Welcome to stress

It may sound a little silly to you that I, or anyone, would find anything exciting about #lockdownlyf but, I’ve found something that I feel I can finally contribute to those around me at a time they’re willing to listen, so I’m excited! I have a specific skill, a niche experience that has wide application for a moment, and I’m glad to be able to share what I’ve learned about it! (If you don’t want background and just want tips, skip down to the numbered points. And at the bottom I’ve put some resources for you to call on if/when you need help.)

And no, I’m not just talking about being an introvert! Although hey, you know introverts have some useful skills for isolation life. But that’s another post for another day.

I’m talking about #cptsdlyf

So, I was diagnosed with depression a long time ago and I’ve been medicated for quite a while, but it took me a while to see a psychologist and partake of their particular expertise. Psychs are expensive and I could see a counsellor through a subsidised organisation a lot cheaper. And counsellors are magnificent and helped me a lot. But, what the psychologist was able to contribute was to delve a little further into medical research etc and explained that alongside my depression, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, there’s controversy around the term, there often is in psychology when things are in the initial stages of being described. Some would like to use the term Developmental Trauma Disorder or simply Complex Trauma Disorder, and eventually there may be a more settled articulation of the name, but the symptoms, or description of the disorder is widely recognised in psychology. Many different things can cause it, and you can check out the Wikipedia article if you’d like more detailed info but the main thing you need to know now is in the name C-PTSD, complex post traumatic STRESS disorder.

That’s right, stress!! I’m an expert in stress! My body and brain have been deeply shaped by it and it’s taken years of work and expensive therapy to get to a point where I’m much better at recognising what’s going on and am more able to deal well with it. And you can’t deny we’re all feeling pretty STRESSED right now, so me and everyone else finally have something in common!

Because C-PTSD and PTSD life can sometimes be lonely. For a lot of C-PTSD havers there’s heavy denial (from other people) around the trauma they’ve experienced (it’s often connected to abuse, which is usually accompanied by a web of denial and lies), and for PTSD havers, the traumatic event has passed for everyone else but is alive and well for them (yes, Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump could spring to mind here and that makes sense. Vietnam vets were a generation who were scorned and derided for their experiences but also one of the first war generations to eventually find some help and advocacy regarding their mental health. It took too long… But that’s what it is…). But one thing that’s different at the moment is that very few people are left in denial that we’re all in a stressful situation at the moment. So, you’ve immediately got one weapon against your stress that a lot of C-PTSD and PTSD people don’t – everyone knows you’re stressed and why and that it’s legitimate.

But what are some things I’ve learned from stress life that I can encourage or enlighten you with?

1. You’re going to be exhausted and that’s perfectly normal.

When you’re stressed, your body and brain are using extra energy to cope/function/be normal and that’s quite tiring. Also, your brain might be looking for defence mechanisms, ways to escape the stress, and often, sleep feels like an answer to that. My body is excellent at “playing possum”. In panic attacks, I quickly black out, and in life in general, when my stress levels are high, my body wants to sleep. Aaaaaalllllll the time.

The memes going around about how we should all be using this time to write a novel and invent gravity can be inspirational but it’s very important to remember, you’re under stress! So also, be kind to yourself! And your body may demand more sleep than you’re used to. This isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re on the verge of a breakdown, but it does mean you’re stressed. But, feel free to talk to someone and check the resources I’ve put at the end of this post.

2. You’re going to have very weird dreams.

This is something I always forget isn’t normal for most people because extremely vivid and often disturbing dreams have been part of my life every night since I was very young. But I’ve been reminded a lot in the last couple of days that my normal is now becoming normal for everyone else.

Yeah! The dreams are weird hey!

PTSD is known for flashback moments, but also our brains doing a lot of processing of trauma when it can, which is often while we’re unconscious. Our brains often use dreams to try to work through the days events, or, as Dr Norman Swan put it on Coronacast, your brain is “taking out the garbage”.

And your brain has a lot of garbage atm! There’s a lot of STRESS it needs to work through. Personal, interpersonal, intrapsychic, relational, physical, social, systemic loss are part of our day-to-day at the moment. We have a lot of things to grieve and a lot of things to worry about. Your brain may choose to do this in odd to bizarre ways in your dreams. Sorry!

A vivid and disturbing dream can cast an emotional pall over the beginning of my day (and remember, for me, for most of my life, this is 70-90% of the times I sleep), and that can be a real downer. It can be hard to shake it off. So, maybe experiment with some ways to leave that dream world behind. For example, write it down. Shake your head over it. Thank your brain for trying to take out the garbage and then remind yourself today is not the dream. That may help for you. One tip I can give you for sure though, not many people are going to want to listen to you telling them about your weird dream-of-the-night every morning, so, good luck to the verbal processors. Maybe keep an audio journal so it feels like you’ve told someone? Parents, you may need to help your kids process theirs. Let them tell you about it, and then help them through the steps of “thanks brain for taking out the garbage. But now it’s today, so we’re going to do some fun things.”

There are lots of other tips out there for how to deal with the weird dreams, so feel free to research reputable sources.

3. Your capacity will be reduced.

Obviously connected to the first two, your body and brain are working over time, so you may not function at your usual capacity. You have a choice about how to deal with this:

– berate yourself for being a slacker

– be kind to yourself because this is an extraordinary time and you don’t need to function to any particular imaginary standard anyway.

I often choose the first or others choose it for me because they can’t see the trauma I’ve experienced and that I’m living with every day. Unfortunately, mental illness is invisible. But like I said above, you guys have a gift. EVERYONE recognises the difficulty at the moment. So, embrace that. Blame the situation BECAUSE IT’S REAL. You may not be functioning as you usually do or at someone else’s concept of your capacity and that’s ok. You’re stressed, it’s normal. Be kind to yourself.

4. You may make some bad choices, or want to.

So, many of us C-PTSD/PTSD havers make some “bad” choices to deal with our pain. Drugs, alcohol, excessive sex, porn addiction, “comfort” food. Our bodies and brains are often flailing to find an escape, any escape, that will lower the extremity of what we’re feeling and experiencing.

My main weakness on this front is comfort food. And it’s something I need to tackle with psychological help because it is a HUGE and complex issue to work through.

But at the moment? I just want all the chocolate and all the cake and all the fried chicken and maybe you do too. It’s unfortunate because we know that’s not necessarily great for our bodies, but it’s understandable because your body and brain want soothing because they’re dealing with STRESS. So again, what I’d recommend first is be kind to yourself. Understand why you may be seeking even more comfort than usual from your chosen source. And if you’re really wanting to resist seeking comfort there, recognise that a vacuum needs to be filled. So, make a list of other things you enjoy and can do at this time, ways to de-stress and relax and feel soothed and do them all!

