Feminism

“Lies Women Believe” review: 215-242

If there’s one thing that doing all these reviews have taught me about writing non-fiction books, it’s to avoid getting repetitive in the last two chapters. A lot of what Nancy covers in this last part of Lies Women Believe she’s already been over in different ways before. However she’s not completely unoriginal, so let’s dive in.

IF MY CIRCUMSTANCES WERE DIFFERENT, I WOULD BE DIFFERENT

That she thinks the above is a “lie” … all I could do was laugh– mirthlessly. Honestly, I’m even a little surprised she was able to write this section with a straight face, because it seems really obvious to me that if our circumstances are different, we would be different. If I hadn’t been abused, I wouldn’t have PTSD. If I’d been treated for anxiety as a child, I’d already have coping mechanisms for it as an adult. If I hadn’t been homeschooled … and it goes on.

Granted, that’s not the direction that Nancy’s thoughts went, but she’s ignoring a mighty big elephant to do so. She talks about things like frustrated parents who supposedly “wouldn’t have lost [their] cool if [their] child hadn’t filled the dryer with water and painted the living room furniture with butter!” (218), and what pops out to me is that these people aren’t really talking about how patient (or whatever) they are overall, but that they are acknowledging things like stress is real. They’re saying “these circumstances aren’t ideal for me.”

I agree that things like your kids trying your patience doesn’t give you the right to treat them or other people poorly. Being an adult means managing these feelings and responding appropriately. But, not all situations are created equal, and we’ll see that come out in a bit.

I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SUFFER

She focuses on the rhetoric of “prosperity gospel” proponents in this section, and on this I agree with her without reservation. If you haven’t seen John Oliver take down the various televangelists who made the prosperity gospel A Thing, then you should.

However, Nancy makes one mistake: she confuses people think they should always be perfectly happy with people generally want to avoid suffering. She paints this picture of how good it is that we suffer, that it makes us holy. This is nothing new for Christian rhetoric– I imagine almost all of us have heard something similar before.

I certainly don’t have a monopoly on suffering. But, one thing my life has taught me is that dealing with suffering is complicated. If you asked if me if I’d go back in time and stop myself from entering an abusive relationship, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I ended up at Liberty because of the need to take my life in a different direction, and I met Handsome because I was there. My life with Handsome is pretty damn amazing.

But is being a rape and abuse victim “worth” this? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will do everything I can to make sure other people aren’t rape victims, and I’m concerned with this “suffering is good because it’s what makes us holy!” rhetoric. I want to make the world a “better place,” and that means eliminating suffering.

MY CIRCUMSTANCES WILL NEVER CHANGE, THIS WILL GO ON FOREVER

And by that she means:

The Truth is, a moment or two from now (in the light of eternity), when we are in the presence of the Lord, everything that has taken place in this life will be just a breath– a comma. (224)

This is another consequence of dualism: she reduces the value of this earthly, physical life in favor of the “light of eternity.” It’s a blithe dismissal of people like me, offering us nothing more than a “cheer up buckaroo, the next fifty years don’t really mean anything!” Except that they do, and we know that they do.

But that’s not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that it naturally leads her to advocate that people stay in violent, abusive, unhealthy situations because, after all, if this “comma” of an experience doesn’t matter when compared to eternity, then we can put up with pretty much anything, right? A woman in a “painful” marriage, after listening to Nancy speak, says that “time is short and eternity is long” (224) and decides that she’s not going to do anything about the pain in her life.

I JUST CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE

First off, this section completely ignores those who struggle with suicidal ideations; she dismisses people who have chronic and severe depression with “all of us have had seasons when we feel we just can’t keep going” (227).

I mentioned earlier that Nancy seems unaware that not all situations are created equal, and we see that here:

  • I can’t take one more sleepless night with this sick child.
  • I can’t continue in this marriage.
  • I can’t bear to be hurt one more time by my mother-in-law.
  • I can’t keep making it with three teenagers and a mother with Alzheimer’s living in our home.

Some of the things she’s described in this chapter are flexible, and some are not. Staying up with a sick child is a fact of life, and you push through it– but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help or do something to help yourself. My mom took care of her grandfather with dementia and it was hard; she made sacrifices of time and even health.

But a mother-in-law who hurts you? That, you do have choices about. You can set boundaries– there’s nothing written in the universe that says you must speak to any person, even your mother-in-law. You can leave a bad marriage.

Nancy, however, sees all these things as the same: all must be endured. This is the natural conclusion of her “suffering makes us holy!” thinking. Even wanting to escape an unhealthy or outright abusive situation makes us a sinner in her eyes.

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

This is the most repetitive section– in a way, the entire book has been about this for Nancy. Two things lept out, though. The first one was when she was quoting Larry Crabb:

Helping people to feel loved and worthwhile has become the central mission of the church … Recovery from pain is absorbing an increasing share of the church’s energy. And that is alarming. (229)

I spat out my tea. Because what is this. It’s so theologically awful it compelled me to look up who Larry Crabb is– and oh, look, he’s the spiritual director for the American Association of Christian Counselors. A man whose entire profession is based on helping people said that about how “alarming” it is for the church to focus on the how Jesus said “they shall know you by how you love one another.” I’m sorry, if you have a problem with the church loving people then I don’t know what to tell you.

