It's about SUPERSTITION April 1, 2009

by Vyckie

At the CYIA Spring Retreat ~ all weekend long, I fought the fear that I had just invited disaster upon myself and my children…

Laura’s story, Three Lilacs and a Statue made me think about another topic which Laura and I have discussed on several occasions ~ so I talked to her about it again and we decided we would write this post together since “superstition” was such a HUGE part of both of our experiences.

I’ll go first...

Vyckie: Part of my “submissive wife” mindset included the belief that unless I had my husband’s approval, whatever idea or plan that I had was doomed and I might as well not even bother. The practicality of that belief was complicated by the fact that Warren’s automatic response to anything new was ALWAYS to thoroughly go over every possible reason why whatever I wanted to try wouldn’t work out. In other words, I had to convince him ~ every time. It was a real chore, since his reasoning and conversational skills were sorely lacking ~ so trying to give good reasons for anything was an exercise in absolute frustration.

This conviction that I had became a self-fulfilling prophecy and whenever I “defied” Warren by doing what I wanted without first seeking his approval (I would not have said that I asked his permission ~ nobody could have convinced me that there was no equality in our marriage) ~ things always ended disastrously for me. After several years’ worth of incidents where I noticed this happening, it got to the point that even if I convinced Warren and he decided, “Okay ~ that’d probably be fine for you to try” ~ unless he WHOLEHEARTEDLY supported me, my plans just never worked out ~ the perfect opportunity for Warren to feel justified in his initial reservations about whatever it was that I wanted to do.

In order to give the kids an opportunity to interact with other children and to develop some skills, I wanted to enroll them in a local 4-H club. I figured it would be the perfect set-up since I could still be very involved in all of their activities ~ so could monitor their associations with the other children ~ plus, I explained to Warren ~ the 4-H schedule would give us deadlines which would force us to get things done ~ something that wasn’t happening in our homeschool. Warren wasn’t so sure about the idea because all the other children in the 4-H club went to public school.

I was feeling pretty desperate about how far behind the kids were getting in their education ~ and I could see that their emotional and social maturity was being stunted as well. So ~ after a series of grueling, hours-long, headache-invoking conversations ~ I talked Warren into allowing the children to participate in 4-H.

Sure enough ~ it didn’t work out. The kids didn’t like going to the meetings (because they felt like freaks) ~ PLUS, seeing the competence of the other kids made our kids more aware of what they were missing out on by not going to school. Weren’t homeschoolers supposed to be way ahead of public schoolers? Mine weren’t ~ and they knew it ~ which led them to complain and ask questions ~ which put Warren on the defensive and he became uptight, whiney, angry … We had endless “discussions” in which he complained about the negative effects of the “worldly influences” which the kids were being subjected to in 4-H ~ and I provided counter-examples in a effort to allay his insecurities and convince him to let the kids continue in the club. This became almost a DAILY ordeal ~ eating up hours of my time and zapping any energy which I might have had to help the kids with their projects.

So ~ despite the fact that the kids were learning some fun and useful skills in 4-H, I finally pulled them out in order to restore some semblance of peace in our home. We quit. It was just easier than fighting the Holy Spirit ~ Who was obviously backing up my husband’s authority as head of our home. I learned from repeated experience that it just did me no good to try and buck “the system” ~ i.e., the patriarchal system in which the father’s ability or competence to lead the family do not really enter into the equation ~ HE is the Head. Period. Don’t fight it ~ or you’re fighting God and that is always a wasted effort.

After a few months of corresponding with my Uncle Ron ~ as I was starting to wake up to the craziness of such a narrow-minded belief system ~ I decided that my idea that opposing Warren was the same as opposing God and, if I tried it, something horrible would happen ~ all that line of thought was nothing more than superstition and, as a competent, intelligent woman, I could make some decisions without having to run every little detail past my husband first.

Another opportunity for the kids to be around other “like-minded” children came up ~ they were invited to a Christian Youth in Action Spring Retreat in Lincoln ~ about a two hour drive from our home. I decided that we were going ~ I was taking the kids and I didn’t really care whether Warren wanted us to go or not. *I* was making the decision. Period.

When I informed Warren, he was stunned. “You’re not asking my permission?”

Absolutely not.

Warren went into a panic ~ he followed me around as I was packing and listed all the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea: What did we really know about this “Christian Youth in Action” group? Were there going to be boys there? Didn’t the Gesell kids get into that group ~ and look what happened to their oldest girl! Have you checked the weather report?

Warren checked the weather report ~ snow and high winds ~ possible blizzard conditions. Blizzard, huh? I thought to myself ~ Well, there goes God, backing up my husband again.

“We’ll be fine,” I insisted as I loaded the kids in the van. Warren called his friend ~ an elder in another fundamentalist church ~ he told him what I was up to and asked for his opinion.

