Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tyranny of the Ideal Home

One of my favorite movies is Pride and Prejudice (1995). One scene which really resonated with me involves Elizabeth Bennet and her traveling companion, Maria Lucas. After spending a considerable time in the shadow of the intimidating Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Elizabeth finds Maria on the day of their departure frantically trying to pack her gowns just as Lady Catherine gave instruction.

What I call "the tyranny of the ideal" had seized Miss Lucas, forcing her to conform to an impossible standard, even to the point of losing sleep over it. The moment of freedom came when Elizabeth assured Maria, "This is your trunk, these are your gowns, you may arrange them in any way you wish. Lady Catherine will never know."

It is staggering to think how many years some of us have wasted in striving for the ideal, even losing sleep over it, in how we manage our homes, raise our kids, relate to our husbands, choose what we wear, and even plan what to make for dinner! And, though I could not go so far as to say, this is your home, these are your children, you can raise them any way you wish, there is something to be said for not bowing to the tyranny of conforming to the ideals of others.

I think that's why some people can't stand Martha Stewart. She sets herself up like a modern-day Lady Catherine and pronounces the best way, the right way, the only way, to do something. She has the authority with the backing not only of experience, but also of science. When she says to "apply triple super phosphate 0-45-0 to flower beds" on the third Thursday of March, you can be reasonably sure that's the best thing to do at the right time in order to have healthy flowers come summer.

Often times, however, we set up our own Lady Catherines and Martha Stewarts when it comes to our homes. And, though these authorities on the home may claim their ways are backed up by science, more often than not they claim the backing of the Word of God Almighty. How can we ignore that? You might get by with applying your phosphate a day or two late, but if you stray from the biblical principles of child rearing, your children might turn out to be worldlings or, worse yet, die and go to Hell. This is serious business!

Yet, if you want a reality check, do your homework on those home authorities. You might be surprised how many advocates of stay-at-home daughters met their spouse at college (ME!), how many home education promoters went to public schools (MOST!), and how many no-pants-wearing, dresses-down-past-your-knees modesty mavens used to be CHEERLEADERS (ask around; you will be stunned).

I am not saying these folks (ME!) are hypocrites. I believe they simply chose different paths for their children with the sincere hope they would be spared some of the temptations and trials their parents experienced in living those lifestyles. They were assured along the way by well-meaning Lady Catherines that, if they would only lay their gowns in that certain way in the trunk, there would be no spots or wrinkles at the end of the journey; that, if they disciplined and discipled their children in this "biblical" way, they would turn out to be the Christian adults of their dreams and future generations would be blessed because of their efforts.

Without even realizing it, these well-meaning parents believe that following biblical principles in child training will merit the favor of God in the salvation of their children and succeeding generations. If you put it exactly that way to them, they will deny it, but, in reality, that is what they practice. However, the problem is that for many of them their motivation is FEAR rather than FAITH. When we fear our children will turn out badly if we fail at our parenting, then we are depending on our parenting and not on the grace and mercy of God.

I have been feeling a restless uneasiness for some time regarding my following of the teachings of certain leaders in the homeschool movement, but the final death knell sounded when I attended a workshop on the Gospel and Revival at the Irresistible Cry conference I attended last week.[1] Here are a few quotes from the take-home materials which helped to clarify where I had gone wrong:

"There is a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. Religion operates on the principle, 'I obey -- therefore I am accepted by God.' But the operating principle of the gospel is 'I am accepted by God through what Christ has done -- therefore I obey." ~ Timothy Keller, The Reason For God, (New York: Dutton, 2008), 179-180.

"The first statement of the Gospel is not an exhortation to action or to conduct and behavior. Before man is called upon to do anything, he must have received something. Before God calls upon a man to put anything into practice, He has made it possible for man to put it into practice." -- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1983), 23-24.

How many parents see a legitimate threat to the peace and well being of their children and determine in the flesh to make sure it doesn't happen? They read all the best books and listen to all the best teachers, then set up the rules and laws in their home whereby they might garner the promised favor of God upon themselves and their children by forced compliance. Perhaps no one warned them that "rules without relationship leads to rebellion."[2] And so they are shocked and shattered when their children jump ship and swim for the world's shore at the first opportunity.[3]

Yet, the most important relationship is not between parent and child or even the relationship between the parents. The most important relationship is that which each person in the family has with God. Here is another helpful quote from The Irresistible Cry packet:

"While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; but when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good." -- Charles H. Spurgeon, Repentance After Conversion, Sermon No. 2419, June 12, 1887.

Parents must first know God in this real and living way. Only then can they portray His love to their children and inspire them to seek the Lord and to please Him for who He is and for His glory alone and not for what He can do for them. It is a twisted gospel which portrays God as doling out blessings only to those who keep the law perfectly. We try and fail, try and fail, and eventually we rebel in frustration. The flesh gets so tired of doing spiritual things. The blessing of walking in God's ways can only be done by walking in His Spirit. And this can only be obtained in answer to prayer (Luke 11:1-13).

We must cry out to God for a fresh outpouring His Holy Spirit on us before we can ever hope to have a healthy, happy, holy home. May God grant this, our importunate request, in His love and mercy. Amen.

[1] Sponsored by the International Awakening Ministries:
[2] A quote I first heard from Josh McDowall:
[3] Some are prejudiced against Michael Pearl, but he wrote a series several years ago which resonates with wisdom regarding this phenomenon of homeschooled children jumping ship. It's worth reading, especially the points about being a Spirit-filled parent: