The Normal War

The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.

Dear Gabrielle,

Your last letter was in equal measures eloquent and heartbreaking. Let me state your dilemma in my own words to make sure that I have understood you. You feel torn between two different versions of “normal,” and it doesn’t take much at all to make you wonder if one of them—the one you have never experienced or really known—is fake, or not a reality to be realized in this world.

You know intellectually that the home you grew up in was abnormal, but in terms of your experience, that home was frighteningly normal. It was all you ever knew. Your experience taught you to expect long stretches of tension and distance between your mother and father, and between your father and you kids. Then there would be an explosion, a fight of huge proportions. After that, within a day or so, your father would show up in your bedroom late at night. It was predictable, like weather patterns are, which meant that the word normal could be applied to it somehow. You could anticipate it, and if you can anticipate it, it must be the way things are.

But the teaching of Scripture, the teaching of the church you grew up in, your own conscience, and the appearance of the families of all your friends testified that what you were going through was abnormal and wrong. But the testimony of the good appearance of other families was the creepiest to you, right? That is because you knew that your father was a consummate actor, and that your family appeared exactly the same way to them. Have I got the problem right?

Since you knew that one of the finest-looking families in the church was a hypocritical sham, why was it not possible that all the other families were just like yours? If it happened once, why could it not happen across the board? Maybe the whole Christian thing is just one enormous hypocritical farce. There were times, particularly in the darkest times, when you felt certain that this kind of predation and molestation was in fact the true “normal.”

The collision between the two kinds of normal is in fact a true collision, and you should not be surprised if it still rises up in your heart, sometimes violently. There is the normal as defined by Scripture, reason, tradition, and society. A father should protect his daughter, and not be what she needs to be protected from. Then there is the normal that was defined by what you grew accustomed to in your home.

If I might, here is just the place where I would point back to something I urged in one of my first letters to you. You know that his abuse constituted one kind of normal, your experienced “normal.” This causes you, when you are tempted to despair, to make you think that the other kind of normal doesn’t exist at all, not even in the heart of God. This feels like a high form of revolt against what happened to you, but in reality it is surrendering to it. If there is no “normal” against which we may compare your father’s treatment of you, and thereby condemning his treatment of you, then why are we blaming him for anything? Why is he in prison? The existence of the prison, and your approval of the existence of the prison, testify that there really is a true normal outside your experience.

That true normal really does exist, whether or not you have tasted it yet. There really are fathers who would die for their daughters. There are fathers who have devoted themselves to one woman for life, and who live sacrificially for the children that God gives to them through their wives. There are tables around which entire families sit happily, contented in their love for one another, delighting in one another’s presence. There are many families characterized by laughter, peace, contentment, goodness and kindness. Scripture paints the original well, and I have seen many faithful reproductions.

So if the twisted is the only real normal, then we have no reason not to abandon ourselves to it. It is just the way things are. But if we refuse to surrender in that way, then instead of this suffocating room of selfishness, there must be a place outside, where you can stand on a bluff facing the ocean, and taste the sea breeze. Across the water is paradise, and heavenly fruit trees grow all along the distant coast. And yet the breezes are redolent with the aroma of that fruit—there for the healing of the nations—and the hints of that fruit are exquisite, exotic, transcendent, and normal.

This is very encouraging, but you still have a practical problem. If you are alone in a room, and a man walks in, even if you know him—perhaps especially if you know him—you have a tendency to flinch inside. This reaction is happening on the basis of what you still think of, on some level, as normal. If you are watching older men at church, watching them sing in the choir, say, and find yourself wondering what they did to their daughters, this is simply how your reflexes have been trained or conditioned to react. Whenever you are around men, you brace yourself inside. You are not wronging anyone. You are not bringing charges, or accusing anyone falsely. You are simply responding the way someone (perversely) taught you to respond. Of course, you want to “unlearn” this kind of reaction, because it will get in the way of some other good things if you don’t, but there is nothing sinful in simply having that reaction. It is a problem to solve, not a sin to repent of.

