When I started Revolutionary Faith a year ago, it was never my intention to write from a largely personal perspective. I had done that on a previous blog and wanted to keep this one Bible-centered as much as possible. That’s still my intention.
But, for today, I need to make an exception. And a confession.
I announced (rather boldly) a while back that when it comes to gender relations, I’m functionally egalitarian. In reality, that’s only half true. Complementarian teachings have had their claws in me for years, and they’ve proven rather difficult to shake.
I’m about to tell you how deep that rabbit hole goes.
For the past several years, I have devoted myself to the needs of my husband and family. Whatever they need. Whenever they need it. Even when I was tired. Even when it was soul-crushingly inconvenient. In the course of my husband’s short Naval career, I have given up two jobs, three if you count the at-home business I was about to start earlier this year (and into which I had sunk about $200 of my personal spending money on start-up costs). Four years ago, I did an out-of-state move while 7 months pregnant and recovering from hyperemesis gravidarum. (I remember lying on a mattress in the living room of the South Carolina duplex we were evacuating while my husband said, “Baby, you can’t just lie there all day; you have to help me clean.”) About six months ago, I took a full-time job with steady pay and hours so we could save for my husband’s upcoming transition from the Navy to the civilian world, yet I still come home to most of the cooking, cleaning, shopping and childcare. Mainly because my husband is now at sea for weeks at a time. I could go on. And on.
I have accepted this without much complaint or bitterness (or desperate pleas for help) because an insistent voice in my head told me that this is what good Christian wives do. I told myself if I could just get to the end of my husband’s term in the Navy, things would be better.
I have a well inside of me. In this well is my life source and energy. It’s where I call up my emotional fortitude and strength. Each time a demand of service is placed upon me, especially one that’s hard or inconvenient, I draw deeply from this well. It keeps me going in the tough times. In the times I want to cry or complain. In the times I want to scream and run away. The reserves from this well enable me to swallow the bitter words that rise up in my throat and soldier on for the good of my husband, my child, my friends, my church.
But not for the good of me.
Due to some special circumstances in my family, I have been drawing from this well more than usual lately. Once upon a time, it was only a few times per week. Lately, it’s been multiple times per day. And even though I’ve been praying and drawing closer to the Lord, I haven’t been doing anything else to refill the well.
I don’t think I’ve done anything of well-filling significance in 10 years.
Several days ago, I went to the well, desperately needing just one more gulp of fortitude to get me through a stressful moment. I lowered the bucket, and…
There was nothing.
I had sensed this moment coming for a few weeks. My mind and body were shutting down without my permission. I had black-outs at work where I would just stare at my computer, unable to move, function, or remember what it was I had planned to do next. At home, I fumbled through my cooking, struggling to concentrate on the recipe, my mind carrying me far away into a dense fog through which I had to claw my way back. I crawled out of bed every morning, in physical pain, with exhaustion thrumming deep in my bones, and the thought of facing another day in this meaningless hamster wheel of insanity seemed literally unbearable.
And now I stood at the lip of my well with an empty bucket in my hands. The well was finally dry. I had given it all. And my family still needed me. My job needed me. My friends needed me. My church needed me.
I very nearly panicked. The kind of panic rubber rooms are made for.
Three days ago, I decided to reach out to my friends for support and posted the following to my Facebook page:
Anyone who has talked to me in the past couple of weeks knows I haven’t been ok. My life looks fine on the outside (I go to work, bills get paid, my family is happy), but inside I’m falling to pieces. Tonight, I finally realized why. I haven’t taken care of myself. I carried burdens that were too heavy to carry alone. I said ‘yes’ when I should have said ‘no’. I said ‘ok’ when it clearly wasn’t ok. I didn’t make enough space for my needs or my grief. I didn’t allow myself to be served. And now I have hit a mental and emotional wall and am watching myself crumble against it like a crash test dummy. The more I try to hold myself together, the more I seem to shatter. I want to just let go and grieve, but my pain is so great that it terrifies me. A bucket of tears might not be enough. I’ve been through so, so much, but I’ve never been here. It’s so dark.
The response was, thankfully, immediate, and there were soon over 30 responses to the post, and my phone rang off the hook for the next two days.
But I noticed a common theme running through several of the responses. By saying this, I don’t mean to diminish the sincerity of the people who were trying to encourage me (because I’m very grateful), but I’ve noticed this trend in complementarianism as well. It goes something like this:
In His presence is FULLNESS of joy; that’s the place we can receive. Push everything out of the way and, like Esther, go into the king’s presence with praise and make your request known. HE alone is all we need.
(Actually, Esther went into the king’s presence with great dread and reluctance, but that’s a sermon for another day.)
The underlying assumption is, I’m in a mess because I haven’t drawn close enough to the Lord. I haven’t allowed His peace to fill me. I’ve just been worrying and fretting and not submitting enough to either God or my husband this whole time, and now the roof has caved in on all of my efforts. If I just had a little more faith, I would have perfect tranquility and everything would be ok.
There’s just one problem with that. My faith has never been stronger than it is right now. And if it’s so strong that God is performing miracles in answer to prayers that I’ve prayed, then there can’t be anything wrong with it.
Here’s what is wrong: Complementarianism (as defined by most evangelical teachers) tells women that they have no intrinsic value. That the only purpose for their creation is to serve a man and his children. A few go as far as to claim that any dreams or desires that a woman feels that in any way deviates from those of her husband come from Satan as a temptation to stir up discontent in her heart. (Hint: This idea is not in scripture. Anywhere.) The kind of complementarianism outlined in the Bible is more-or-less a 50/50 proposition, with the man loving his wife just as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25), and with the wife submitting to her husband as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22). But in my experience, about 95 percent of complementarian teachings in books and sermons are directed at women. It seems it’s not terribly important to the church if the man decides not to love, but if a woman fails to submit in whatever way the leadership deems appropriate (because the Bible isn’t clear on the details), Christianity itself is subverted and thrown into chaos.
As a result, women force themselves to carry burdens that humans were never meant to shoulder alone. And what’s worse is that complementarianism denies women access to the physical, emotional and relational provisions God has given to strengthen and nourish them. When a complementarian tells a woman to “Trust God,” he or she doesn’t mean trust God for the opportunity to attend a girl’s night out, or trust God that your husband will volunteer to do the dishes, or trust God that your call to missions is genuine. No, they mean trust God for peace to calmly (and silently) accept your lot as the long-suffering servant. The keeper of all things. And, eventually, the happy housewife. (It is the “highest calling,” after all!) It’s a bit like calling out, “Daddy, help me!” And He gives you a meal. You ignore it and call out again, “Daddy, help me!” And He sends you a helper. You ignore the helper and cry out, “Daddy, help me!” This time, He reaches down and gives you a hug. You ignore the hug and continue to cry, “Daddy, help me!” After a while, Daddy is left shaking His head.
I was amazed at the number of women who responded to my Facebook post and confessed that they felt the same way. Isolated. Overworked. Overwhelmed. Doing it all with little help. Men who just don’t get it when they try to explain. Or men who aren’t there at all. Friends who are only on Facebook. A church that’s only there on Sundays. Psychiatrists who give us pills to cope. Because that’s the only way we can cope with heresy like this. And it’s not just in our churches. It’s everywhere. Saturated into our culture. Preached to us in television commercials. We go out into the world, and the well is rushed. Assaulted. Drained.
Jesus wouldn’t tolerate this nonsense.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:1-4).