Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 45-47
I wanted to send my testimony because you have greatly encouraged me. I send it with my husband’s approval.
Debi finishes her section on thankfulness with another letter from a reader, this time a long one. Debi offers this letter without commentary, allowing it to stand for itself as an example of the sort of thankfulness she has been talking about. Remember from what we’ve seen in the past few posts that Debi has been telling women that rather than becoming upset with problems with their marriage or their husbands or, you know, trying to fix said problems, they should instead simply purpose to be content and thankful no matter what. Anyway, back to this letter.
The letter’s author, who calls herself Sara, explains that she was sexually abused by several different people as a child, and doesn’t “ever remember feeling pure.” She says that her parents divorced when she was young, and that her mom got custody but was only a shell of a person after the divorce and pretty much let her children fend for themselves – “dirty and unkempt.” Sara tells Debi that these things created self esteem problems (though she doesn’t use that word exactly) and that “I never really knew what it was to be loved” and that she was “so dirty, inside and out.”
Sara skips ahead, then, to her adulthood:
After I was married, I experienced deep personal pain in my marriage relationship — my husband’s adultery. It was awful. I reacted terribly toward him. I defied him, used it to get my own way, and tortured him with it. You name it; I did it. The only thing I didn’t do was leave him. We went through much hurt, anger, and bitterness. I had great difficulty trusting anything or anyone, even God.
Interestingly, except for stating that her husband committed adultery, Sara does not say anything about her husband’s actions in the situation. Did he break off the affair? Presumably. Did he apologize and try to make things right? Again, we are left to assume that he did, but we are not given anything clear. All that matters for Sara, and presumably for Debi, is Sara’s reaction and Sara’s actions. And Sara, we are informed in no uncertain terms, did not handle it well. In fact, when Sara states that “It was awful” it is not even clear whether she is speaking of her husband’s adultery or her reaction to it.
Let me take a moment to refer back to what I have titled Debi’s Rule #1 – “Whatever the problem is, by all means blame the woman.” The problem is not Sara’s husband’s adultery, oh no! It’s Sara’s response to her husband’s adultery. Now of course, on some level all we can control is our own reaction to things. But nevertheless, Sara’s situation fits Debi’s general pattern of letting the husband entirely off the hook and finding a way to turn all the blame on the wife. Remember when Debi blamed Beth’s husband’s adultery on Beth, and excused her husband from responsibility, saying that he must have been lonely?
Okay, so, what would be a good way to react to your husband’s unfaithfulness? Going off of what little we know about Sara’s situation, did she do everything right, or did she get things wrong? Well, it seems to me that it’s only natural to feel the hurt and anger and distrust Sara describes when faced with a spouse’s adultery. The next step, of course, should be communication and counseling and attempts to find the root of the problems and a way to repair the marriage, if possible. We don’t know whether Sara and her husband did any of this, or whether they just sort of brushed it under the carpet and attempted to move on. That said, Sara is right of course that torturing your spouse with a past transgression is not good. And to be honest, this response makes me think that she and her husband didn’t turn to communication and counseling in order to repair their damaged marriage. I suspect that instead they simply tried to muddle along as Sara’s (quite natural) anger and distrust solidified into bitterness.
Anyway, moving on. Sara says that at that time she asked for God to give her a sign that he loved her. He answered her, she says, by reminding her of how he showed her he loved her when she was that “dirty, ill-mannered, messed-with child” – by putting an elderly Christian woman in her neighborhood to show her love, to hold her on her lap and tell her stories of Jesus.
It was God’s lap I sat on that day; it just took me years and years to know it. Because God loved a dirty little girl, all the while I was going through public school, I never believed in evolution. I had a basic knowledge of Jesus Christ, sin, hell, and heaven. God had laid a foundation in my life, when I was a rejected, lonely child…
Sarah explains that her elderly Christian neighbor took her to church for the next five years and was “a true vessel for God’s love.” Then she moves back to her troubled marriage.
There came a time during all our marriage troubles that I knew I was stagnating. I got on my knees and began to pray, asking God to make me grateful. That Sunday at our church, the ladies from the Roloff Homes were there. [Roloff Homes take in troubled, drug addicted or street ladies who come for help.] God began to remind me where he had brought me from and what he had saved me out of. About the time God was doing this, our pastor asked the ladies of our church, who would, to come and stand with the Roloff ladies because, really, but for the grace of God, we could have been standing where those ladies were. I went and stood with them, and we all began to sing, ‘At The Cross.’ I began to weep, thinking about the miry pit that God had rescued me out of. The Roloff ladies put their hands on me to comfort me — me, who should have been comforting them! I silently thanked God for making me grateful, and thanked him for doing it so gently.