“Well, it’s obvious who really wears the pants in your family.”

That did it for me ~ I put the van in gear and headed for Lincoln. The entire drive, and all weekend long, I fought the fear that I had just invited disaster upon myself and my children. “NO!” I told myself ~ I can make a decision and nothing is going to happen to me. It’s the same feeling I had when I became a Christian and put aside my old superstitions ~ assuring myself that just because I broke a mirror, walked under a ladder or put shoes on the bed didn’t mean I was doomed to experience some episode of bad luck.

The kids had a wonderful time that weekend. Nothing bad happened. As I pulled the van back into the garage on Sunday afternoon, I thought, Hey ~ everything went well and we are all fine! Look how silly I’ve been all these years!

That was a defining moment for me and I haven’t looked back. Once I overcame my superstitious fear, I was able to really look at our situation and see it as it actually was rather than as I wished it could be ~ that’s when I found the courage to take charge and make some decisions for myself and for my kids ~ after all, it’s OUR lives that were being affected ~ and WE MATTER, damn it.


This is Laura now…

I can totally relate to this feeling of “I’d better do what he says or it’s going to turn out badly.” I lived under the same fear as well.

Sometimes I would ask my husband if it was okay for me to do thus and such. He would say, “No” and I would “make an appeal.” That would be me thinking up another way to ask permission for the same thing hoping that he was in a better mood or feeling more charitable at that moment or had changed his mind (HA!) So I would go back again. Sometimes I would go back 3 or 4 times. Sort of like a child asking over and over until they got a yes or got ignored.

Occasionally he would “throw up his hands” and say,”Fine, do it already!” Oh Goody. I had permission now. But he really didn’t want me to do it so I couldn’t hardly enjoy it anyway and usually it worked out poorly in the end. Maybe the poorly part was just me trying to enjoy myself when I knew my husband was not happy that I had pushed him to the point of saying “go ahead.”

Whatever the reason, I learned (not too quickly I might add) that if my husband said, “No” off the bat, just give it up. It was just going to end up in a mess anyway.

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  • EK

    I don’t generally curse, but I feel the urge to curse up a storm!Patriarchy–ancient or modern, secular or religious–rests on a simple and yet breathtakingly absurd premise. Patriarchy and all its manifestations–including contemporary society’s essentialized construction of gender and gender roles–asks us to believe one LUDICROUS tenet:*That men must lead and rule because they had the great good fortune to be born with penises.*That’s all, folks. Patriarchy in a nutshell.

  • Charis

    I eventually figured out that it wasn’t God “cursing” me, it was my husband “punishing” me for making independent decisions.In Bancroft’s book “Why does he do that?: inside the minds of angry and controlling men” he describes how the husband slams around and terrifies the family when asked to do the dishes, so no one ever asks him again. (Here’s a link to the account on Google Books) He said, its a “male entitlement” thing, they do it because they enjoy the perks. My husband wouldn’t be in any “dishes” scenario since he doesn’t do “women’s work”, but I remember when he was looking for a hairdryer for some man project and I had taken a huge step of giving my teenage daughter permission to go somewhere without asking him first. Only she knew where the hairdryer was, and I was “punished” verbally for allowing her to be gone.Superstition is fear, and I believe fear was at the root of most of my compliance with the lifestyle.

  • jesnicole


  • adventuresinmercy

    I SO RELATE TO THIS!!!!When I finally cut off my long hair (3 1/2 years ago, a few months after I really started coming out of the mindset), I was literally trembling as the lady cut it. I spent the next three days so afraid that I’d lost my salvation, even though I knew better than that, until I could slowly talk myself out of those fears… It is SO hard to make decisions for yourself after years of being controlled—and even worse when you think God is the one approving of the whole set up and ready to punish whatever doesn’t meet His standard. It is one thing to know it in your head, that you are free…it is another thing to purposely walk against those years of superstition. The fear is palpable.

  • Vyckie

    Charis ~ you’ve mentioned that book, “Why Does He Do That” before ~ I have it in my Amazon cart and just as soon as I find the gift certificate that I have, I’m going to order and read it!As soon as you mentioned husbands slamming dishes around ~ my mind was FLOODED with memories of my ex-husband “helping” with the dishes ~ ugh!!! I might have to write about that now and include it in our “NLQ Snapshots” section.Anyway ~ thanks so much for your posts ~ I really am grateful that you’re here 😉

