Whenever I am feeling counter-cultural (in a rightish sort of way) I assign three essays by Bethany Torode to my students.
They trace three years in this young woman's life, from marriage to motherhood. An astonishingly mature and articulate young Christian woman, Torode (nee Patchin) sketches a very different vision of feminism, sexuality, and happiness than what we normally read and hear.
In her first article, she wrote this as she contemplated getting married and becoming pregnant while still in her teens:
There will always be women who scoff at me, who are disappointed because they think I let down our sex. There will always be the professors who sigh because I am not living up to their idea of potential. But I know what makes me happy, and I'm slowly learning not to feel guilty about sharing it with people.
I look forward to giving up my independence. The word "dependence" has come to mean something negative: "an unhealthy need for a person or substance, an addiction." But I see it as a positive reliance on others for companionship and love.
A friend of mine once said his greatest desire is to create something beautiful and lasting. That stuck with me. I want to create a beautiful and lasting marriage with a man, and with that man I want to bear and rear children, which are the most exquisite and eternal creations we humans can take part in fashioning. Architects design buildings that will someday fall down, programmers construct computer software that will eventually be obsolete—but fathers and mothers create and cultivate souls that will never die. How wonderful to experience just an inkling of what God feels as our Father.
Good stuff. In her second piece, written while pregnant, Bethany wrote:
Yes, I am among those contributing to the teen pregnancy rate. I would encourage other responsible young Christians in their late teens and early twenties to do the same. Women, these are the best years of your life to have a baby (ages 18-to-27 are when your body is at its peak for childbearing, and having your first child during these years significantly reduces your risk of breast cancer). Men, why not channel your youth and energy into something with profound eternal value?
Is it "fun" becoming a mom? So far, I wouldn’t describe it that way. Pregnancy is a challenge, and frankly, not very enjoyable (at least in the early weeks). It’s also terribly frightening, much more so than I imagined it would be. I am opening myself up to inevitable hurt — whether it comes at the miscarriage of this child in a week’s time, or whether it is stretched out into 60 years of having pieces of my soul pulling at me from the separate beings of my children.
And in her third, written as the mother of baby Gideon, Bethany says:
To me, there is nothing greater than curling up between my husband and baby and knowing that both of them depend on me for their very happiness (as I also depend on them). All three of us want to be around each other constantly. My 16-year-old sister, too, complains about wanting to get married and have her own baby every time she holds Gideon. But I think that’s because we grew up in a household with a vibrant center, which formed an inner compass in each of us to help set a true course in our own pursuit of happiness.
Just as every wheel needs a hub and every cell a nucleus in order to work, every household needs a strong marriage at its center — and, over the last 50 years, an increasing number of households have been floundering without a visibly united (and physically present) team of husband and wife...
Though in the grind of the ordinary we sometimes forget it, human beings are the highest gifts of God in our lives. Without them, there would be no need to make sacrifices — but there would be no happiness either. Our families are where we must relinquish ourselves the most, and in return experience communion second only to that with God. That’s why the family has been hit the hardest by the selfishness pervading our culture. Because the sacrifices have not taken place, we have had very little vision of what the rewards could have been. Young and even older people today have only a vague sense of how to make a family.
What we need are more people willing to trust God with their fears and become models of self-sacrifice. The water may look unfathomably deep, and the mist and the waves may often obscure Him — but Christ is waiting for us, as he was for Peter, with outstretched hand. He will help us to regain a vision of what a happy household looks like; He will provide us opportunities to take those small steps towards a more anchored family and community. And we will discover Him in the oddest, quietest moments — like when we’re planting a seed or patching clothes.
It is the dazzling nature of her prose which captivates me, and enthralls -- and enrages -- my students. I'm going to drop all three articles on them in the coming weeks. Yes, they are firmly Christian, but the values that Bethany Torode articulates so beautifully are not exclusive to those who share our faith. As a childless man in his middle thirties whose life and whose world are utterly different from Bethany's, I am bewildered but also charmed by her world view. And I think, as a gender studies prof, she's got some crucially important things to say.
I don't teach her in a vacuum -- other, radically different voices are incorporated into my women's studies classes. I am not advocating early marriage and pregnancy for all. But I do think she is saying something important, and it is something utterly unheard in the secular academy.