Says Who?



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.

Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea


  1. Melissa Draper says:

    Spot on mama. Love your holy sass. Keep it coming.

  2. SUCH an important question. I too have set up princes that God has not chosen for me.

    • I am so grateful for a community who doesn’t add to the “they” chorus, but who ask me “what is God saying to you?” and “what do you want?”

      • Hannah Kallio says:

        You’re right, there’s so much more life in asking What is God saying to you?” than in quoting “them”. His opinion the only one that ultimately matters, and that question challenges me to discern His voice and walk more closely with Him. It positions me to be an integral body part instead of a severed limb.

  3. Nicole A. Joshua says:

    This is good stuff Bronwyn. Thank you.

  4. This is gold. I love it. As a kid I remember always saying “says who???” Now I just get anxious over all the He says, she says, they say. I’ll have to start asking more what voice I”m actually listening to in my head.

  5. Anne-Marie says:

    Amen Bronwyn! I’ve been thinking along similar lines, but not in the mom and wife realm. Simply having this image of standing on the rock of God’s affection and care for me. What knocks me off that? Why? Sometimes it’s just me taking something the wrong way, but often, I’m finding another is off-kilter. It’s helping me simply laugh, and stay standing in my place.

    • Isn’t it amazing how adding laughter to so many situations helps distill the truth? A light hearted approach really helps lift the weight of “their” voices.

  6. Joy Howard says:

    There are so many sentences here that immediately strengthened my heart. I needed this so much facing difficulties with hostile, untrustworthy people. I especially needed this: “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.” I have heard God whisper me back into deep engagement with the scripture in that past two months and indeed, it is a guide. And the Spirit as my “guard”. Yes please. I need a guard. Someone to protect me. Thank you for writing this. Thank you.

  7. Bronwyn, your post speaks to me in so many ways today. I had coffee with my younger brother the other day: he has recently moved to our city and it’s great to talk over family “stuff” with someone who gets it. And I said to him, “I am SO over the ‘shoulds’.” Expectations, demands, opinions … I love how you’ve put it here: “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.” It DOES take courage to do what we know is right for us when others (whether strangers or those whose opinion we genuinely value) disagree. Thanks for writing about this.

  8. Reminds me of part of a song we sing…. “You have caused the blind to see, we have blinded them again with our man-made laws and creeds, eager, ready to condemn. Now we plead before your throne. Power sings a siren tune. We’ve been throwing heavy stones. Lead us back to life in you.” A favourite. Xx

  9. Oh, I love this so much! The quote I “adopted” for last year was St. Hildegaard of Bingen’s: “We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.” I’ve spent so much of my life worried about what “They” say. Who are “they” anyway? Thanks for sharing this, Bronwyn. What a great way to start the morning.

  10. Sandy Hay says:

    I’m cheering. This was a difficult position for my family to take in a messy situation with our son several years ago . And it’s amazing how many of my “friends” didn’t like our decision and we haven’t heard from them since. It’s been rocky for the son but he’s leaning and listening too 🙂

    • Those ones where the welfare of our kids are involved are so tricky, aren’t they? Good for you, and I’m so glad to hear your healthier boundaries have provided a place for flourishing.

  11. Oh my, this is a question I have had in my head but never, ever heard someone put out there like this. Thank you! As a young mom I literally ended up with anxiety attacks trying to live out what everyone else said I should do and be to be a good mom, good Christian, good wife. Oh my goodness, I tried to do it all and it was like trying to live 20 different lives in one. It just isn’t possible or healthy or at all what Jesus wants for us. So much freedom in this question and one we need to ask and bring back to “But what does HE say?”

    • I think the tyranny of others’ opinions became clearest to me when I became a mom, too: because the consequences MATTERED so much, and there were just *so many experts* out there. We need to learn to heed the voice of Jesus and our own spirit all the more in the digital age where “they” appear on screens all around us 🙂

  12. Slowly, so slowly, I am learning that God loves each one of us (which is different from saying He loves the world), and His way of “handling” me will be different from the way He “handles” Mrs. Dust-free Living Room.
    I love your final image of God running along beside us into marvelous light. He’s that close, isn’t He?

    • Mrs Dust-free Living Room… *obviously* you are talking about me there? No… not really. Yes, I LOVE that song which speaks of us running into God’s marvelous light: such hope and truth there.

  13. Yup! And the beginning of sanity comes when you realise that you just might know best for yourself and your family. and then, the trick is not to become ‘they’ yourself.

    I love your holy rebellion… what a woman!

    • Ooooh. Not becoming “they” yourself.
      Insightful caution, for sure.

    • Holy sass, yes?

      And I totally agree with Michele: not becoming “they” yourself is definitely a key caution here. I’m sure I’ve been “Their” mouthpiece more times than I dare to imagine, and I hope that decreases with age and a growth in love.

    • Justine Hwang says:

      It’s so tempting to become “they.” Sobering yet wise reminder. Thanks Bev.

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