Friday, July 9, 2010

Quivering Daughters: Interview With Hillary McFarland

Almost three weeks ago, on a Sunday evening, I sat on my ottoman, surrounded by tissues, tears running down my cheeks.
I was listening to Hillary McFarland, author of Quivering Daughters - Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy, describe broken little girls. Little girls and women who despair of life as they sink beneath the weight of guilt and fear.

Hillary spoke of these 'quivering daughters' with such compassion and understanding. Her tone was gentle and sympathetic as she explained how a family, God-honoring and intent on maintaining His precepts and standards can evolve into a fear-riddled, guilt-consumed environment.

At the end of our conversation it felt as though a large weight was lifted off my own shoulders. I realized I had allowed the fear and insecurity of my repressive ex-church to wind it ways through my head and heart. I was, in various circumstances, once again quivering.

It took almost two weeks to write this post...simply because the tears would start again as I remembered how FREE I felt after speaking with Hillary. God has truly blessed her to minister to the broken heart and crushed spirit. I pray that her book finds its way into the hands of many discouraged and faltering 'daughters'.

Here are Hillary's beautiful explanations to my questions:

Would you explain for the unfamiliar reader what a quiverfull family is?
The term "quiverfull" is coined from Psalm 127, which states:
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
A quiverfull family believes that the use of birth control to limit family size demonstrates a lack of trust in God's sovereignty. Proponents keep an "open womb" and welcome as many children as God chooses to send, trusting that regardless of the number, He will provide. As a result, some families have a dozen or more, and most adhere to other conservative principles such as homeschooling, stay-at-home daughterhood, courtship, and other home- or family-centered practices.

Is there a story behind the book's title, "Quivering Daughters"?

Although families vary in belief and degrees of this lifestyle, some of the more conservative ones follow a trend rapidly on the rise within many homeschooling circles ~ a doctrine commonly known as Biblical Patriarchy. This belief system uses Scripture to justify many practices that, as time shows, unwittingly results in serious spiritual and emotional abuse. While certainly not prevalent in every quiverfull home, increasing numbers of children reach adulthood struggling with severe depression, suicidal ideation, and self-injurious behavior. Many struggle understanding the true heart of God and His love and grace; others view the Bible not as words of life but as "the bat used to beat them." Debilitating levels of control (see The BITE Model by Steven Hassan for a realistic peek into the day to day reality for many of these children) raise adults grappling with fear, shame, guilt, inability to make decisions, and other crippling emotional and mental struggles. These fruits reveal that something has gone terribly wrong. It's true that parents have every good intention in raising faithful, godly children ~ and some succeed beautifully. However, many are left desperate and aching, and God has called me to minister to adult daughters from these kinds of households. "Quivering" is a twist on the term "quiverfull" with an added, fear-based connotation. Because my calling includes offering them the messages of hope and healing that He has given me, it seemed appropriate to include them in the title.
I am sure there were many inspirations that melded together in the conception and if you will- birth of your book. Was there one account or story, aside from your own, that you thought of as you wrote?

While my book includes some of my experiences, it features myriad stories from other girls, too...ones I met or corresponded with throughout my research; brave women yearning to discover the grace and freedom found in Jesus. They long to reach out to others with similar experiences, and while the process has been agonizing for them at times, all of the ones who share their stories in the book believe it's important for awareness to be raised and for this "dark side" of Christian fundamentalism, if you will, to be exposed. The beauty of it is that almost every one of them is desperate to know Jesus more fully! Although they've been labeled rebellious or fallen away, have been excommunicated from their families, told they are going to hell...they are hungry for the Lord. They want to know Him, they want to come back to life. They have inspired me, and they are my heroines of the faith. And they are the ones I thought of as I wrote...I wanted to write what I wish I had found so many years ago...comfort, encouragement, and Biblical messages of grace.
As Hillary and I spoke I realized we had mutual acquaintances: Fear and Guilt.
In my ex-church fear of God's rejection was a great motivational tool of the pastor. Didn't agree with her sermon? God would reject you for 'touching his anointed'.
Show up late for a church work night? Shame on you! How could you disrespect the house where God's word was so freely shared!
In your experience, Hillary, and the life accounts you've heard, how were fear and guilt wielded to manipulate?

It amazes me how similar and familiar these stories are! For example, I've received email after email detailing how girls learned that getting a driver's license could lead to being numbered, the forerunner for the Mark of the Beast in Revelation ~ one of the most deadly fears of all. Rigid fear of feminism led to constantly checking attitudes and emotions...not that this isn't important, but rather than an emphasis on abiding in the vine and letting the Holy Spirit bring forth good fruit, a spirit of fear reigned instead.
When one is controlled by fear, or uses fear to control, certain behaviors can be expected. We learn what we "should do" and what we "shouldn't do". Manipulators use shame, then, even if they don't realize it, as a powerful tool of coercion. Yet it's the most subtle ~ because we feel guilty enough on our own. Years after I married, I would still hear my parents' voices in my head telling me what was "right" or "wrong". When I read the Bible quietly to myself, it was always my dad's voice speaking the words in my head. Many times I couldn't even move; I remember feeling overwhelming guilt many times because, for example, once I hadn't managed my time well and needed to decide what was more important at that moment: starting dinner or putting a load of laundry into the washer. I literally froze in place and became engulfed in a huge wave of shame and wanting to kill myself ~ over simple household tasks! I couldn't even breathe while both my brain and my body completely locked up. This response is not normal. Learning where the roots are is no simple task, but with God's help is so freeing. Healing from false guilt is truly, literally, a life-changing experience.
When we talked, you mentioned the mis-interpretation of the Scripture in Philippians that speaks to 'dying to self'. In my old church the pastor defined what dying to the flesh entailed. Her definitions ranged from not getting married if she said "no" to the match to giving up one's house for her guests at her demand. Did you experience similar circumstances of scripture so humanly and severely defined?

