On Doubt & Growing up in the Church of (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

My daughter pushes me.  She demands.  Before coffee and time to wake up in the morning, she throws out at me like spittle in my face a withering challenge. She says, about my faith, my beliefs, something like ….

You follow some concocted foolishness, if only to comfort yourself, to be a part of something, to be less alone, to feel consoled by the idea you won’t spend eternity in hell.

Ouch.  She’s fourteen.  I listen.  And take another sip of coffee.  Silently wishing that I was more awake.  Wishing that I had time to go to seminary and get back to her.  Hoping that I can remain calm.  And mostly, I am hoping that I am lucid.  Does she not know this is not my best time of day?  Of course she does.  I am not freaking ready for this!?!

And what sort of religion would sentence people to hell?” she continues.  I’m thinking “Where in the hell is she learning her ideas about hell?”

Yes, that’s the sort of girl we’re raising. 

Questioning.  Doubting.  Testing and pushing.  And I love it, even as it scares me and I long for more preparation.  No, I don’t fear my own doubt, because I have known the One who gives me peace beyond my comprehension.

But I fear her doubts.

She has a wonderful, active intelligence.  How to answer the questions rattling about in her brain— which she throws out with such vivid scorn.  How to answer, when it closely echoes the shadows of my heart and mind?  One might think this would make it easier, but it isn’t because I don’t fear my own doubt I pursue it. I have even grown comfortable with it, mostly.

But her doubts loom bulky and cumbersome, large in the room.  I feel them physically as she lurches toward her future.  Away from me.  Yes I feel her doubt pulling her away from me. This is what I must trust, that the One I know will make himself known to her and to each of them, my children.  I only possess them for a short season, if at all.  I once thought they were “mine” like a precious possession to be held on to tightly.  Now I know I don’t. I can’t keep them for my own.

The day she came squealing into the world, so strong and perfect I should have known then that she was not mine.  In the early months I was uncomfortable letting someone else take her from me, to hold her tight against their own chest in church.  I fought letting her infant body be pulled away from mine.  She was my first and the toughest, impossible, to let go of—I thought that I couldn’t do it.  I began to trust others just a little.  Our nanny.  A nursery caregiver.  Kindergarten teacher, first grade, second and up, over the years.  And now she is learning from pastors at church and from leaders in youth group that are young and barely out of school themselves.  And she learns from her friends.  How much she is learning from equally fallible, impressionable friends

I am reminded again, I can’t possess her.    

I look at her speaking this morning, so sure of herself, and  I think “I would hold you in my arms forever, if possible, so enormous is my love for you.”

A mother’s love and possession of her children is irrational.  At first I trusted no one.

And she always resisted me.

She struggles, fights me.  Argues about whether I like her outfits even when I say I do, she says I don’t; her hair, the shape of her nose which I think is quite perfect. But no, she is angry even as she tells me how very wrong I am.  “My nose is not perfect” she wants me to know. And I marvel at the thought.  To me, you are.

Perfection.

This is what I want to tell her.  

You have always questioned.  You were impatient, always.  I couldn’t teach you fast enough — the alphabet, or to read.  All of this could not be conquered quickly enough for you, in the midst of other babies coming along.  Just fourteen short months after you a brother, and he was physically large but quiet, careful and followed you everywhere; happily occupied by his admiration and awe of you.  My job and its demands getting me home at night exhausted, and there you were, already reading, even before I had the time to teach you.  You are ahead of me in so many ways.  At forty-five, I am just barely allowing myself to ask the hard questions, the ones that our faith community wouldn’t allow when I was growing up, somehow my doubt might mean that all of it isn’t true. 

I am only just learning to accept my own questions, to seek the answers out myself.  Yes, I learn from you my girl.

Your mother isn’t sure.  I doubt myself all the time  because I was told long ago in bible class in college (a Christian college) not to question.  As the Bible was opened for me in class, and I began to learn as never before, my heart fluttered and sped up with the dawning, comprehension that I could know the actual Greek words for myself.  I wouldn’t have to take anyone’s word for it.  Just. Like. Anyone. I could study and know for myself.  But when I sought this knowledge out, my professor asked “what would you do with it?” as if, I shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t learn for myself.  There would be no purpose.

Indeed, what purpose would it have served?