Also, you may just want to remove all alcohol or chocolate from your house. It’s up to you.

5. Find the silver linings and find help.

Self-care has become more known about and recognised as a concept which is wonderful because it’s essential. If you want to keep caring well for yourself and the people around you, you need to be able to function well. AND, you deserve to be good to yourself. This is a concept my self-hatred finds hardest to recognise and believe, but I have value as a person just for who I am. I’m precious, and I’m worth taking care of. My fellow Christians would want to fling a few Bible verses at me at this point, and they’re right, I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator who knows every hair on my head. But the gremlin inside me who tells me every day that I’m a piece of s*%t doesn’t believe in those Bible verses. So, I have to spend a reasonable amount of energy every day on this fight, alongside dealing with everything else.

I hope for your sakes that your gremlin doesn’t exist or is much quieter, but even if you don’t have that particular battle on your hands, all of the STRESS means you still need to be taking care of yourself. This requires some mental work, some physical work and some relational work. And more and more of it is becoming “common sense” which is wonderful. So, for eg:

– find healthy ways to process stress mentally, for eg, meditation, counselling, prayer.

– do some exercise, go outdoors when you can for the exercise. Combine the mediation and exercise by doing yoga! Iyengar yoga has changed my body and my life over the last few years and continues to be an incredible support. There’s a lot of research going into the benefits of yoga on trauma, google trauma sensitive yoga if you’d like to learn more.

– spend time talking to people you love or just hanging out on zoom while you read a book.

Our lists may look different but the principle is the same. Take care of yourself, you’re worth it.

There’s so much more I could say about this. I’ve been accumulating experience and lessons (I refuse to say “learnings”!!!!!!!!) about this for years, and I’d love to share it but also, this blog post is too long already. So, read up a bit about stress, and it’s extremes in traumatic stress, and figure out some ways you can take care of yourself and those you love.

Some resources that might help are:

Mental Health First Aid Guidelines here.

Black Dog Institute here.

Helplines like:

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

Mensline – 1300 78 99 78

Suicide Callback Service – 1300 659 467

Your local health care areas also have access to translation services.

Your GP. You’ll need to speak to your GP to create a mental health care plan if you’d like Telehealth services with a psychologist and GPs are trained in helping triage mental health issues generally.

Be kind to yourself and others. Stress can be a huge burden but it’s not one you have to carry alone.

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Being annoying in the time of cholera*

One of my many annoying characteristics is that I interrupt a lot. It’s probably why some people have wondered if I have a personality disorder, and why others have simply wondered if I understand basic manners. It’s a no to the first and a yes to the second, but I forget sometimes, for lots of reasons, that interrupting isn’t always the best choice.

Another of my annoying characteristics is giving unsolicited advice. It makes me a good teacher, because it comes from a place of wanting to share information to help people. I have very few other ways of usefully helping people, so I default to that. I can understand that it’s very annoying, even patronising sometimes, and like the interrupting, it’s not malicious, but it can make me hard to be around.

You, of course, have many annoying characteristics as well. I could keep listing mine, the above is not an exhaustive list, and we could probably make a long list of yours. Comedians have even noted that long-married couples can get to a point of familiar contempt that even the way their partner breathes can be annoying.

But what does this have to do with this time of global pandemic, a time of crucial economic, social and medical decisions? A time of great personal and social challenge?

Well that’s exactly it actually. A time of great personal challenge.

Everyone is stressed, and that already limits our capacity for empathy and patience. Soon and already many of you will be locked in your homes with your nearest and dearest, wondering why they have to breathe so very loudly.

For some, this may lead to dire outcomes. They are shut in with their abusers who may find any chance to damage them further… I can only hope and pray that help and alternatives will still be found in these times.

For the rest of us though, it’s not necessarily a time of emotional or physical danger, but certainly a time of many opportunities to hurt each other with an impatient word, or judgemental thoughts. And those things still matter. Especially of note is that they accumulate. Even for a person who doesn’t consciously “keep score”, we notice if and when blow after blow lands.

I know I’m very annoying, so I need people to be patient with me. But I also know everyone else is really annoying so I need to be patient with them!

So is that where we leave it? Another plea to be patient and kind? Such pleas are important, but can also be a bit useless. If I’m stressed and isolated and tired, if I’m at the limit of my emotional resources, how can I be patient with everyone else?

People try to draw strength from many resources in many ways, some useful, some the profiteering BS of charlatans. But I have learned two sources of strength through knowing God. They’ve helped me deal with many difficult situations already and I know they will continue to help.

When Jesus knew He was about to die and then return to the Father, He promised He wouldn’t be leaving His followers alone. He promised a Counsellor, the Spirit of God, who would live in our hearts, and intercede for our groaning spirits. The Counsellor brings God’s word to life in our hearts, minds and lives, transforming us to be more like Jesus. The times I am patient, or kind, gentle, slow to anger, self-controlled, or wise, I am empowered to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t need to rely solely on my own efforts (good! Cos I have about as much energy as a sausage sometimes!) nor on the strength of wishful thinking or crystals or being white and wealthy in an exploited world or any other power. I can rely on the power of God the Counsellor.

The other blessing necessary to me when trying to be patient and kind is forgiveness. Because I fail. I’m not always patient and kind. I screw it up. I resist what the Spirit is trying to do, I let my tired, selfish monkey brain take over and am only constrained by social habit from flinging poo. So, I also need forgiveness.

I need to be reminded that God forgives me. That because Jesus has dealt with the consequences of my failures and errors, God can sincerely and fully forgive me in a way that doesn’t just mean “I’m ignoring this for now but I’ll bring it up again letter in an argument where I’m listing your faults.” He truly and fully forgives. It’s a relief.

It also gives me the perfect reason to forgive others, or at the very least be patient with them. Unlike my relationship with God, the consequences of what I do and what I’ve had done to me aren’t always all dealt with, but I have been forgiven much, so it’s an abundance I can share from.

When I feel my shoulders tensing up because yet another friend has said something completely insane and unhelpful about the pandemic and how to fight it, I try to remind myself to be let the Spirit help me be patient and kind. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, so I’m not surprised that so many forms of ancient wisdom engage with the wisdom of taking a deep breath. I take a deep breath, a deep drink of the breath of God given to us, and try to let that fill me and change me before I let it out.

And when I screw that up, I ask God for forgiveness. And ask Him for the courage to ask for forgiveness for the person or people I’ve hurt as well. I don’t always get that right either, so the cycle continues.