For many daughters of patriarchy, these things are interpreted for us. If we express something that someone in authority might not agree with or think is important or of God, it becomes material for self-denial: "You just need to die to the flesh." However, "flesh" often automatically means every want or desire because we learn that it isn't possible to want something and it be a holy want ~ that since our flesh is carnal, naturally any "desire" is of the flesh and therefore sinful. But of deeper gravity, depending on the convictions of ones in authority, "flesh" can also be applied to the very real calling of God! This creates severe spiritual dissonance, for as women raised to seek God, study the Bible, and develop a deeper relationship with Him do hear from then have a pastor or parent discredit God's words jeopardizes her relationship with Him. It's one thing to seek godly advice, but many women have told me of callings they were sure God gave them, only to be told by a father, "I am God's mouthpiece for you," or that "God wouldn't tell you anything without confirming it through me", or "God has ordained it for the father to hear God's word and vision for the family, and to relay it to each member." Keep in mind we aren't talking about children, but sincere, God-fearing women from their late teens to late thirties.
We also discovered in our conversation that in both our situations the 'end of the world' was much talked about. In the abusive church people testified "No use in going to college- Jesus is coming!" The Mark of the Beast was said to be the goal of every electronic evolution. The pastor preached that in the near future we (the cult) wouldn't be able to get food because the government would only sell to those with the beast's mark. In my case it lead to a dreadful state of anxiety that I still deal with on a daily basis. How did this sense futility affect you?

In addition to deep fear, it led to severe depression and malaise. Why bother doing anything? It didn't matter, anyway. Why have hobbies? Why finish a project? Why have interests, why invest in ourselves...anything other than spiritually investing, or with end-times in sight, wasn't necessary. We knew what was important ~ the souls of dying men. Being a witness.We learned that we would probably be killed for our faith. That martial law would take over the nation. That we would be tortured. I used to pray that I would be killed for my faith! I've learned since that sometimes it can be much harder to live for it.
By all of this, I don't mean to say that there weren't things I enjoyed doing, or things that we didn't do things that were fun or memorable...but anything I did enjoy became ridden with guilt. It's such a brutal cycle.
Why does the quiverfull daughter who is abused stay in the destructive situation?
There are several reasons. Sometimes they are practical ~ knowing what it takes in normal, day to day life regarding things like how to pay bills, how to drive a car, how to make decisions. Or not having finances or a car or place to go. Sometimes it's a sense of loyalty. Most often it is fear. The fears used to keep many of these women from taking steps to leave a hurtful situation vary in extreme, but some are really terrible: that she has left God, will go to hell, will become a prostitute. That she is deceived. That she is hurting her family out of her own selfishness. One of the saddest reasons is that sometimes these women believe they deserve the pain because they are so wicked, and this is how they are sanctified. Because they love the Lord and want to be holy and righteous, and they want to turn the other cheek, lay down their lives, and die to the flesh, they remain.
What would you say to a young woman who has just realized she is in a situation that takes away her God-given autonomy?
First of all, pray. Pray for wisdom, discernment, and direction. Autonomy is a very convoluted subject because patriarchal daughters are taught to consider autonomy to be feministic, selfish, and worldly. She needs to be certain that it is God, in fact, who is leading and teaching her...because it will be very hard on both an emotional and practical level to take necessary steps. If she is certain that God calls her, this will keep her going when life becomes harder. Also, pray for Him to make a way, as well as to send godly people for support and help. Second, commit to Truth...which can be very difficult sometimes, because denial will say, "It's not that bad," "It's not like I am being beaten or anything," "Maybe I really am fallen away," and other things that will bring confusion to what God has revealed. Third, be gentle to yourself. Sometimes learning something that goes against all we've been taught is excruciating. When we make mistakes, we say ~ see! I AM bad. I AM rebellious. I AM evil. However, mistakes are necessary for learning, and our Redeemer is with us and can make all things new, right, and beautiful. Learn to have grace on yourself even as you learn of God's grace. Stay soft to Him. Let Him convict and draw you. And don't give up ~ He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it!

photo by kmphotos2008 in photobucket


Shari said...

Excellent interview! Thank you! I am looking forward to reading this book.

Hopewell said...

Super job!!! I'm going to tweet this! I've posted my reading notes of Quivering Daughters [2 posts so far] at my blog.

The Cult Next Door said...

@ Shari- Thanks! And thanks again for allowing me to interview you!

The Cult Next Door said...

@Hopewell- Thanks so much for the kind comment...I am going to link your blog!

Wendy Lady said...

Wow... What an amazing interview! I have needed this kind of honesty and openness for a long time. So many things to relate to! It is very healing. I will be writing about this in my blog. Thank you so much for sharing!

The Cult Next Door said...

@ Wendy Lady...thank you so much for your kind words!

Hillary is an amazing writer w/a much needed message of healing and grace :)