January 26: Old Wives’ Tales

“But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself rather to godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

Have you ever wondered why Paul had to warn Christians not to be susceptible to old wives’ tales? Not to be gullible? Not to fall into funny little superstitions that are passed around through the women?

Obviously he’s not just warning the women not to fall into this trap – he’s admonishing the men too. But notice what he’s telling them to stay away from. He doesn’t want any children of God to fall prey to the silly stories that women tend to be especially good at passing back and forth to each other. This, I think, makes it obvious that it’s a temptation that might be especially strong for women – and maybe we need to examine ourselves to see if we’ve slipped into this anywhere.

Interestingly, Paul gives us a contrast here. Part 1, don’t fall prey to old wives tales. Part 2, instead, exercise (some translations say “discipline”) yourself to godliness. I think if we stop and pick this apart a little bit, we’ll see something important. Notice where the contrast lies. One option is to exercise. Train. Be disciplined. Put in effort and hard work over time. The other option is to fall into the trap of old wives’ tales. I think we should see from this where the lure actually is. Old wives’ tales can appeal because they seem like a short cut. They feel like the easier road. They offer the illusion that you’ve short-cutted your way into wisdom and fulfillment.

Disciplining yourself in godliness takes hard work. It takes a lot of humility. A lot of failure. A lot of repentance. A lot of picking yourself up and trying again. A lot of realizing that you can’t ever rely on yourself. Let’s say you’re struggling with losing your temper at your children and your husband. Paul says that you are to exercise yourself to godliness – which means getting up every single day and working on it. Repenting. Praying. fighting. Or . . . or maybe . . . maybe you could take some of these Baldwin pills to cure irritability of temper and hysteria. That would be nice. (The only trouble is that advertisements for Baldwin pills are very quaint and vintage now, and not up to date with the current lingo, so it’s unlikely we’d fall for those.)

But maybe your facebook friend is right when she says that it sounds like (I’m making this up as I go along here so work with me!) maybe your electro-magnetic field has been disrupted because of harmful pathogens . . . and this has made the calcium deposits in your liver dislodge and get into your bloodstream . . . and this has the well-known effect of upsetting the delicate balance of your moods . . . and it’s been undeniably proven that a treatment of juniper berries and lavender oils will take care of this . . . and also you should rub some paprika between your toes before you go to bed to keep your calcium stable,so you’ll wake up in a better mood tomorrow.

Do you see how this might appeal? As silly and ridiculous as it is, it would be really, really nice if we could fix our attitude with a little paprika between the toes. We want it to be true because it would be SO MUCH EASIER. Paprika we can handle. We can feel in control of it. We can make up a nice little chart of when to drink the juniper oil and how to diagnose the proper time to rub some nutmeg on our earlobes.

I think at a certain level, the control is the part that appeals. Sanctification is so very, very out of our hands. It’s a lot of work, but not a lot of being in the driver’s seat. If we could take charge of our problems and solve them with fermented fish juice, it would be the short and painless road into a godlier lifestyle.

We wouldn’t ever say this out loud of course. But how many times have you seen treatments recommended on facebook (between Christians) that are offering quick solutions to ailments which actually can only be truly addressed with the blood of Christ . . . not juniper tablets.

Are you tired and overwhelmed? Resist the lure of the old wives’ tales and look to Christ instead. Don’t settle for the illusion of a quick fix – it will only leave you empty anyway, and you’ll find yourself chasing the next promised solution. Instead – discipline yourself to godliness. Be ready for Christ’s boot camp. Be ready for the dirt and the bruises and the bone-aching tired that comes from exercise in godliness. Be ready to surrender control. Be ready to call sins what they actually are and take care of them the way that God tells you to. Are you angry? Repent of it and don’t try to treat your mysterious “tired” symptoms as a way of handling the problem. Are you discontent? Don’t try and blame it on your aches and pains. Repent of it. Lazy? Repent. As it turns out, that’s really the only way of walking in the light and keeping yourself out of the swampy weirdness of old wives tales.

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27 thoughts on “January 26: Old Wives’ Tales

  1. This is great and I understand whar you are getting at, but for one thing – some of those aches really are solved with the juniper pills, and acknowledging that and applying it is simply good stewardship of the body God gave. I’m living with Chronic Fatigue and find this to be a constant battle. Admitting I am broken has caused a far greater reliance on God’s grace, but making it through the day and the kids that need me require that I find a way to make it all easier! Sometimes those tears simply mean I need to sleep. Nothing less, nothing more. I’m limited. I need help. And God created the world in such a way that Juniper pills help! So be it. I will care for myself so that I can turn around and give a whole self to my kids.

  2. I agree that we should never be looking for shortcut when it comes to our sanctification and I appreciate your thoughts on it. I agree that in all likelihood a bad attitude, short temperedness, exhaustion (etc, as you mentioned above) are shortcomings of our own hearts that must be attended to with hard work and lots of prayer in joy and thankfulness (Heb. 12:6). However, every now and then, there is a concrete, tangible reason for what we are feeling. In leu of an example (and this will seem like a bit of a rabbit trail, and I apologize for that), I experienced severe malnutrition and starvation over a collective nine years of my life (a combination of a eating disorders as a teenager, which was a spiritual problem, and hyperemesis gravidarum, which is a real medical problem, as an adult). After I had my fourth child, I started to experience a lot of weird problems. Anxiety that kept my muscles twitching so much I couldn’t sleep, irritability, depression, general fuzziness in logic, a feeling of hopelessness although I knew, academically, I had hope…the list was long. For the first 7 months I prayed, sought to control myself, failing often and repenting and apologizing several times a day. I knew I was joyful and thankful, but I couldn’t feel it for more then a fleeting moment. I was so angry with myself and defeated. I was so exhausted. Finally, glory be to God, we realized I was experiencing a dramatic hormone imbalances. All those years of not eating and drinking were catching up with my fallen world body. Within a week of using hormone supplements, the muscle spasms were gone. Within 2 weeks, my phone ringing didn’t send my anxiety into overload. My baby is almost 10 months old now and I feel physically better then I ever have before. I’m in no way perfect, but I have rediscovered my patience and my joy, hope comes more easily, and I’m sleeping at night without sleep aids for the first time in over a decade.

    What I am trying to say is, while 9 times out of 10, when a woman is having attitude problems, it is a spiritual problem. But I wouldn’t want to forget that 1 woman, who has stayed up for hours at night praying for guidance, strength and wisdom. When God answers her, as He always does, sometimes the answer is as simple as a couple of pills to be taken with faith in Him and continued hard work to become more like Him.

    Our bodies and souls are not isolated. We can’t separate them. Just like any ugliness in our souls will manifest in our faces, how well our bodies are functioning will also have an impact on our souls. We are people, that is both soul and mechanical body. On what emphasis we place treatment depends on each individual situation.

  3. Hey Abra! I just wanted to say that I couldn’t agree more with that very important qualification. A hearty amen! And three cheers for God’s kindness to us through medicine. And Anne! I feel I should add that I actually thought that I invented Juniper Pills as I was writing! I totally just randomly made that up (like the paprika toe situation!) so I wasn’t actually trying to get in a dig at any particular treatment. I was more addressing the problem of people being ready to believe anything and everything that promises a cure.

  4. Oh I was actually following along with your making things up as you went. I have no idea if such a thing exists either! My point was simply that while I agree that we shouldn’t race around haphazardly hoping that the latest fad will help, there are legitimate answers to things that are often mistaken for spiritual problems. My main concern would be that a woman could be bone achingly weary as I was (and still am if not careful), read this, and think she should simply pray more and suffer meaninglessly through it rather than seeking help. While the dark period before discovering what was wrong was a humbling and oddly beautiful means of sanctification, I am thankful to know that I’m going to be able to leave it behind eventually. And my road to healing has included things that sound as off the wall as juniper pills sometimes.

  5. Rebekah, thank you so much for this. You’re right; being disciplined involves failing often but continuing to work towards a goal. So much of what you said was wonderfully and painfully convicting. Thank you.

  6. One of my concerns when I read this post is that the topic of “juniper berries” tends to be divisive. My first perusal had me thinking it didn’t really apply to me, since I’m not prone to the nasty tasting things some folks subject themselves to in the name of good health. Then I took a sip of my morning coffee and prayed for a few moments. God in his kindness pointed out to me that my spiritual doping takes the form of coffee and Ibuprofen. When I plugged those items in for juniper berries and paprika, all of a sudden I saw the point much more clearly.

    I think sometimes when our means of dulling the pain of sanctification come from respected sources with PhD’s and white lab coats, or are dispensed to the masses with foamed milk and sugar, we somehow think we are on safe ground, especially when all of our friends do it too. It becomes so familiar and accepted we lose sight of what we are actually doing. I justify my grumpy morning demeanor with my family as I just need my cup of coffee, when in fact the need for the morning coffee is the crux of the problem.

    Thanks for the post, it put a couple of my vices in a different light.

  7. Loved the post. For months my husband blamed our fighting on my “pregnancy hormones”….which I will adit..they were definitely there. 9 months later though, we are still battling left and right and this just proves we are both in need of an attitude change. Though I have seemingly tried to be the proverbs 31 gal and spending time praying the “change me” prayer….I have been desperately started praying the change HIM prayer. Maybe I just need to put more sweat and tears into it. Thank you. Also….what do I do about getting sucked into jinx’s ? :). Every time my husband says something will happen….it is completely opposite. In all honesty here!

  8. Adding to the list of those who experienced the “I should repent more, pray harder, submit better, fast more, throw myself on His mercy and then I won’t feel this way” when actually I had a neurotransmitter imbalance. God in his mercy has allowed successful ongoing treatment.

    Based on this experience, I believe that one should START by self examination, looking for sin, looking for distrust of God’s kindness, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and then, when these things are in the open and being dealt with, head for medical evaluation. Malaise is a result of sin, but also has other causes, as well.

  9. I think this is timely advice, especially with the recent trend of Christians being gung ho about all things “natural”, which bothers me a lot for various reasons, and rebekah’s dad has done a good job recently responding to that.

    I think the problem cuts both ways also – overly superstitious Christianity is responsible for people thinking that their problems will go away if they were more pious. This particular flavor of Christianity is oddly associated with the “natural” crowd sometimes, weirdly enough.

    To add my own little violin sob story to the pile, as a child I suffered debilitating GI disorders and frequent nausea, sleeplessness, and joint pain. I was probably the only kid in the world that ever went home sick from a birthday party. My parents diagnosed me with a “nervous stomach” and told me that I was sick because I was grouchy all the time. Nearly 2 decades later I was railroaded with a surprise diagnosis of celiac disease which explained everything.

    Incidentally my parents are also of the type that prefers to brew tea from weeds rather than take a blood test, so I’m not sure why the 2 seemingly contradictory viewpoints go hand in hand but they do.

  10. Helvetica is spot on.

    I think the reason the all-natural people are married to the pious-people-have-no-problems-thinking is because they don’t believe that sin has affected everything (knowingly or unknowingly, I’m not sure).

    They believe that our bodies are not really subjected to the fall, but that if we just do everything right (i.e. naturally) we will not suffer from diseases, sickness, sadness, or anything of the sort. They spend their lives trying to find the most authentically natural way to live, because they believe that it will take them to a sort of pre-fall state of health, where the body is able to function perfectly and heal itself. Their health and their godliness are tied together in a tight knot.

    That’s why they believe medicine is a bad idea–it isn’t natural (natural being God’s way), it’s a cop-out, a way of altering your body in a way that we aren’t intended to do, a mask not a cure (according to them). Which is why they scoff at a psychiatric drug in the form of a pill, but if a woman comes forward suffering from post-partum depression they’ll give her plenty of pills from the unregulated vitamin store without a moment’s hesitation. So, then the woman is left feeling quite superior to those women who “masked” their problem–she did it the right way and is nice and clean and natural before God (not because of Jesus’ blood, but because of her healthy choices)–or she doesn’t get better and has a ton of shame.

    We need godly older women to steer us away from myths, to teach what accords with sound doctrine regarding creation, the fall, and the role of common grace and common sense. Lord, give us more of these women. Give us more fathers and husbands that produce these kind of women.

    Thank you for the post, Rebekah.

  11. Thank you, Bekah. I also really appreciated Signe’s point above – we drink coffee for energy and pop ibuprofen pills for pain without (usually) thinking anything of it because these are today’s norm. So, it might be good to remember that something like lavender oil may only sound strange because it’s not currently what everyone is used to. All “cures” need to be weighed again Scripture and examined in conjunction with our own sinful hearts, not just the ones that are off-the-wall or new to us. I’ve had some anti-biotics really mess up my body in the last year, and though I know they can sometimes be really helpful, I’m prepared to (carefully and cautiously) look for alternative means of relieving pain and getting rid of infections. I definitely get the point of this post though and agree wholeheartedly.

  12. Paprika between the toes made me giggle. :)

    And the talk of disciplining myself to godliness is humbling. You and your sister have, in your recent writings, spurred me on to confession and repentance.

    And I’m on board with Signe–that darn “need for a cup of coffee,” or the “need” for anything, other than grace, to deal with matters of the heart, isn’t right. It isn’t growing in godliness. Sigh. Back to the water bottle (instead of coffee to “pick me up”), and the gum (instead of running to the cupboard for a stress-relieving snack), and back on my knees. Great is the Lord, and great is His grace. Thanks be to Him.

  13. I appreciate where you are coming from, and I agree that obviously as Christian women we must first and foremost deal with our sin and repent of it. However, I think that it’s unfair to those who deal with chronic health issues to minimize the effects that medicines (even natural remedies) can have on the way we function and relate to those around us. I have thyroid disease among other health problems (and am pregnant), and obviously medicine and nutrition are extremely important to my overall well-being. If I don’t get enough sleep, don’t take my medication, don’t eat enough protein, or forget to do whatever, it is much more difficult for me to be calm, patient, and relate in a normal way to my husband and children. Before getting diagnosed with thyroid disease, my doctor figured out that I was deficient in Vitamin D. Supplementing with this dramatically effected my mood and ability to keep anxiety under control. It’s not an old wives tale – it’s a medical fact that vitamin D levels effect the function of the body. This is just one example of many of natural remedies that have helped to bring healing to my body and thus have helped me to more effectively serve my family. I have to properly to care for my body or else it is just one more huge obstacle in the way of my sanctification.

  14. I appreciate where you are coming from, and I agree that obviously as Christian women we must first and foremost deal with our sin and repent of it. However, I think that it’s unfair to those who deal with chronic health issues to minimize the effects that medicines (even natural remedies) can have on the way we function and relate to those around us. I have thyroid disease among other health problems (and am pregnant), and obviously medicine and nutrition are extremely important to my overall well-being. If I don’t get enough sleep, don’t take my medication, don’t eat enough protein, or forget to do whatever, it is much more difficult for me to be calm, patient, and relate in a normal way to my husband and children. Before getting diagnosed with thyroid disease, my doctor figured out that I was deficient in Vitamin D. Supplementing with this dramatically effected my mood and ability to keep anxiety under control. It’s not an old wives tale – it’s a medical fact that vitamin D levels effect the function of the body. This is just one example of many of natural remedies that have helped to bring healing to my body and thus have helped me to more effectively serve my family. I have to properly to care for my body or else it is just one more huge obstacle in the way of my sanctification.

  15. I really appreciated this post, and the comments. I didn’t think that Bekah was saying we shouldn’t treat physical problems, just that we shouldn’t excuse our sins that piggy-back themselves onto those problems, or treat such sins as illnesses rather than to-be-repented-of ugliness.

    As we are told to flee temptation, would that include – if available – a dose of pain-killers, or morning coffee or whatever to reduce the temptation?

  16. I did want to clarify that I don’t think coffee is evil and should be avoided at all cost, or that juniper berries are either. Bekah’s point is that anything that becomes the solution to our problems instead of Christ needs to be looked at and repented of. The problem is not the thing, it’s the heart.

    I think we need to remember to be thankful for all the gifts that God gives us and to use them for his glory. If we are seeing him through them, then by all means have a cup of coffee, tea, milk, water, diet Coke, whatever. If God has shown you a way to deal with the effects of living in a body that is fallen, thank him and use the gift that he has given you. Bekah’s reminder is to those that dispense the gift as the gospel. The gifts don’t make us holy, only God does that, through dealing with our sin and receiving the gift of forgiveness.

  17. Excellent summary of this post, Signe! I guess my only concern is with the periphery impression of the main point of the post, which tends to sound like Bekah is saying that if someone is using an alternative form of medicine that sounds odd,then that person is likely gullible, silly and trying to find short-cuts to sanctification, rather than merely using God-given tools to help them along in it with it. I don’t think she actually is trying to say that, but I do think that’s why there are some confused reactions here.

  18. “Let each one be fully persuaded in [her] own mind.” Romans 14:4

    This post hit really close to home for many reasons. I have had to struggle a lot for discernment in this area–trying to discern what is mere “wive’s tale” and what is helpful and part of good stewardship for our family. My journey in this area began with my son’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis and accompanying sensory issues that are exacerbated by blood sugar instability and poor food choices (for him). We found that marrying natural treatment (a whole foods diet devoid of artificial ingredients accompanied by some herbal treatments and supplements) with the traditional medical treatment (insulin) was necessary to get our son back. I cannot tell you the pain we experienced when we first just listened to the doctors (like King Ahaziah when he went to the sorcerers rather than God Almighty) rather than seeking God in prayer about what was best for our son. The first morning after removing offending items from my son’s diet and treatment, he came to my bedside and gave me a spontaneous, morning hug for the first time in nearly a year. He used to do this every morning before he became ill. Later that day, he told me he was sorry and asked for forgiveness for sin without prompting from me. That morning I cried out to God with a tearful “thank you” prayer that has not ceased since. It became clear that morning that my son needs special help in order to be his best so that his head is clear enough for his heart to remain teachable.

    Our journey has continued with my own health problems in the year following. I have had four miscarriages and have developed chronic fatigue like symptoms. I’ve undergone extensive testing and my ob recommended two treatments that nearly killed me because they contained soy, an allergen listed in my chart. It was only after I did extensive research after much prayer that I discovered the root of my new autoimmune-type symptoms were connected to the prescribed treatment for my fertility problems. I removed the prescribed items and replaced them with “natural” alternatives and started to see immediate improvement. Nevertheless, damage has been done and I have a long road of grieving and healing ahead of me. With God’s help….

    I say this all as a foundation for my plea to all to please be careful. Signe’s point about coffee and ibuprofen is really important. My family has experienced many skeptical, and foolish responses by Christians in both the “traditional” camps and the “natural” camps regarding both my son’s behavior problems and health and my own health. Either we just need to visit more doctors or spank our son more or we just need to eat the write foods and take the right herbs. We’ve experienced so much hurt in a very painful season because others have refused to “let each one be convinced in [his] own mind.” I just ask for mercy and grace on behalf of those who are too scared and hurting to say anything. I know there are other moms out there in the Webisphere who are scared and looking for answers.

    The bottom line–I appreciate the caution and urge charity. I have had to be very careful not to fall in the “wive’s tale” trap and blame all of my son’s sin on food or some environmental factor. Nevertheless, I’ve seen him wake up in a calm, cheerful demeanor thanking Jesus for the day and collapse in the floor in a rage-filled, delirious tantrum twenty minutes after ingesting a bowl of Frosted Flakes. I’ve heard from his own six year old mouth that he doesn’t want to eat that red lollipop because it gives him angry face. Who can argue with that?

    Please, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us.”

    Love and grace to all.

  19. I have been thinking about this a lot and would first like to apologize for the carelessness with which I wrote my previous post. I should have been more careful to express my thoughts with gentleness.
    I have to agree with Allie’s assessment. Since I have personally found a lot of success using non-traditional type treatments for viral/ bacterial infections and hormonal imabalances, I think that I found this post to be unnecessarily offensive. I do not believe it was intended to be offensive in that way at all, but the example of Juniper Berries seems to have been specific enough to spark controversy and yet vague enough for the point to be misunderstood.
    Upon re-reading the post and trying to see the main point without the distraction of the example, I want to say that it was extremely helpful and such a good reminder. Thank you.

  20. I have a question about helvetica’s reference to “recent trend of Christians being gung ho about all things ‘natural,'” which apparently Douglas Wilson has written about?

    Not to keep us off topic, but mocking natural cures IS unnecessarily offensive and–if the topic is heart issues–misses the point. Sure, no doubt there are people who idolize naturopaths, but in my experience, the backlash against the natural movement is led by those who idolize the medical field–“Where’s the proof, and don’t you dare give me an anti-medical-establishment website,” etc. NEITHER should be an idol.

    Beyond that, it’s a matter of research, common sense (well, if backed by research), and God’s leading–we should correct factual errors if we can save health and lives, but I think linking these to someone’s walk with God is often inappropriate. There are God-lovers and God-haters on both sides.

    Thanks for reading.

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