He never pushed or hit her. He never screamed or swore at her. He never threatened her physical safety, except maybe when he angrily drove too close to the car in front of them on the freeway while their newborn was sleeping innocently in the backseat. But then, he reminded her to trust God, so they wouldn’t get into a car accident, would they?
Afraid of Disapproval
She didn’t have to be afraid of his fists, but she was afraid. She was afraid of his disapproval. The curl of his lip. The disdain in his voice when he criticized her taste. The way he looked indifferently at her, saying nothing when she got a new haircut. How his eyes looked past her while she was talking. When he grunted and shrugged his shoulders as she showed him something she made.
Sometimes he just came right out and told her that what she did or said or thought or felt was stupid, silly, or ridiculous. Or that her plan was a bad one that would only result in failure. Or that she was making stuff up in her “little” head again.
Yes, she was afraid.
And then there were all her church friends. She cared what they thought, too. She had to be careful to do everything the way they thought was best. Read a certain version of the Bible. Don’t let her kids watch a certain movie. Use a certain homeschool curriculum. Parent in a certain way. If she had thoughts that went against the grain, she kept them to herself. The thought of getting a mini-lecture and feeling bad, well, it scared her.
What was so bad about that? Trying to please people was good, right? And she certainly gave it her everything. She believed it was her Christian duty to obey her mommies and daddies. There were so many of them, though, and they all had slightly different ideas, so it was hard to juggle the whole mess sometimes. Especially when her husband thought differently from her religious friends. Although they all told her that her husband’s opinion trumped everyone else’s.
“What about God’s opinion?” She’d sometimes wonder. But she was just a woman. A wife. Who was she to know God’s heart? Her husband and her religious leaders knew best. She’d leave the decisions up to them and try to cooperate as best she could. That seemed to be the safest route to gaining God’s approval.
The Reason Behind Fear
When we are afraid, it’s because we feel a threat to our well-being. It doesn’t have to be a threat to our physical safety. It can be a threat to our personhood. A threat to our sense of emotional safety. A threat to our security, whether it be financial, emotional, or spiritual. When we are threatened, even if it is a perceived threat, we experience fear.
When we are afraid, we react in different ways. Sometimes we get angry. We fight. Sometimes we just want to run away. We disengage. Sometimes we work hard to hold the threat at bay, and we placate and caretake and fix everything around us so as not to allow the floodgates of whatever it is we’re afraid of to come rushing in and drown us.
We can’t cover every kind of threat in one blog post, so we’ll just zero in on the threat of being disapproved of. Maybe it sounds kind of silly. I mean, we’re adults, right? And you may not give a rat’s tooshy what anyone thinks about you. But in case you ever HAVE cared, let’s talk about it.
The Secret to Conquering the Fear of Disapproval
There actually isn’t a way to eradicate fear from our lives. As long as things threaten us, we’ll experience fear. Fear isn’t something we can control, but it is something we can manage and deal with. We will have fear at times, but we don’t need to let it control our behavior.
There are two important pieces to conquering this fear of disapproval: love and growing up. Ready? Here we go.
1. Love Conquers the Fear of Disapproval
God’s Word tells us that the opposite of fear is love (I John 4:18). To illustrate this, think of a mother who is protecting her children from a wild beast. She would obviously be afraid, both for her children and for herself, yet her behavior is dictated by her love for her children rather than her fear for her own safety. There are three ways I see this working to help us tolerate disapproval.
God’s love for you
Picture a little girl playing with her dolls. She is creating the world they live in. Her opinion about them matters. But let’s say one of the dolls (if dolls could do this – we’re in imagination land now) sneers at another one, “You’re ugly! You’re stupid! I’m better than you!”
Then the little girl comes along and holds the doll who got picked on and says, “You are absolutely beautiful! You’re everything I ever wanted. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
Which voice matters? The created thing’s voice? Or the child who gives those dolls meaning in the first place?
