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« The blessing of an unchurched home | Main | Daily Readings - John 4:7-15 »
Tuesday
Feb142017

Book Study or the Bible?

I always feel uneasy when someone asks me for a suggestion to teach younger women. When I am asked this, inevitably what the person wants is a book that has a study guide. I find it even harder when I'm asked for something that is topical, geared to marriage/family/children.

In the past, when I have taught younger women in a group setting, I have used such books, but my approach has changed somewhat over the years. The reality is that when we use a book geared toward such issues, most of the time, the author begins not with a biblical text, but with a predisposed position that she/he unfolds, including biblical material. There is nothing wrong with that, but one must be aware of that reality. No matter how good the author is (and there are a few good studies), there is no assurance that the focus is on Christ. And likely, there will be a lot of behavioural instruction. At this point in my life, I prefer to teach a book of the Bible and flesh out the topics within the context. Topical teaching, done responsibly, is actually a lot more work, and it involves more than proof-texting. The last topical study I was given to use could be considered as nothing short of irresponsible in how it handled various texts, taken out of context.

This year is my 30th wedding anniversary. My children are grown. As I look back on what helped me as a young mother, I've come to a couple conclusions. First, what helped me in the matter of parenting my children was not specific teaching about how to raise my children. In fact, the one parenting class my husband and I took together was the worst mistake we ever made. What was more helpful was the presence of other mothers, my own and my mother-in-law included; women who had raised children and had wisdom to share. Plus, a lot of it was basic common sense. Why do I  need to consult the Bible for potty training or behaviour issues? The response is very simple: consistency and patience. And I needed to confront my own selfishness. Many of the struggles I had as a mother were a matter of not dealing with my own impatience and lack of grace in dealing with immature people. That's something only time can improve upon, hence the reason why Grandma is usually much more patient than mother.

Regarding marriage, when it came to dealing with conflict and other matters, biblical principles beyond Ephesians 5 were far more helpful.  In short, my attitude was often my biggest problem. It still is. Now, I have been fortunate in that I have a good husband who doesn't abuse me physically or emotionally; he doesn't drink his wages or look at porn. I don't know how I would have handled those situations, but I doubt very much that a class with a bunch of women discussing an author's marital advice would have been sufficient. In those cases, I suspect that women need a lot more counsel, and from someone who knows what she's talking about.

I don't know if this reveals my ignorance or not, but while books directed to marriage counsel can be good, ultimately, strong marriages depend a lot on the spiritual maturity of the people involved, and often, it's just a matter of growing up and submitting to God's will. Yes, we do want strong marriages, but I feel uncomfortable with the idea that our marriages are seen as successful only if we look like teenagers in love. There is conflict in marriage. It's unavoidable. It doesn't mean we're failing. Many times over the years, my husband would say that our marriage would be better if we just loved each other more selflessly and treated each other better than ourselves. 

When I teach young women now, I prefer to go right to knowing God. And that takes time. Sometimes, as well-intended as they are, books that begin with "how can I have a good marriage and be a good mother?" aren't asking the right questions. Because, ultimately, marriage and family may change. And then who are left with? Ourselves.

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