But what a cycle it is. A cycle of breathing in love and breathing out forgiveness. A cycle of breathing in strength and breathing out kindness and patience. A breath that can’t infect anyone.

*I’ll resume part three of the current series soon.

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Historical abuse

This blog is the second in a three-part series about responding to revelations of abuse in the church. Please see the first post first. This is an invitation to move on from shock to a heartbroken, truth-filled and more useful response.

Another reason some of us aren’t shocked or surprised at every fresh revelation of abuse in the church, or supported by the church, or perpetrated by church leaders, is an awareness of the history of abuse and the church, in our families as well as in our institutions.

Both sides of my family are still church goers, and of course, once you go back a couple of generations, back to Christendom, almost all of our families were. And yet, my family, and my friends families, and many others, have stories like this in them:

– Oh yes, great-grandfather. He kept great-grandma pregnant for 20 years. She lost 12 babies. Grandma said it was because he hated her.

– He used to hit them, whenever he was angry. But no one thought anything of it then.

– She always used to lock her in a cupboard during the holidays because she was “such a bother”. She always looked forward to going back to school.

– Oh, everyone knew not to leave that Elder alone with the children, even though he’d always insist on taking them off for a ramble at church picnics. But he was still an Elder when my mum was a child, years later.

– The pastor knew he was beating them, so he used to preach extra sermons about submission. When she finally left, the church wouldn’t grant a divorce and she was shunned. Eventually she moved towns.

There are those of us who live right now in families where cycles of abuse go back through generations of church goers. In church communities where by commission or omission that abuse was encouraged, or abuse even perpetrated by church leaders.

And so, when a revelation comes that a minister has been abusive, or that a church has turned a blind eye to abuse in its midst, we are not surprised, because it is the story we already live.

We’re also not surprised because we know the history of the church outside our personal family stories. For example, even though many of us have listened to Christian leaders decrying feminism (for eg), most of us are glad that women now have the ability to own property, vote and have jobs, as all of these things make it more difficult for people to trap them in abusive relationships because they have no financial independence. This sadly still happens, but at least it’s been made more difficult than when women were property. There were Christians among the Suffragettes but many Christian leaders who at the time (as well as now) say that God objects to women voting, and also fought tooth and nail against divorce rights for women leaving abusive marriages as well. Christians have often stood against every step that has brought men and women toward equity and equality in our society. Why would we think that has changed?

Those of us who are unsurprised also know the history of the way the church has treated its followers as well. From the more recent revelations of Royal Commissions in Australia (you’ve seen the statistics right? Again, do you think this only happens in other people’s churches?!), to historical abuses like using the threat of hell to gain money for indulgences. Apparently a lot of you think the church has changed, or maybe that your church has, but do you honestly think you’re immune from these possibilities? I heard just recently of a (“good bible based”) church that encouraged its members to go into debt to support a new church building. Giving an implication that only the truly sincere will take this risk for Jesus? The church has burned witches, led inquisitions, acquired land by force, and benefitted from the worst parts of colonialism. And yet many of you seem to think that story miraculously stopped at some point, apparently quite recently?

The track record of the church on abuse is terrible. And combined with the realities mentioned in my first post, it leaves me surprised that anyone can honestly be surprised any more when yet another leader is rightly convicted of sexual abuse, or when I hear that another church has responded poorly to a spousal abuse, or that another has covered up the crimes of a leader and moved them on. History tells me this is expected.

And so does a lot of the theology I hear, but that’s for part three.

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When the silence is broken.

So here’s the thing. For every new revelation of abuse within the church, there are those of us who are not surprised. Saddened yes. Heartbroken even. But not in the least surprised.

Maybe it’s because we’re the real Calvinists, even though we’re usually the kind of people Neo-Calvinists think are off the straight and narrow. We’re the ones who believe in total depravity. Usually because we’ve experienced it. We’re the ones who’s lesson has been “it could be anyone”, and it’s a heavy burden.

But it means we’re not surprised.

And sometimes, your surprise hurts. It’s a reminder that no one has listened to us. It’s a reminder that our lives exist in a different universe to yours apparently.

So, in this three post series, I’m going to try to explain why we aren’t shocked. And ask some questions about how that might finally change.

The first post is about real church reviews. The second is about historical abuse. And the third one is more directly about theology, although of course, every part of this conversation touches on it.

So, first, the real church reviews.

I’m on several Facebook groups where people ask for church recommendations. Maybe their friends are moving to a new area, or they know someone who has become a Christian and want to know where they should go.

And because evangelical circles in Australia are small and ossified, I can almost predict which churches will be recommended. They’ll be recommended as “solid” or “bible based”. Sometimes as “welcoming” or “good for new Christians”.

But because evangelical circles are small, the weird among us usually know each other too. And the ex-vangelicals. And the victims.

So, often, this process of reading recommendations is painful for me. Because the head pastor of that “bible based” church told my friend to go back to her verbally, physically and emotionally abuse husband because “it’s what God commands”. Or because the head pastor of that church which is “good for new Christians” has chewed through so many assistant ministers that people will call people any person who they think might apply for a job with them to warn them. Or because that “great ministry” has employed someone who was moved on from their last ministry because of spiritual abuse and has tried to sue people who’ve made it publicly known. Or because that “great church” is full of people who’s response to another friends deep depression was as useful as Job’s friends, so that friend has given up church altogether now, with not even one follow up call from the church she was at for five years. But they teach the bible, goodness yes they do. Much better than that other terrible church down the road.

I’m not just talking about “my friend didn’t like that church because there were no people his own age”. I’m talking about “my friend told that pastor he was suicidal and the pastor told him to read Lamentations.” I’m talking about “that church has defined Christian maturity as attendance at their events and serving in a minimum of two specific tasks from a list and very clearly don’t see anything troubling about that.”

I’m talking about abuse from leaders (of other leaders or of church members). I’m talking about leaders who facilitate others in abuse. I’m talking about leaders who neglect the basic tenets of pastoral care, and I’m talking about leaders who’s fear-driven, Pharisaical theology burns up and spits out the little children.

And I get these reviews of your churches from the people who’ve left. The people you’ve stopped listening to. Many of them have even told you why they’re leaving and have had their problems minimised, criticised or ignored.

Have you asked them why they’ve left? Do you know them?

Or, more troublingly, why do *I* know about the reasons they’ve, but only because I *do* know the right people? Why don’t we talk about this? Why does it keep taking commissions and inquiries and investigations to unearth what some of us already know?

