I started this blog to have a space to write about how patriarchal fundamentalist thought had affected my marriage and resulted in disaster on many levels. The truth is that patriarchal fundamentalist thought had already wreaked havoc on my life before I even met my husband, but that is really a whole different story. I did not intend to write much about my family of origin here, but I will today in solidarity with the Quiverfull Daughter, of whom I am very fond.
I am not a Quiverfull daughter. I am one of four girls raised by my single mother after two failed marriages. Her story is one of abuse and heartache, and it affected her life and personality in very negative ways. My mom is abusive and manipulative and completely self-centered. I am convinced she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Since I started relating to her as if that were a true diagnosis, our relationship has improved significantly. (Recommended read: Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina W. Brown, Ed. D., L.P.C.)
My mom was a staunch feminist, but she was also a great opportunist. She was in and out of different churches all my growing years, depending on her needs and how she thought it could benefit her. She was also in and out of illicit sexual relationships, but of course those two lives never crossed. She was very abusive in private, and managed to keep my siblings and me isolated from one another even though we were all going through the same thing. To those of you who ever lived in such a tangled mess of a family, you understand. To those of you who had a healthier experience of life, I couldn’t begin to explain it. Her public church persona, however, was “poor abandoned single mom just trying to live for Jesus”.
The summer between seventh and eighth grade was the most violent. I only found out as an adult why the physical abuse suddenly stopped, but the mental/emotional/psychological abuse would never end. It would continue today if I allowed her the access to my heart that real mothers have with their loved daughters.
The biggest spiritual crisis of my life came that summer. I was twelve years old. The honest truth is that I loved the Lord with all my heart. Not because I was raised in a family with daily devotions, but because Jesus loved me and had comforted my heart so many times- through moves and divorces and shamings and beatings and beratings. I loved church when we went, and I spent time every day pouring out my heart to God in prayer. My Bible was underlined and highlighted and I memorized Proverbs not because I had to or was in a competition, but because I wanted my loving Lord’s counsel for how to live my life.
At the same time, the abuse was at its peak and I was crushed- angry, depressed and desperate for any kind of love and acceptance I could find. I would tell my mom I was spending the night with fictional friends (she never checked) and then spend the night in the abandoned house across the street just to be away from her. Once when I was hanging out with God at lunch, a group of kids from school found me. Instead of making fun of me, they asked me to join them. They happened to be partiers, so soon I was smoking and drinking if I was invited to join the fun. It felt so good for someone to like me!
That fall, I was forced to go to the Basic Youth Conflict seminar. Even though I drew pictures of KISS all over my notebook, I was listening carefully. I wanted more than any thing to please God and would have loved for my mom to care about me. And Billy G. had all the answers! If only I would submit to my mom in everything, forgive her unconditionally ever time she wronged me, then *presto* *change-o* God would change my mother into a loving mature woman of God. After all, she was my AUTHORITY.
I came home determined to make this work. I worked hard to please my mom, yet never was able to make her happy. I was subservient, and when she began to verbally and/or physically abuse me I tried to keep a “sweet spirit”. And I prayed. I prayed harder than I had ever prayed before, that God would make me good enough so that my mom would be free to live for Jesus and stop abusing me/us.
But you know what? My mom didn’t change at all. She kept right on treating her children as she had always treated us. And it still hurt just as much as ever. I was still angry at being screamed at for hours, slapped around, and continually insulted and degraded. I just could not be the “sweet submissive child” that Billy G. told me God wanted me to be, even in the midst of abuse. It never occurred to me that Billy G. ws wrong. I thought something was wrong with me.
I thought God wasn’t changing my mom because I wasn’t sweet enough. I thought God wasn’t changing my mom because I was still angry and hurt about being mistreated (such a mild word for such devastating heartache). I thought that the presence of these emotions meant that I had an unforgiving heart, and pray as I did, those feelings just would not go away.
Of course the truth is that Bill Gothard is a dangerous heretic and his teachings are poison, but at that point in my life I thought anyone on a platform was right. It was easy for me to assume the problem was with me. My mom had told me my whole life how stupid, thoughtless, selfish, lazy and utterly hopeless I was.
And so I walked away from Jesus with a broken heart. I remember how deep I sobbed that night, gut-wrenching sobs from the depths of my being. I told Jesus I could not be a Christian, because I was such a hypocrite, and I did not want to blaspheme his name with my abhorrent behavior. I was not good enough to follow Jesus.
So I quit reading my Bible and trying so hard to live a righteous life. I hung out with people who appeared to actually like me, and if we drank and smoke and did drugs, so what? I was a moral failure, an epic fail at godliness. So what did it matter.
Because of my own experience, of loving the Lord with all my heart and yet continually being accused of evil motives and thoughts, I identify with Quiverfull daughters.
Because of my own experience, of never measuring up and yet carrying all the responsibility for the actions of others, I identify with Quiverfull daughters.
Because of my own experience, with those in authority claiming absolute power over our lives in the name of God, I identify with Quiverfull daughters.
My experience began in the seventies, and all that damage came from only ONE weekend seminar. I cannot begin to imagine the pain of having this pounded in your head day after day after day. So, Quiverfull daughters, children of ATI, survivors of fundamentalist cults, you have my loyal sympathy and strong support.
And that was only the beginning of the way Bill Gothard negatively affected my life. It would peak in a perfect storm of spiritual abuse, complete with church elders and symbolic stonings.
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Shadow Spring blogs at Love, Learning, Liberty
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