The Importance of Language

I recently posted what I thought to be the least controversial definition of feminism, labeling myself as one.  I put the definition in the context of its original intent, not what a minority have redefined feminism to mean and sadly, what the majority has come to believe feminism means due to this alteration.  Then I had friends start debating me.

Look, I just want my daughter to grow up in a world that doesn’t limit her potential or opportunities.  I understand my daughter is physically different than a male.  She might not run faster than some men; she’ll run faster than some though.  However, she will have less testosterone.  From a purely biological standpoint, she is different.  Knowing those differences doesn’t have to conflict with what equality means.

Most Christian women claim to be okay with a patriarchal organization of society.  However, if we exercised this, many American women might be bothered by its practice.  We say we are okay with men working and women staying home.  Would you be comfortable with it if you were forced into that decision?  Would you be satisfied with your spouse not assisting with household chores because ‘this is how God created us to be—women being the helpmate (i.e. man makes a request and woman obeys as is how some have interpreted it to mean)’?

If you look at the context of language through the lens of cultural and historical in which it is used, you’ll see the importance of transitory vocabulary.  Words and sometimes their meanings are, more often than not, changing.  Symbols are as well.  (Swastika and Confederate flags as examples of symbols whose meaning was altered within the context it was used and have since been stigmatized to mean something else entirely and that is why contemporary society has issues with these symbols.  These symbols used to be innocent.  They aren’t anymore, they are signs of oppression because people used them that way.)

We use a word or a string of words in a particular way with a particular audience.  Frequently, interpretations of a situation, symbol, or word are based on an individual’s experience.  You can arrive at exegetical interpretations of texts, but doing so requires analyzing circumstances through the audience being addressed and the cultural events occurring at that time.  It is important to define what concepts were applicable to a particular category in time and which concepts are timeless.

Language denotes particular ideas, theories, and themes. We say we don’t want to use labels, but the very use of language requires labels.  Something is blue, or round, or kinetic.  People don’t like stereotypes.  Not all short people have Napoleon complexes (I do and I’ll admit it).  Just because you belong to a particular category doesn’t mean you behave or think exactly the same way people in that classification do.  Stereotypes typically overgeneralize a population.  I can say I don’t like conservative Christian culture because that is a label, an analysis of an overall belief system, but not a commentary on the individuals within that analysis.  A stereotype would be saying that all people who believe in a complementarian, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual worldview are Christian.  The latter is false.  Am I making sense or getting caught in a cyclical view of semantics?  Is the distinction I’m trying to make clear?  Do you understand my conclusion?  Let me use context.

I’ve had friends who say I should be praying for Willow’s future spouse.  In a roundabout way, I guess I might be, but I’m not using vocabulary that demands such a result.  I pray daily for her to have wisdom, discernment, and a heart devoted to God.  As such, if she one day chooses marriage as a desire, she’ll be able to select a mate who is also pursuing God.  She, herself, would have sought God and would want to share her life with someone who has similar aspirations and goals.  Praying for wisdom in her life grants her freedom to choose what she desires, in accordance with the gifts and talents God has given her.

When I pray that her future spouse will be equipped to complement her and he would be spiritually mature, I feel like I’m saying she will get married, that this is somehow the best option for her because otherwise she won’t be living up to her potential to serve God.  I feel my vocabulary isn’t desiring a certain path for her, but allowing her to maximize her personal desires in so far as they glorify God (because at the end of it all, my main priority and wish is that she’d glorify God and how that plays out in her life will look different than how it has happened in my life).

I’m not belittling marriage.  I’m not setting her up, or a potential future mate, for failure if I don’t pray for her spouse to grow in Christ. (Disclaimer:  If I pray all people would come to know Christ and they would mature in his image, than I am praying for a spouse to grow in Christ, but I’m not saying that this is what she should choose. *smirks*  Does that work?)

My prayer is simple.  I’m praying she has the wisdom to know the difference between godliness and ungodliness.  As such, hopefully all her decisions will follow suit.  I’m praying she extends mercy, forgiveness, and love to those around her.  I’m not praying, nor do I wish to pray, determinism.

I want to pray, and use language in my prayer, that leaves liberty for my daughter to make her decisions as she discerns how God is speaking to her. Sure, people might think they are doing a service by praying for their child’s future spouse, but will the child feel inept by not finding a life mate, settling down, and producing children?  A spouse can feel grateful he or she was prayed for by their in-laws long before he or she was wed.  However, I come back to the previous question.

We can absolutely pray for events to occur in faith, but should we pray our desires to happen in the life of another?  Shouldn’t we pray for God to be magnified in their life and have that individual’s desires to be met so long as their motivation is to glorify God.  We should simplify our prayers.  Isn’t the purpose of all prayer to have individuals glorify God and grow in his image—loving him and our neighbors more?  (When we pray for healing, employment, unions (that are actually happening and not a mystified ‘what-if, several years down the road, I want this union but they might not want it for themselves’), etc. aren’t we essentially trusting that those events are transpiring to glorify God in that person’s life or hoping that it will?)

So if you want to pray for your offspring’s spouse please do so.  I feel that if I pray that for Willow, I’m implying that she is somehow not fulfilling life’s ‘greatest accomplishment’ or God’s destiny in her life.  I want my prayers for her to be phrased in such a way that I leave room for God to work in her life and for her to have free will, not my will or my desires for her (other than her knowing God and loving him because I glorify God most in my life by training her in his ways, even if she chooses to stray).

I know that parents who are praying for their children’s spouse aren’t attempting to limit their child or saying they aren’t living up to God’s call should their child choose singlehood, but in my opinion, there is a subtle suggestion to this idea.  I don’t want my language, however subtly, to even derive the thought that marriage is the greatest pursuit in my family’s mind, especially my daughter’s.  The greatest pursuit is Christ, not marriage.

If we make marriage our pursuit, marriage becomes an idol and that is when marriage is horrible and not fulfilling.

*Please feel free to comment respectfully and if any of my language use is incoherent or seemingly faulty, please correct me or suggest how I might rephrase a sentence such that the context delivers my intended conclusions.  Also, I understand my grammar isn’t the best here.  I am sleep deprived as a new mom; I don’t see that state changing any time soon.  Please feel free to graciously correct grammar too.

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One Reply to “The Importance of Language”

  1. I struggle with prayer to being with, so I can definitely relate to your struggle about *what* to pray for. I don’t really know how to ask things of God, and I don’t feel like it’s my right to do that, because it’s his will that matters after all. But when I do ask for things, it’s usually because I’m desperate– someone is sick for instance or I’m scared about something. I don’t pray for the future very often at all, but I also don’t have a child to think about. Your post is very interesting to me though! Good discussion.

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