CTBHHM: Praying Women and “Spiritual Masturbation”

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 180—182

So, Debi gets mail. Or rather, Michael does, but whatever, it made into Debi’s book.

Dear Mr. Pearl,

I am a busy mother whose children go to a Christian school. I am realizing that without another close female in my life who could share house duties, it is harder on me than it should be.

Do you by any chance have a husband? Because believe it or not, they can help out with things like housework and childcare. I know, right? It’s crazy!

I meet with two prayer groups each week and have them pray for me and my family by name. My biggest need is for help physically in caring for the housework and someone to sit in quiet worship with me. I need at least 4 hours per week of meditation time, self-actualization time.

This letter feels . . . fake. It reads like it’s written to prove a point.

It is 4 am now and I’m up writing my friends to ask for prayer and see if they know of any gals with five children of their own who might be as stressed as I am. I am frustrated because of my culture and my isolation from regular and close fellowship with wise women. I have a heart desire to change my current lifestyle and to live a rich, full, and meaningful life, and am motivated so because I want the best for God. I trust you will send me some good advice.

Love in Him,

T.P.

Oh my lord. Debi is the last person I’d turn to for “some good advice.” Let’s have a look, shall we?

Dear Sister T.P.,

Your divine calling is to serve your family. True worship of God is not dependent upon other people or special circumstances, nor does it require a time of meditation. The Spirit of God is present when you wash the dishes or pick up the dirty clothes, and he is there while you prepare meals for your family in the evening. God never intended for you to have intimacy with another woman, whether in worship or otherwise. Stimulating your own inner feelings in the name of worship is selfish mockery, approaching idolatry. Your seeking of “self-actualization” in the name of spirituality is a mixture of foolish psychology and emotional insecurity.

I’ve heard the bit about worshipping God through service to others and through work performed well, but I don’t think it’s usually used as a way to deny any need for dedicated time of Bible reading and prayer. My mother used to get up early and read the Bible and pray for an hour before we children got up, and she taught us to follow her example, each having individual “quiet time” with God at the beginning of each day.

As for the bit about intimacy with other women, well, we’ll get to that a bit more as we continue in this passage. And turning to the other topic here, I generally use the term “self care” rather than “self-actualization,” but either way, it shouldn’t be surprising that Debi thinks so little of it. Debi’s entire book is about forgetting yourself to give to others. What this ignores, among other things, is that you can’t give of yourself if you’ve lost yourself in the process.

You are part of a trend sweeping through church women’s circles—a pursuit of intimacy and deep feelings apart from your husband. This inner-self-stimulation is what my husband calls “spiritual masturbation.” it has nothing to do with the God of the Bible. It is spirituality more akin to Eastern mystic meditation.

Debi really has very little understanding of the history of Christianity. Things like meditation and mystical spiritual intimacy are very much a part of the Christian tradition. Also, what is this about it being wrong to seek spiritual intimacy apart from one’s husband? Is that like, cheating on your husband with God? Interestingly, the middle ages are full of female mystics who eschewed earthly marriage and claimed that they were married only to Jesus. This passage brought this to my mind. And “spiritual masturbation”? Really? I’m trying to grasp the full implications of the analogy, but I’m failing. I’m sure it will come to me tomorrow.

When your spirituality competes with your service to others (especially your husband and family), it is just that—”your spirituality.” Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me” . . . then “feed my sheep.”

Wait. Wait. Debi is extremely selective in her Bible reading, isn’t she? Because I feel like she’s forgetting something. You know, maybe, like this:

Luke 10: 38-42—”Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

When your spirituality competes with your service to others (especially your family), Jesus says . . . pick your spirituality. Maybe it’s just me, but this really seems to contradict Debi flat out and completely. And also, this is a very common store. Directly contradicting such a common Bible story seems . . . risky. I mean, I can’t be the only one to notice it, can I?

God does not call women to be mountain top gurus or to seek one out for their personal benefit. He commands them to be “keepers at home,” to “obey their husbands,” to “render due benevolence (give him good sex),” and “reverence” him. Remember that the sin of Eve was to seek deeper knowledge and to be like the gods. Independent of her husband, she sought to go deeper. Her ambition was personal spiritual fulfillment, which is the most selfish drive that can possess a person and the easiest to justify, humanly speaking. It is the foundation of all sin and rebellion.

I’ll grant that there are varied interpretations of the temptation and the fall, but this definitely isn’t the one I grew up with. I’m also rather horrified by the suggestion that spiritual fulfillment is the most selfish desire that can possess a person. I think you have to understand that Debi is speaking to women here. She’s telling women that rather than seeking to grow close to God, they should focus instead on manually serving their husband and children. This is a means of control. I think you have to understand that in the evangelical world, God often functions as people’s method of decision making and source of the working out of individual beliefs. What Debi is doing here is separating women from their ability to make their own decisions and work out their own beliefs.

Learn to read the Scriptures just a few minutes here and there throughout the day, and meditate on what you read as you work. Sing to the Lord. Don’t let the “lonely women’s club” mentality sweep you away from your role as a wife and mother. Your time at church and prayer meeting is sufficient enough time with other women. Focus your life on your home, husband, and children.

Don’t pray too much. Don’t read the Bible too much. Focus on serving your family by making sandwiches and sweeping the floor, and don’t let God get in the way of that.

There is a very grave danger in becoming emotionally dependent on other women. Too many times I have seen this lead to something abnormal and sick. Your husband and God should be the ones to whom you turn for emotional support and intimacy. Women who seek higher spirituality end up feeling and acting spiritually superior to their husbands and others in the church, and it is a death knell to a healthy marriage relationship. Spend that “desired” spiritual time with your husband, where real growth and maturity with God will be found.

This is an attempt to separate women from a female support system and make them instead fully dependent on their husbands, to whom they are to submit absolutely. Women talking to other women—you see, that can put ideas in women’s heads, ideas other than those their husbands put there.

Seek to serve your family by tying your little one’s shoe strings, reading a book to your toddler, telling a simple Bible story to the whole gang, and making sweet love with your husband. These are the things God counts as important in knowing and loving him.

Debi

Having sex with your husband, Debi says, is a more important part of knowing and loving God than is reading the Bible or spending time in prayer. Yup. That totally makes sense. As in, not.

Honestly, in reading this passage I am just so struck by the extent to which Debi separates women from everything else in their lives—from God, from other women, from themselves—to focus them entirely on their husbands. How anyone doesn’t see this as idolatry or priming the situation for an abuse of power I do not know. I do have to wonder—is it selfish for men to seek to be close to God too? Or is it only selfish for women to seek such? Because I feel like there’s a serious double standard going on here. Men get to seek God. Women get to work.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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