Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 35-38
This section is titled “A Thankful Spirit.” Debi begins by contrasting two examples. Here is the first one:
I know women who remain perpetually discontented because they must live with stained carpet and damaged furniture. Some women feel their family is in desperate straits if they cannot afford to serve fresh broccoli and salad. Tension rules their home. Their sad, withdrawn faces reflect their suffering. They cultivate expressions of grief, reflecting, they suppose, the heart of God sorrowing on their behalf.
And here is the second one:
Recently, I walked into a home that did not have running water, nor did it have an indoor bathroom. It had none of the things we consider necessities today, no washing machine or dryer and no kitchen cabinets, though they did have carpet – a remnant that covered about half the room, with its cut and frayed edges showing. Yet, this sweet new bride was smiling from ear to ear, telling me how thankful she was to have her won place. She told me over and over again how her husband made this shelf, and that place to store stuff, and how he is going to build a cabinet right here later.
After giving these examples Debi explains that
Discontentment is not a product of circumstances, it is the state of the soul.
She goes on to detail how you can cultivate a thankful heart – practice, she says, makes perfect.
When you catch yourself becoming irritated or disturbed at circumstances, stop and laugh at the little things that steal your peace. Count your blessings and learn to be appreciative.
It should be said that some of this is really good advice. It does make a difference whether you see a glass as half empty or half full, it absolutely does. The trouble is the other messages that Debi couples this message with. The trouble is telling women to be content without also telling them to work to better bad situations in concrete ways. In fact, Debi tells women that “discontentment is not a product of circumstances, it is the state of the soul.”
As I wrote in an earlier installment, “In Which Debi Almost Gets Something Right“:
I get that when you smile it’s contagious, and that everyone loves a happy person. This is an awesome message. But being cheerful and wearing a smile does not replace things like communication. Debi seems to think that women can solve their relationships by being cheerful alone. She indicates that the problems in any marriage stem from the wife being a “long-faced, sickly complainer” rather than a “sweet little thing.” …
Being cheerful does not automatically fix all of a marriage’s problems. There have to be other things. Things like communication, common interests, a meaningful connection.
In other words, contentment ceases to be a positive message when it gets in the way of actually working to make bad or mediocre situations better. This would like someone working at a fast food restaurant deciding that he or she needs to be “content,” and therefore turning down opportunities to agitate for better working conditions or get training for a job elsewhere that would pay higher wages. Sure, having a content and thankful spirit would make working at at a fast food restaurant more pleasant than it might otherwise be, but if it makes one decide to stop reaching up and looking for something better it’s outlived its usefulness. But this distinction never occurs to Debi because she thinks discontentment is the product not of circumstances, but of a state of the soul.
This problem can be seen in the letter Debi offers at the end of this section:
One day my husband came in while I was reading your literature about joy, and he asked me to do something for him. I cheerfully did what he asked with a smile on my face, and, boy, was he surprised. That was the beginning of our new life.
The sweeter I am to him, the more he likes me, and the more I like myself. I know most of my depression was because I hated myself over how I treated my man and how he reacted to me. How dumb we can be. We make life so complicated with our demands to be treated fairly. You know, the attitude of, “You do this, and if you do it right, then I’ll do that, and if you don’t, then you can just suck it up, because I will not do your part.” Boy am I glad to be finished with that stupidity. Now I seek to always delight my husband, no matter what. I do not know why I expected him to “like” me when I was so “unlikable and mean.” I want my face to reflect joy and thanksgiving to him.
Anyway, he has been treating me like a princess. His face lights up when he sees me. He holds my hand. puts his arm around me, smiles at me all the time, tries to help any chance he gets, and wants to just sit and talk. I am the Queen of his heart and the fire in his bed, at last!
“I know most of my depression was because I hated myself over how I treated my man and how he reacted to me.” “We make life so complicated with our demands to be treated fairly.” “Now I seek to always delight my husband, no matter what.” What kind of messages do these statements send when combined with Debi’s call to be content?
Marie was discontent because she expected her husband to pull his part and treat her fairly. When she stopped expecting this and started just seeking to do whatever her husband wanted the moment he wanted it, all of her troubles were over, her heart was filled with joy, and her husband began treating her “like a princess.” If you are suffering from depression or are discontented with your life, the solution is not to stop expecting others to treat you fairly. This does not get at any root underlying issues whatsoever. I don’t have much to go on here, but if I had been in Marie’s situation, I would have sat down with my husband and talked it through, and let him know what was bothering me, and we would have together come up with changes we could make so as to help our relationship become healthier and our lives happier.
I suppose it comes down to this: If I am ever discontent, my first response is to try to fix the circumstances that are making me discontent, and my second response, when I find I am in a situation where I can’t fix those circumstances, either immediately or ever, is to focus on being content. But Debi’s sole message to wives who are discontent with their lots is to practice having a thankful heart and being content. And that, according to Debi, will fix everything.
I’m not sure Debi can see the problem with her uncritical teaching of absolute contentment. Would she preach this message to the slaves of the antebellum South? Would she preach this message to the women who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory a century ago? Would she preach this message to sweatshop workers in the third world today? I actually rather get the feeling that she would. This is the problem with Debi’s vision. Contentment, even in terrible circumstances, trumps revolution. Always. And perhaps the most ironic thing about all of this is that the Jesus Debi claims to follow preaches the opposite message throughout the gospels.
On a totally different note, I have decided that Debi has got to be making up at least some of these letters. They all seem to follow a specific “type” and are becoming repetitive. They don’t ring true. There is a very contrived sound to them. I mean, would someone really write to an author about the healing of her marriage using phrases like “I am the fire in his bed at last”? I don’t have any way to actually know whether these letters are real or not, and I’m not claiming to know definitively or not. I am simply saying that my growing feeling is that at least some of them are made up out of Debi’s own head to illustrate her points.
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Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism