If you’ve stopped by the blog lately, you know I’ve been reviewing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans, in which she considers some of the ways that Christians employ the word “biblical” as an adjective used for prescribing rules and standards of behavior for marriage, economics, womanhood, motherhood….well, pretty much everything.
In the chapter “May: Fertility, Quivers Full of Arrows and Sippy Cups” she attempts to answer
“What is biblical parenting?”
As Rachel begins her explorations, she discovers that there are, ahem, several opinions out there on the best parenting practices. I chuckled a bit reading her narration of wading through the often contradictory material on feeding, diapering, sleeping, discipline, etc. I mean, Charlie and I barely had two days to think about this stuff before Ellie arrived, so we initially followed a trial and error philosophy. (Dear Ellie: if you are scarred for life and one day in therapy because we used Pampers, I’m sorry. You don’t have to use cloth diapers on me when I become incontinent in my golden years. Deal?)
Rachel continues, “…I had two options when it came to caring for my future baby: I could either eat, sleep, drink, bathe…with my baby permanently affixed to my body…or I could leave my baby out naked on a cold millstone to cry…”
She notes that the problem with parenting philosophies is that we have a bad habit of taking what works in one specific circumstance and projecting it upon the entire world as the best or only way to raise a child. Above all, we want to be good parents. The best parents. And so, in an attempt to escape the constant fear that we might be doing something wrong, we passionately defend our choices, often at the expense of offending or alienating other mothers. Then, as if parenting debates aren’t conflicted enough, people often pull God to their side and declare certain ideologies or practices as more “biblical” than others.
Rachel shares, “From contraception, to spanking, to family size, to the decision of a mother to work or stay at home, there is perhaps no arena in which women of faith are more subjected to the expectations of ‘biblical womanhood’ than in their capacity to bear and raise children.”
I have friends that breastfeed their babies into toddlerhood, make their own cloth diapers, and feed their families from a fully organic, clean-eating menu. I have other friends that can make a bottle for the baby with one hand while the other searches the cabinet for Goldfish to rain down from snack heaven. One friend slumbers in a bed with five little bodies crammed here and there while I carried around a Nap Nanny until Ellie could walk.
The point is, of course, that just as there’s no one correct definition of “biblical” womanhood, there’s no one set way to mother, and as women, we should seek to uplift and support one another, no matter the way we choose to go about
surviving raising our children.
Rachel suggests that perhaps the church puts too much emphasis on motherhood anyway. She examines the thinking of certain evangelicals that still believe a woman’s primary purpose is related to child-bearing.
“Woman’s hope, the church’s hope, the world’s hope is joined to childbearing,” says Walter Chantry, [a Baptist minister.] “Women, here is a life-long calling! It is the highest any woman can enter.”
Really? Don’t I vaguely remember something about Jesus being the hope of the world? No? It’s really my uterus that gives hope to the entire church and the world, y’all! Dang. I hate to let you guys down, but my uterus apparently didn’t get the memo and is not going to cooperate.
Granted, Mr. Chantry is quite a bit older, and comes from a different time. (He’s probably not a huge fan of feminism, huh?) In his day, society expected women to stay home, have babies, and make apple pies. However, that doesn’t excuse his words as a Christian teacher.
I’m certain there were women struggling with the bitter pain of infertility sitting in his congregation Sunday after Sunday, and my heart aches that they had to hear words such as these. My heart aches for the women made to feel like their value as a person and as a Christian was somehow tied to motherhood. My heart still aches for women who sit on the outside of the “mommy circle” as friend after friend becomes pregnant while their own arms remain empty. And as a woman who has known the pain of being on the outside, I call out to my fellow Christians to ensure that church is a place where all are truly welcome, and that motherhood is not esteemed as the only…or even the expected path to righteousness.
Rachel writes, “As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.”
Motherhood is certainly a high calling, an important, valid, and wonderful calling, but it’s not the hope of the world. Jesus already took care of that one. Motherhood should be honored, certainly, but not elevated above other paths or accomplishments.
