Conservative Moms & Stunted Masculinity

Weak Man 1

Earlier in the week I sent this Tweet:

As with most Tweets it lacks clarification and nuance. A friend of my said as much, so I decided to post a follow up explaining what I meant. By conservative, I mean religiously conservative, not politically. The description below will flesh that out a bit.

I have been a pastor in a conservative church in a conservative denomination for almost ten years. I home school and interact with the homeschooling community frequently. I have a wife and six boys. The point I made in my Tweet is one that I have seen in my own home, church, and denomination, as well as other conservative communities. Boys can have a hard time becoming men in conservative settings. The problem is not universal. Many, maybe even most, conservative moms and dads are doing a good job raising masculine boys. But the problem is not rare either.  This is not just the fault of these moms, of course. The culture, both broadly and in our churches, pastors, and dads all share the blame. However, mothers can and do undermine masculinity in boys.

Why did I single out conservative moms instead of liberal ones? Well first that is my audience. I would rather preach to the individuals I know than the masses I don’t know. But also because they have a difficult time seeing the part they play in the emasculation of their own boys. Conservative moms view themselves as going against the flow and fighting against the feminism in our culture. Many of them are stay at home moms or part time stay at home moms who have rejected a career to raise children. Most home school or send their kids to private school. They go to worship and are active in their church. They submit to their husbands. They read their Bible and pray. They dress modestly. These are all good things.  But as Doug Wilson has taught me when you go to algebra class you get equations. When you go to biology class you get problems about dissecting frogs. And when you have conservative Christian mothers you get women who do not see how they could possibly be a blockade to manliness in their boys and husband. They are the ones doing it “right.” These women are the ones least likely to believe they are the problem. I know many conservative mothers who are doing well at raising boys. But in conservative churches this is an issue and pastors ignore it to their own peril.  Continue reading

Saved Through Childbearing: The Commentaries

Mother and Child

I am working through I Timothy 2:15.  Here is that verse in its immediate context:

11 A woman in silence must learn in all submission/obedience, 12 but I do not allow/permit a woman to teach nor to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived became a transgressor.  15 But she will be saved by means of childbirth, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with self-restraint. [My translation]

Here is how several commentators interpret verse 15.  I started with the oldest, Chrysostom. These are direct quotes, but I trimmed out some of the reasons for the interpretation. Any of my thoughts I put in brackets. Unless otherwise noted these are all quotes from commentaries on I Timothy 2:15. Obviously this is just a sprinkling of the comments made in the history of the church on this issue. However, I cite several major figures. Continue reading

Just Get Through the Day: A Lesson for Moms from Hell Week

Note: All the following information about Hell Week was taken from Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor.

Hell Week is the beginning of Navy SEAL training. Many consider it the hardest week of military training in the world. It begins sometime on Sunday afternoon/evening and runs until the following Friday at 5:00. It involves days of going without sleep or with very short sleep, as in less than an hour. They throw you in the water and keep you there until you are minutes away from hypothermia. You run one mile to breakfast and one mile back to where you exercise. You do the same thing at lunch and at dinner. That is in excess of all the regular running you do.  You do push ups and more push ups and more push ups. You run into the Pacific Ocean then come out and roll in the sand. You are pushed until your body burns and then they demand more. The Navy wants to see if you would rather die than quit. If the answer is yes, then you can stay. If no, there is a bell you can ring. When you ring the bell they will give you good food, a hot shower, and ticket out of hell.

At first glance, this may seem like the last place to get tips on how to be a good mother. You have a bunch of cussing, physically strong, tough warriors who are training to go into dark, dangerous places and either rescue or kill people. What does SEAL training have to do with mothering?

The answer is simple: pressure. Mothering a bunch of little children is a pressure packed life. It may not be drill instructors, but there is usually a lot of screaming and crying. There are days of pure exhaustion. You probably walk miles a day following the little ones around. You may feel like you only get short periods of rest. There are moments where you want to ring the bell and just get a hot shower.

So how do the SEALs get through?  Marcus Luttrell’s commander gave him some great advice before he went to Hell Week.

First, of all I don’t want you to give in to the pressure of the  moment. Whenever you are hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day…Second, take it one day at a time…Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day.(Emphasis mine)

Luttrell said very few men dropped out because they were physically unfit. It was the mental side of things that destroyed them. On Monday morning they were thinking, “How can I take another five days of this?” They stopped thinking about what was right in front of them and worried about what was coming. The key to survival was to not think about the coming days. Just focus on what is in front of you. Just get through the next set of push ups, the next run, the next swim.

