On Women, Divisiveness, and Hobby Horses

We all know that women are pretty much the worst at getting tangled up in heated, personally charged arguments about things (things being pretty much everything pertaining to children). Someone comes along to say that breastfeeding is the way the truth and the life, and people start throwing stink bombs. Someone barges through saying that epidurals are the only answer to the problem of pain, and before you know it, churchwomen will be driving cars with “Ban Sally from Mothering” bumper stickers. Some poor woman makes a comment at a baby shower about how she is scheduling her baby’s feedings to try to get more sleep, and women will begin making pointed comments about baby wearing and co-sleeping, and when the next la leche league meeting is. People start using words that are too big for the situations and start alienating Christian sisters over whatever they have decided is a monumental issue.

But here is the real big issue: Christians are not allowed to have hot button issues which they use to stir up trouble. Sure, you may care about things. Yes, you should have reasons for why you are doing what you are doing.

But have you gotten so involved in an “issue” that you cannot fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters who think it is silly? Are you so caught up in teaching your kids phonics while they are in the womb that you need smelling salts when someone laughs about it? Does it stress you out to see a “christian” mother feeding her children easy cheese? Do you long to pelt her house with copies of Nourishing Traditions with important parts highlighted? Are you the wrath of God as pertains to birthing methods, educational systems, and nutrition?

Now here is the thing. Principles are the things that God lays out for us. Love your children. Serve the Lord. Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Children are a blessing. Be fruitful. Methods are the tools we use to try to accomplish these things.

Methods vary, even when the people involved are all following God. Do not get caught up in method camps and chisel away at the number of saints you can fellowship with every time you read a new article about that thing that has become the most important thing. Do not build for yourself an arsenal of inflammatory topics. Do not be quick to fire off heated comments.

The thing about principles and methods is that if you agree on the principle, the method is not such a big deal. But most of us know this – we understand the difference between the two, and yet we still get all wangled into madness about it. Why is this?

Here is my theory: If principles are the content of what is being said, methods are the languages used. We agree that a good principle is “love your children.”  So we each say it to them in our own language. Some of us might say it in schedule feeding, and some of us might say it with a sling. The problem comes in when someone overhears someone else “talking” to their children. Quickly translating into her own language, she overhears something like, “I do not love you, and you are a fink!” Outrage ensues.

We want to hear people speaking in our own languages. We have labored over all our translation manuals, worked to have just the right accent, and so it grates on us to hear someone come say the same thing in pig latin. We often refuse to admit that it is the same thing – it just can’t be.

Now the point of this is certainly not to say that there are not objectively better ways to communicate to our children. Some people may be speaking in pig latin, some in a random smorgasbord of cliche sayings, and some only speak to their children in Italian sonnets. Some methods are better. Some methods are dumber. My point is not that we shouldn’t have an opinion about methods, but that we should be comfortable with different languages. When people speak in different languages, it ought to give us joy. The world is a crazy place. The church is a crazy place.

So, next time someone says the clearly outrageous, just remember this: there is a wrong way to be right. There is also a right way to be wrong. And there is always a greater right than being right.

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57 thoughts on “On Women, Divisiveness, and Hobby Horses

  1. So true. What a great reminder. It’s great to enjoy the freedom of Christ in so many different ways. Off to feed my kiddos some chocolate chip cookies for a snack!!

  2. I love this!! This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I think you hit the nail on the head! We are just speaking a different language. Also, I think that as women we feel threatened by the “different languages” because it makes us question our lanugage which is directly related (unfortunately) to our security. We have this overwhelming slant towards perfectionism and the fear that we’re not doing it just quite right.

    Thank you!!
    Brenda

  3. love it! and thanks for introducing me to the word “wangled”. “wangled into madness”…i think that is my new favorite phrase.

  4. It took me a long time to learn this and it is easy to fall back into the struggle! Sometimes it is a fine line between opinion and biblical interpretation of certain commands and there we have to let the Holy Spirit lead the other person or ourselves into His will regarding those things. No one ever changed their mind while being beat over the head with a brick. They only walk away hurt.

