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MaryEllen, Author at Imperfect Homemaker

All Posts by MaryEllen

There’s Not a Right Way to Celebrate Christmas

Normally this time of year I start seeing lots of posts reminding people that they can have a simple Christmas – that they can just relax and quit stressing out about doing all the Christmas-y things.
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And yet this year I’ve seen a new conversation pop up – there are those who feel that there’s not just been permission granted to celebrate with simplicity, but that there’s been actual glorification of it. Those who enjoy “doing all the things” are left feeling as if they’re doing something wrong by NOT simplifying their celebration.
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The solution I saw offered to both of those approaches was balance.
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I’ve seen this word used about many things in the Christian world, and for many years I would have agreed that it's a good solution. Parent in a way that’s not too strict and not too lenient. Keep your house clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy. Celebrate Christmas in a way that’s not too much but not too little.
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But now I see this Goldilocks way of looking at life, where we're always chasing this “just right” balance, as having the same root problem as the insistence on operating at one end of a spectrum or the other.
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The problem is in thinking that there is a “correct” way of doing things in the first place.
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More is not better. Less is not better. And balance is not better either.
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When we become secure in our identity in Christ, we become free to be the unique person that we are. Those who do more are not “too much”, those who do less are not “too little”, and those somewhere in the middle are not better than everyone else.
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The truth is that we all exist on a beautiful spectrum, each of us having unique gifts and personalities. If you find yourself operating out of guilt or fear, always chasing your tail in an attempt to do more, do less, or find a balance between the two…what if you were to simply rest in these truths:
-God made you and gifted you in unique ways.
-You are fully known and fully loved, and there is zero need for you to chase approval you already have.
-You are free from the law, and that most certainly includes any perceived rules about the right way to celebrate Christmas.

If you need your Christmas celebration to be simple, you are not inferior to others who do it more elaborately. If you enjoy doing all the things, it doesn’t make you shallow or materialistic; you can delight in the good gifts that God gives and enjoy them with gratitude. If you find yourself somewhere in the middle, you haven’t reached a superior place of “having the right balance.”
Instead of comparing ourselves with one another, feeling guilty if we’re not doing things as well as others or feeling superior if we think we’re doing things better than others, let us praise God this Christmas for the Grace of God that has appeared to all people – the grace that breaks away shame and tells us we do not have to earn love or approval.

What Does it Mean to Have a Voice in Your Marriage?

One of the common phrases I hear women saying who are coming out of an abusive marriage is, “I had no voice in my marriage.”
What might that look like for a woman not to have a voice in her marriage?
 
-If she tries to voice her feelings about something or give input into a decision, she might be mocked for it.
-Her husband might tell her he doesn’t like her attitude or that her tone of voice is disrespectful.
-Her husband might twist her words to mean things she didn’t say and then blame her for it.
-Her husband might completely ignore her.
Ultimately, the message being sent to her is, “Your feelings and opinions don’t matter.”
 
Some women continue pushing to be heard. They speak up for themselves louder and louder until those around them assume they are brash and self-centered. (The reality is they are just desperate to be heard.) 
Others shut themselves down. If their feelings and opinions only bring ridicule, rage, or denial, then why would they waste their energy even having opinions or feelings? Instead they use their energy to try to predict what their husband wants and align themselves to it before there’s even an opportunity for discussion to take place.
 
So what does it look like to actually HAVE a voice in your marriage?
 
 
Some women believe that having a voice means her husband will listen to her input without mocking her, but ultimately it’s his place to make all the decisions.
 
Some women believe that having a voice means that she should be granted whatever she’d like.
 
But even in non-abusive situations where both spouses are discussing things respectfully, these both fall on two opposite extremes – either the husband is calling the shots or the wife is.
 
This is not a partnership. This is a one-sided relationship where the other person is along for the ride.
 
-Instead, having a voice means that your spouse does not make unilateral decisions that haven’t been mutually agreed to. 
-It means that you do not fear repurcussions of any kind for speaking honestly – not being shut down, ignored, mocked, told that you have a bad attitude, or having your husband explode in anger. 
-It means that your husband sees you when are hurt, angry, excited, scared, and everything in between and is not threatened by it. 
-It means that your input is valued; not just tolerated. 
-It means that you – all of you – are free to show up as exactly who you are. There is no need to be quiet about certain things or morph your opinions into a different shape in order to keep the peace.
 
 
Marriage should be a mutual partnership where both parties feel absolutely safe to express their needs, desires, feelings, and opinions to the other.
 
 
In Romans 12:10, believers are instructed to honor one another. That means you should show deference to your husband, and your husband should also show deference to you. 
 
Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12 that the way we would like to be treated is the way we ought to treat others. Many wives apply that to themselves (which they should!) but sometimes forget that it also applies to their husband. 
 
If you feel that you have no voice in your marriage, please be aware that I am not diagnosing that you're in an abusive relationship based on that factor alone. Instead, read articles about coercive control. Pick up a book such as “Is it Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage.” If a bigger pattern of abuse begins to emerge, then you can address it. If it doesn't, get curious about why you feel like you have no voice in your marriage. Is it due to things you've been taught/things you've believed like “I have to die to myself,” “I can't trust myself because my heart is deceitful,” “I can't tell my husband he hurt my feelings because I just need to forgive and forget?” Is it due to not being heard by your parents as a child and those same feelings that you don't matter surface when you're with your husband? It may be necessary to seek out a licensed, trauma-informed counselor who can help you sort through those things.
 
If you are a friend of someone who is using language about her marriage that may indicate  she has no voice in marriage, point that out to her. Ask her more questions about what that means or what it is that makes her feel that way. Read books like Unholy Charade, Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in The Church and read articles about coercive control so that you have more tools to help her recognize whether her relationship is abusive. (It's not your job to diagnose; but a good friend should absolutely point out unhealthy dynamics.)
 
Every human deserves to be heard and seen, especially by those closest to them.  Let's help the women we know and love realize that they deserve to have a voice in their marriage.

Should We Talk Publicly About Abuse in the Church?

Since I have turned this platform further towards shining a light onto domestic abuse in the church, I want to address a concern that some of my readers may have.

This concern is regarding whether speaking about abuse in the church in an online format is appropriate as it may present a poor impression to unbelievers or turn them away from Jesus.

My response to that concern will be two-fold.

First, although I am sharing these things in an online context, my audience is Christians. I am writing to the members of the body of Christ, pleading with my brothers and sisters not to look away from the suffering of others.

Second, while my audience is Christians, I am aware that it’s possible that unbelievers could see what I’ve written. I will address that concern too.

So let’s get into it.


A PLEA TO THE BODY OF CHRIST

I must plead with my brothers and sisters publicly because what is taking place are offenses against the entire body. I have not been personally offended in such a way that I can  go privately to a brother or sister for reconciliation. I am addressing over-arching issues that are occurring among the entire body of Christ.

These are the main issues about which I am speaking:

  1. Wolves among the sheep
  2. Hypocrites who call good evil
  3. Ignorance among the body of the evil among us, and of scriptural interpretations which allow it to flourish.
  4. Indifference to the suffering of other members of the body

Wolves among the sheep

The Bible contains warnings to believers that wolves will enter in and circulate among the flock (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:28-30; Romans 16:17-20). These people come into the congregation for the singular purpose of fulfilling their own desires for power, fame, sex, or money. They are difficult to spot because they intentionally disguise themselves as sheep. Yet when they are spotted by discerning members of the body, or when people who have been injured by them scream out in pain, often the rest of the congregation doesn’t believe the one crying out, or they make excuses for the wolf to remain in their midst. “He looks just like a sheep to me. I don’t see why he can’t stay. Even if he hurt someone, he has apologized, and it is our responsibility to show him grace.”

It seems that many have forgotten that wolves are wolves! They are dangerous predators! Of course they look like sheep; that’s their point! They want you to let them roam freely! Don’t play into their hand.

Dr. Anna Salter interviewed pedophiles, rapists, and other sex offenders and recorded the thought processes of these types of people. One of the offenders who abused a child at church said that people did not believe the accusations and that many people stood in his defense when he was told on. He says he intentionally did good deeds like mowing the yards of handicapped people, being generous with money, and visiting the elderly to cover up the type of person he really was.

I consider people that go to church gullible because they have a trust that comes from being Christian.

He said that church people don't want to believe those types of things happen, and they especially don't want them to believe they happen in their congregation. “Because of that it was all the more easy to convince them with my good deeds.”

My friends, this is how a wolf operates. Whether someone is sexually abusing people in the church or whether they are abusing their families, they are presenting the “sheep” side of themselves in public while they are a wolf in private, devouring others for their own gain.

It is important to speak out publicly, not only to warn people of specific wolves within a specific congregation, but to sound a wake-up alarm to the body of Christ at large that they have forgotten scripture’s warnings about such wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Hypocrites in the church

Along with the wolves prowling througout the church are their enablers. These are the people who look the other way when people are suffering gross injustice. These are the people who call evil good and good evil. “Oh, he didn’t mean it.” “Your husband only cheated on you because you weren’t giving him enough sex.” “He flew into a rage because you confronted him. Everyone knows confrontation makes a man feel disrespected. What did you expect him to do?” “He said he was sorry; you need to drop the subject.”

The offender’s sin is excused and his “repentance” is praised while the victim is blamed for “inciting the abuser” and for “keeping record of his wrongs”.  

These are the hypocrites who, like the Pharisees, concern themselves so much with outward appearances that they oppress others. Yet at the same time they neglect the things that matter the most. They strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

They excuse people who abuse and harm others while at the same time they quote I Corinthians 13:7 and tell victims they must believe the best about someone who has already proven they don’t have the victim’s best interest at heart.

Ignorance in the church

Let’s talk about those among the body who believe the Bible means what it says when it warns of wolves among the flock. But, what if they are among the gullible people that the sex offender above spoke about? Maybe they believe there are wolves, but they don’t know how to distinguish who they are. Maybe they discern that something is not right, but they lack the knowledge to deal with it well.

The majority of pastors 1. Rarely preach about domestic or sexual abuse. 2. Underestimate the pervasiveness of these things within their congregation. 3. Are unaware of how to provide appropriate assistance to victims.  Yet most say they would do more if they knew how (source).

I am glad to point the ignorant-yet-willing-to-learn to all of the resources I can which will help them care well for the vulnerable.

Indifference in the church

While I have encountered many people who fall into the well-meaning-but-ignorant category, I have unfortunately encountered many others who fall into the category of indifference.They aren’t directly pointing fingers like the Pharisees where they excuse the perpetrator and blame the victim. But they are perpetuating harm by their indifference. To be silent is to side with the oppressor.

I am compelled to loudly speak out to awaken people to the harm that their indifference creates.

It is the responsibility of those who follow Jesus to stand for justice, truth, and mercy, and that is why I speak out.

BUT WHAT ABOUT A WATCHING WORLD? WON’T TALKING ABOUT ABUSE IN THE CHURCH MAKE OTHERS THINK POORLY OF IT?

Let me circle back and re-address each of the above points from this perspective.

Wolves among the sheep

Is it really a shameful thing for unbelievers to know that such wolves exist? Doesn’t everyone in the world know that there are bad people who do bad things? Is it Jesus’ fault that wolves sneak in and prey on gullible sheep?

Of course not; the responsibility for such evil lies with the wolf and not with Jesus’ sheep.

Do you know what should be shameful and embarrassing for Christ’s body? To NOT care enough for the sheep to warn them about the wolves!

The fact that there are abusers hiding out in the church is not new information to the world. They aren’t learning some hidden secret if we speak publicly about it.

One hardly even has to glance at the news headlines to find a whole host like the following:

“Lawsuit says pastor behind regular and repeated sex abuse at church”

“Former president of Baptist state convention under investigation for alleged abuse”

“Church leader charged with sexual abuse of a minor”

“Pastor arrested for domestic violence”

“Pastor faces domestic assault charges”

“Police release charges for pastor accused of shooting his wife, then himself”


How different might these news stories be if the shepherds were loudly warning about these wolves! And how different might they be if more members of the body were listening to those raising the alarm about wolves posing not as sheep, but as shepherds! 

Instead of hiding abuse and attempting to present an image of safety to those outside the church, we ought to speak truth. We ought to make it clear that we aren’t afraid to acknowledge predators and that we will not tolerate their presence among the sheep.

If the church wishes people to be drawn to Jesus as a refuge for the soul, then they must be such a refuge, not just pretend that the dangers don't exist.

Hypocrites in the church
Jesus was unafraid to call out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees before the entire multitude (Matthew 23:1-36). Their insistence on maintaining outward appearances at the expense of true justice and mercy was not the way of Jesus.

It was their hypocrisy that prevented people from entering the kingdom of God, not the prophets (Isaiah 58) who publicly exposed it.

It is Jesus to whom I wish people to be drawn; not a place where people put on a religious show, pretending to be righteous while hiding all sorts of dark secrets.

Ignorance in the church

It is not a poor testimony for others to see that the body of Christ humbly acknowledges what they don’t know and actively works toward having the knowledge they need to love others well.

Indifference in the church

Before we get too concerned about drawing new people in, though, we need to show some concern for those who have been pushed out.

Because people have been so indifferent to the wolves and the hypocrites and have watched in silence while bloodied victims cry out, many of those victims have left the church. Some have left the religious performance masquerading as church so that they may seek Jesus in a place of true safety. Others have left the faith entirely because they were told things like, “Jesus wants you to suffer well. Jesus wants you to forgive and forget. This abuse is God’s will for your life.” A God who glories in their pain is repulsive to them, and they walk away from him (or the person the church has led them to believe that he is.)

When they do, I hear the indifferent people scoff and say, “They went out from us because they were not of us. They were just looking for an excuse to leave. They were never a real Christian.” These people don’t care to close their mouth and listen to what has actually happened to the victims. They’d rather not step into the discomfort of someone else’s pain, so they watch haughtily from afar, making inaccurate and unfair assumptions about the victims. Some of these victims become, as Jesus said, two-fold more the child of hell because of the deplorable way they have been treated in the name of Jesus. So before you start worrying about all the hypothetical people who might not want to come to Jesus if they hear about abuse in the church, perhaps it’s time to shake off your indifference towards those who actually have been pushed away from the church and from the Jesus you claim to represent.

Conclusion

When we make the church a place of darkness, hiding secrets in closets and back corners, we make it a haven for evil.  But when we shine light onto evil and expose it, we chase it away. It is not welcome there. (John 3:19-21). 

Jesus is the light of the world. If you wish for people to be drawn to Jesus, then you must wish for them to be drawn to a place of light; not to a place of darkness and secrecy.

I am not ashamed to publicly implore the church to be a haven of righteousness.

-To speak up for the vulnerable (Proverbs 31:9)
-To defend the oppressed (Isiah 1:17)
-To shine a light onto hidden evil (Ephesians 5:11-12)
-To protect others from wicked people (Psalm 94:16)

Jesus does not need us to launch a PR campaign for the church. Instead, according to Micah 6:8, God calls us to actively do justice (hold perpetrators accounatable) love mercy (support victims) and walk humbly with our God (admit when we have failed.) When we do these things, and when we do them publicly, we send a message to the world that we are God’s people following God’s ways. 

 

Here’s Why Domestic Abuse Victims Have a Hard Time Getting Help at Church

On Sunday, I posted on Instagram about women who find themselves in the bathroom stall at church, crying because their abusive husband is smiling, chatting, and fitting right in with all the men in the lobby. But she knows the truth. She knows that the person he pretends to be at church is not the same person he is at home.

A response I received was, “Why doesn’t she go to the church leadership for help?”

While that might seem an obvious solution, it’s unfortunately not usually that simple.

I reached out to a group of abuse survivors and asked them to share their answers to the question, “Why doesn’t a victim go to her church leadership for help?”

So far I’ve received over 200 responses, and they keep coming.

I sorted these responses into categories to make it easier to see the difficulties for an abuse victim in asking for and receiving help from her church. Some of what you read are direct quotes; some are paraphrases. There is not a single response on this page that was not submitted in some variation by multiple people. These are not the outliers; they are responses that victims receive nine times out of ten.

My goal in sharing this is to help raise awareness that these women are in your church. I hope that by understanding how great the obstacles are, you can be the one to help create change so that the church can be a safe place for those who need protection and care.

 


“They did not believe me.”

“They did not want to get involved.”

Even though the staff believed me, they added a ton of chaos to the situation. Didn't listen to me or experts on how to handle the situation which my kids and I even more unsafe. Tried to control what I did. It was horrible.


“They told me to keep being a submissive wife.”

“They told me not to talk negative about him.”

I was a child of DV. My dad was adored by our church. I went twice to the “lead” pastor, begging him to help us. He told me, “You can’t tell anyone about your dad’s sin because it’ll be too hard for him to repair his reputation once he is repentant.”

“They told me to read a book that would fix my marriage.”

“They prayed with me and then never said anything else about it.”

I told the pastor my then husband was raping me, hitting me, holding knives to my throat and guns to my kids heads. The pastor told me the Bible made no exceptions for divorce for anything other than continuous adultery and I was not free to leave for abuse.

“They said I neeeded to forgive and keep going as if nothing has happened.”

“They asked what I did to make him treat me like that.”

My pastor: “Wouldn’t you rather suffer some temporal abuse in this life than for you and your children to suffer eternity in hell if you leave the spiritual protection of your male headship and marriage?”

“They recommended I clean the house more and have more sex.”

“They ignored me and later terminated my membership.”

“He had beaten my children but they told me I shouldn't be separated from him.”

The church kicked out [my friend] for daring to divorce her abuser, then sided with the pedophile to convince the judge to force reunification with the daughters he molested.

“They told me it would be unsubmissive to pay the bills so I could have power and water to take care of my children, because my husband said I wasn't allowed to.”

“They told me if I took my child to the doctor wen he needed medical attention that I was usurping authority over my husband, because my husband said no.”

Over the course of my 30 year marriage, I went to at least 3 different pastor's wives, two different pastors, a Christian counselor, a church counselor, and numerous church friends seeking help. All efforts were concentrated on my staying, learning to cope with the situation, becoming a better wife, and trusting God to change his heart.


Another reason that victims of abuse did not simply go tell their church leadership:

I WAS AFRAID TO TELL

“I knew there would be repercussions for me if he found out I had told.”

I shared some of the smaller things to see how they responded and they minimized it. I knew at that point that it would not be safe to share any more of what was going on. 

“I already knew they would support him and ostracize me. I would rather be alone crying in the bathroom than to be ostracized by the whole church.”

“It’s exhausting to try to explain it. You’re vulnerable and don’t know who you can trust. I was afraid I’d be accused of running him through the mud.”

Trying to explain an abusive relationship to someone whose never experienced it is like trying to explain the difference between red and blue to a blind person.


Yet another issue was this:

I KNEW THE LEADERSHIP’S BELIEFS ABOUT MEN AND WOMEN WOULD MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO RECEIVE HELP

“They portray women as irrational, high maintenance and hard to please.”

“They glorify abusive behaviors as ‘Biblical manhood.'”

The doctrine of the husband being in authority over the wife meant they would view me as the problem if I refused to do what he said.”

“There’s so much emphasis on submission and laying down your life that I believed it was my responsibility to suffer silently.”

“I went to Bible study with his handprints around my neck. They prayed for my submission.”

From the pulpit, the pastor stated that abuse was a valid reason for divorce but went on to say. “Some people say they're being abused but they aren't.”


Another reason victims do not tell is that they know

THE ABUSER HAS ENDEARED HIMSELF TO CHURCH LEADERSHIP

He is buddy buddy with the church leadership. He shows up early for every church function. He sets up chairs beforehand and helps sweep floors afterward. He has already shared mournful prayer requests about his wife’s “mental Illness” or “spiritual problems” to turn people against me before I could ever ask for help.”

My abuser had preemptively spoken to every pastor at my church under the guise of praying for me saying I was struggling with anxiety and our marriage was suffering because of “my mental health issues”. By the time I was out of the fog and ready to admit I was being abused their opinions had already been tainted.”

“Through his charismatic ability to influence and manipulate his perspective of our marriage to church leadership, my ex successfully was able to have church leadership and the congregation turn their backs on me without me even knowing what his whispers were doing. I was devastated. He managed to convince our church that I was a horrible person… a slut, crazy, bad mother… and for them to pray with him to pray for me.”

He was always speaking with them behind my back and making me out to be crazy. They were inexperienced with abuse and always excused his behavior.”

My husband is a world class actor and can portray himself to be a godly man.”

 


Finally, one of the reasons victims cannot always “just go tell the church leadership” is that

THE ABUSER *IS* THE CHURCH LEADERSHIP

“My husband was the pastor”

“Where could a pastor's wife go?”

All the people in leadership that I told thought his abusive behaviors were normal. They treated their own families the same way.”

As the child/teen of a couple in leadership: I didn't dare go to church leadership because THEY WERE LEADERSHIP. It was also pounded into my head from a very early age about how children of “good Christian parents” grow up and are brainwashed by “a therapist” or “secularism” to make false abuse accusations against these “good, innocent” parents. False accusations, false memories, etc were a frequent topic of warning in our home. Who would ever have believed me?


My friends, I grieve that such egregious harm is being done and that the vulnerable are being further oppressed.

I hope you grieve also.

We must not be ignorant that there are wolves who wander amongst the sheep in disguise. Instead of rushing to defend the reputation of a person you thought was good, be willing to experience the discomfort and disorientation of acknowledging that someone is not who you thought they were. 

