Friday, August 22, 2008

What is a wife?

OK, I know I'm giving a certain blog way too much space than it deserves on my blog, but I was alerted to an interesting post and discussion over there. And I discovered one of the saddest, most haunting poems I've read in a long time. I'm not sure how the author intended it. If I'd read this poem in any other context, I would have assumed it was an extremely feminist poem, meant to point out what is wrong with the worst of "traditional" marriages. But I have to assume that this woman actually...well, meant what she said, and that she wasn't trying to make a shocking political statement against marriage. Maybe I'm missing something and misinterpreting her words.

So I'm asking my readers (all 5 of you) to read the poem "I Think You Want a Wife" and let me know what you think.

I am not ashamed to say that I do not worship my husband. He would be appalled if I did. He is godly enough not to want to be married to an idolater, even if he would be elevated to idol status.

I did not climb into a casket when I married. I die to Christ, imperfectly, but I do not die to mere mortals. Marriage, despite what the most extreme radical feminists (and Mr. Bayly's daughter-in-law) say, did not rob me of dignity. It did not make me disappear. Marriage has, by the grace of God, made me stronger, not weaker.

It is this bleak picture of marriage that makes some young women afraid to marry. Who wants to be forced to worship someone? Who wants to disappear, to be robbed of dignity, to purposefully weaken oneself, to cease to have any sort of ambition --- and then, in this helpless, hopeless state, to try to undergo the demanding task of raising children to the glory of God?

When I was warned, by a few radical feminists, but even more so by women in the church, that marriage would rob me of my person-hood, I was understandably a bit alarmed. My parents only laughed. "Does your mother seem to have lost her identity?" my father chuckled.

My parents, you see, are truly godly people who love Jesus with a great passion and who immerse themselves in the Word of God...and who live it out, humbly and without fanfare. My father loves my mother far too much to rob her of anything, especially her identity in Christ. He loves Jesus too much to want marriage to be anything less than what God intends it to be. Of course, my parents are human. They fall short. They sin. They would be the first to admit it. But rob each other of worth and dignity? Demand worship? Never.

I discovered that, in my mother's case and in my case, because we married men who attempt to love us in a way that will hopefully reflect Christ's love for the church, we lost nothing upon marriage. Oh, sure, for the last 24 years, I've hardly had what I used to consider a decent night's sleep. I've set aside what used to be my ambitions and dreams. I've done things I never wanted to do. My life has been turned topsy-turvy. But...oh, what I've gained. I've really lost nothing.

It's similar to coming to Christ. New converts are sometimes overwhelmed at what they are asked to "give up". Their focus is all on their dying and renouncing and sacrificing and losing. We are so eager to cram our idea of "take up your cross daily" down their throats that we forget to tell them the whole glorious truth.

We really don't give up anything. Not anything worthwhile anyway. Sure, a lot of garbage and rubbish gets thrown away. Some of it, in our foolishness, we are rather attached to. But, oh what we gain. We go from death to life. We get Jesus.

And sometimes a good marriage is a tiny, imperfect and smudged picture of that. We don't die. We aren't robbed of our dignity. We aren't forced to become idol-worshipers. Life does not become an endless drudgery of standing by someone's side,

"affirming, affirming, affirming, affirming, affirming, affirming
affirming, affirming, adoring, affirming, affirming, affirming"

No, if we marry well, we get a wonderful husband, a lifelong friend and companion, a father to our children, a protector and provider --- and we get a relationship that is full and intimate and life-giving, a relationship that is our haven in the storm. In that marriage, we discover a dignity and identity and purpose and strength that we never thought possible.

We become, with Christ at the center of our marriage, that three-strand cord that is not easily broken. Oh, what we gain.

If only all Christian marriage were like that. If only women would cease to make idols of their husbands. If only women were more willing to die to Christ and be made alive in Him, rather than feeling they had to die --- and stay dead --- on the altar of marriage. If only men were more willing to be humble servants of Christ, rather than usurping His role of prophet, priest, and king. If only men were less selfish, less willing to say, "When I look at my wife, I see myself". If only men would learn to better love their wives with the sacrificial love of Christ.

Then we would, as a Church, be telling the truth of the gospel in our marriages...marriages that would be joyous and long-lasting.

And the poems we would write! Joyous, triumphant, thankful, God-glorifying poems!

Updated to add:

Back when I got married (24 years ago this Sunday) it seems that most people were, in general, less negative about marriage than they are now. But I do recall that, although men in our church pretended that it was only with great reluctance that they married and though they made many jokes about the "ball and chain", it was pretty much understood that men tended to get the better deal in marriage. So there was a lot of "grin and bear it", "marriage isn't about you", "you need to be the grown-up" sort of advice given to young brides-to-be.

But what everyone definitely agreed upon is how awful it was to have children. Maybe "awful" is too strong a word, but everyone outside of our extended family had only negative things to say. The general consensus from non-relatives was that we should postpone the misery for as long as possible. Children were a detriment to marriage. I would lose all my freedom. My body would be destroyed and my husband would find it icky to get romantic with "someone's mother". Babies would scream constantly. It was all negative and bleak.

Of course, since I was significantly older than my younger brother, I remembered his early years vividly. No one's life was ruined. In fact, we were all tremendously enriched and agreed that he was pretty much the best thing that ever happened to our family. (When he got older, we older siblings felt a need to pretend otherwise at times...)

Life with a baby was wonderful! My parents actually believed that children were a gift from God --- a delightful, wonderful, joyous gift. So having my baby brother seemed like having Christmas all year round!

As soon as my husband and I became parents (days before our first anniversary) we discovered the closely guarded secret that few people want non-parents to know: babies are incredible. We couldn't get enough of our little guy. In the evenings, we were tempted to fight over who would get to hold him. "Who would have thought holding a baby would feel so good?" my husband would repeat with amazement.

Having a baby was just way too much fun, we decided. If people had any idea, they would all marry at 18 and have babies right away.

Oh, sure, I was incredibly sleep-deprived the first three months. I sometimes felt as if my life revolved around, as I called it, "input and output". (I tried to convince my husband that he should take over the output duties, but he refused.) There were many days of feeling overwhelmed, especially as we had more children. We were not footloose and fancy-free, able to flit about doing frivolous things at a moment's notice. Life was never the same again.

It was much better.

Because, you see, we had children! We didn't lose anything. We gained! In fact, we often felt as if we made out like bandits. All the horrible, dire predictions of misery and doom? Nope.


Some people, especially women, seem afraid of joy. As my father jokes, they aren't happy unless they are miserable. They believe in embracing a life of martyrdom, and letting others know how difficult life is.

Marriage must be a path of death and sorrow and despair and loss, or how can it be godly? (These women usually will not marry well, but will prefer someone who will not disabuse them of the notion that marriage, for wives, is mostly a trial requiring great loss and sacrifice.)

Motherhood must be drudgery and meaninglessness and endless suffering and even more loss, or how can it be godly?

I'll admit that I sometimes have felt that life is unfair. I haven't suffered enough. I haven't been miserable enough. All the horrible things that people predicted when we were newlyweds have not come to pass. Sure, the years haven't been completely painless. I could tell labor and birth horror stories, for example. We've experienced loss and tragedy and disappointment and anguish. Many tears have been shed.

But all in all...have we lost anything? Have we given up anything of meaning? Have we been robbed of anything? No. We have gained. We have been blessed beyond comprehension, behind my wildest dreams.

God has been so good.

And that poem? I don't believe it. Oh, I'm almost sure that the woman who wrote it meant every word. But I don't believe that this is what God intended for marriage. I've tasted a tiny bit of what He intends. And it's beautiful and joyous and life-giving and...and...if people had any idea how wonderful marriage can be, everyone would be marrying at 18. Every man would want a wife and every woman would want a husband. And people would look on the writers of such poems with tearful pity...if only she had married well...if only she knew...

Edited slightly for clarity.

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  1. Yes, I was going to blog about that poem, but since it hit the TW blog and yours there is no need to. A woman on my blog once said patriarchal teachings made her miserable, because she tried to follow them, and she felt as though her personhood, as a woman created in God's image, was being erased.

    It is poems such as this which help with that kind of "erasing."

    The Proverbs 31 woman was clothed with dignity.

    Tim Bayly's daughter-in-law says a good wife should be purged of dignity.

    My Bible says we are to be strong in the Lord. And the Proverbs 31 woman girded herself with strength.

    Tim Bayly's daughter-in-law says we are to be weak so Christ or our husbands can be strong.

    Tim Bayly's daughter-in-law says that a wife is to love sacrificially, by laying down her life ("lay you in the casket").

    Funny, but when Corrie said that wives can love sacrificially on that blog, she was kicked out of there, and Tim called her a dishonest feminist in the process.

    Because at that time they were claiming that it is a husband who loves sacrificially, and a wife loves by submitting.

    It's crazy-making, and I can see where my friend said that patriarchal teachings made her feel as though a part of her were being erased away.

  2. Wow, thank you so much for this blog. I happened to run across it and have been touched. I am a single women in my twenties and hope to be married one day with lots of children. It seems like the world is so anti-marriage and family and it is good to see someone stand up for the truth and expose the lies. I look forward to having a marriage that you describe. Thank you, thank you, thank you-you have encouraged me in my wait!

  3. Glad I was of encouragement, Star! A truly Biblical marriage is a wonderful thing, and is a burden to neither husband nor wife. In fact, I've seen the truth of Scripture...two walking together really can be better than one!

    It is so sad that some see only death and loss of dignity...

    When a husband tries to love his wife sacrificially, in response to how Christ loves him, it is a beautiful thing. It gives dignity. It gives life.

  4. Disagreement, Bayly style, said to Molly:

    Again, if it were disagreement with me that I found intolerable, I'd pull off your comment above and the many, many hundreds like it that permanently reside on this blog. But my own reputation I try to hold lightly, while the Word of God and my duty to guard its precious truth I'm trying to fulfill with all the intensity I possess. Thus my tolerant editorial posture towards those who despise David and me.

    But despising God and His Word? Despising His Fatherhood and Jesus Christ's Sonship? Despising the Bride of Christ and Her glorious authority? Despising the beauty of monogamous, lifelong, covenantal, hetersexual marriage? Despising father-rule?

    No. Absolutely not. David and I are slaves to God and His--not our--Truth. And we will not allow women like you to manipulate our desire to be liked (or at least thought reasonable) into silencing the work God Himself has called us to; namely, guarding the good deposit that has been passed on to us, and doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    It's easy to paint the broad brush. But I've actually read Molly's comments and her blog, and I've never found where she despises any of those things. Oh, she despises what she views as false teaching, including what the Bayly's term "father rule", but it is because of her love for the Word, for God, etc. that she despises those things.

    Imagine if I did something similar...if you disagree with my interpretation of the poem under can despise me all you want, but "But despising God and His Word? Despising His Fatherhood and Jesus Christ's Sonship? Despising the Bride of Christ and Her glorious authority? Despising the beauty of monogamous, lifelong, covenantal, hetersexual marriage?"

  5. That whole weak thing just isn't going to wash with Baker females, just plain and simple. I come from a long line of strong females. My great grandmom was widowed when my grandmom was two and she had to run their farm herself. My grandmom had to take care of her family by herself for years while my grandfather fought in world war two. Then, she was widowed when my mom was nine. She had to be strong, if my female relatives were weak, we wouldn't have had a chance to be here today (must be in our mitochondria or something.)

    I tried that weak submissive wife thing when I was a new Christian and people around told me this was the way I was to be in order to obey the Bible (same lameass arguement as the prospanking spiel.) I tried but I could never get the hang of it. It took for my mom to move back to PA and just look at me like I had lost my mind and say something like, "You know better than to blindly follow this crock of crap," for me to wake up, smell the coffee, and respond to something that resonnated to my spirit and my being that I was created to be a co-heir with Christ along with my husband and not under his flipping feet. Some investigation into the actual Word as opposed to just listening to other Christians gave me the backing I need to proudly advocate for the egalitarian perspective.

    My daughters are all strong able women. The adults are professional women who have the good sense (like you and your mother,) to choose good men to be their soulmates. Jeanette is a college freshman with a major in a male-dominated field (Physics.)

    Plus, like your family, they are largely karate-ka (several of them nationally ranked,) that could kick the collective Baly's sad asses if they ever had occasion to need to defend themselves. But, of course, they would have no trouble thinking circles around those Bayly boys.

    Now that I'm done with my little vent, I really feel I should pray for the poor weak woman that would consent to be one of their helpmeets. Poor little fragile beings.

    No, the weak thing just isn't going to cut it our people. And, funny thing, my husband likes it this way. He's proud of his sons and daughters and we're made for one another.

  6. All Christians are supposed to lay themselves in the casket, not just the married women. We all, men and women alike die with Christ and our life is hidden with Him in God.

    This is the problem I have with people who stretch God's word to mean things it does not. I am far from egalitarian. I believe in wifely submission. But not in the sense that it is described by people like Doug Phillips and other people who teach that a woman is to disappear and be absorbed into her husband upon mariage. My husband would hate that!

    The submission is for the sake of order, not worshipping of one's husband. And like any good leader, my husband takes my views, strengths, and talents as valuable. If I know more about a thing than he does, he leaves me to decide. There are, however those rare occasions when a decision has to be made, AND NOW. If we can't reach a concensus, it's his call. I'm totally fine with that. I think it's the right way. But the idea that is propagated by many of the hyper patriarchal teachings is not Biblical at all.


    Here is another post from Tim concerning his dil’s poem.

