just to get me in bed with him. I refused to be his slave and insisted that he treat me with gentleness and respect. Now I'm sorting all that out and wondering why we were all so convinced that he was the man God made for me.

    "Husband" is from India and is quite proud of his patriarchal culture. But it's his mom who rules the roost and she created the monster he turned in to by never teaching him how to respect others.

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  23. Hillary... I'm so glad you found me on Facebook. And I'm humbled that you find my blog a hideaway... I so hope you can be part of the Imperfect Prose community. I learn from you. e.

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  24. Rachel, I'm so sorry that you were hurt by your husband! I hope that you feel free to grieve the many aspects of that kind of situation. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, things go wrong. That's ok. We are all human. And God loves to heal the brokenhearted!

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  25. SO true Hillary...I think so often that is why the "authorities" are able to get away with it. Because they appear only kind and loving to the world, and even to us. It's mind games, for sure. Sometimes I don't know up from down...

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  26. Matriocentric? Would that be a teaching that mother rules all?

    Or are you saying that mothers who push for "the Biblical family model" are the ones really in charge, and that Dads are just going along to not cause trouble?

    Or are you saying something entirely different?

    I would caution all who see passive men with bitter, frustrated and angry wives left in charge to not be so quick to blame the wife.

    Passivity is a form of emotional abuse. Pushing all the responsibility on your partner is a form of abuse. Manipulating the children to feel sorry for one parent or look down on one parent is a form of abuse.

    You can find out more about what abuse really looks like (it's far more subtle than a slap in the face!) at this ministry website: http://www.lifeskillsintl.org/Power_and_Control_Wheel.html

    Note especially Silent Abuse, Using Children, and Responsibility Abuse.

    Hillary, you are always gentle and kind in your approach to any issue, so I know you will check this out from all angles.

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  27. "How DO you describe equating your standing before God, as a girl, by whether or not you are too young (or that it is too worldly) to shave your legs??????? :-( "


    How's this for irony? A few years ago I was on a school board of a charter start up that was most definitely NOT christian (almost anti-christian) but extremely neo-hippy, socially conscious. We met to discuss the director candidate and the crucial point of worthiness that got the most airtime? That she had pedicured toes and waxed her legs.

    Fundies of any color will pick such SO-NOT-THE-POINT things to make the biggest issues.

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  28. This is so beautiful!! Wow, I love the clarity and boldness shared here today!
    I did struggle so much with this recognition just the other week that:
    *where there was gentleness there was also (something very subtle, and controlling - it didn't feel right and eventually fear forms and stays as intimidation)... and eventually after the acknowledgment of oppression; betrayal is felt.

    Love overcomes all and does not force or manipulate or diminish, it brings out the best in each of us and, it is consistency, and unconditional. Love heals the heart and we can still take responsibility for our lives and recreate from where we are, and ask for generous healing and cleansing from our Source, our Beloved Maker who is pure, and right and knows our every need.

    This God of these precious details, and care-taking is who I serve. There are not rules, as much as ripples and blessings of His Love as we honor this One Covenant that we must not leave. ;)

    God is using you mightily and I am so blessed to network with you ;)
    hugs,
    Jenn

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  29. The list of false thoughts taught women in this setting is so good, Hillary. I heard all of those for so long, and finally got the courage to start listening to OTHER voices, voices of freedom, courage, and no-strings-attached love. I'm free now, but it takes so much time to undo a lifetime of false thinking. I will press on. :-)

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  30. i needed to read these words today - to realize that my choice to honor my husband about my father is actually biblical and right. that i'm not crazy for questioning the beliefs i grew up with.

    thank you, thank you, thank you for your ministry.

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  31. "honor my husband *above* my father" - silly typos:)

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  32. Thank you for stopping by, Kimberley! I'm so glad the Lord used this for you...may He continue to refresh and bless you and your marriage. <3

    RamblingTart...great to see you! (Why do I always get hungry after visiting your scrumptious blog??) Yes...keep pressing on, and the Lord will give you strength.

    Thank you, Jenn. :-)

    Sandra, so true and yes, ironic.

    Shadowspring, I sure hope so. :-) Thank you for your encouragement. I've heard from many who do have more of a matriocentric that pat., and the dynamics interest me.

    {{Hope}} Praying for you, dear...

    Rachel, I agree with Sharon...I'm sad with you for your pain. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story; may God continue to draw you close to Him as you heal and seek His face.

    Darcy...lol.

    Jim, a masquerading angel of light comes to mind.

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  33. I am struggling with many of these issues - Christian families and abuse, my adult relationship to my very controlling, verbally abusive father who used scripture as a justification...thank you for writing this.

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