You might ask what good things might it get in the way of, but I think you have already guessed the answer to that question yourself. How is it possible that this history you have won’t wreck any prospects for marriage you might have? When you are approached by a godly young man who is interested in a romantic relationship with you, and you do respect him highly, but all you want to do is fly to the moon—not so that you can jump over it, but so you can hide behind it—this situation is the ultimate collision of those “normals” I was referring to earlier. You will want to respond to him, which is the “normal kind of normal,” but you also believe that your experience of the “abnormal as normal” has scarred you forever, making it impossible for you to respond to him “normally.”

You are happy with his attention. You love his conversation. You like the way he looks. You admire the way he conducts himself. All of that is wonderful. And yet, because of your traumatic past, you have this constant worry in the background—and not too far in the background either. You know that if you continue to encourage this relationship, at some point it will have to become sexual. Since he is an honorable young man—you wouldn’t like him if he wasn’t—that point will be on your honeymoon. And you just don’t think that you will be able to deal with that. He is a wonderful young man. Why can’t we just keep it there? Why can’t we just chat at church forever? Not do anything more?

At some point, he will become entirely male in his interests, and free enjoyment of that reality is what you believe your father has wrecked for you. Now it is true that your father did a lot of damage there. But it is not true that he did irreparable damage. God is in the business of putting things back together. That is what he does—He is the Savior, after all.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17–18, ESV).

The Spirit of God does dwell within you—and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. God has good plans for you, plans of restoration and renewal.

Your father trained you in one direction through all those negative experiences. You have to answer this, going the other direction, via experiences that directly challenge what he did. In the first place, give yourself to the reading of Scripture, so that you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1-2). Ask God to wash you with the water of the Word (Eph. 5:26). Devour the Word.

In the second place, make a particular point to study marriage. There are many fine books out that offer a detailed topical treatment of what God intended marriage to be. You should read more of those than an average young woman would, not because you want to be a marriage nerd, but rather because you have want have the alternative fixed firmly in your mind. You want to be absolutely sold on the biblical description of marriage.

And last, watch married people you respect closely—start with your aunt and uncle, who are (as you know) wonderful to each other. Watch what they do, and if you don’t understand what just happened, ask them about it. I have no doubt that the conversations will open up into more than what you asked about.

All for now.

Cordially . . .

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Darlene Dufton GriffithMark HansonSusan GailValerie (Kyriosity)gabe Recent comment authors

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Nell
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Nell

This is helpful. Although I was not a direct victim of sexual sin in this way, I sat under a pastor who was guilty of these kinds of offences. For years I looked at pastors with suspicion. I wondered if it was even possible to live a life pleasing to God. Until we started attending a church that preached about sin, I lived in cynicism and doubt. So many churches pretend that sin does not exist. Now that I sit under good balanced preaching/teaching that sin is crouching at our door, it desires to have us but we must master… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

Oh ouch, this post is good. I kid you not, my family was so awful, when I first saw the Adams family on TV, the old black and white, I thought, “normal!” I want that! Tragic indeed, but I once hung onto the Adams family as an example of what “normal” looked like. Today I can laugh about it because God is good, He is faithful and He can heal what ails you. I’m curious, does Pastor Wilson realize what all the focus on yoga pants, rebellious women, and Potiphar’s wife actually does to survivors of sexual abuse? I mean,… Read more »

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Addams Family:
I was always encouraged with the kind attention the kids got from the adults.

Jane
Member

I think the trick of that show was that they were actually pretty normal in terms of being a loving family, and generally kind people, they just had some really weird habits and characteristics.

Conversely and perversely, the sarcasm and dysfunction of a family like “Roseanne” was held out as normal because they lived fairly average lives in terms of economics and lifestyle.

Not that this is news, but TV shows really have a distorting cultural influence.

adad0
Member

Hey! I resemble that statement!????
(The first part.)

Ian Miller
Member

Very true. I wish the Christian community could figure out an answer that isn’t “Christian Film” to the problem of politics flowing from culture.