  5. Oh, how I yearn for the days of bickering over bottle v breast. Today I’m caught in the crossfire of college v homesteading (for daughters) and courtship wars. Just let me serve the Lord in the language I speak best! Thanks for a good post.

  6. Your mom wrote about principles and methods in “The Fruit of Her Hands.” I have always appreciated what she has said and wished it had worked into my heart sooner. But, we live and we learn.

    I’m not sure if the language metaphor works for me, but I certainly get what you’re saying. This desperately needs to be said in the church today. We shame Christ when we devour one another over secondary matters. What this says is that we have taken our eyes off Jesus. We’ve forgotten the gospel.

  7. That was an entertaining and a refreshing read :o)
    But I need help to understand one term:

    “easy cheese”????

    mendingfamily.com

  8. SO true! I read this years ago in your mom’s book The Fruit of Her Hands and it has been such a guiding principle in how I want to love women. We can’t hear it enough, because we love to make law where Christ decreed freedom. . .

  9. @Steve – Easy cheese! Spray cheese deliciousness. Cheese yumminess in a can. You must, right now, go to the store and purchase some spray cheese and Wheat Thins. Eat them together and then come back and give a report. The chemicals are just so tasty.

  10. “Does it stress you out to see a “christian” mother feeding her children easy cheese? Do you long to pelt her house with copies of Nourishing Traditions with important parts highlighted?”
    Ha!

    Thanks for the post. These reminders seem to always be necessary.

  11. Great post, thank you. I love and will remember “there is always a greater right than being right”. I’m learning that loving people and encouraging them where they are is far better than “converting” them to my way of thinking about a particular issue. It’s come up a few times for me recently anyway, better pay attention!

  12. Can I just say that you are brilliant!! I think this is a fantastic post. We do spend way too much time analyzing and judging the method – let’s stick to godly principles! And while we’re at it – let’s thank God for His principles and the language He has given each of us to work with!

  13. Thank you for this post. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately and agree with Brenda – it’s very much related to fear and perfectionism. I fear that I’m not raising my daughter in exactly the “right way” and I feel threatened when someone uses a different method. I think, “What if she’s right and I’m wrong?” Then i feel the need to defend my decision and attack hers to remind myself that I’m doing the right thing. But, as you said, there are much more important things than being right!

  14. Well, thanks! You just totally ruined the post I’ve been working on for a few days. I had a lot of the same thoughts, but I can’t come anywhere near expressing them as well as you. I’d be ashamed to try. I guess I’ll just have to tweet about this post instead of finishing mine. 😉

    It occurs to me that this comment sounds very much like the complimentary spam comments I get on my blog. Sorry about that. I’m sincere. I wish I’d written this.

  15. This is the best post ever. I’m printing this out and sticking it in the stack of books I want my daughters to read when they get older!

  16. Echoing Luma, this is a great reminder from “The Fruits of Her Hands,” which brought immense clarity when I first read it. Also, I remember reading a previous post by Nancy where she wrote “there is a deeper right than being right.”

    Thank you for taking the time to write. It is always a blessing to read your writings. I feel like a whale coming up to the surface for fresh air (wow, I’m turning into my three-year-old with my metaphors these days. He is really into whales, dolphins, and sharks at the moment).

  17. Thank you! I think this article would be a good read when the subject of say… immunizing children comes up. I always get hot under the collar when someone starts talking about it, and I need to keep this article in my back pocket for such times!

  18. Thank you! So very timely for me! I’m a new mama of four months (plus nine :) ) and I’ve already been on both the giving and receiving end of elevating methods over principles.

  19. Thanks for this reminder. You are so right – we need to learn to accept that others do things differently and that is okay!
    After my first baby, I got all caught up in the importance of doing things *my* way. Putting my baby on a schedule? Over my dead body. Feeding my child from a bottle? The horrors!
    Then I had my second baby. He spent his first 8 days in the NICU (at a different hospital than he was born at) & had another surgery at 6 months of age. What do you know; God didn’t like my self righteous attitudes. I spent the first week of that baby’s life pumping milk so he could be fed from…bottles. And horror of horrors – he came home from that hospital on a 3 hour feeding schedule.
    The whole thing certainly taught me about a lot more than infant feeding – it revealed my heart which needed changing!