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
In other words, it’s a waste of emotional energy to care what other people say or think or feel about us when we know for certain that our Creator is quite fond of us for all the right reasons.
A year ago an elder from my old church looked me in the eye and told me I didn’t know God. Now, this guy doesn’t even know me (other than what my abusive spouse has told him about me), and yet he expressed this bizarre opinion to my face with brazen confidence.
The gall of it shook me to my core at first, but then Jesus got in my face and reminded me to Whom I belong. And He reminded me that I don’t know Him the way I will one day, but that HE KNOWS ME!
Isn’t that beautiful? God’s love for us isn’t dependent on whether or not we cross all our t’s or dot all our i’s. Praise Him for that! I don’t know Him the way I will, but I DO know Him well enough to know my Beloved is mine, and I am His.
So what do I make of that elder’s personal, ill-informed, and somewhat arrogant opinion? I make nothing of it. It’s not my problem. It’s his to own, and I have better things to do with my time than to think about someone else’s personal take on who I am and what I believe.
I do want to spend my time meditating on what my Savior thinks of me. And that makes my heart sing!
Your love for yourself
This can be a stickler for some Christians. We can’t love ourselves, can we? I mean, we’re just dirty rotten sinners deserving of nothing but hell-fire, and besides, God calls us to love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.
Wrong. That’s not what the Bible says or teaches as a whole. The verse says this:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
So if we don’t love ourselves much, we don’t love other people much, either. And I’ve seen this to be true on many levels. You’ve probably heard the obvious example people often give to illustrate this: if you were on an airplane with kids, and the airplane is about to go down, and the air masks drop from the ceiling, what do you do? You breathe in oxygen yourself first so you can distribute it to the children. If you didn’t take care of yourself, you’d be dead, and nobody could help the children.
Haven’t you seen this in your own life? When you are healthy and feeling good, aren’t you better able to minister to others? On the other hand, when you are burnt out and stressed, your energy level is low and you feel snippy and unable to deal with the needs of others. And yet so many Christians put pressure on women, especially, to “die to self” and meet everyone’s needs at the risk of losing their mental, spiritual, and physical health.
That’s hogwash. Love yourself. God made you, too. Hating on yourself is hating on what God created. Try this. Look in the mirror and say, “I LOVE YOU!” Two years ago I looked in the mirror and said, “Nobody took care of you for over two decades, including me. But that’s about to change. From now on, I’ve got your back, Natalie.” And I have ever since. I love myself now, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
When you fully love and accept yourself, all the good and the bad, you are better able to tolerate the fact that others don’t. It’s okay if they don’t. Whoop-Di-Doo. You do, and that’s what matters.
GET THIS! Your opinion MATTERS!
Your love for others
This is a harder concept to grasp, but when you are truly able to vulnerably love others, you can let them be who they are while still being comfortable with who you are. Loving others doesn’t mean making them happy, appeasing them, or doing what they want. Sometimes loving others means saying “no” to them. Sometimes it even means letting them go when they no longer like being around you.
When you start standing up for yourself, they just may not like you anymore, because people who love you only for how you make them feel or how they can use you to meet their own agendas are definitely NOT going to like it when you stop accommodating them.
Sometimes they will walk away on their own, and sometimes you will need to walk away from them if they refuse to engage in a mutually honest, caring, empathic relationship.
A little over a year ago, I lost two friends in one week. As I grew in my ability to understand healthy boundaries, I took the risk of telling them the ways they were hurting me with their words and manipulative behaviors. I had caught one in some lies, and I wasn’t able to trust her anymore.
I knew we would either grow closer or I’d lose their friendship, and in both cases, they walked away from me. One of them even did some things to sabotage my reputation in some serious ways. I didn’t go after them to “patch things up.” It was horribly painful, but I let them go, and God gave me the time and emotional energy I needed to develop some healthier friendships.
