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As a teen growing up in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), my parents would not have said I was compliant.
But I was.
My parents decided to homeschool me the summer before I entered seventh grade. Four years later, I ascertained it was most certainly not in my best interest to continue. I fussed, argued respectfully, and appealed passionately, even going so far as to secretly call a lawyer and discuss what it would take to be “emancipated” from my parents.
I didn’t go through with it.
Years of Basic Seminars, Knoxville conferences, Wisdom Booklets, and even Character Sketches books and definitions had drilled into me that the wishes of my authority—even the unspoken ones—were “God’s will.” For me to forcefully step outside of that was to willfully choose God’s second best, and possibly even incite God’s judgment.
As a female, I would always be under a man’s authority.
I was taught I would never be my own boss.
I would never have a right to say “no.”
I wanted to go to college. My parents wanted me to go to Headquarters and work as a Family Coordinator. I had no right to say “no.”
At 23, I was still living at home under my dad’s authority, preparing to perform for a concert and a wedding. The music director at my church called and requested that I take on more responsibilities. I declined. She wasn’t my authority and I was already so overwhelmed I could barely breathe. My father overheard the phone call and insisted I call her back and say yes. I acquiesced.
Following this incident, a wise, older mentor told me that continuing to obey my father was bringing him dishonor by revealing his controlling nature. This could not go on forever. I needed him to not be my authority, so I didn’t have to say yes.
I moved out into my own apartment.
I can hardly look back on that time without tears. The memories of freedom take my breath away. Insignificant, normal decisions no longer caused a panic. No one was going to blame me for a sibling’s rebellion if I chose to wear pants rather than the dreaded split skirt to play volleyball. No one was there to tell me that the volleyball game was inappropriate for women in the first place.
The freedom was short lived.
Four months after I moved out, a guy I had grown up with asked to court me. It was a whirlwind as I already knew him so well, and four months after the courtship began, we were married.
I had an authority again.
My husband wanted us to attend his IFB (Independent Fundamentalist Baptist) church. I hated it. I did not feel at home there. I begged. I sobbed. I pleaded. I appealed. But that was where “we” ended up placing our membership. I cried silent tears in the shower every Sunday morning.
Because I had made a vow at an ATI counseling seminar to never use medical birth control, I had three children and three c-sections in three years. The night my third child was conceived I was terribly ill and had a fever of 104 degrees. However, “…the wife’s body is not her own, but belongs to her husband.” It would have been a sin to say no, even though I wanted to scream, “Can’t you see I’m sick?!!!!”
When my third child was two months old, my husband was asked to take on a volunteer project as a ministry. Struggling to even survive the demands of three children under the age of four, I begged him to say no. I pleaded. But he was my authority, and it was, ultimately, his decision. He was absent 18 hours a day, 6 days a week, for an entire year. I was trapped in a nightmare, raising three toddlers that I would never have “chosen” to have so closely together.
14 years after we became members at church, a series of God-orchestrated events took place that pried my husband’s heart away from that church. I felt as though I was living in a miracle. My mother-in-law had already left the church we were at and had begun attending an even stricter IFB church, complete with a Bob Jones University board member, a pervasive theology of gender as destiny, and policies encouraging all-skirts-all-the-time. My husband was excited to visit.
I finally found my “no.”
I looked him in the face and said, “If you attend that church in the morning, you will go alone.”
I was 36 years old.
I didn’t realize at that moment what a huge thing it was for me. In the weeks to come, I was startled to find myself saying “no” to anything and everything, even stupid stuff, just because for the FIRST time in my life, I felt I actually could.
I could say no, because it is a fundamental human right. NOT a right simply afforded to males.
I am still working on assertiveness. My “no” is generally so reticent that people hardly know that I’m serious.
About a month ago, I was speaking with my mother about the differences of opinion held by my husband and I on “standards,” especially those not mentioned in Scripture. She encouraged me to teach my daughter to use a Strong’s Concordance, and use it to go to ‘war,’ but then, “when your husband refuses, you must teach her to submit as unto the Lord.”
I felt like I was floating.
I was suddenly 17 again.
It was like I was outside my body, saying to her the very things I had said so long ago.
But it ended differently. I told her that I would not teach my daughter to submit like that. I will give her an out every time. I will show her exactly what it will take monetarily to survive on her own. I will encourage her to fulfill her dreams and make her own decisions when she is 18.
I will tell her what Mr. Gothard withheld from us: Sometimes obeying your “authority” carries consequences far more permanent than a temporarily irritated father.
Even if I disagree with the decisions she makes, they will belong to her.
The catch about deferring decisions to authority figures is that while they are happy to make decisions for you, they will not be responsible for the consequences. Chances are, those same people will either tell you, “You chose this,” or “God did this.”
I, alone, struggle with my lack of education. People expect from me everything they expect from someone with a degree, but because I depend on hard work rather than training, it takes far longer to prepare.
I, alone, deal with the ongoing physical and metabolic damage sustained by having three pregnancies and c-sections in three years.
I, alone, struggle with the ongoing difficulties incurred by poorly single-parenting my children when they were infants.
Jane Douglas, a former homeschooling mother, has this to say to parents:
“That compliant 25-year-old looks like and sounds like an adult, but she has a 12-year-old soul. Like the tiny feet of Chinese girls crushed and tightly bound in rags by well-intentioned parents to prevent their healthy growth, that child may be the victim of a sort of ‘soul-binding.’ This disastrous mistake may have doomed her to endure both a crippling emotional agony and an ongoing rage that her mother could dare to insist that such a violent and abusive act was perpetrated because of love.”
I will probably struggle with saying “no” for the rest of my life. I will struggle because I was taught for so many years that I was a being with no rights at all.
If you are the victim of such soul binding, I pray you find your “No.”
I pray you find it before the sum total of your life consists of living out the consequences of someone else’s decisions.
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