It’s a scene played out hundreds of times in the lives of little ones:
The bossy command: “You aren’t allowed to do that.”
The defiant sass: “SAYS WHO?”
Of course, we grow older, and we learn—by cultural osmosis, it seems—the boundaries for behavior. Directives are seldom challenged, the rules are known. As a parent, this is what I want for my kids: that they won’t need to ask why every time, they will intuitively know that the tone they just employed was too much, the effort on that project too scant, that tidbit they heard too much like gossip to be repeated.
But there’s a dangerous edge to that slow internal cultivation: over time, the authority of “Mom says” or “God says” can somehow yield ground to the far more fuzzy dictatorship of “They say.”
They say you shouldn’t swim directly after you eat.
They say white stockings should not be worn with dark shoes.
They say you should wait at least three days before going on a second date.
They say you shouldn’t wear yoga pants, because you might cause someone to stumble.
They say you shouldn’t attend to every baby’s cry or else you’ll spoil them.
They say you should attend to every cry or else they’ll feel abandoned.
The older I get, the more I’m finding that they can be bullies. They don’t know my situation. And I feel trapped. And rebellious. And guilty.
It’s early in the morning and I’m not expecting these words from Hosea to leap off the page:
“They set up kings without my consent;
they choose princes without my approval.” —Hosea 8:4, NIV
My hands cannot keep up with the tumble of thoughts as I journal. Why is it that my default position is so often to say “I submit to Caesar because all authority is given by God.” (Matthew 22:20 and Romans 13:1-2) and then effectively roll over and play dead? What if I’ve wrongfully put myself under some kind of authority—setting up a king, choosing a prince—and am submitting to it against God’s will?
I’m shaking now.
I know that governments are not the same as cultural opinions, but still: my mind is reeling. I think of those early witnesses, bewildered by Jesus’ unexpected signs of Messianic power as he angrily whipped his way through the temple courts. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you the authority to do this?” (Mark 11:28)
In other words: Who says?
A legitimate question, and one I’d forgotten I was allowed to ask.
I am now in my thirteenth and ninth year of marital and motherhood myth-busting respectively. In the age of mommy-wars and the relentless opinions and outrages of the internet, “Who says?” is a sanity-saving question. Who says you should start a baby’s solids with rice cereal? Who says how long you should nurse? Who says you should have sex x number of times a week?
Who says, indeed? Behold, my thickening skin.
I am in my thirty-fourth year of walking with Jesus, and regaining my courage to ask, “Who says?” there, too. Untrustworthy leaders have put millstones around people’s necks, saying, “This is the clear teaching of scripture.” People seeking fame and fortune, platform and power, proclaim themselves experts and write articles and books with all the how-to’s and lists and pinnable reminders. But just because they’re shouting loudly doesn’t mean I have to listen. And just because they’re invoking Jesus’ name doesn’t mean they have His sanction. What if, on that final day of reckoning, they are among those saying “Lord, Lord,” and he says in reply: “I never knew you.”
They have a lot of opinions.
They have a wonderful plan for my life.
But who says I have to listen? As it turns out, there is a difference between taking counsel and taking orders. Not all advice is equal in value. Not all confidently given opinions should gain our confidence. Scripture is our guide, and the Spirit is our guard: we need not be swayed by every wind of opinion when we have an anchor, a plumb line, a Head to which our would-be flailing limbs are connected.
Let us not be women who enthrone every assertion out there and make ourselves its servant. Let us be women who listen, and then discern well:
The bossy command: “You aren’t allowed to do that!”
The wise push back: “Says who?”
Because maybe, just maybe, they are wrong this time. And maybe, just maybe, God is asking us to ignore them, and lean in and listen to ourselves, and to him as he runs alongside us into his marvellous light.