  20. Love! Excellent article! I think I’ve seen more division with Christian women over these issues than with non-Christians. So sad. The church would accomplish so much more if we weren’t nitpicking over non-spiritual issues.

  21. I’ve been thinking about this since I first read the post yesterday. I wanted to gently say that the way for women to stop these divisive habits is not to just keep their mouths closed and be okay with someone using “a different language.” That will last for about a day or two. The way to really kill the sin of divisiveness is to go to the Scriptures and learn in a deep and lasting way how to love each other as Christians, how to be tenderhearted toward one another, how to serve each other, and how to criticize in light of the Cross. The answer is who we are in Christ and who our brothers and sisters are in Christ. We are all in Christ. All these types of squabbles over secondary issues and pet ideas are dealt with (as much as can be this side of glory) when we become more grounded in God’s Word. We can read all the “how to be a better wife,” “how to be a better mother,” and all the other “how to” books out there but unless we are immersing ourselves in our Bibles and drinking deeply, we will get nowhere. We will think we are growing but we are actually stunting ourselves because we are not going to the living water, Jesus.

  22. Along with this exhortation comes the bit about older women teaching younger women. With age and experience should come a little more understanding and humbling about methods. When trying to decide what our methods will be, we are often insecure in them (because we have little experience using them) and don’t people fight the most over things they are insecure about? (Watch a Baptist newly converted to the Reformed perspective argue the 5 points of Calvinism and it looks the same.) And then, once we think we have our methods figured out, God throws us a curveball to show us that we might have to change. :) I’m thankful that God saw fit to have some of my births in places I didn’t intend and my method of baby feeding turned on its head. I’m also thankful for your mother’s teaching distinguishing method from principle so that I didn’t despair (too much) when it happened. :)

  23. It seems most women don’t want to broach these subjects, in order to avoid contention, and then these issues become taboo. And all we women can talk about is the weather, upcoming events, and other equally shallow subjects. That’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed talking to men about important issues. Men usually aren’t as easily offended as women.

  24. Laughing out loud at “Do you long to pelt her house with copies of Nourishing Traditions with important parts highlighted?” I have that book. And I was tempted at one time to promote it more than neccessary. Since then, I’ve married and had one baby – and everything I thought when I was “young, single and oh-so-holy” has been absolutely turned on its head. Praise God! It’s still a struggle for me to buy sandwich meat for my hubby’s lunches, and easy cracker snacks for our little girl, but I’m managing. One of the most difficult things I’ve found is remembering my parents language, while learning my husbands. Honoring theirs, while speaking his.

  25. I do think women should be able to calmly discuss things like this, but I don’t think the problem is that women are afraid to broach controversial subjects (though I guess it depends on the group of people you’re around). In my experience, women aren’t afraid to talk about these things at all, and many have a hard time talking of much else – which isn’t really the problem either. It’s that they make these issues into Gospel when they do talk about them. We are often incapable of talking about our methods while acknowledging that they are secondary issues – I think often because we want others to look up to us. But when there isn’t a clear biblical imperative to employ the method we’ve chosen and so we have no Scripture to prove how admirable we are, all we have left is to draw a ridiculous caricature of those who use different methods, to try to make them look and feel stupid. And then it just goes in a circle, and the caricatures eventually become Picasso’s.

  26. Oh. My. Word. And thank you.
    It’s really wonderful that the Holy Spirit enables us to speak each other’s languages, relieving much of the conflict and tension between people who don’t feel that they understand other tongues. I so need to have grace with the people who are trying to speak into my life in the way they best know how, however misguided or judgmental I feel they are being. Thanks for the encouragement!

  27. Wonderful and convicting words!

    As a soon-to-be new mother, this sort of method-as-salvation (and method-as-a-weapon, too!) idea can be such a huge temptation . . . even when I swore as a single girl it never would be. :)

    Thanks so much for always having the courage to speak the truth and encourage us in wisdom, Mrs. Wilson!

  28. I recently read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and this quote stood out to me as a newish mom newly aware of this issue: “Most women had the one thing in common: they had great pain when they gave birth to their children. This should make a bond that held them all together; it should make them love and protect each other….But it was not so. It seemed like their great birth pains shrank their hearts and their souls. They stuck together for only one thing: to trample on some other woman… whether it was by throwing stones or by mean gossip. It was the only kind of loyalty they seemed to have.”

  29. Such a great reminder, thank you! And I literally laughed out loud more than once while reading this – especially the bit about “Do you long to pelt her house with copies of Nourishing Traditions with important parts highlighted?” Humor and wisdom – love it!

  30. Thank you so much for this article. I have also enjoyed reading through the comments. What a blessing.

    Easy Cheese and Wheat Thins, oh why oh why can’t I claim a pregnancy craving right now. bwahaha.

    Susan

  31. I’ve been waiting to hear another woman say this. I’ve felt so judged, and been so disappointed to look back and find myself judging, or “translating into my own language.” I guess that’s why children seem so darned happy with the “wrong” methods; because they know their mother is still saying “I love you!” with that chicken nugget. Frankly, I can’t look at grown-ups and tell if their mothers wore them, or gave them bottles, or fed them McDonald’s. And I’m tired of all the bickering. This is so great. I’m very very relieved to hear I’m not the only one who notices this awful habit.

    And on a side note, in my experience, anytime a group of people seems plagued with inner turmoil, such as mothers, it seems to be a testimony to the combined power that group of people actually has. The Devil never attacks those who aren’t a threat. For this reason, I believe the temptation to judge or compare ourselves to other women is so prevalent; because what we are doing, raising the future generations, is of such vital importance. We are the front lines, ladies! Let’s band together. I sure could use the encouragement and support.

  32. So I had to go Google “Nourishing Traditions” to understand that part–I am so out of it.

  33. I loved the article and comments from all you different ladies. I would like to add that it’s great to enjoy one another for how God has made us so differently. I’m glad there are Nourishing Tradition lovers as well as processed food lovers. I love how there are home births and hospital births. I love organic loving people and twinkie people. Isn’t God great? How boring it would be if we were all the same! It’s a thrill to learn from different ladies how they order their homes and their histories. So thanks for the article. It’s a good reminder for me. This blog is like a cup of cool water on a hot day. After reading, Loving the Little Years, my husband commented that my “me time” involves reading Femina. It leaves me refreshed and encourages me to love my God and the duties He gives me. Thanks!

  34. I’ve always disliked Mom’s groups and socializing with other young moms. They are usually very opinionated about everything. I say “Live and let Live”. There are a multitude of wonderful paths to the same or similar ends. Relax everyone.

  35. When I was about five years old, my mom and I were shopping in the shoe department at Montgomery Ward, and I was trying to get my head around the concept of there being different languages. I asked her, “But which is the right one?”

    We sure do love to make up moral standards where there are none. It’s so much easier than obeying the ones that are real. Our hearts are idol factories, and our minds busily serve them by making up owner’s manuals with detailed instructions on how to worship our widgets. Then we can be self-righteous about our rigorous adherence to our new holy writ, and easily excuse our anger, impatience, critical spirit, contempt, and so forth.

  36. Are you so caught up in teaching your kids phonics while they are in the womb that you need smelling salts when someone laughs about it? HILARIOUS

  37. I think this article gives a great point- it is sad to think that the body of Christ would break fellowship over secondray issues. But I do think it would be good to see a follow-up article on how to talk about these issues without be divisive. One of the commenters mentioned that it isn’t a matter of just being quiet, “I wanted to gently say that the way for women to stop these divisive habits is not to just keep their mouths closed and be okay with someone using “a different language.” That will last for about a day or two. The way to really kill the sin of divisiveness is to go to the Scriptures and learn in a deep and lasting way how to love each other as Christians, how to be tenderhearted toward one another, how to serve each other, and how to criticize in light of the Cross. The answer is who we are in Christ and who our brothers and sisters are in Christ. We are all in Christ. All these types of squabbles over secondary issues and pet ideas are dealt with (as much as can be this side of glory) when we become more grounded in God’s Word. We can read all the “how to be a better wife,” “how to be a better mother,” and all the other “how to” books out there but unless we are immersing ourselves in our Bibles and drinking deeply, we will get nowhere. We will think we are growing but we are actually stunting ourselves because we are not going to the living water, Jesus.” great point Luma- I think it would be great to see more of this in action. Talking about hard issues, but not shying away from keeping our priorites in line. Follow up article Lizzie?? :)

  38. We actually left a small church because all the moms were so completely wrapped up in their opinions and ideas that they completely alienated the other moms who didn’t raise their kids in the same manner. It was so frustrating to go to church and be made to feel like a terrible mom. So what if I don’t home school my kid? Get over yourself.

  39. Valerie: When I was little, I figured other languages must be some weird, backwards-and-upside-down way of speaking the right language, haha!

  40. Seconding Joy’s comment. Please write on ways to handle this when you’re dealing with someone whose friendship you’d actually like to keep…though their harping on their method-as-gospel drives you batty.

  41. What a helpful post! We could definitely take a page out of our husbands’ books on this – they can talk politics and religion and sports and all stay in fellowship. Maybe we need more beer at our get-togethers? :)

  42. As a new-ish mom with some very opinionated friends, I’ve had do to a lot of thinking in this area. I think that a big reason why people get so up-in-arms if you make different parenting choices is rooted in the fact that becoming a parent is so intrusive, so all-encompassing, changes so much about your life that it is easy to find your identity in your role as a parent instead of in Christ. When we become parents we are suddenly deluged with choices, some of them quite scary, and we can feel insecure with our decisions. When someone makes a different choice, it’s almost like they are saying “who you are and what you’ve done are not okay”. It is easy to take it personally. And what do we do when someone attacks our identity? We get defensive and judgmental, maybe react by questioning their identity in retaliation. I still struggle with this, but I have found that when my judgey little self rears her ugly head, it is helpful to remember that my real identity is in Christ and His grace, not primarily as a mom, wife, nanny, etc., and I should hope THAT identity on the person whose choices call into question my secondary identities/roles.

  43. Thank you very much! I really appreciate this post! Kim, you are most certainly right about the need to band together as we raise the future generations! And Audrey, I think more beer at our get-togethers wouldn’t be a bad way to go about it; ) haha. But in all seriousness, I too would appreciate a follow-up post. I find it hard to find the line between “helping” and “harping”. I don’t want my friends to feel like I have too much advice. But at the same time, I want others to feel like they can say things to me about my “language” or the way I’m doing something and make suggestions or even corrections at times. How else are we going to help one another? Most of the things that we tend to draw battle lines over are the very things that tend to be a real challenge: the places where we need a word of encouragement and a helping hand. If we’re too afraid of offending, we’ll never offer the helping hand.

  44. I really hate that on topics such as this it’s always portrayed as the natural birthers, baby wearers, healthy eaters, etc. As the ones who are constantly judging and telling others they’re wrong. Each time I read an article about “getting along” it opens with things similar to this. I do all of those things and have been told, by even my own family, that it’s disgusting to nurse, that I’d kill my children for not vaccinating them, had people give my children things that I had said I didn’t want them to have, behind my back, deliberately. I don’t mind someone giving me their opinion on a subject, and anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m not one to give advice unless asked (way too shy). And even if I do, I avoid telling people what I did or do now. I tell them, to the best of my ability, the knowledge I have on both sides of a subject and encourage them to think about the pros and cons of each, even research if they need to, and decide what they feel is best for their family. As a general rule, if someone wants to know why I chose what did, I tell them that we prayed, researched, asked other parents that we implicitly trust, etc. and came to a decision. If it However, I’m tired of the dirty looks when I nurse in public (even under a blanket), I’m sick of being called irresponsible for not running to the doctor when my child sneezes, being told I’m too strict because I have my children spend more time reading than watching tv (and this is mostly THEIR choice, they’re complete bookworms) If the point isn’t to feel that one way is better, why is most of this article talking about the mothers that parent in this way giving out booklets and fainting?

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