When it comes down to it, I am looking at this post the night before and the thoughts I have rough drafted. I didn't have hours to spend over it on Saturday like I expected (getting lost in a book and grading homework took care of that pretty quickly.) But when it comes down to it, perhaps I am slow to share this because I am afraid.
I'm afraid of being misunderstood. I'm afraid of being thought liberal--that my thoughts will not come across clearly, or translate to the hearts of my readers.
When it comes down to it, this book hits me in a topic that I am very currently struggling with and learning in. Actually, this book is about fear of man. So I'm going to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for clarity. And then I'm going to dive in, share my thoughts, and leave reader reactions in his hands.
There are two books every adult girl should read. One is A Girl of the Limberlost, and the other is The Blue Castle. Both, in my mind, give a portrait of adult womanhood that simply aren't addressed in nonfiction (or at least, I haven't found it.) Both give a picture of young women who are learning the balance of being gracious, wise, independent individuals in the midst of strong minded people. By independent, I mean neither individualistic nor stubborn. I simply mean an individual soul with an individual relationship before God.
If you struggle to the point of obsession as a young adult over how to honor the convictions of those around you while still being able to hold your own, then join us today for a rousing conversation around L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle.
Today's discussion is a lengthy one, so if you want the mini review--I binge read this on a Saturday and absolutely adored it. Barney Snaith is a dear, the nature is vivid, and Valancy is a very real heroine.
Valancy lives at home with her mother and cousin Stickles, firmly convinced she will forever be an old maid. She's twenty-eight years old, and her extended family has given up on her as a disgrace--plain, unwanted by a prospective husband, and an unfortunate specimen of the female kind. Now, she serves as a meek little nobody in their midst--the brunt of all the jokes, the person who will always give in, and obedient to a fault, regardless of her twenty-eight years. Valancy has never learned how to be her own person.
Finding that the pains around her heart are growing worse instead of better, Valancy throws off family tradition and goes to see a doctor alone. There she finds that she has one year to live. In desperation to have something happy to look back on in her own colourless existence, Valancy throws off the control of her family and lives exactly how she likes--whether it's helping a girl who's an outcast of the church, or hanging out with the town reprobate, Barney Snaith. She's determined to live her last year well, and live it on her own terms.
There are people in the world, of which I am one, who obsess to the point of a fault about how much I agree with others. While I don't talk about it much, I often find myself between the rock and hard place of God's working in other people's lives, and God's working in my life. When I have conversations, I am constantly torn. What if my friend is against what I am for? Worse, what if I'm going against something their parents have cautioned them in? For instance, if my friend doesn't read fantasy, does it mean I never mention Tolkien around them? If a friend doesn't believe in war, does that mean I avoid all stories, songs, and verses in Scripture that refer to warfare? If a friend doesn't think orange socks are modest, should I think about their opinion every time I put my socks on?
no, I don't wear orange socks
The last is a bit ridiculous, but not entirely. Obsession over other people's opinions will eventually lead to angst over the smallest differences of opinion. It becomes unhealthy. We can't leave the house, or even leave our bedrooms, until we are sure that we will not possibly give anyone a reason to disapprove of our behavior. This is fear of man, and fear of man can be towards anyone: friends, parents, friends' parents, ministry leaders, etc.
Valancy starts off The Blue Castle reading only the books her mother approves of, meekly participating in her uncle's jokes at her expense, and wearing her hair the way her great-aunt orders her to. That's pretty sad for a twenty-eight-year-old young woman. This fear of man is unhealthy. It is not true, biblical humilty or submission. By this age, Valancy should be able and allowed to read books of her choice with a discerning mindset, hold a healthy enough opinion of herself to refuse to participate in behavior that belittles her, and decide her own preferred method of doing her hair.
While we need to be respectful of other people's opinions and convictions as Christians, as well as not lead them to stumble, I would argue that that does not mean we should pretend to be the same as them in all the same areas. After all, if they are free to share their opinions with us, we should be free to share our opinions with them. We are a different person, and God is working in us in a different way. We do not have to pretend to be them. That's dishonesty to pretend we believe exactly the same as they do. We need to speak up and be who we actually are before God. Iron cannot sharpen iron unless there is something different to sharpen each other over.
For those of you who struggle with this issue, not everyone with a strong opinion is your authority figure. You do not have to place yourself under the authority of every adult you come in contact with. Stop trying to. Be gracious, but confident in the Holy Spirit's work in your life. The Holy Spirit is in you, and you can trust his guidance.
Even the biblical authority of parents, church leaders, and employees is to be tested and obeyed under the supreme authority of God. And there is freedom within biblical submission for individual personalities and preferences. Keep in mind that I write these words to adults here. There are times when a young persons' preferences need to bow to the guidance of an authority figure. But if you are an adult, if you have a track record of wisdom, if you are walking with the Lord, then you should be able to apply a robust, biblical belief system to making basic life decisions on your own.
If a book you want to read is appropriately Christian, or you are reading it for good reason with Christian discernment, you have the freedom to read it. The same with music. The same with activities, friends, and how you style your hair. You should be in charge of your own exercise, managing your schedule, and taking care of your diet.
In a healthy young adult, the balance shifts from asking permission like a child, to seeking input from wise older people, and making decisions in light of good counsel and prayer. Sometimes it means asking for accountability--someone to confront you when you get off track. But it no longer means being 28 years old like Valancy and styling your hair the same way because someone told you to.
I know these can be confusing words, but some young women struggle so badly with fear of man that they never learn to stand before God on their own. They are stuck in a world of semi-childhood, and that is not where Christians are called to be. For instance, when David was about to kill her household, Abigail needed to be an adult and make a decision about what to say and do. That skill wouldn't have come to her in the panic of the moment. It came probably through years of making wise choices and taking responsibility for them.
At the beginning of The Blue Castle, Valancy lies in bed and bitterly recounts the ways she is taken advantage of. But she never cares quite enough to assert herself and behave as the adult she is. Then, when she gets her heart diagnosis, Valancy doesn't care anymore. She reads her book on Sunday if she wants. She refuses to be the butt of her family's jokes. She expresses her own opinions, holds her own beliefs, and associates with people of her choice. After having been too meek for too long, Valancy almost swings too far the other direction in following no one's law but her own.
The End Result of Unbalanced Humility
Trying to force yourself into the mold of someone else's extra-biblical convictions, fears, sensitivities, and mindset will lead to three results: (1. mindless crowd following (2. bitterness in your soul (3. open rebellion. You simply cannot withstand the pressure. It will not work. You need to stop trying. You will end up hating the people whose opinions you are trying to force yourself into. It is better to honestly express where you are, even in conversations with parents, rather than trying to force the end result of of holding the same beliefs when your heart isn't really there.
Most adult young women who are unbiblically meek end up carrying a great deal of bitterness with them throughout their days. They know God doesn't want them to have a root of bitterness in their hearts, so they feel guilty, and pray, often asking God to force their mind to become the same as their parents, or their friends' parents, or their pastors. They think the antidote to their bitterness is somehow forcing their mind to submissively adhere to everyone else's opinions.
Actually, the antidote to their bitterness is blooming into a normal person with healthy opinions and trusting God to refine their perspective in his timing. There comes a point in teenagers and early adulthood where Christian young people need to make their faith and life their own. Sometimes that means making mistakes--not fearing things you should. Holding a looser conviction than you should. Having a different sensitivity than you should. But the beauty of God sanctifying believers is that through time, and faithfulness to him, he will conform you to his will. Sometimes that will mean coming to hold the same opinion as those around you. Sometimes it will mean holding a different one.
If you start off in a different place than you should, and you are continually seeking him, he will lead you to the place where you should be. It is far, far better to submit yourself to the journey of growing in the fear of God than it is to bitterly or fearfully say, do, and believe things because you are "supposed to".
By this I am not saying that we don't hold a belief if God's Word clearly says we do. In that, we need to bow the knee and submit ourselves whether we like it or not. But I am saying that in the matter of orange socks and hairstyles and diet, anything that we have Christian liberty in, it's time to step up and be OK with differences.
Practically, this means I am graciously speaking up if I believe differently. It means when I don't believe something yet, I explain where I am in the fear of God, and humbly add that I want him to teach me what's right. It means saying "No" when worries want put tendrils of insecurity around everything I say. It might occasionally mean graciously saying something that my friends disagree with. Humility, as my pastor said on Sunday, is neither exalting myself too much, nor abasing myself too much. It is being confident in my identity in Christ.
God might have you on a different journey, learning something else right now--more submission, more deference. But Valancy hit me where I am with learning boldness, and gave me a good catalyst for this blog article. I feel like words are so insufficient for this huge, huge topic. But I think it's one that needs to be talked about more--and perhaps I'll be able to write on it again sometime in a way that feels more satisfactory.
Whew. I'm going to send this into the wide web and go grade more homework. But tell me: where are you at? What do you think of this issue of adulthood? What's a gracious way to balance wise counsel and individual opinion? Let's discuss together!