Do you know what your church’s real review is? How would someone in an abusive marriage rate your church? How would someone suffering under child abuse rate you? How would your ex- Assistant Minister rate you if his future jobs weren’t on the line? The answers to those questions are vital to the effectiveness of your church and its health in bearing witness to the suffering of Christ.

If your first response is “oh, we’d probably be fine! I’ve never heard of anything like that happening here” then think again. And if your first response is “well, we have some disgruntled ex-members, but they’re obviously wrong”, then you probably have even more reason to pause for thought.

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The Mundanity of Suicidality – or, why one RUOK day is never enough (even though I recognise the value of awareness raising and hope you all check out the resources available).

For those of us for whom depressive thought patterns started early on in life, it can be tricky to understand what’s normal for most people. Part of me figured that probably not everyone went through phases of suicidal thoughts (of varying degrees), but on the other hand, they’d been part of my life for so long, I figured they must be normal. Maybe everyone goes through phases like this but no one really talks about it. 

The older I got, the more I began to understand that it’s not a common thing for everyone, nor (of course) does it look the same for those of followed by this particular black dog. 

It’s still difficult to talk about though, because of course, it’s a fraught topic for many people. My family included. It was my cousin Marc’s birthday just the other day, and as his mum, my Aunt, reminded us on facebook, he made it to 27 before he ended his life. The various health struggles of people in my family make it easy for me to feel guilty at the thought of adding to the stress by talking about how I’m going. 

And it’s the same with friends too. Everyone has stuff going on, some related to this issue specifically, and I don’t want to add to their sadness and angst. So, another reason not to talk. 

But something else I’ve found I have in common with other people who can be troubled in this way is that it’s so bloody normal to us, it feels overly-dramatic to talk about it. We’ve experienced the worry people can respond with, and we don’t want to make that worse for them, and feel that if we mentioned just how often this can pop up, they’d freak out completely. For some people, intrusive thoughts of suicide area part of their every day. It’s bloody exhausting, but doesn’t claim the shock of the unusual. 

Or for some us, it’s not the frequency but the way it pops into our heads, so matter-of-fact. “You could go to dinner with your friends, or you could kill yourself” our minds say, and we worry that no one will quite understand what we mean when we say we have suicidal thoughts, that they’re just not always particularly dramatic. Not all of us are Javert standing on the bridge singing melodramatically about stars. For some of us, some of the time, it’s just much more mundane than that. 

For example, I’m at a bit of a cross-roads type moment in my life. I know from past experience that these scenarios are triggering for me in various ways, including an upswing in the number of times my brain suggests to me that maybe I should just kill myself. I might look around my apartment at all my junk and think about how to pack it all up, and my brain says, very matter-of-factly, “instead of the hassle of continuing this charade of an existence which brings yourself and others pleasure, why not pack all this shit up, give the useful bits to the people who’ll need them, take the cat to your friends place, pre-book the Salvos to come pick up the furniture no one will want and the rest of your shit, and then take a long walk into Blackwattle Bay without scuba gear”. 

You’ve got to admit, it wouldn’t leave many loose ends, material-wise anyway, and would probably be the tidiest my apartment has ever been. 

But this is the problem you see, this is reasonably normal to me, especially at times like this. I know all the arguments to have with myself about why not to do that, and if I have a big cry about how lonely, pointless and depressing I feel, that usually helps too and I can move on from it. Until the next time the thought comes unbidden to my head. 

But I know that for some people, some of my friends, my family, thoughts of suicide are so rare for them (or have never happened apparently!) that they’ll feel like this means action stations. But it honestly doesn’t. 

It means I’m more tired than usual (I’m constantly battling myself after all, so tasks take me longer, or I run out of energy for them altogether), more glum than usual (my brain keeps telling me all the reasons I have to view my existence as fruitless/useless/harmful/going to get worse), and will probably make more excuses than usual for not coming to occasions at which people will want to make small talk (because it’s not polite when someone says, “so how’re you, what’s going on?”to say, “I’m terrible, thanks, and you?”) but I’m not at point where I need to be watched or sedated. 

That’s why it can be hard to talk about. I don’t know what normal looks like for you, but I know what it looks like for me. Sometimes it looks like this, and to me, that’s pretty mundane, serious as the idea is. So I’m sorry if I’m not great at explaining that to you, sorry for all the loved ones who wish their depressed loved one would just talk about it. It’s hard. It’s hard to know how to, it’s hard to know when to (you try slipping it into your average conversation!) and mostly we don’t want to make you sad. A hug will help (for some, ask permission first, for some of us, physical touch without warning is invasive and stressful), a lot of things might help. But if it’s a regular part of someone’s day, one hug isn’t gonna make it go away, and we need you to be ready for that if you’re going to offer help at all. 

Dealing with this could get pretty mundane. 

If you too commonly experience intrusive thoughts of suicide, please consider talking to your GP and getting hooked up with a psychologist. The government will only help you pay for a tiny part of the help you’re going to need, but there are other resources for help available. And please also know that many many people throughout history have struggled with this, and have still given and received love. They’ve still written symphonies, theses, recipes and birthday cards, made great contributions to humanity whether seen or unseen, and have had the opportunity to learn about life in a way not everyone gets to. It’s not a fun ride, but it’s our ride, and we *can* cope with it. 

(Apparently the blog looks better with pictures and this is my favourite picture of mundanity that I’ve taken and therefore doesn’t break copyright.)

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How to deal with all the persecution. 

One of the super-fun things about being a Christian who’s not going to vote “no” in the Australia-wide postal plebiscite regarding same-sex marriage is being a pariah among other Christians. Apparently my political theology means I’m not a “bible believer” or am “weak” because I’m “keeping in step with the world and not the Lord”. 

I find it especially ironic because the main reason most people I know have used to argue for why I should vote “no” is because apparently our religious rights are at stake, which puts all Christians at risk of being regarded pariahs. As someone who’s experienced marginalisation and a taste of ‘persecution’ within Christianity, I’m familiar with our own abilities to disturb, disrupt and distress, and I know how painful it can be to experience. So I understand why people are scared. 

I understand why they’re worried about how they’re going to get and keep a job when everyone knows what they believe, because as a woman who believes it’s biblically acceptable for women to preach to mixed congregations, I’ve faced that difficulty myself already. 

I understand why they’re worried about whether or not family members will keep talking to and accepting them, because when you have family who react in an exclusionary rather than an inclusionary way, it’s a real risk. I’ve experienced that as a Christian from other Christians too. 

But you know who else has had thorough experience of persecution? The LGBTQI community. They’ve already experienced everything Christians are currently afraid of happening to them. 