The good news is that the Lord does give mothers breaks and moments of joy. It is not hell raising children. It is a glorious job, filled with wonders and delights. But there are times when the pressure builds where you feel ready to explode and you wish there was a bell to ring. When that moment comes don’t think to yourself, “How can I handle six more hours of this?” Or “How can I get through the week with the kids vomiting all over the place?”  Or “Can I endure six more months of pregnancy?” Instead just focus on what is in front of you. Just get through the next diaper, the next fussy kid, the next meal, the next tantrum, the next labor contraction, the next exhortation to do chores, etc.  In doing so you will be obeying the many commands in Scripture to not worry (Matthew 6:25-33, Philippians 4:6). And you will be earning a reward far greater than the “Congratulations” the SEALs get at the end of Hell Week. You will earn the right to hear those wonderful words, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Repost from February 2014

Motherhood, Aristotle, and the Trinity

If you are a mom (or anyone else for that matter), please bear with me in this initial section. It is tough sledding, but there is fruit at the end. Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity has been an excellent read so far. Throughout the book he pulls in quotes and illustrations from many diverse sources. In the early chapters Sanders mentions Nicky Cruz, who was converted by David Wilkerson the author of the The Cross and the SwitchbladeJohn Bunyan, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Thomas F. Torrance, and Gerald Bray among others. In one section Sanders is talking about the difference between who God is and what He does. He notes that God did not have to create. He was glorious, good, and loving before the world ever came into being and would have remained so had he never created. One person he quoted struck me. Here are the quotes from that individual:

He is the great God, “the God of the spirits of all flesh,” the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them for his being in itself , and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

In other words, the creation of this world was a gift of grace. God was not constrained to create in any way. This person goes on to explain why Aristotle was mistaken in his belief that world had eternally existed alongside God.  Aristotle said this because he felt that a good God demanded an outlet for that goodness and therefore matter had to eternally exist as a way for God to show his goodness. This person refutes Aristotle using the Trinity:

For had he [Aristotle] ever heard of the great article of our Christian faith concerning the Holy Trinity, he had then perceived the almighty Goodness eternally communicating being and all the fullness of the Godhead to the divine Logos, his uncreated Word, between whose existence and that of the Father there is not one moment assignable. 

The person’s point here is that God’s goodness did not need a created world to be expressed. It had been expressed between Father and Son for all eternity. It is clear that this person has a grasp of ancient philosophy, Trinitarian theology, and the Scriptures. It is also clear that this person understands and delights in who God is. Who do you think said these things?

The answer is Susanna Wesley.  I was fascinated by these quotes from Mrs.Wesley’s journal tucked away in Sanders’ book. I think Sanders was as well. He says, “Susanna Wesley’s skirmish with Aristotle is a pretty tidy speculative engagement with the philosopher, and it is worth remembering that Susanna was not a theology professor but a full-time homeschooling mother when she wrote it.” I read a little more about Susanna Wesley and found out the following facts: she had a hard life, she had nineteen children, of whom only eight were living when she died, and she taught all her children Latin and Greek, as well as many other classics subjects. Several thoughts popped in my head as I learned these things. Here they are in no particular order:

How much of John and Charles Wesley’s theological impact can be traced to their mother? Clearly she understood the deep things of God and passed that on to her children.

Why do we often assume that women only need a great education if they are going to have a career? (And let’s be honest Mrs. Wesley probably had a better education than most career women today.) If they are going to be stay at home moms we assume that Latin, Greek, theology, advanced science, and philosophy are a waste of time. But are they really? I am not saying these things must be taught to our daughters, but if we can teach them, why not? Surely the long term impact of John and Charles can be traced not just to their mother, but to their mother’s education.

Along those same lines, why do we often assume that mothers do not need to worry about or understand theology? I am not saying all women must be theologians. Different women have different leanings and bents. Some women love theology. Some do not. There are dangers with both these leanings. But all Christian women should understand and delight in the basics of the Christian faith including, the Trinity, the atonement, the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the Holy Spirit, baptism, the Church, etc. Men, why would we not want our wives to know these things? Why would we not want them to think deeply about God like Mrs. Wesley did?

I might add here that women who do study theology often do not connect it to their task as mothers.
They might study Calvin, Aquinas, the Trinity, Romans, or the atonement, but don’t see how their study connects to motherhood. How can this be? How can the great truths of the Scriptures given through the great men of the Church not have anything to say about the great task of shepherding little ones? If a woman is learned in these areas, it is assumed she must write, blog, or teach. Why? Is using this knowledge to raise children a waste? I am not saying writing and blogging are bad, but just because you study theology does not mean you need or deserve a public outlet for your thoughts. Feed your own soul and your children’s souls with the great truths you are learning.