JP Stewart
Member

You don’t think “God’s Not Dead, Part 16” will solve the problem? I hear the Newsboys will each get a justice spot on the Supreme Court.

Ian Miller
Member

That is exactly what I think will not solve the problem. :)

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

What type of crowd of men see themselves innocently falling into adultery with Eve’s seductive daughters?
Is this a churchy set?

valerieab
Member

No crowd of men I’ve ever met.

Oscar Schneegans
Guest
Oscar Schneegans

A crowd of straw men.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Some Moslems and Orthodox Jews.

insanitybytes22
Member

I’m afraid there are quite a few, yes,often a churchy set, or churchian culture as I call it. There is a comment in this very thread about having sat under a pastor who was guilty of these same offences. I have done the same.

Sadly,there are also comments denying the problem, basically accusing me of lying. I’m used to that, but I’m not lying. I’m speaking the truth about the nature of the problem.

JP Stewart
Member

No, when you make claims about others and ridiculous generalizations, then refuse to provide evidence (“I dont play linky games” in your words), that’s lying. Apparently you’re such a hardened liar that you don’t recognize this…or else you’re a troll, which is a better scenario.

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

In my experience, trolls tend to keep their Disqus profiles private and do not frequent one location for long. ME’s profile is open and contains a link to her blog. She has also been posting here for some number of years.

Oscar Schneegans
Guest
Oscar Schneegans

See? Straw men.

Mark Hanson
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Mark Hanson

I can think of two kinds in the church (related): those involved in Bill Gothard’s teachings, and those in Christian “modesty culture”. Both blame immodest women for the sins of men who seduce or rape them, telling them that if their looks tempt a man, they are responsible for what happens.

Susan Gail
Guest
Susan Gail

I hold no brief for the “wisdom” of Gotthard, et al, but in their defense they do not say the man has no responsibility in that scenario.

The Muslims on the other hand would say he has none.

Mark Hanson
Guest
Mark Hanson

True, Gothard would say that the man sins in that scenario, but the woman shares the blame, or perhaps even has more, because she “defrauded” him – she promised him by what she wore or how she acted that she was “available”. And this no matter what she actually wore – she could be in a knee-length dress and two layers of sweater. If he found himself sexually attracted to her, she had “promised” herself to him. This is the sort of idea that leads to the Christian burqua.

Darlene Dufton Griffith
Guest
Darlene Dufton Griffith

Thank you, Mark Hanson, for shedding light on the inner workings of the purity culture. Anyone can google Tina Anderson as a perfect example of how the young, teen-aged woman was thrown under the bus, while the married man who raped her was accepted in the sheepfold. That was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, but that kind of mindset exists in many religious communities.

adad0
Member

Memi, I think our host here, feeds a wide variety of “sheep”, who need various diets. If the blog is the Manger so to speak, different feeds go in it, for different needs, hence your question. After that, one’s skin gets a bit thicker after hanging around here, and that is not The worst thing in the world. Finally, Doug Wilson has a son, up for a big surgery tomorrow. (?) Even so, our host is still here, ministering to whom ever will listen. At the end of the day, our host is a pretty good example on a number… Read more »

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Doug, unfortunately this sapid dish you serve has become way too exotic and infrequently served.

Thank you for keeping our palates accustomed.

Bike bubba
Guest

This is helpful–now for the question of how one overcomes this.

valerieab
Member

Patiently.

I think a good bit of the answer is in the post: read the right books, watch the right people, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The cure for having had a wicked or neglectful or absent father is having a good and loving and omnipresent Father…and believing it.

gabe
Guest
gabe

As much as I am enjoying the series I have to ask what is with all the ads?

valerieab
Member

Doug noted elsewhere, “Disqus started charging for ad free comment services, and I was going to
let the ads runs for a week or so to see how annoying they were. They
promise to be pretty annoying. The other problem is that Disqus has
joined the SJW bandwagon and reserves the right to edit content to deal
with the scourge of hatred. It is quite possible that they are going bye
bye.”