When closeted, they’ve been in endless conversations where people have spoken of them and their community with ignorance, misunderstanding, mocking and hate. 

When ‘out’, they’ve been jailed, chemically castrated, murdered, isolated and mobbed. 

They’ve been wrongly accused of everything from paedophilia to being the reason for natural disasters. 

When they’ve struggled with sickness, they’ve been ignored and mocked, told they’re just receiving the natural consequences of their actions. 

Imagine that happening to you. 

To every Christian who’s afraid, to every Christian who sees a future where we’ll be meeting in graveyards again, back underground, walking the fine line between being our real selves and keeping our families safe, realise that this is what every LGBTQI person experiences and has experienced. They’ve been underground, on the sidelines, criminalised and devalued. They’ve been where you fear to be and where we’ve been before. Please understand that “both sides” of this debate actually want the same thing. Freedom, recognition, the right to be themselves. 

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What’s the time?

“There is a time for everything, 

and a season for every activity under the heavens: 

a time to be born and a time to die, 

a time to plant and a time to uproot, a

 time to kill and a time to heal, 

a time to tear down and a time to build, 

a time to weep and a time to laugh, 

a time to mourn and a time to dance, 

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 

a time to search and a time to give up, 

a time to keep and a time to throw away, 

a time to tear and a time to mend, 

a time to be silent and a time to speak, 

a time to love and a time to hate, 

a time for war and a time for peace.”

‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Posting about singleness is always interesting. If I’m having a moment of sadness about it, people always want to tell me the good things about singleness that I’ve just “forgotten”. If I’m happy about it, they want to remind me that it’s tough for some people, so I shouldn’t “forget” that either. Sometimes, if I’m having a tough time, they tell me that marriage can be hard too, so I should be happy. Maybe if I was married and posted about it being hard, some people would say, “well my marriage is good, so yours can be too, perk up.”

It’s infuriating actually, not just interesting. Instead of just listening to what I’m saying, in that moment, it’s dismissed, devalued or undermined by those responses. Sometimes I’m happy about being single, sometimes I’m sad, both are true. Whether from a desire to see me happy, or from a defensive discomfort, other people trying to move me on is frustrating and painful. And it’s not very wise. 

One of the big messages of Ecclesiastes is that the wise person responds well to what time it is. If it’s time to mourn, you mourn, if it’s time to sow, you sow. Like the other Wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes embraces the rhythmic, cyclical, dependent aspects of human existence and encourages the wise person to do likewise. Like the old chorus says, “I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you…” 

Now imagine I’m one of the many Australian victims of Domestic and Family Violence who’ve had contact with the church, either in a minimal way or as a frequent, embedded member. Imagine I cope with the impact of DFV in my life every day, the expensive therapy bills, the ongoing physical impact, the difficulty trusting people, perhaps the inability to keep a stable job, or just being one of those weird people who don’t have Christmas with my family? 

Then imagine there’s been a report, by one of our best news agencies, that indicates that the church hasn’t always been great at helping DFV survivors. Which doesn’t surprise the victims, and doesn’t really surprise the general public because not only have there been years worth of investigations into how churches have covered up the horrific crime of child sexual abuse, but unless the general public has it’s head in the sand, it’s undeniable that our whole society has a problem with DFV. Even our garbage trucks have advertising campaigns on them about it. It’s a problem. So it’s a problem in the church too. And some people exploit some Bible verses to justify it. Big surprise. 

And I feel it, I’m part of it. I’ve been abused and the church, a big part of my life, has done nothing about it. Maybe continues to do nothing about it. 

How do you think I feel about people attacking the journalism and saying the issues are overblown? How do you think I feel about people saying “it’s not all bad news! We do good things too!” I probably feel like a single person saying their finding it tough at the moment and being told to perk up. Except a lot worse. The insult of dismissal is added to the injury of silence, inaction, and sometimes, perpetuation of abuse. 

Maybe the critiques have some truth to them. Some people have objected to the use of American research – considering the fact that half the point of the investigation was that we don’t have enough stats and research about this in Australia seems to me to make a nonsense of this objection. But maybe that’s an issue worth debating. And maybe Christians are singled out in a particular way (which considering that Jesus said that’s exactly what would happen, why be surprised or outraged at that?), and maybe there are lots of good stories that should also be told. 

But what time is it? 

Did someone mention sackcloth and ashes? Well, I wish they did… Some people have been abused, and then ignored. Some people have been abused and then helped. Do we actually think one cancels out the other? Well, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t. 

This is a time to mourn. A time to weep with those weeping. A time to apologise and repent. And a time to let the survivors tell us what’s needed, not to tell them. 

If I was thinking about coming forward about my domestic issues (great, the onus is on me to come forward instead of expecting pro0active intervention (it’s one, I know that’s so far off it’s practically a pipe dream)), what can I now expect will happen? 

“We don’t condone it. But there’s not really as much of a problem as people say and there’s this one person I know of where things went quite well.” 

Can’t you just hear me? Listen? For a moment? In this moment? This is a time to mourn, isn’t it? 

Am I saying we should never defend ourselves? No. There’s a time for that. I just don’t think it’s now. 

But what about the urgency of the news cycle? The bad impression! 

Is that the real priority at the moment? Or is this moment about saying, “I’m sorry.” Is this moment about saying, “what have we done?” Or, probably more relevant at the moment, “what have we not done?” As Julia Baird herself has said, no theologian is ever going to say the Bible condones DFV, and we’ve said that. We’ve done that. But we still have a problem. So maybe there are things we’re not doing? 

I’ve tried over the last week to be empathetic to my brothers and sisters who are feeling like this is an ABC-axe-grinding moment, or some other kind of attack. But it’s hard to keep holding my tongue. The issues are so much bigger and so much  more important to me than one journalist or one news article. I don’t actually give a toss about that at all. 

I want the many people who are hurting to hear that we’re sorry. I want the many people who are hurting to see their leaders talking about that on Facebook and on their blogs, not rushing to critique the report first, or saying “there’s also good news” first. The first response should be to mourn. And that involves more than just saying, “mm, that’s sad, and we don’t condone that.” Maybe we could hold a service of repentance and contrition? At a cathedral say? At least a moment of acknowledgement? Allow survivors to speak? 

Ultimately I want to see change. I want survivors listened to, systems improved, relationships improved. I want this to turn into a good news story, not because we critique what’s written til it’s changed, but because all there is to write is that our churches are leading the way in positive institutional responses to DFV. 