In other words, Sara prayed that God would make her grateful, and the very next Sunday women who work with drug addicted women and prostitutes came to speak at her church. She remembered her past and that she could easily have ended up just like those poor women, and realized how good she actually had it.
And here I am going to take a moment to create Debi’s Rule #4: “If you think you have it bad, remember that it could be worse.” We already encountered this idea earlier, when Debi told a wife whose husband had committed adultery that if she continued down a path of bitterness she would end up single, living in a “crappy duplex” and sending her children to public school to be turned into godless unruly heathens.
Now of course, it’s absolutely a good idea to count your blessings. The trouble starts when Debi uses this line to encourage women in crappy situations to just be grateful and put up with those crappy situations. Remember that we have very little idea about how Sara’s husband handled the aftermath of his affair. We have no idea whether he has fixed old patterns or anything. So when Sara encounters the Roloff women, she’s essentially realizing that being in a (insert problems here) marriage with a (insert problems here) man is better than being on the street, so she should shut up about her problems already and get over it. (Somehow I feel like my husband Sean wouldn’t be happy if I were to employ similar reasoning to my own marriage.) Regardless of what Debi seems to think, marriage shouldn’t be something you stay in just because you realize your life could be worse.
Being grateful and thankful is the key to spiritual victory.
You know what? Being grateful and thankful can also lead to complacency and stagnation if the gratefulness and thankfulness are forced and put on rather than natural.
It was at this point that the battle turned. There came a time when God dealt with me about my bitterness towards him. I had carried bitterness towards him for not protecting me while a child when I thought he should have. He showed me that he hadn’t shielded Jesus either.
So much to say, so little time. This is really a theological problem here, and this series is more about critiquing what Debi says about marriage and gender roles than it is for dealing with theological problems like this.
I do think, though, that I need to say something about bitterness. Why? Because, quite simply, that word is a weapon wielded in evangelical and fundamentalist circles to keep women in their place. Women who are discontent, or want something different, or become angry at the church hierarchy or at God’s long lists of rules, or start asking questions or challenging Christian teachings are accused of being bitter. And for a Christian woman in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, there is no worse insult. I need to explore this concept more in a future post, but it’s something to chew on.
Who would believe that now I want to be married to my husband; that I like being around him and spending time with him. I enjoy talking to him and enjoy the fact that he balances me out so well. Who would believe I am looking forward to having more children with him, Lord willing. Some people would say I am weak and foolish or extremely co-dependent. What people think is nothing compared to what God thinks.
Once again, we have no idea at all what role Sara’s husband played here. The impression we are given is that Sara transformed her entire marriage single handedly simply by letting go of her bitterness and deciding to be grateful for what she had, however crappy that might be (again, we don’t know). This is one of the many themes that suffuse Debi’s book: rather than encouraging women to work together with their husbands to fix or improve their marriages, perhaps with help from counseling, Debi tells women they can make their marriages perfect single handedly. This message makes me really nervous.
Next, let me touch for a moment on the whole “weak and foolish or extremely co-dependent” thing. Sara sees the idea of codependency as something to laugh about, and honestly? Debi spends her book telling women to be codependent on their parents. What is codependency?
Codependency is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.
Debi informs women that it is their duty as wives to submit to and obey their husbands, and tells them they exist to meet their husbands’ needs. That is codependency. And you know what? Codependency is generally considered to be, you know, a problem. You know how I said earlier that I want to hash out the whole “bitterness” concept more later? I hope to do the same with codependency.
Debi holds Sara’s letter up as a success story. And really, Sara’s letter (if a woman named Sara did indeed write it – it is always possible that Debi simply wrote it herself to set it out as a model of how her teachings can fix marriages) is a perfect example of the pattern Debi endorses. Sara had a bad background and a troubled marriage, but she fixed it all by letting go of her bitterness, trusting God, and purposing to love her husband. This is the promise Debi holds out. And of course, with all of this, Debi is quick to point out that no matter how bad women think their marriages and situations are, they could always be worse, “dumpy duplex” and all.
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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
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce