Wednesday, October 13, 2010

biblical womanhood: did I get the balance right? (1)

Soon after my article Woman to woman: Answering the call of Titus 2 appeared in The Briefing, I received an email from Loretta reflecting on what I'd said about biblical womanhood. I wrote back, she wrote back, and it turned into an interesting and helpful exchange. Here's the first part of it, edited for brevity and clarity. I know some of you have been wanting to read this, so please tell me what you think!

Dear editor,

I’m not sure who the warnings against ‘household idolatry’ are targeted at (‘Woman to woman: Answering the call of Titus 2’), but for us younger women in our twenties, it is the idolatry of materialism that hinders us from the wholehearted application of Titus 2:3-5. We are under great pressure to establish fulfilling careers, earn lots of money, travel the world and live in luxury – and all this at the expense of staying at home to raise godly offspring.

Therefore, it would be great if older women could encourage us younger wives and mothers to find value in being busy at home and loving our children. It’s not glorious, the pay is dismal and overtime is a given, but what could be more important than training children to know and love the Lord? Rather than avoiding children until the last possible moment, we should seek to welcome as many as we can into our lives.

Motherhood may be tedious, exhausting and demeaning, but, as Titus 2:3-5 shows, it is also eternally worthwhile.

Loretta.

***

Dear Loretta,

I agree with you that young women, especially in our society, need to hear older women encouraging them to be whole-hearted as they love and help their husbands, teach and train their children, and stay committed to home and family. I agree that motherhood is a high calling. That's why, in my article, I said that home and family is “where her primary focus lies” for the young married woman with children, and that work should never undermine this. Motherhood is, indeed, “eternally worthwhile”, as you say – praise God!

The warnings against “household idolatry” in my article were directed at a certain kind of teaching on Titus 2:3-5 which idolises family and home so that single or childless women are made to feel that they are waiting for the significant part of their lives to start, and married women with children may become so focussed on their homes (in itself a good thing!) that they forget about serving in the church and reaching out to non-Christians in the community. I thought that both tendencies – the tendency to neglect home and family for career, and the tendency to idolise home and family – needed to be addressed.

I hope that clarifies things! Feel free to write back if you’d like to talk more about this.

In Christ,
Jean.

***

Dear Jean,

Thanks for your reply. I read through your blog articles and I agree with everything you say about motherhood.

I was wondering whether you can give me a few examples of people who use Titus 2:3-5 to promote the idolising of the home, such that single women feel left out? Would it be, for example, if people say things like, "There's nothing more valuable than motherhood"? Whereas what they should say is, "If you are married, then there's nothing more valuable than motherhood", because those who are not married can devote themselves to doing lots and lots of word ministry (a la 1 Cor 7:34-35). Are there any other examples of people/books that promote 'household idolatry'??

While I totally agree with what you said in the article, my first impression when I read the third section was that there were heaps of warnings against the misuse of Titus 2 but not much on how Titus 2 can apply to the lives of women. And that I found a bit unsatisfying, given the title of your article. And all these qualifications, I think, undermined your support for Titus 2:3-5. Your article used Titus 2 to prove that older women should teach younger women, and went into that in detail, but it didn't flesh out the more important part of the passage, which is the content of what the older women are to teach.

Argh I hope these thoughts made sense. Thank you for reading and thanks for all those blog posts that you sent me.

Cheers.
Loretta.

***

I think she's got a point. What do you think? Did I get the balance right? (Don't feel like you have to defend me: I found myself agreeing with much of what Loretta says, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

I'll share my response, and the rest of our emails, soon.

images are from DianthusMoon, nep and catface 3 at flickr

6 comments:

Deb L said...

Ah, balance is a tricky thing. Tricky partly because the necessary emphasis falls in different places for different women - some of us need to be reminded to value motherhood more and some of us need to be reminded that motherhood is not actually our chief end in life. But yes, I do think your article got the balance right. When Titus 2 becomes "household idolatry" is when the high calling of married women to home life becomes an excuse or cover-up for materialism (lusting after better homes and gardens) or self-centredness (the happiness of my family is the only thing that matters). Isn't that why Titus 2 is important in the first place? We "younger" women need godly "older" women to help us learn the difference between slavery and servanthood, between glorify God in our homes and glorifying ourselves. Thanks, Jean, for doing your part in my own "learning to love" in regards to my husband and family.