Joanna Hayes

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Why is domestic violence under-reported in churches? For Rectors thinking about domestic violence (and others who want to eavesdrop)…

Having seen a report on the Sydney Anglican Diocese’ investigations into reporting of domestic violence to Rectors, I’ve been thinking about the problems that contribute to under-reporting and probably therefore under-dealing-with (so to speak) domestic violence, with helping the victims and the perpetrators. If we want to deal with the problem, we’ve got to find it, so the under-reporting is concerning. Obviously the reasons for under-reporting are complex, buuuuuut, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to blame Rectors. What can I say, I’m petty and you’re so handy to blame! For starters, you’re all men, which makes it impossible not to convey a boys club image*, let alone the hurdles there might be for victims abused by males in power to talk to a male in power. Also, a lot of you are highly educated, well-paid white people, who seem to have it all together, with your smiling families lined up next to the paddocks of endless Taragos at Evangelical gatherings. I could go on, BUT, a lot of you know that already, and I know enough of you (and of the hardships of ministry) to understand that actually mostly you care about people, and particularly, understand that being in parish means pastoral responsibility.  You want to be part of the solution, to a problem that may feel a little new to you, so, I’m going to share some thoughts about three of the other causes of under-reporting, and maybe they’ll provide some useful food for thought, for Rectors and others. 

1. A lot of victims of domestic violence love their abusers. For a child to betray their parent by saying “dad hits mum” or “mum screams at us all the time” takes not only immense courage, but a break with all the social conditioning they’ve received in their life so far. What is a family? It’s the group of people you’re born into, you share blood, they’re your whole world as a kid. And mum and dad? Well, they’re basically God. Everything you need comes from them, or is supposed to, and you learn even how to smile from their repeated smiling at you as a child. This often means, if a child has felt that enough is enough, they may want only to hint at the problem, so they don’t have to ‘dob’ their parent in, but that you might figure out what’s going on. In which case, you may think, “well yes, all mums shout from time to time!” Rather than understanding the child has totally underplayed the real situation. 

This can be the same for partners. They chose this person as a spouse after all, they love them. Telling someone else that their parner’s behaviou is no longer acceptable also feels like a costly betrayal. Maybe it will get better? Maybe they deserved the treatment they received? These and other lies will circle round and round, ad maybe they’re simply afraid people will think it was their choice that got them into this mess, so no one should have to help them out of it. And they fear the consequences for their loved one. I love him, life’s been rough for him, he’s really stressed at the moment, I don’t want this to ruin his life forever just because I tell someone or get the police involved. I love her, she just doesn’t understand the impact of her behaviour. I’ll try to protect the kids from it, but I don’t want to make it worse by telling someone. 

Both partners and children can feel like they and their abusers are in an unbreakable contract, that the situation must remain secret because the consequences are so distressing. Would you like to accuse you’re nearest and dearest of horrible acts to the spiritual leader of your faith community? 

2. The consequences are unpredictable. The worry of the unknown answer to “what would happen or change if I told someone” is a reasonable worry because we don’t know! Will children be removed from parents? Will someone provide housing for family members who need to leave? Will everyone end up knowing all about the situation? What’s actually going to change in the long run? 

People who are exposed to abuse for a long period of time, thus accumulating trauma, develop various coping mechanisms for dealing with the complexity of life-in-trauma. For some, this means strategising, planning, thinking through every possible outcome before choosing to act or speak. After all, they’ve been living in a volatile situation. Who knows what might happen? That uncertainty is terrifying. At least the abuse is predictable. 

Finally, 3. They just don’t know they’re being abused. For people who’ve had a history of abuse in their family, who, for example, were raised in an abusive environment as a child themselves, and have perhaps carried those patterns into adult life, now replaying their previous roles, this is all they’ve known. They might be used to emotional persecution, harsh words, raised hands, and think it’s normal. For them, it is normal. But it’s not ok. It might be that coming into Christian community leads to a slow awakening that maybe not everything in their family is ‘typical’, it might simply be that their Christian community who has witnessed the generational abuse either knowingly or unknowingly without doing anything about it, has started speaking about what sort of relationships parents and partners and children should have, and the picture they paint is quite different to what they’ve always experienced at home. But for many, especially in families and communities where all or certain aspects of domestic violence have been common, normal and unchallenged, they’re not going to report violent behaviour because they think no one expects or has the right to expect anything else. 

Who did you think about when I described that category? Possibly “members of our Indigenous communities” or “people in low socio-economic demographics”. Domestic violence, even multi-generational domestic violence, is as indiscriminate as depression. No matter what ethnic background, economic status, level of education, domestic violence could be part of a family’s story. Children are hit in wealthy homes and poor ones. Women of all backgrounds are sexually abused. Great-Grandad always beat the boys black and blue, so did Grandpa and now so does Bill. It’s the discipline he was taught. It’s normal. 

It’s always hard in a short space not to seem glib… I mostly hope that from these few thoughts people understand that it’s really hard to say “my husband is violent with me” or, “my mum is verbally abusive” so when we talk about how to get noticing the problem more so we can get helping, that there’s difficulties inherent to the problem of domestic violence itself that makes it hard to report on. 

Perhaps things that make our response more predictable may help. I know of one church whose leaders have been known to tackle the problem in the past, help find housing for those who needed it, counsel for both victims and abuser, support throughout the process of recovery. I think if I was at that church, I’d feel reasonably confident I could be a bit more secure in predicting the response. 

Perhaps talking more about what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable will help people know that their normal isn’t necessarily right. Even just an encouragement from the pulpit during a sermon on the qualifications for Elders that gentleness and kindness are important, especially when our children are driving us up the wall. That we all struggle to keep our cool sometimes, but that if it’s a problem a lot of the time, that’s ok, better to seek help for it now than to fly off the handle and do or say something you’ll regret. Remind everyone that Christians aren’t perfect and don’t claim to be, so it’s no shame to ask for help to learn a more godly way of behaving. Then recommend a good, local anger management course. Couldn’t hurt, could it? 

The first one however, in my mind and experience is even harder. The conspiracy of silence. Often, it’s even just an attempt to show grace to someone who has wronged you. Which is a good and godly impulse isn’t it. But doesn’t bring about justice. 

When it comes to reporting of domestic violence, we have to remember that victims are vulnerable for any number of reasons, and that this is going to be a long haul problem. We need to know how to respond well as well as how to identify the problems. I look forward to further recommendations from the taskforce in the Sydney Diocese, and I pray for all those trying to tackle these issues. And I think of a friend who doesn’t talk to her parents any more, for many excellent reasons, including the probability of further abuse, and of the many people who’ve tried to counsel her over the years to ‘mend things’ because ‘that’s what Jesus would do’. It certainly makes me feel reluctant to go what she goes through. 
Joanna Hayes

*which is naturally obnoxious to a person like me, ie, a woman. Please tell me you’ve thought about that! Even when you’re down with male headship, it can be really annoying to feel like a secret cabal is running your entire spiritual life… 

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What happens when you don’t let women preach. 