The second bit was this:

Over the next several years, her marriage and family life became increasingly rocky. There was a vicious cycle of abusive behavior and language … At one point, Cindy left her husband for two weeks, intending to divorce him; through a series of circumstances, God gave her a new compassion for him, and she returned home. (232)

She tells this woman’s story for three pages, and it is clear that her marriage never improves and her husband remains abusive– and her children refuse to have a relationship with either of them, unsurprisingly. Nancy also makes it clear that she thinks this woman’s actions are praiseworthy.

It fits perfectly into her permanence view of marriage, and it demonstrates how frustratingly clueless Nancy is. That “God gave her a new compassion for her abusive husband” is such bullshit, and it’s rage-inducing. Every abused woman thinks this. God had nothing to do with it. Women attempt to leave abusive relationships six or seven times on average because they have “compassion” for their abuser. Their abusers do everything possible to make absolutely certain their victims feel this way. We go back over and over because we’re convinced that our abusers need us.

This wasn’t compassion, and to refer to an expected result of being abused (seriously! This is Abusive Relationship 101-level shit right here) as something God did is just … it’s sick.

Thank God we only have one more week of this.

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  • Beroli

    Pull out a thread, and the whole tapestry unravels and reweaves itself. Speaking of getting meaningful lessons from Star Trek.

    At least she has the honesty to admit that Cindy’s life and/or marriage didn’t miraculously improve, baffling as it is that she seemingly doesn’t understand the implications of, “I knew a woman who was convinced God wanted her to suffer through an abusive marriage, and do you know what she did? She SUFFERED! Praise God!”

  • Catnip

    She had so much opportunity to do good, and instead… this.

    I mean, “My circumstances will never change, this will go on forever”, for instance. Classic depressive thought… and her advice just contributes to that depression.

    I also agree with you; it’s not “alarming” that churches are spending more energy on recovery from pain. That’s what churches are FOR. (They’re not the only ones, but they are a major source of strength for people who have been through painful experiences.) How is that alarming? It’s reflecting that more people are aware they’ve been hurt and are seeking help with recovering from it. That seems entirely reasonable and a good thing to me. (And I say this as a pagan.)

  • Jackalope

    This brought back some strong memories of a good friend who loves Larry Crabb’s books and had me read one. He had some interesting points but I don’t think I could take too much of his writing. One of the things I really appreciated about what he had to say was that he pointed out that no matter what someone else did, I still made my own choices. (I know in some cases, that’s less true, and especially for those who are children. But for me it was helpful.) That was part of the advice that got me out of an abusive friendship (I made the choice to set healthier boundaries), got me into better relationships with my family (more healthy boundaries), and generally helped me realize that I can make CHOICES in my life and not just let other people decide important things for me (like what kind of treatment I will accept). That being said, he had some WEIRD ideas about gender (in the book I read, they weren’t good weird or bad weird, just weird [that may not be the same in other books]) and I can see how he might go in directions that would be pretty unhealthy, especially advice for people who are dealing with depression (where you CAN’T just pull yourself up by your bootstraps), or positions where they don’t have the power to pull out (I was fortunate, for example, in having my own income so that I could CHOOSE to make those decisions; not that a stay-at-home mom with 3 small kids can’t choose to leave her abusive husband, but it’s a whole different dynamic to try to figure out how to feed 3 mouths when you don’t have any source of income). I’m not completely surprised at his alarm here, but I am disappointed; unless he’s alarmed at the general brokenness of the world and sad that there’s so much pain, this is a truly frustrating comment.

    On a related note, I just saw the play “Oliver” for the first time this weekend, and the female lead (who is in an abusive relationship with the villain) sings a song where she says she will stay “as long as he needs me”. At the end, he murders her. I appreciated the way the show gave a realistic portrayal of abusive relationships, but I would love to show it to someone like this author and say, “LOOK at the results of your philosophy!! THIS can be what happens!” Sigh.

    (And I’m truly scratching my head about how she could think that our circumstances don’t affect us. Ummm…. really? On what planet??)

  • I wonder if Nancy would go so far as to call these women martyrs if, God forbid, they ended up murdered by their husbands.

  • “Recovery from pain is absorbing an increasing share of the church’s energy. And that is alarming.”

    I DO think it is alarming – the scale of need is what is alarming. Ideally people would not hurt and / or traumatize each other, but clearly that’s not what is happening. The fact that helping people heal is absorbing an increasing share of the church’s energy reveals just how many people are hurting – and yes that IS alarming.

  • AuntKaylea

    If the Larry Crabb quote came from his book “Connecting” then it seems to me to be quoted completely out of context, although it’s been years since I read him. At the time, I understood him to be alarmed with the rise in emotional need within the world and the failure of the church to be equipped to reach out to one another and deal with it. It seemed to me that he was going in the direction of your recent post about friendships lacking in the church. (which is what first really resonated with me about your blog).

    To me, when I read him, Crabb was alarmed by the failure to differentiate between loving people in the midst of normal pain. He seemed to be, to me at the time I read it, acknowledging that a lack of the ability to love was crippling the church and that he found this alarming. (but I could have been projecting because it is what I find alarming – the inability of so many within churches to truly and lovingly connect with other people)