So, I have been quiet on social media and on my blog lately. There are many reasons for that silence, but one of the largest has been a sense of being overwhelmed by the sorrow of living in the world.
I am raising three daughters and I am married to a woman who has not always had the best experience with the decidedly patriarchal society in which we live. It is not my story to tell, but she has received comments about having children which occasionally make them seem like they are burdens instead of blessings. I have received those comments as well. It can be heartbreaking to have someone categorize a child as a burden.
I have often wondered if people would make the same comments to my wife and I if I had three sons instead of three daughters. I love my daughters, even when they are difficult. I do not live in an age when I have to start saving up for a dowry to pay for someone to take them in. I live in an age where they will be a blessing to anyone who is lucky enough to allow them the honor of their partnership.
Still, it is a weary process to be a father in a culture which is so patriarchal. Do I benefit from the patriarchy? Yes, but I want my kids to have a bright future where they are treated with equity and fraternity (Aside: I do not mean fraternity as in “a group of men with a common purpose,” but “the state or feeling of friendship and mutual support within a group.” Unfortunately, the original word comes from Latin and Latin has no wonderful gender-neutral possibility and sorority never really gained the same meaning in popular understanding (i.e., French Motto “Liberty, equality, fraternity!”)… Language fails me in this case, as “siblinghood” does not have the same meaning either). I want that world for all of our children.
One quote that has been circling through several parts of my thoughts comes from the 1984 edition of “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection” by Benedicta Ward. In particular, I have this saying from the collection surrounding Abba Anthony hanging in my shower. The section goes:
Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, ‘What ought I to do?’ and the old man said to him, ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.’
The quote sticks out to me on deep levels.
I am not righteous enough to take on this battle through my own goodness. I have made mistakes, I have benefited in ways I have yet to recognize, I will likely struggle to deny those benefits when I see them, and I am frankly not Jesus Christ. The world has a Savior and there is no need to pretend that it needs me to be another. My trust does not belong in my own holiness or in my own strength.
I also live in a place where I cannot constantly dwell on the past. While there is room for reconciliation, for recompense, and for restoration, to live only in the past has the potential to swallow me up in the knowledge of my own weakness, my own frailties, and my own brokenness. There is a difference between being mindful and living in worry.
In addition, living in the past sometimes cripples my ability to be an asset to the present and the future. If one lives in the past, it is difficult to be present in the now. There needs to be a balance between understanding the ramifications of the past on the present, mourning the injustice of the past, accepting our own limitations, and avoiding obsessive worry about the past.
Finally, it is good to control both tongue and stomach. If the tongue is where the words of my soul enter into the world, it is a good analogy for all I do to affect the world. In controlling my lips, I gain the self-control to control my fists, my feet, and even my thoughts.
If the stomach is the place I take things into in order to find life (or death), then the call to control my stomach is the call to mind my appetites in all senses. Guard your teeth, guard your ears, guard your eyes, and guard your soul.
So, how do I react to all of this stuff going on in the world? I remember it is my job to be a part of the long arc of history towards justice. I remember what has gone by, honor it, but do not let it cripple my present advocacy for justice or my efforts to seek a more just future for our world. I control what comes out of me and seek to fill myself with what is good in holy moderation.
In the meantime, keep the faith friends.
Patriarchy is pleasant for me, but this one, like all awesome children of God, deserves better than to be looked down on her whole life because of her gender.