I’ve been pondering for a while how best to address my “allies” on the topic of women preaching, when the issue is inevitably personal, for me at least! And can therefore be ‘sensitive’. 

By “allies” I mean those other Evangelicals who believe that the male leadership of a church can sanction a woman to preach to a mixed congregation under their authority. I name this group in particular because I too am in Evangelical circles who believe in male leadership of the local church, and many of those in our circles view the public ministry of women as a threat to that authority. I don’t, but this isn’t actually the topic of this post (and if it’s not the position you hold, that’s fine, but I’m not going to discuss that here, and maybe this whole post will therefore either be irrevlant or annoying to you, so, feel free to stop reading now).

What I want to do is talk to those men in power who believe this also (that it’s ok for women to preach to mixed congregations under the authority of the local male leadership), but are doing very little about it. I want to raise my specific concerns about this inactivity, of course with the hope that some will change their actions, but frankly not with much optimism about that. 

In order to do this, and to “de-personalise” the conversation as much as possible, I’m going to talk about a meeting I was in almost 10 years ago, where my concerns and objections were on the public record (so to speak) and therefore have not been a matter of discord in a current personal relationship for some time (I think I’m still friends with the former Rector of Barneys, and I’m pretty sure that after this I still will be!). 

St Barnabas’ Anglican Church, Broadway, had  sanctioned the preaching of women to mixed congregations, but on the particular occasion I’m recalling, there was a congregational meeting of the evening service held because some concerns were raised on the topic. For you see, even though as a church we “endorsed” women preaching, it happened so infrequently that at a church with a high turnover at least in its student population, people could be a ‘member’ of Barneys for some time before such an atrocity took place in the pulpit, thus leading, almost every time, to people walking out during the sermon, or at least some concern afterwards and intense conversations with staff. I was sick of this response, and so attended the meeting to hear what the staff had to say and to speak to the issue. 

Barneys had several habits at that time, which I think created some really negative impressions in a place that was supposed to support women preaching. Barneys was by no means alone in these habits among those who think it’s ok for women to preach, I’ve seen them over and over again. Each of these habits were raised and discussed, little resolution or change was found however. The story is different at Barneys now, and I’d love the same elsewhere. 

Habit 1 – infrequency. As I’ve said, women took the pulpit so infrequently, it raised controversy every time. Most men in ministry I’ve spoken to who think it’s ok for women to preach to mixed congregations say they don’t push it cos they don’t want to cause controversy. Well, more on that in a moment, but, certainly, infrequency doesn’t help with this problem. It just makes it a constant controversy every time. 

Habit 2 – “avoiding” controversy. “Our focus is the gospel!” We say, “this is a secondary issue! And I don’t want to cause unnecessary controversy and distract from the gospel.” I broadly agree with this, which is why I remain in fellowship with those who baptise children for example, despite my having strong theological objections to it, but it doesn’t mean I never discuss the issue altogether. More important though, this habit makes me think, “what other topics are you avoiding? Do you not want to talk about money or sexuality because they’re controversial? Hmmm, nope, most of you seem quite happy to address those topics. Liturgy, baptism, politics, all these and more make it habitually into the actions and topics addressed at church. All are controversial. Are you so worried about the discomfort of some that you’re happy to lay aside a entire sphere of women’s ministry?” Furthermore, I often see this habit resting entirely on assumption rather than discussion, an assumption that those who would be disgruntled are a) a significant proportion and b) would leave because of it. Rarely though, in my experience, has anyone actually spoken to these supposed injured parties. At Barneys, these injured parties often made themselves identifiable, so, it was raised, what should our leaderships response to their distress be? What would our response be if they were offended by the style of music, content of prayers, type of preaching? “Simply” avoiding controversy isn’t a good reason to me to avoid acting on principle. 

Habit 3 – only preaching to the “special” congregations. You don’t want women in your main pulpit (cos you mostly want it?) but you think it’s ok for woman to preach, so they can! To the international student congregation, or the young adult group, or the “special friends” congregation. This is so problematic to me. What are you saying, “so long as they’re not white people, or are disabled, it’s fine”?! I’m glad that such congregations often get a greater variety and richness in their preaching program, but it does stick in my gullet a bit. Doesn’t it in yours?

Habit 4 – they have to be excellent, over qualified and perfect every time. You’ve let student ministers take the main pulpit, and deliver sermons of questionable quality and orthodoxy, but it’s ok, cos they’re learning. I agree! But why let them take the pulpit, but not a trained, qualified female? Furthermore, why hold her to a higher standard? Every time I preach as a woman, I feel like my entire sex and our future qualification to preach is on trial. No pressure anyone!

Habit 5 – if he’s a guy, he can preach. You’re in a congregation of people who you think will only allow men to preach to them because the local authority of the church should be men, and therefore they should exercise that authority by being the ones in the pulpit. So, why do you have male guest speakers? Doesn’t this reinforce the idea that it’s maleness rather than local authority that divinely sanctions a man to preach? We had more male guest speakers in our pulpit than our own female staff. What’s their qualification? Their gender? Or that they’re sanctioned by the leadership? And if they’re sanctioned by the leadership, why is it not ok to sanction the women? Your congreagation will happily sit under the teaching of a male who’s a stranger to them because you’ve said it’s ok, would it not be a double standard if you said, “I’ve given this woman permission to preach today”, whether a guest or congregant, and the same people objected? 

These habits altogether, and our avoidance of putting our principles into practise are what keep reinforcing the idea that all true Evangelicals think women should NEVER preach to mixed congregation, a perception held by thousands, unaware that there is reasonable Biblical and theological justification for allowing women to do so. And they rarely see it happen, so why should they ever question that belief? 

I’m a woman. I can preach (ability, and I think also gift), I believe I can preach to mixed congregations (and lots of you do to), and yet I find myself very very rarely preaching, even to single sex congregations. Even a lot of the preaching done at youth specific camps is done by men, when supposedly almost all Evangelicals believe it’s ok for women to teach children! 
What I’d love is to see men in power who also think it’s ok for women to preach to actually make it happen! 

Otherwise, because of the terrible impressions given by the above habits, I’d be happier to not be allowed to at all. To be forced to neglect the gift I’ve been given, than to continue to give the impression that it’s something so borderline wrong it should only be done rarely, behind closed doors, or to “special” groups of people. 