  • aimai

    I, too, really enjoy Charis's posts and her insights. Vyckie, I think a lot of books that regular (non religious) moms have been reading over the years might be as valuable to you (and to Laura) as some of these interesting books on general relationships. I'd love to hear the other posters suggestions. It sounds to me like all those books about women and men "women who love too much" or "men are from mars, women are from venus" or the one that just came out (which makes hysterically funny reading and I highly recommend just skimming in a bookstore) "he's just not that into you" might all be good books to read to start thinking about the ways our lives in coupledom can be screwed up by either men pursuing their own urge to dominate or by women pursuing a need to be needed and loved and cared for beyond what that particular man can manage.But what I was really wanting to recommend was a book that I think you and your children, and Laura and her children, might find helpful. It has been out twenty five years and I found that late edition really helpful because it has so much good reader response at the back. It is "How to talk so kids will listen/how to listen so kids will talk." I bought it when my kids were pre-verbal and then dropped it for years, and then re-read it a few years ago and I found the model for communicating was very powerful. And I also found some of the descriptions of family dynamics really revealing for understanding my husband's family. Particular the chapters on parent/child interactions where the child's viewpoint is routinely suppressed. I was reading along looking for tips for my own relationship with my children and stumbled across a pathology that is typical of my husband's family but not mine. I'd been sitting through what I thought of as bizarre parent/child interactions that always ended with my (adult) sisters in law in tears for several years without realizing how common certain parent/child interactions really are.At any rate, I think you and Laura both might really enjoy the very sympathetic and thought provoking writing of that book and it might be helpful going forward in dealing with adolescent issues and also looking back to see how your husbands treated you in conversation and negotiation.Here's a link to the amazon blurb:

  • Anonymous

    I agree with EK again. These stories just make me want to slap your husbands– and their spiritual leaders– silly. How could they demean another human being (let alone someone they were supposed to love) to the point where she doesn’t even believe she can function as a normal adult? Grrrrr.KR Wordgazer

  • LotusGeek

    OK, I have a question for the QFers (both prior and current) specifically, and xians in general…As I have read all of the posts on the site, I repeatedly see a great deal of the justification for the QF lifestyle and behavior being pulled from the [i]OLD TESTAMENT[/i]. If I remember correctly from my xian days, the Old Testament is simply a “historical reference” of sorts for the xian faith; it is NOT supposed to be the “law”! That’s why god created the [i]NEW Testament[/i] – as a new statement of how xians should conduct themselves moving forward from Jesus on. That’s why you went from “If thine eye offend thee…” to “…turn the other cheek.”, and so on.Sorry, but it pisses me off when people take advantage of others by bending some arcane text to suit their needs and play on their superstitions. Hell, even I can appreciate much of what Jesus taught, but I see so, so few so-called xians living – [i]truly[/i] living – to those ideals (love, charity, forgiveness, modesty, understanding, etc.)How is this explained and reconciled?–Rock, aka LotusGeek

  • Anonymous

    Tat!Anon back again. I never had anything like this degree of emotional abuse, but I was emotionally abused growing up by boys I thought were “better” than me. Authority backed them up. It took me years to realize how badly *they* had been abused in being allowed to think treating another human being like that was normal and healthy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of them were still abusers because that was what they had learned from each other–just to other targets. The thing is, your husbands, who thought they had all that power–who you thought had power and gave power to–really have nothing. Nothing at all. They didn’t prepare their children well, they didn’t make good partners, and while they thought they were doing what they should and what they were told was right, they were doing harm and wasting years. None of which is ever going to lead me to say “go back and save them.” It’s not the duty of the victim to save the abuser, and nobody will change unless they realize they need to. You did wonderfully in getting out. Keep going! But the patriarchy and the religion supported their warping, prevented them from growing, and made them think the harm they were doing was normal and, this is the worst, GOOD. I’m not completely unsympathetic to them, much as they’d never appreciate it.

  • Kaderin

    You know, I recently saw a headline that said “Poll shows Christians are more likely to be superstitious” and my reaction was “…duh?”Religion is basically one huge superstition, cemented with community and authority.I am so sorry to read how being trapped in this dogmatic framework eroded your faith in yourselves and with it your abilities and even your mind. At the same time, I am filled with a sense of wonder that you managed to break through this vicious cicle of self-fulfilling prophecy after being immersed in the poinonous ideology for so long. AimaiNot to hijack the comment section or anything, but I just couldn’t let your recommendation of “men are from mars, women are from venus” stand – the book is loaded with sexism, gender roles and male entitlement. Not something to read if one is trying to escape patriarchy.There’s a really good commentary site for the book. Anyone who’s planning to read it or has read it should definitly take a look, if only to get a different point of view.Rebuttal from Uranus

  • aimai

    Kaderin,You are so right! I had a brain blip. I meant to recommend Tanner’s “You Just Don’t Understand” which is also problematic on the gender sterotyping but is still quite intersting and a more respectable academic approach (though she had to gut it for a popular audience) to speech differences in this culture. I beg everyone’s pardon for referencing the wrong–oh so wrong, as Kaderin points out!–book.aimai