Sometimes we love others, and they hurt us deeply. Sometimes we love a church, and it turns on us when we decide to get out of our destructive marriage. Learning to tolerate the disapproval of an entire system is a huge step in growing up. And that’s the second way we conquer fear.
2. Seeing Ourselves as Adults Conquers the Fear of Disapproval
Are you afraid your spouse or church friends or counselors or pastors or neighbors or family members will disapprove of your decisions? Will disapprove of you, personally? Some of us have been immersed in a religious system that treats adult women like children.
They are expected to serve their families and submit to the whims of despotic husbands while having no voice of their own. Their personhood is stolen, and they are sacrificed on the alter of patriarchy, which is a distorted view of humankind based on age-old anti-female prejudices that worked their way into the earliest Bible translations.
A long time ago in a land far away, children were required to “be seen but not heard.” And this is how it is sometimes in a patriarchal culture. Women are required to “obey and shut up.” This relegates them to child status and removes their dignity and honor as adult women.
Do you see yourself as a child? I did. I actually felt like I was either my spouse’s mother, taking care of his ego and protecting his reputation—or his ignorant silly child. I never felt like a woman, in my own right. A grown adult in equal standing. Someone to be respected and honored, like any other adult human. But that was because I saw myself through my spouse’s eyes.
If your spouse sees you and treats you like an adult woman with love and respect and honor, then you’ll FEEL like that. You’ll see yourself like that. But if he doesn’t? You maybe won’t.
The good news is, you don’t have to see yourself through his eyes. Remember the doll story? He’s just another created human being, and his opinion isn’t always right just because he is a male. But God’s view of you? Now that’s worth looking at. What if you could see yourself the way God sees you?
- Created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). (Incredible!)
- Created to be an “ezer kenegdo” Genesis 2:18 – means “to rescue, to save, to be strong” – not “helpmeet” as modern translations put it, implying that women are merely helpers of men and nothing more. Ezer Kenegdo was a term used for God multiple times in the Old Testament.
- God chose to be born into this world from the womb of a woman.
- God’s chosen first messengers of the Good News of His resurrection were women.
- Jesus told stories that included female heroes.
- Jesus was not ashamed to be anointed by an “emotional” woman in front of the religious leaders.
- God tells us in His Word that the twelve disciples abandoned Christ, but the women held their own and stuck by him.
God’s view of you vs. man’s view of you. You get to decide whose view you want to believe.
Did you see Lord of the Rings? There are some strong female characters in that trilogy that illustrate what I’m talking about. Look at these pictures and imagine yourself as an adult woman. An “ezer-kenegdo.”
They were all adult women who made decisions for the good of their people. They didn’t let foolish people, including foolish men, stop them from being who they were called to be. They had a purpose, and they took responsibility for their lives and their jurisdictions, including themselves.
When we believe that the responsibility for ourselves lies with others, whether it be our spouse or our pastors or counselors or small group leaders, we are caught in a satanic lie that will leave us confused and crippled. Exactly what the enemy wants. He knows your God-given potential. He knows your God-given power as an ezer. And he will use lies to get you to abdicate your responsibility and allow others to control your life.
God is the only One with full authority over our lives. And contrary to what some religious people teach, He will deal directly with you. He won’t go through someone else, including your spouse, just because you were born without a penis. Men who recognize this power and beauty will work together with women to spread the love of our God to this world. Those who don’t are not only shooting themselves in the foot, but they are tearing down the very kingdom God is working to build.
All queens everywhere in history had to put up with disapproval. So rise above it to your place as an adult woman of God. You are loved tremendously, and your life has power, potential, and deep meaning. Disapproval is uncomfortable, but as you exercise your “toleration” muscles, you will find yourself growing stronger and stronger while at the same time feeling less and less afraid.
(By the way, the Cry for Justice blog recently wrote a great article (How Fear Perpetuates Itself) that would be a beneficial follow up to this article.