The Cult of the Family

Carla: Today has been a better day. No one has locked themselves out of any houses and all children are in cooperative moods. 

Before I launch into today’s post, I want to point out that my dear friend Tony has gotten wind of our conversation about motherhood as a calling. Pop in to his Beliefnet.com blog, The New Christians, and take a look at some other perspectives.

On with the show. So one of the issues that Caryn and I are taking on in the MR is what we see as the immense pressure and guilt the church lays on mothers. Really, our greatest hope for the Rev is that it frees mothers from unrealistic–and unbiblical–expectations about who they are supposed to be. To get there, however, takes some serious dismantling of the cultural messages that have become so ingrained in us.

Our American culture has all kinds of damaging and hurtful messages and there are several wonderful books out there that do a fine job of peeling back the cultural wallpaper to find a new layer of truth for women. We will use the occasional post to talk about those messages, but our real passion is to deconstruct the Christian myths of motherhood. And the first one to go is what I call the Cult of the Family.

Christian women are taught that motherhood will someone complete us, that in motherhood we will find the culmination of all our hopes and dreams. We hear sermons and read books and go to conferences about how what we do as parents will shape our children more than anything else in their lives. One result of that is that the church encourages us to take parenting seriously. And we applaud that message.

But the other result is that women come to believe that our ultimate worth comes from motherhood, not from our relationship with God. We get the impression–and you only have to read the comments from the last week to see how deeply impressed upon us this is–that our real contribution to the world is to raise children.

The problem is that churches have elevated the family to a position that is out of synch with the gospel. We have been led to believe that the family is more important than the broader community, that protecting our children from the secular culture is more important than bringing God’s love into that culture. And we have been led to believe that every ounce of thought or energy or time we put in to anything other than our families is a sign that our priorities are out of whack.

Those messages have pulled women away from God. And that’s why I call it the Cult of the Family. It keeps our eyes on mothering, not God. It focuses our attention on a small group of people, not the body of Christ. It convinces us that if we sense God leading us anywhere but into our homes, we are being tricked and swayed by the godless culture. It shuts down our ability to discern the path God has for us by telling us that path has already been decided.

And it hurts women. Not just mothers, but all women for whom motherhood is not an option, for whom motherhood is a constant struggle, for whom the dream of motherhood has been crushed by the loss of a child–in the womb or out of the womb.

We received an e-mail from one such woman and we asked her if we could share it with you. Here’s what she had to say:

I’m in my late 30s and a longtime Christian. I’ve never been married. I very much wanted to be a mom, but that hasn’t happened  (in spite of eHarmony and a host of other sites, setups and a whole lot of prayer). I find that the church has no idea how to respond. And sometimes the responses are downright mean.

Some people automatically assume that single women are weird or too picky.  I don’t think so. It’s hard to meet decent people, despite all the advice doled out in books.  (And why are all those books marketed specifically to women anyway?)

I don’t know why I’m not married with 2.5 kids. I don’t know why God put that longing in my heart and didn’t fulfill it. And if anyone else knows the answer, then perhaps they can pass it along to my mother, who is dying to know.

I’m troubled by some of the more devastating lies in the church. Some prominent Christian organizations are now telling older singles that they’ve sinned because they’ve put off marriage and motherhood. 

Please understand that I esteem marriage and children. I wanted those gifts. God gave me something else, at least for now.   And there’s a tension there, between living a full life for Him and acknowledging the wistful ache. Because sometimes the single life is lonely. (It’s not at all like TV! And it’s a far cry from the single life of college, too.) 

I am steeped in children’s ministry. I love kids. But I wish the church had a stronger message to those of us who don’t have partners or children. Because sometimes we feel that because we aren’t part of the club, there’s not a place for us in the family. 

I’ve heard the “wait until your married” message my whole life. I would love to see the church teach its daughters to wait “because you are Jesus’ precious daughter, whether you are married or single.”

Some of us can’t talk about the ticking clock and the ache because we might choke up and make you feel awkward. Some of us try to talk about it, but then we hear how lucky we are, with our tidy, quiet houses and diaper-free shopping carts and all. Yes, we know marriage and motherhood are work. But we think it’s work we’d like a chance at.  Maybe we want to talk about the ups and downs of being a mom honestly with you. Maybe it would be OK if the moms out there asked us about the dating scene – or lack of it. 

Singleness wasn’t my choice. But it’s my life. And our family-centric churches rarely help us along.  

I’ll never forget attending a Mother’s Day service at a friend’s church. The pastor asked all adult women to stand and prayed that they would be strong women and nurturers to whomever God might place in their lives. Yes, I know it’s not a typical Mother’s Day gesture, but it meant the world to me, and that pastor has a special place in my heart.

Let’s encourage each other, as women in the Lord, moms or not. 

Whenever a message creates pain in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s the wrong message. 

Caryn: (Actually, it’s still Carla. Caryn is on her way to some fun weekend retreat that I’m never invited to. If she has the internets when she gets to her chalet or whatever it is she’s staying in, she will chime in and tell me how off-base I am. But in the meantime, I’m posting so that you’ll have something new to read and ponder over the weekend. At least one of us is committed to this endeavor.)

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