The knowledge a mother has is never wasted on her children. My wife has a degree in theology. Many stay at home moms I know have degrees. Some have advanced degrees. The world would consider this a waste. Why get a degree and then stay home? Why learn about biology, chemistry, history, literature, sociology, and then just change diapers? Many husbands probably think it is a waste as well. The assumption behind this is that using what you learned to make money is more profitable than using it to bring up children.  But raising children is never a waste of time. A mother’s experiences, education, upbringing, knowledge, etc. should all be brought to bear upon raising up the next generation. This is the great work to which God has called her. What she knows is never wasted when she pours it into her children. By the way, I am not saying a college education is necessary or always good for a woman. But if God in His providence has allowed a woman to get one she should see this as an asset to mothering, not a drawback.

Finally, we must never forget the long term impact mothers have for good. Not all children are destined to be a John or Charles Wesley. But all of our sons and daughters can be a force for Christ in an increasingly ugly world. It is my prayer that there will be many women like Susanna Wesley, who are well educated, theologically informed, hard working, and godly, but will use these gifts to build the Kingdom through raising children.

A Few Words for Parents Who Home Schooled

This is a companion post to the one I wrote to children who were home schooled. I would encourage you to read them both as they balance each other out. I was home schooled and I am currently homeschooling so I have been on both ends of these blog posts. This will apply to a lot of parents, but I address it to those who home schooled. 

This is what I would say to parents who home schooled.

First, the problems you see in the life of your grown children are your fault. It is not only your fault. Your children have a sin nature. But you played a significant role in shaping the sins of your children. This is a hard truth that we would rather ignore. Many home schooling parents have a high view of their responsibility in raising their children when they are at home, but refuse to accept responsibility for how children behave when they leave. They are your children. You raised them. They learned how to think and act from you. If you see things in your grown children that you don’t like then look in the mirror and repent. For what you see in them more than likely came from you.

Second, when a child leaves the home your role as a parent shifts dramatically. You need to let them go and live their life. Homeschooling parents often want to keep telling their children what to do after they are grown. This is particularly devastating for men. How can he lead his home when dad still orders him around? How can his wife respect him when he is constantly bending to what mom says? How can a wife make decisions for her family if she has to check with mom all the time? Grown children should respect their parents. But respect does not equal obedience.  A man is supposed to leave his father and mother. Your grown children should have the freedom to disagree with you and make different choices. They need to know they have this freedom. You should not make them feel guilty for exercising this freedom. You can offer counsel when asked, but that counsel should come with no strings attached. In short, when you children leave your home they are free from your authority and ideally they should probably be relatively free of your authority before they leave the home.

Third, just because your children make different choices than you does not mean they have gone off the deep end.  Home school parents often have precise ideas about how things should be done. When a grown child deviates from this it can cause anxiety.  But in many cases this anxiety is unwarranted. Just because your child uses a different school schedule than you did does not mean they are going to leave the faith. Just because they go to the home school co-op and you didn’t does not mean they have gone liberal. We could go on and on with this list talking about school curriculum, vaccines, where to give birth, how they dress, what they allow their children to watch, how they celebrate holidays, what type of church they attend, etc. You made the choices you thought were best as you raised your children. Now your children must do the same. Just because they choose differently does not mean they have rejected you, their upbringing, or God. In fact, you should expect them to make different choices. You should expect them to outgrow you, unless you got everything perfect. There should be times where you look at your children, smile, and say, “I wish I had done that.”

Fourth, admit to your grown children where you failed them. What mistakes did you make? What would you have done differently? How did you fail to love them? How did you fail to follow the Scriptures? How did you fail to love Christ? I am not encouraging you to call them weekly and tell them what a bad parent you were like some sappy episode of Oprah. What I am encouraging is sitting down and saying, “Son, I wish I had done this and here is why.” Or “Daughter, I thought I was right here, but I was wrong. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.” Or, “Son, I sinned against you by not doing…Please forgive me for this.” This is Christianity 101. Confess your sins one to another. By the way, this is a lot easier to do with your grown children if you did it with them when they were young.

Fifth, trust the Lord with your grown children. You are not God.  He is powerful, mighty, and sovereign. You are not. In many ways, your work is done. That can be terrifying, if you are trusting in your work. Don’t do that. Rest in His goodness. Rest in the promises in His Word. Rest in the finished work of Christ. Seek the throne of grace on behalf of your children. Many home schooling parents become fearful and anxious when their children leave the home. This is understandable, but shows a lack of trust in God. Look to Christ and trust that if your children are looking to Him too then all will be well. (Memorizing Heidelberg Catechism questions 26-28 might help with your anxiety.)

Sixth, give thanks to the Lord for your grown children, their spouses, and your grandchildren.  I do not mean be thankful in your hearts. Tell them you appreciate them. Magnify their achievements. Glory in all the good they are doing. Praise them in public and private. Rejoice over the work God is doing in their lives, their spouse’s life, and in your grandchildren. No matter your situation, God has been better to you than you deserve. My guess is that many (though I know not all) home schooled children grow up to love Jesus, His Word, and His Church. What more could you want? They may not do exactly what you did the way you did it, but does that mean you cannot be grateful?