Rachel asks a question I’ve never considered before, but now that I have, I wonder why this hasn’t occurred to more women’s groups in modern churches. Why are there so many baby showers but no parties for women passing bar exams or graduating medical school? Why don’t we have housewarming parties for single women?
These questions made me think of my own Sunday School class at the moment where it seems a baby is born every few weeks. My class has singlehandedly populated the church nursery; if everyone shows, I believe we have nine kiddos, age 2 or under. We’ve had dinners and diaper showers galore. Yet, we also have single folks, and they publish scientific research, pass bar exams, get new jobs, etc. Should the church not also make a habit of honoring these accomplishments?
Jesus and Paul both honored singleness on more than one occasion, yet, there are Christian groups that still seem determined to attach a woman’s value to the conditions of marriage and motherhood.
Quiverfull, for example, is a group that rejects any form of birth control as immoral, and followers pledge to keep an “open womb.” They get their name from Psalms 127:3-5 which says “Children are a heritage from the Lord….Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Michelle Duggar follows this philosophy, so you get the idea.
The problem with this philosophy, according to Hillary, a friend of Rachel’s who grew up as the oldest of 11, is that Quiverfull families take one passage of scripture and turn “what the Bible describes as a blessing into an implicit command, requiring women to bear as many children as possible, regardless of whether their health or finances can support those children.”
While the Duggars live in a 7,000 square foot home and travel the world, many Quiverfull families, like Hillary’s, struggle to feed and cloth their children.
Quiverfull members believe their lifestyle is “biblical” and therefore the correct choice for all Christians. So we’re to assume that women who choose not to have children are “un-biblical?” What about women who can’t have children? Is there an exception for the infertile?
For argument’s sake, could it also be considered un-biblical to bring a child into the world knowing that you have no way to provide for that child? What about the ethics of a mother risking her own life for another pregnancy when she has a dozen other children who will then be left without her? And while this brings up a whole passel of other issues, the adoptive parent in me thinks, so….is it only biological children who are a “heritage from the Lord?” Instead of having an endlessly open womb, why not open your heart to some of the thousands of children in foster care or the millions orphaned around the world?
In all seriousness, I’m trying (admittedly, not that successfully) to keep the judgment of folks like the Duggars out of my heart. I believe those families are doing what they feel God is calling them to do, and though I may not agree, they are still my brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, it does bother me to know that there are thousands out there, like Quiverfull member Ken Carpenter, still teaching their daughters that “it is a woman’s primary function to become a mother” and entangling those teachings with following Jesus.
For years, as month after month came and my womb remained empty, I struggled with feelings of inadequacy. For those of you that know that loneliness and constant ache, you know that even now, as a liberated, educated women in a country where we can feasibly do or be anything, when our bodies refuse to carry life, we feel the same longing, shame, betrayal, and anger as women have felt from the beginning. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah—they know our hurt. But precious sisters, God has never looked at us and judged our worth based on our ability or even our desire to mother. He delights in all the ways we honor Him.
I’ve always wanted to be a mother, and somewhere in the midst of carting sperm specimens through the Starbucks drive-thru on my way to another appointment, I realized I wanted motherhood more than pregnancy. Thus, I altered the order of how we planned to build a family and submitted our adoption paperwork.
I love this little girl more than I knew it was possible to love another, and though I’d kill for a bit more adult conversation (or a chance to go pee by myself) some days, I don’t regret making the decision to stay home with her the past two years. One day, I’ll likely return to the working world, but for now, I’m finding ample challenges in being a mother, and as we plan to add more kiddos soon, I’m thinking this mom-thing is going to keep me busy for a while. Motherhood is a lofty calling, after all.
But it’s not the only calling.
So whether my daughter decides to get married at 20, stay home, and start having babies, heads to Malawi to labor for clean water initiatives, pursues her doctorate in chemical engineering, or does all of the above, I will support her 100 percent.
Because no matter what we choose to do, if we do it to honor God, then it becomes holy….whether or not it is “biblical.”