With another scandalous headline concerning the Duggar family splashed across the news, my heart began to ache once again…
The story “hit close to home” because I grew up in an environment similar to the Duggars. I was surrounded by friends and affiliates who espoused the ATIA teachings, of which the Duggar family is also a part.
This is what I have learned coming out of that environment of ultra-conservatism — how it started “wrong” and how it continued to go wrong:
Note: This was not necessarily the way I was raised or the teachings of my family. These concepts were what I was exposed to by ultra-conservative groups of which we were affiliated, people with whom we associated, church groups, etc…
1. There was an over-emphasis on the outward (works, appearance, actions, expressions).
A lot of attention was given to how a person dressed, acted, talked. Spirituality was based upon those outward indicators that were “supposed” to be inward indicators.
When the outward becomes our focus, it is easy to avoid looking at the inward and to cover up our inner struggles with pretty exteriors.
2. There was an emphasis on pleasing God, but the reason was motivated from fear — fear of God’s wrath.
Growing up in that environment, God was seen more as a holy, wrathful God — that a person must appease or constantly live in fear of His judgment.
A fearful environment produces shame, guilt, condemnation, anxiety, anger, wrath, judgment, harshness, and extremes.
3. There was an emphasis on living a “godly” life, but perfection was what was really intended.
We were expected to be practically perfect.
Our worth was judged on our performance — how “godly” we appeared.
There was no room to give grace. There were harsh consequences for anyone who “slipped up” — even over the smallest or most ridiculous infractions.
4. It was taught that if you lived the “godly” or really perfect life, you would be honored by the world and would receive material blessings.
This became another form of the “wealth, health, and happiness” type of “gospel”. There was an over-emphasis on good works, called “godly behavior”, and the results were supposed to be physical and material blessings.
5. It was taught that you could avoid sin in your life by avoiding sin out there.
Sin was blamed on the the “world”. So to avoid the “world” meant we could avoid sin.
This can result in condemnation of the “world” rather than a humble love that reaches out to the world. This can also result in the avoidance of taking responsibility for our own actions.
My above list is not conclusive or exhaustive, but it reveals some of the heart issues behind the “ultra-conservative” movement.
It’s been 15 years since I was immersed in such an environment. Since that time, God has revealed many truths to me concerning my past and revealed the wonderful freedom of His grace.
I still try to live a “godly” life, but it is no longer based on the fear of appeasing a wrathful God. God has been so gently teaching me that He is a loving God and full of grace. He convicts me ever so gently in a way that doesn’t leave me condemned but leaves me with a desire and hope for growth and the future to which He has called me.
God has been teaching me that I have “feet of clay”. This means that I am not a “paradigm of godliness or perfection”. My claim is the righteousness of Christ alone. My standing is in His righteousness!
When I understand my security is found in God’s grace, I am able to acknowledge my own sins and take responsibility for them.
I understand that I don’t have to pretend perfection or constantly live in fear of being found less-than-perfect. Instead, I have a desire to run into the “arms” of a loving God who is always ready to receive the repentant child back and longs to restore us into full fellowship with all the privileges of being His child.
I understand that God’s love is not performance-based or conditional. God chose to love me and to die for me, fully aware of my sinful and unlovely condition.
I am also learning to give more grace to my children and to stop holding them to an impossible standard of perfection. I am still learning this though…
I am learning to accept myself and others in our all of our imperfect, messy states. God knows we have “feet of clay” and still chooses to use us, as we yield ourselves to Him.
I don’t claim to be perfect at any of this. In fact, as my family can attest, I mess up on a regular basis, but I have the confidence to get back up again because I have a God who loves me way more than I can even dare to hope and who won’t give up on me. I have a God who chooses to use me, with feet of clay, to reveal the power of His grace at work in my life.
So, when we are tempted to elevate a mere human, let’s remember that we all have just “feet of clay”. All goodness and true righteousness and true godliness is in God alone!
Soul, take a deep breath and bask in the freedom you have to walk in His power and grace and to be completely accepted in Him. Get back up on those feet of clay. He’s not finished with you yet.