Julie said...

I totally agree with Deb L that different Christian women need different reminders in regard to the value on motherhood/ marriage/ home life (and sometimes the same woman needs different reminders depending on the day!)

I think the balance of your article was great. The call not to idolise home and family was very relevant to me. I do read a number of US-based blogs that tend towards idolatry of home and family more than most Aussie women I know, so that may influence my opinion.

I think it is also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that some forms of idolatry are more Godly than others (e.g. idolising your husband or children is more acceptable than idolising money). Sure, there is more value/ selflessness/ eternal worth in our relationships than our "stuff", but that doesn't mean that these relationships are what our lives are all about.

Bec said...

I wonder if sometimes we are too balanced as Christian women when we discuss the issue of the role of women, not wishing to offend anyone who has chosen a different path. Nobody wants to come right out and say, "Are you sure you are making the most biblical choice? Maybe you are following what the world says and not God?" I know I hold back from saying things at times because I don't want to come across as 'holier than thou', but when I hear that yet another mum at church is going back into the workforce because they have finished their childbearing and the youngest will be in school soon anyway my heart aches - families still need mums even as children get older, and the wider church community needs these women too!

I know that not all women/families are in the financial position that make surviving on one income easy, but I know very few women who have gone back to work because they truly need the money. In fact, I know of more who could do with more money but have made the choice to stay at home so they can serve their family and church more.

I guess what I'm trying to say in my clumsy way is, that are we as Christian women, in the interest of balance, giving tacit approval to the less than biblical choices some of our sisters-in-Christ are making? I don't want to sound harsh, but it is something I wonder about, and am guilty of!

Bec :-)

Jean said...

Thanks, Deb and Julie. I'm not sure if I really did get the balance right :), but I do appreciate your thoughtful feedback on such a tricky issue. Perhaps my hesitation is that in the Australian context I'm with Loretta and Bec: I think evangelical Christian women here may tend less to "household idolatry" (although no doubt this is also an issue for many women here, just not generally on Christian grounds) and tend more to an unwillingness to spell out the implications of biblical womanhood in practice. (In America, on the other hand, I wonder if that section in my article would have been more helpful as it combats a more common tendency among Christians there.)

Thanks, Bec. Yep, "balanced" is a horrible word (my fault, I framed the question that way!) and yes, I think we can be too "balanced" in an attempt not to offend anyone. It's tricky though. While I agree that the assumption that women should return to work is really unhelpful and costs families and the community dearly (and is often regretted by the mums themselves), I'd also hate to burden mums with guilt who work for good reasons (and I know some who do that).

What I'd like to do is give women whose kids are all at school a helpful alternative: to train them and open opportunities for ministry in their community and churches after their kids go back to school. I love this idea (one that's come out of MTS in Australia). It would be great to see more women staying home, forgoing a second income, caring for their growing children, and giving their time to service, evangelism, ministry, and all kinds of "good deeds".

Caroline said...

Hi Jean,

I don't know if it's so much about balance, but about fighting worldliness in our thinking and actions. Not sure if I can explain exactly what I mean, but it seems to me that in our congregations we are encouraging or modelling two choices for women, and neither of them seem to be in accord with living the Christian life as set out in the New Testament.

On the one hand, in most churches I have belonged to, there hasn't been any "Titus 2" teaching that I have been aware of, and many women (as well as most men) seem to be pursuing careers as a major life priority.

On the other hand, we get the "homemaker" teaching, that seems to mainly come from the US, that teaches us to make our husbands, children and homes our major life priority.

These are probably generalisations, but in both cases, you could be excused for thinking that the prime goal in life was a nice home and a comfortable existance.

I would so much like to see us encouraging each other as wives and mothers, but I also get a strong sense of "if you love only those who love you, what good is it to you?", when I read the stuff which veers toward household idolatory.

I have to pick the kids up now, but might see if I can come up with some more coherent thoughts later,

Thanks for the encouragement and for keeping us trying to think Biblically about things,

Caroline

Meredith said...

Thanks to Bec for her bold and good comment...one that has encouraged me this very day to press on at home. Thank you.