To use a somewhat crude but typically Australian expression, I’d prefer for you either to poo or to get off the pot. 

These concerns and more were raised at that Barneys meeting. The conversation remained civil, and Barneys continued to be a place which supported women preaching (though infrequent at that time). Nowadays at Barneys, when they advertise for female staff, they have to be able to preach, and share the pulpit as frequently as the other assistant ministers. Some people might not come to Barneys because of it, but at least we don’t give the impression we think it’s dirty. Furthermore, I think it aids us in spreading the gospel in a culture which has perhaps recognised God’s perception of the equality of men and women more than His church has. 

You will of course all do what you think is right. And because I share the desire to build up the kingdom, I’m happy to sit under leaders who think it’s not ok for me to preach and will never invite me to. I can’t help however my frustration with those who think it’s ok but never make it happen. I’ll happily sit under your leadership too, I do. But I’m the one who bears the personal brunt of your actions. I’m the one they’re talking about when they say “some selfish women want the authority for themselves” and compare women preaching to gay marriage as “things that are totally wrong”. I’m the one who has to comfort myself with the knowledge that other people do agree with me, they just don’t want anyone else to know that. I’m the one who has to watch student ministers, guest preachers, laymen and everyone but a woman like me take the pulpit. I’m the one, who, when I’m finally asked, finds myself preaching to the  “other” congregation, plugging a desperate hole, or preaching to the holiday congregation of four people and one baby. That’s why it’s hard for me to cope with these habits among my “allies” and why I therefore continue to make myself odious to many by mentioning the subject at all. 
Joanna Hayes

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So let’s talk about the motherhood thing… 

My Facebook friends saw me having a bit of a rant about motherhood this week because of some remarks made by a Christian sister on a television show. Her remark was along the lines of “being a mother is the Biblical vision for women” and I wanted to call that out as an erroneous and yet widely held belief. 

Not that being a mother is a bad thing, children are a wonderful blessing, I am one, that’s how I know. But is giving birth and being a mother God’s purpose for my life? 

No one has time for me to give a history of God’s peoples varying stances on the nature and purpose of women over time, but that’s ok, cos this isn’t just a historical issue, it’s an exegetical and theological one. What does the Bible say about the nature and purpose of women? Well it’s actually a pretty quick summary and I hope will demonstrate that the Biblical vision of womanhood is not restricted to motherhood. 

In the beginning… What do we learn from Genesis about the feminine?

1. Equal in status to men as image bearers of God (Gen 1:27). 

2. Women are jointly given with men the mandate to “multiply” (yes, that’s right, God knows how babies are made!), fill the earth and rule over it (Gen 1:28). So, parenthood is given as a joint responsibility. Also, for how long and for what purpose? Well, it’s easy to argue that as the command is “to fill the earth and subdue it” this mandate finishes when we’ve filled the earth, right? And population/environmental/resource scientists of many kinds say we’ve kicked that goal. So, are we done with that one now? Certainly something to ponder…! 

3. Because of the Fall, motherhood is gonna be painful. Now, of course, that provides temptation to avoid it, doesn’t it, cos we don’t really like to be in pain. But at this point, it’s just information about what motherhood involves. Pain. And yet also, salvation. Not for the specific mother herself (thank God! I’ve been saved from childlessness), but for humanity itself, when the offspring of a woman crushes the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). So that’s good news, motherhood will eventually save humanity! Yay! But does that make it the entirety of the Biblical vision of womanhood? 

Well, here’s where we move on from Genesis to see women as nation leader/prophetess (Exodus 15), spy assistants (Joshua 2), nationleader/prophetess (Judges 4), saviour of Israel (Judges 4), model of righteousness (Ruth), queen (Esther) etc etc etc. Yes, many many women basically get the role of “mother of blah blah” but they’re still involved in multiples ways in the carrying out of God’s plans, particularly to save and preserve Israel. The roles of woman are diverse. God uses them for more than giving birth. 

Furthermore, I think it’s important to note though that some of the famous mothers, those whose main role was motherhood, Ruth, Elizabeth and Mary for eg, are noted as much for their character and faithfulness as much as, “and they also gave birth”. And this is noted for the women who basically get any other lines than “mother of”. As ever, God’s plan for His people is their faithfulness and holiness, not the size of their family (Psalm 51, Isaiah 57, Micah 6:8). 

So we can see from the Old Testament that the scope of women’s roles in salvation is more than just giving birth, and that God’s purpose for both men and women, for His people, is their holiness and righteousness. 

What does the New Testament have to contribute to the issue? Well, one of the significant things is that God’s people are given a new mandate, by our King, Jesus. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). 

Granted, one way of making disciples is baby-making them. But I think it’s quite reasonable to see that the instruction involves a little more than that! If you’re church growth/kingdom growth strategy is simply “having lots of babies”, you’re not actually following through with the whole deal. For eg, you’re leaving out the “all nations” bit. 

And again, the New Testament continues the Old Testament theme of God’s purpose for His people to be holy and righteous, over and above anything else. Even Jesus sumamrises the Old Testament law as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). 

So what’s God’s purpose for women? To be part of His salvation plan for the whole universe and to bring honour and glory to Jesus as their King. 

What is the nature of women? Leaders, wives, mothers, manageresses (see Proverbs 31, that woman is busy! Running her household and other businesses (sorry to super conservative Evangelicals who don’t believe women should balance the chequebooks in the family, it’s practically a Biblical command), as wide in scope as that of men. 

The Bible doesn’t open and finish with “women should give birth, that’s what they’re here for”, and our idolatry of motherhood is incorrect and therefore evil. A woman is not ripping God off if she fails to give birth. She’s not disappointing or frustrating His purpose for her life. She’s not cursed. 

You probably know some childless women. Some who are child-free. You may be one yourself, married to one, related to one, dating one. What does God primarily have to say about their situation? The same thing He has to say to any person, no matter their marital, economic or social circumstances, “what I mean brothers and sisters is that the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as though they do not; those who mourn as if they did not; those who are happy as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Having children is not the sole purpose of human life; male or female, so don’t make your decisions based on the idea that it is. Your purpose is to build up the kingdom of God, in numbers and strength, and we have a lot of freedom in how we go about that. 

Get that in our heads, understand that that is our first priority, and we’ll understand that the primary purpose and call of women is not to be baby factories. “Seek His kingdom and these things will be given to you as well”. It’s surprising how many blog posts I have to end with that quote (Luke 12:31).  
Joanna Hayes

And look, here’s me with a child as proof that I don’t hate them! (Slightly old photo though, but both the child and I are still alive and have had more, undocumented snuggles, since this incident.


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