We must stop throwing cliches around as easy answers to the problems people face.

We must understand how to recognize abuse so that we do not address it as a marriage issue. Many victims are attempting to disclose abuse, but it is missed because it sounds to the untrained ear like a small problem and she is told she shouldn't be petty.

We must understand that many pastors have sought such a position becaue they are power hungry. While they may sound like godly men from the pulpit, their actions behind the scenes are controlling and manipulative. Such people must be exposed and removed.

There is much more that could be said, but this is only the beginning of my journey of using this platform to speak about such topics

I hope you will prayerfully follow along, asking the Holy Spirit for understanding and humility so that we may care for the vulnerable in ways that truly point them to the love of God for them.

A New Direction for Imperfect Homemaker

I have not written any new posts here for quite a while. The reason for that is that I am not the same person who started this blog over a decade ago. I knew this was likely to happen, that I would grow and change and view certain things differently, and that I’d likely disagree with some of the things I wrote in the past.

I have always tried to write from that perspective – that I’m not an expert who is here to share unchanging truth with my readers, but that I’m just a woman who is continually in the process of learning. Everything I’ve written in the past has been a milestone of where I’ve been at that moment in time.

And now I’m further down the road of life and I’m in some different places than I’ve been in the past.

Namely:

The title “Imperfect Homemaker” is now less about my struggle to be better at cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids.  A better way to define myself as an imperfect homemaker now is that I don’t fit the traditional concept of a homemaker and that many people would probably consider me a rebel.  Yes, I still stay home and take care of most of the household duties and childcare, but I no longer do it because I believe that is my role as a woman. I believe fathers and mothers should both be homemakers – loving their children, tending to the household chores, and ministering to others in partnership with one another. Strict roles where the man is the breadwinner and decision maker and the woman is the housekeeper and decision follower are not something I find prescribed in the Bible.

I  still agree with the bulk of what I’ve written here; however, I’d write many things with far greater nuance now. (And there are a few things where I’m on a completely different page from my former self.)

Much of the standard fare written toward Christian wives and moms lends itself to either tolerating abuse from one’s husband or toward engaging in abusive behaviors as a parent, and that includes some of the articles I’ve written here in the past.

That’s not to say that every woman who reads these things is destined to be abused by her husband or will automatically be too harsh with her children.

However, because of the ministry to abuse victims that God unexpectedly launched me into around 5 years ago, I’ve seen a lot of things I can’t unsee. I’ve learned how concepts that might seem innocent in one family are bondage and destruction to others. I’ve seen firsthand how frighteningly common abuse is within the church, and I can’t be quiet about it, or about certain teachings that allow it to flourish so easily.

I never figured out how to make my new ministry of speaking on these topics fit into this particular space. I still enjoy talking about how to be productive and organized. I like a pretty, traditionally feminine aesthetic, even though I don’t believe that’s a component of being a “Biblical woman.” Talking about domestic abuse and critiquing harmful teachings just didn’t seem to fit in here, but I don’t have time to do both, which means that the content I produce in this space has dried up.

 I don’t want to close this space down, though. I’ve gotten to “know” (virtually) so many of you over the years, and I’d sure love to continue to have good conversations with you.

But for the sake of authenticity, for the sake of time, and for the sake of bringing awareness of these topics to the Christian women who follow this account, I believe it’s time for me to change the direction of the content here. I’ll be sharing more posts about the very serious issue of domestic abuse in Christian homes, and I’ll be starting conversations where we can rethink common marriage and parenting advice that allows such abuse to flourish so easily.

My older content re-circulates automatically on Facebook, and if I catch something posted there that I no longer agree with I delete it.. (Feel free to message me if you see something I miss!) As I have time I hope to re-write some of it, but for now I just try to keep old articles that I disagree with from surfacing into public view.

I realize that some of these new conversations here might get uncomfortable. They might challenge some of your long-held beliefs. (I have been walking this road for quite a few years, so I know how uncomfortable it can get.) I understand that for some of you, you may disagree so vehemently that you no longer feel you can read my content. There’s no hard feelings from my end if that’s the case. I don’t wish to convince anyone of anything they don’t wish to be convinced of. But if you enjoy the challenge of thinking through hard things, especially with the goal of protecting our fellow sisters in Christ, then I am excited to engage in these conversations with you!