    Again, he mischaracterizes us and also misrepresents himself and how he deals with people who disagree with him on his blog. After all, it is his way or the highway and any disagreement to his teachings is seen as “slander” and “hatred”:

    “Most of the ruckus happened in places none of our readers would have any reason to know about or read–a news site run by and for sodomites where special attention is given to the biblical doctrine taught in reformed churches (how’s that for exotic, huh?); and several other blogs where women talk to each other about how much they hate God’s order of creation.

    Contrary to what some think, David and I are not impervious to slander and hatred. It bothers us when people misrepresent our doctrinal commitments, attribute to us statements we’ve never made and convictions we’ve never held, claim that we delete comments disagreeing with us, and so on. Having learned long ago that some fools shouldn’t be dignified with an answer, we dont’ respond, generally speaking. We’re fond of the old barnyardism, “Don’t wrestle with a pig in mud because a pig likes mud.””

  8. "...and several other blogs where women talk to each other about how much they hate God’s order of creation..."

    In case there is any doubt from anyone who has not bothered to read my blog, I am not one of those women. I love God's order of creation. So much so, and for so many years in fact, that all of our children have been taught by me, as their first introduction to a more formalized education as wee ones, a year long unit study based entirely on the order of creation. And, we didn't give any of the six days short shrift!

  9. There's some buzz going around --- and I hate to repeat rumors and so am hesitant to mention this, except that perhaps it might shed light on another possible interpretation of the poem. Supposedly someone spoke with the author of the poem, who supposedly claimed that she was writing it as a warning against both self-worship and being a doormat.

    If so, and I'm not fully convinced that there is any validity to this rumor, it makes me think two things:

    1. My initial impression was perhaps not that far off. I'd thought that if I'd read this poem in any other concept, I'd assumed it was speaking negatively against what some would call "traditional" marriage. I would assume it was a feminist poem. It is certainly reminiscent of the feminist protest poetry I encountered in college.

    2. The poem is even more poorly written than I thought. I am not the only person that was unable to grasp the "hidden" meaning. This reminds me of a church that, for its Christmas service, had a bunch of skits showing people being completely unimpressed with the Savior's birth. An angel was so bumbling that she could hardly get the message across. The shepherds had no interest in seeing our Lord, and went back to sleep. The first person to see the Babe proclaimed loudly that there was absolutely nothing special about this baby and even mocked the choice of name, suggesting others that would be far more suitable.

    I had the misfortune of attending that travesty. There was no corrective offered, much as I hoped and prayed for it. The messages of the skits --- there was nothing special about Jesus' birth in any way, no one worshiped Him, and the whole Nativity story is one big joke --- was left to stand as if it were truth, without any attempt to tell the real truth. (To make things worse, this was an "outreach" event to which the entire community was invited by an expensive mailing campaign, personal invitations, ads, etc. So it wasn't as if the entire audience could have been expected to be "in on the joke".)

    So now we are to believe that, in much the same way, the author of the poem produced an entire poem of purposeful error and that two "officers in Christ's Church" chose to publish this error on their blog. And then they got their knickers all in a twist because people didn't like the error. Yet they still have not offered a corrective.

    It's much like those skits. Except that the pastor responsible for that travesty eventually, after a string of more lapses in judgment (to be charitable) ended up selling used cars. Perhaps this could serve as a cautionary tale. I'm not sure.

    I'm a literalist. I don't get this post-modern idea of writing stuff that you don't mean, stuff that isn't true, stuff that gets the lovers of truth all upset, and then getting angry because people are not "hip" enough to get that you didn't really mean what you said.

  10. One more thing...

    In another life, I fancied myself to be a poet...of sorts. I've since outgrown that childish notion. But even during my most insufferably artsy misunderstood poet phase of life, I did have a tiny shred of humility. When one of my poems was roundly misinterpreted by most of its readers, I didn't fly into a tizzy. I decided the fault must be in me, the author, rather than the readers.

    But, then again, I'm not one of those post-modern types. I actually think writing is a form of communication. It the piece of writing fails to communicate the intended message, I see it as a fault of the writer.

    I'm a fairly literal, concrete-thinking sort. So please don't expect me to attempt to deconstruct your words. That's beyond me. I'll just take them at face value. I'll assume you meant what you said.

    And I'll admit, with shame, that I'm not that humble. I actually think my way is...dare I say it...more Biblical. Or perhaps more Biblically safe. Some day, when I stand before my Lord and Judge, I'd rather discover I was wrong and have to say that I was too simple to realize that His Words were not meant to be taken literally --- than have to say, "Who would have thought You really meant that?"