Shaking the Weight of "The Rules"


Meredith was a new friend; our daughters had become friends at school. We sat together outside at a park as our girls tenderly mothered their dolls. We four must have looked so perfectly ideal. The two of us in our flip flops with coffee and a Diet Coke, talking about end-of-school activities with our two girls obediently playing with their appropriate toys sweetly together. Even their dolls’ hair was looking pretty good that day.

But if there is one thing I am not, it is perfectly, sweetly appropriate. Rarely. Ever.

Like those of nearly every other human I know, Meredith’s eyes were heavy. If I were to guess from the look of them, it seemed as if her soul was all boxed in. And with my impatience for small talk, I began intruding fairly quickly.

Initially she darted around my questions about her own personal hopes and dreams with a story about a good friend who had become distant. This friend had made some pretty brave and intentional changes in her life; the friend and her husband were dreaming, and some of their dreams had led them far from the norms their small church community had come to most value.

They weren’t in sin; in fact their dreams sounded incredibly unselfish and risky. But some of their dreams had failed, and some of their former friends had confronted their new ventures as if they were sinful. Meredith’s angst over this friend was palpable.

Why had she brought up her friend, when my question was, “What are you dreaming about?” She had watched a friend take a risk and be judged for it. The friend was criticized, and then some of those dreams even failed.

My question felt threatening to Meredith because she was keenly aware of the “rules” to being a respected woman in her small world.

The rules were: 1. Stay home full-time with the kids. 2. Don’t pursue your own passions and dreams and take risks; it’s selfish. 3. Volunteer as a homeroom mom. 4. Don’t miss a game for any of the five sports each of your four kids plays, or a party or a field trip. 5. Dinner should be worthy of a Pinterest pinning and should be on the table by 6:00 every night.

Now, obviously, some of the most powerful ministry on this earth is happening through stay-at-home moms and homeroom moms and at Pinterest-worthy dinners at 6:00. These things are noble and not the problem. Certainly, these tasks and thousands of others have to get done in homes, schools, and offices, whether we feel passionate about them or not. The problem is not in these roles or duties themselves; the problem is when these things turn into man-made rules mandatory for godly women.

Being a great mother and serving at the school weren’t strangling Meredith. Feeling like she couldn’t do anything out of this acceptable box was what was strangling her soul, her dreams, and her obedience to God.

Her particular situation occurred in the South in a conservative church, but I have another friend who lives in New York City, and she feels judged that she doesn’t work outside her home and has chosen to homeschool her kids, even though these are her personal convictions and callings. And I have another friend who has felt judged for choosing to adopt a child as a single woman. And another friend who is drowning in toddlerhood and feels judged for not having the capacity to do one other thing than be sure her kids stay alive.

This is happening in a million forms in a million places. The rules seem to change in each church, each city, each country, even throughout history in each generation. Unique versions of handbooks describing “how to be a godly woman” seem to exist wherever I go.

Women, we are so dang hard on each other. We have to stop.

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We are in the midst of a generation laced with social and gender pressures. The weight of “the rules” for women in the church, home, and workplace is so heavy, I think we forget how all the different pressures are carried into nearly every choice we make, nearly every dream we dream.

If we are all obeying God with our unique gifts and visions, our dreaming, our obedience, then our roles should look beautifully diverse. We each look unique on the outside, and I assure you we are even more intricately designed on the inside.

You can read more of this post in Restless: Because You Were Made For More. You can find a copy here!