Yes that’s the lie I bought into, that I fight against (almost) every day as a woman in the Church, that we shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, learn and teach for ourselves.  It is a lie, but one that is so strong.   I beat it back.  It returns uninvited.  Reading the words in Blue Parakeet, I am once again liberated.  It’s a constant liberation required, when you are raised in the Church of women “shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t.”   Scot McKnight liberated me again when he asked of scripture’s Story “What Did Women Do?”

What did women do I want to know?  We aren’t even to be allowed the stories in Bible of what women have done.  These stories of women have been silenced, ignored, overlooked and (not always with bad motives but still) they are missing!   As I have come into my own understanding of these things I have had to accept that to take a stand on this is threatening and provocative, and I am immediately perceived to be “liberal” and suspect, as if I don’t respect the Bible which I do, oh so very much from that moment in college when I had the profound thought “I can know this for myself. “ Oh what a sweet relief it was to read that even McKnight found it challenging to defend these things himself.

I am an evangelical, today anyway and I am only learning that I have read the Bible wrong.   I am learning to read the Bible as Story, even while “many of the traditionalists read the bible as a law book and a puzzle.  Traditionalists read the Bible about women in church ministries through tradition instead of reading the Bible with tradition.” (McKnight, the Blue Parakeet)

It is no small thing (to me) and I have spoken of this before.  My pastors never mention female theologians or even woman scholar’s writings about theology and the Bible.  I want my daughter to know that Christian women are thinking, can be academic, even scholarly, that we are wise and thoughtful.  Yes women.

And yet she doesn’t see that in the Church of  (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

What would it be like to grow up never hearing the old bible stories of what women did and are doing like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah? To be a grown woman before you learn that these amazing legendary women spoke for God; they led the nation alongside men.  They sanctioned scripture and they guided nations.  What is it like to grow up never hearing from the knowledge and wisdom of women?   As my precious daughter shares her questions and doubt, I wake up and I listen, take it in.  I hope and pray.  She is strong and her soul and mind are powerful already.  Yes, I accept her doubts.  I know Doubt like a close friend, even if mine has different origins, nuanced by my upbringing and by mistreatment in my life by few strong men who abused.  I’m not afraid of my own doubt and I don’t want to be afraid of hers.  The Church needs girls like her who soon will grow into strong, articulate challenging women.  Her influence somewhere someday will be strong.  Perhaps even in the Church, if she stays long enough.  Are they ready her?  Or will they remain the Church of shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t?

Is that what you want to tell her?

We live in a culture that doubts everything as a matter of principle. In such an environment, how can even faith be immune to doubt? Can I really trust in the gospel? Does God really love me? Can I really be of any use to God? We are taught to doubt but commanded to believe. Somehow we think that admitting to doubt is tantamount to insulting God. But doubt is not a sign of spiritual weakness–rather it’s an indication of spiritual growing pains. — Doubting,  Alister E. McGrath

I guess we are both having growing pains –this slowly waking, grown woman, and this young girl .  Is the Church ready for us?  Will they echo that women couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t?  Or will they tell us, yes, you can.

———————

These musings are like a journal and are not perfect.  As always, I hope you will extend me grace as I write to figure out what I think.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. “This is what I must trust, that the One I know will make himself known to her and to each of them, my children.” That is a beautiful and wonderful thought, Melody. I think, too often, parents try to answer their children’s doubts too quickly and easily. But doubts are a part of the journey. I think giving easy answers is like revealing the end of a suspense novel before they’ve had time to read it themselves. It is meant to help, but can actually take the fire out of the story.

    Doubts are scary. But doubt is not the opposite of faith. It is the partner of faith. One of my favorite Bible stories is when John the Baptist sends his disciples to question Jesus about whether He is really the Messiah. Jesus does not scold. He responds with grace and love. He reminds John of all that He has done.

    I can’t imagine getting that kind of question before morning coffee. Yikes. What a way to start the day!

    Like

    1. Yes! What Stephanie said. Beautiful, wrenching entry.

      “Lord, I believe…Help Thou my unbelief” is pretty much a life verse for most thinking folks I know!

      Like

  2. DSchmidt says:

    To meet doubt with love and respect sends a message; it also carries on the tradition of thoughtful women who have added so much to (tho they have been too often ignored by) the Church.

    Like

    1. Melody says:

      Thanks DSchmidt.

      Like

  3. Michael says:

    Melody, this is such a great post about the angst of parenting! From my own life I know, just as death precedes resurrection, deep doubt often yields to deep faith. May it be so for your daughter. I know I struggle for the sake of my own sons. Grace to you.

    Like

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