Why “How to be a Good Wife” Might not be the Right Question

“How to be a Good Wife” is a question I sometimes receive here, and it's a question I see come up frequently around the internet.

Generally I explore that question one-on-one with the person at the other end of my inbox. I find out more about why they're asking, and we have a conversation about it that is relevant to the details of their specific situation.

But for those who are searching publicly available books and articles to find answers to their pressing question about how to be a good wife, I want to address some of the common themes that I see regarding this question.

Basically, I have two main points:

  1. Sometimes asking how to be a good wife is a great question to ask!
  2. Sometimes asking how to be a good wife is not the right question for your situation.

So let's dive into what I mean, ok?

When I was first married, being a wife was all new to me. I loved my husband so much, and I wanted to be the best wife I could be for him. He also wanted to be the best husband he could be for me, and we set about learning and growing together as a couple. We would talk about our likes and dislikes, and we would ask each other questions to learn more about how we could better serve the other person.

Because we loved one another, we wanted to please one another, and we learned everything we could about how to best do that. As the wife in the relationship, the question from my end was how could I be a good wife, and it was a good and healthy question to ask myself.

Yet even in a relationship where both of us were mutually loving and serving the other, I discovered a pitfall where the question of how to be a good wife could be taken too far. This pitfall came in the form of books and articles that are written to Christian wives. Now, I'm not saying that no one should ever write books or articles for Christian wives (it's what I'm doing right now, after all!) But what I discovered was that many of these Christian women's books go far, far beyond what the Bible actually teaches. Instead, they offer up collections of opinions that pass as “Biblical” teaching but are really man-made (or woman-made) rules about things that a good wife should do.


My husband and I are both book lovers, and we hadn't been married long when we came across a thrift store that had piles and piles of books that were all free! Wow! I was in heaven! Because the books were free, I was pretty quick to add anything to my cart that was by a Christian publisher, whether I was familiar with it or not. I figured if they weren't any good I could toss them later.

My husband was the bread-winner and I chose to be a stay-at-home wife. This meant that before I had children I had lots of time to read. But I wasn't just sitting around relaxing; I was reading all the books from that thrift store that teach women how to be good Christian wives. I wanted to learn as much as I could! But boy, did I have a rude awakening. These books weren't teaching how to be a good wife at all. Their implicit and explicit messages were teaching that men have “needs” and that wives were created to meet them. They were teaching that to be a good wife meant submitting to your husband even when he is harsh, cruel, and selfish (aka letting him always have his way like a spoiled child.) That isn't what it means to be a good wife; that is enabling your husband's sin and selfishness. (I just read this fantastic Facebook post that speaks more on this subject.)

I haven't picked up any of those books for many years, but recently I've pulled some of them back off the shelf because I get messages sometimes asking me what I think about some book or another. Inside I find the scribblings I wrote all those years ago refuting what the author had said. I wrote things like, “That's not in the Bible, but they keep using the words ‘biblical advice', which puts a guilt trip on the reader, making them feel that if they don't follow this man-made list of ‘rules for good wives', they'll be disobeying God!”

There were plenty of books with overt messages teaching women to cater to selfish, domineering husbands. But perhaps even more dangeous was the subtlety of all of the books with more palatable, yet still wrong, messages about what it means to be a good wife. These are everywhere. In bygone years, I have written such articles myself right here on this blog. These are the articles and books that tell you that you need to keep your house cleaner. That you should be a wise steward of your family's money. That you should make your home warm and inviting. Don't get me wrong – these things are not bad. But what I've seen in my own life and many other women I know is that the cumulative message of all of these books and articles is that being a good wife is about what you do.

However, being a good wife isn't about doing more, more, more.

Being a good wife is about who you are. The point is not to “do all the things” in order to build up your home. The point is that when you seek to be a wise woman, the natural result is that your home will be built up.


Ok, so far I've addressed that asking “how to be a good wife” can be a good question when the dynamic is that both the husband and wife are simply seeking to know how they can best love and serve one another.

I've noted that even with this dynamic you need to be aware of the pitfall of thinking that your value as a wife is found in the things that you do.

Now I want to address a different marriage dynamic in which many women find themselves.

This is the dynamic where the husband believes he is king of his castle and that his wife exists to serve him. In this relationship, a husband has expectations for his wife that can extend into any area(s) of her life. For example:
-What she cooks
-The way she cleans
-The way she dresses
-Who her friends are
-Which groceries she buys
-Where and when she goes places
-How she manages her health, weight, or fitness
-And so many more.

These expectations may or may not be verbalized, but the wife in this relationship knows that her husband expects her to behave a certain way. How does she know this? Because when she does not meet those expectations, there are negative consequences.

Over time, she recognizes a pattern that when she has not pleased her husband, she may receive some form of the following:

-Silent treatment
-Withholding intimacy or on the flip-side, forced sex
-Verbal abuse or put-downs
-Rage
-Intimidation and threats
-Physical aggression – punching holes in walls, breaking things, driving dangerously
-Physical abuse (note: he doesn't have to punch you for it to be physical abuse. Examples: pulling hair, dragging, grabbing, pushing, spitting, blocking in a room, pinning against a wall)

My friend, let me put it honestly. If you are in a relationship like this, you are experiencing what is called coercive control. A husband who acts this way is abusive. I strongly urge you to read more about what coercive control looks like here.

I have received messages from wives in this type of relationship, and the question is almost never, “How can I stay emotionally and physically safe?” The question is usually, “How can I be a better wife?”

See, a husband who believes he is entitled to having everything he wants, when he wants it, the way he wants it, will always use manipulative words to turn everything he doesn't like in life to be his wife's fault. At first, she will find ways to explain hurtful situations to herself when they happen. “Oh, I must have misunderstood him. Surely he couldn't have meant it that way, right?” But as time goes on, hurtful things continue to happen, and every time he tells her it's her fault, she begins to wonder if maybe she really is the problem.

“Maybe I just need to be a better wife.”

“If I could just be:

-More respectful (which to an entitled husband just means more catering to whatever he wants)
-More organized
-A better cook
-Better at managing my time
-More sexy
-etc.”

“Maybe he has a reason to be irritated with me, and I just need to get my act together as a wife.”

This dynamic is when asking how to be a good wife is not the right question.

If your husband is controlling, selfish, a chronic liar, or has a pattern of engaging in otherwise hurtful behavior, you are not the problem.

I'm not saying that you've never sinned or never made a mistake as a wife.

I'm saying that searching for ways to be a better wife will not make your husband stop being selfish, controlling, deceptive, and hurtful to you.

If the above relationship sounds like yours, it's time to stop asking how to be a good wife, and it's time to start asking what you are going to do to get physically and emotionally safe.

And if you are the friend of someone who confides in you about her husband's chronic mistreatment, don't give her books about how to be a better wife.

There's a big difference between serving your husband because you want to, and doing it because he's going to be mad if you don't.

One is love, the other is slavery.

When your solution to a demanding and entitled husband is to work harder and harder to meet his expectations, you are catering to his ungodly belief system — the belief that all of life revolves around him, and that you are responsible for his happiness. He is idolizing you as the source of his happiness and fulfillment, and his goal, although he might not even realize it, is for you to idolize him by centering your all of your thoughts and actions around appeasing him like an unpredictable god.

So, if “How to be a better wife” isn't the question to be asking in a marriage like this, what can you do?

Here are some excellent resources that can help you get started sorting out your situation and deciding what your next step should be:

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick
Is it Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage by Natalie Hoffman
Lots of Resources at Hope for Hurting Wives

If you'd like to talk with someone, you can request an advocate from Called to Peace Ministries.

It is possible to be a good wife and to be safe at the same time.
It is possible to love your husband well while also saying no to his sin and selfishness.

Summary:

1. Asking yourself how to be a good wife is a great question in the context of a mutually loving, serving relationship.
2. Asking yourself how to be a better wife is not appropriate if your focus is on doing rather than on being. (Read this post for further explanation.)
3. Asking yourself how to be a better wife is not appropriate if your purpose is to try to stop your spouse from mistreating you, lying to you, neglecting you, or being hurtful to you in any way.
4. Asking yourself how to be a better wife will not change the wrong beliefs of your spouse.
5. If you recognize a pattern in your relationship where you keep thinking that if you were only ______ (more organized, a better cook, quieter, thinner) then maybe your husband wouldn't be in such a bad mood, there is hope and help for you (but it won't come in the form of a book teaching you how to do those things.) I highly recommend speaking with a trained advocate one on one who can help you assess the seriousness of your situation and help you determine your course of action.

If you're curious to learn more about what an abusive relationship might look like in a home that is supposed to be Christian, and want to learn how you can help someone in this situation, sign up for the email series below:

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