  • aimai

    And in response to Rock, c’mon, you know, or ought to know, that its all “new testament for me and old testament for thee” out there. Or, to paraphrase a joke I saw on Yes, Prime Minister, “saved is an irregular verb”I am savedYou may be savedHe is going to hell.There can always be a prooftext found for any conclusion the individual wants to make. The question for the various sects and sub sects is “who shall rule? over the texts” (this of course is a paraphrase of Humpty Dumpty).aimai

  • adventuresinmercy

    Sorry, but it pisses me off when people take advantage of others by bending some arcane text to suit their needs and play on their superstitions. Hell, even I can appreciate much of what Jesus taught, but I see so, so few so-called xians living – [i]truly[/i] living – to those ideals (love, charity, forgiveness, modesty, understanding, etc.)” –Rock/LotusGeekYES. This is what happened to me about 4 years ago now, the beginning of what ended up being a full deconstruction of the *kind* of Christianity I’d been taught and embraced, and a rebuilding of a Christianity that was actually based on (heh, strangest thing) CHRIST. What was fascinating, especially looking back (at the time it was flat-out fear inducing, as if I didn’t have enough fears of my own already) was the reaction from those in the first camp and my husband. It made a difficult thing even worse. I cannot believe what emphasis I (and those who taught me) put on superflous outward things and how LITTLE emphasis was put on the actual meat of what Christ taught: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, humbleness… Instead, it was refashioned, all twisted up and ruined into things like, “As a woman, your *role* is to be patient and kind toward your husband, putting up with pretty much any and everything he will do to you without losing your God-honoring smile…” I would later wonder how it was I could read the Bible and miss what was so glaringly obvious. Sheesh, the whole point of Christ coming was because performance-based relationships DID NOT and WOULD NOT work. Yet there I was, a busy little bee, performing, performing, performing (and teaching others to do the same) all in His name. It is really stupifying, looking backward, that I could have fallen into such an obvious trap…but, boy, when in the middle of it, it’s so foggy there that it’s really impossible to have any sort of clarity at all. You’re just glad when you can see your hand in front of your face. …Btw, I like what Charis has to say, too. 🙂 She has been so helpful to me…and her book recommendations ROCK (I speak with experience-ha). It’s nice to have a fellow sister on this often-lonely path. I think that is why I am also addicted to this blog now. You all also “get it.” It’s nice to not be alone. Thanks for being such sweet company. 🙂 Warmly,Molly

  • Arietty

    The dynamic in my marriage was this: you never asked for anything directly because the answer was always “No”. In my husband’s mind if I or the children asked for something and he said yes then he would have lost and we would have won. Every single exchange was a power struggle to him in which he must come out on top. When the kids were teenagers post-divorce he would never answer a direct question but put them off by telling them he would get back to them. This is for the simplest, most obvious things. Then he would call them and tell them his answer. That way HE was telling YOU what was happening, so he had won. If he had actually answered a question then he would be giving you what you had demanded so he would have lost.This dynamic existed in all his relationships. I wish I had a recording of our property settlement in court because this is how behaved to the judge, taking it to heights of ridiculousness. He came across as raving, controlling and incredibly petty.I don’t blame it on patriarchy because he was like that long before any church entered his life. Patriarchy just anointed his actions and could now call them headship. Mentally for all of us it was incredibly exhausting.

  • Jadehawk

    LotusGeek, the reason they use OT so much is because a lot of fundies have an all-or-nothing stance on the bible. keep in mind that a subset of that group thinks the KJV is the only divinely inspired version of the bible! basically, the thinking goes: if it’s in the bible, it’s relevant, or else god wouldn’t have put it there in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    Tat!Anon again!Arietty: in that case, I will bother neither with sympathy nor pity and go straight to disdain for him. XDThe people I was raised with were at least raised in that mindset, so I have to think of them as just as affected as I was.

  • Charis

    Speaking of books, I have not read the whole book, but a trusted online friend recommends this one. If one translates the technical jargon in this description of abuse into biblical language, it sounds very much like a real life description of “your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” Genesis 3:16As a fundamentalist Christian woman in recovery from a fatal marriage killing MIS-understanding of biblical submission, I identify very much with the lifestyle described here:Coercive control: the entrapment of women in personal life by Evan Stark

  • W. Lotus

    Have either of you read “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Monk Kidd? That book is a memoir of her growth out of the Southern Baptist tradition and into a spirituality that embraces the divine feminine. It was a path she started on when she finally got fed up of patriarchy. That book gave me the courage to finally start asking the questions I had suppressed my entire life about patriarchy and misogyny in Christiandom!

  • Laura

    Dear LotusGeek, First off, thank you so much for your posts here. It’s nice to hear from a supportive man. Second, yes, Vyckie and I are in process of reading “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” and it has been very interesting for us. I had heard of Sue Monk Kidd in the world of Christian writing but was unaware of her”awakening”. Thanks for reading here and posting your thoughts. It’s appreciated.