Today, we continue our series with Sandra Crawford Williamson. The last two weeks, Sandra shared about wrestling with infertility; read part one and part two if you missed them.
Today, Sandra shares how legalism affected her life and faith.
4word: Tell us about the church you were raised in.
Sandra: I was raised in a conservative church with a wonderful sense of community but also strict rules: women don’t wear pants to church, no dancing, no TV. I couldn’t cut or braid my hair. And these weren’t guidelines; you were to follow them as a part of the church family.
We went to church three times a week. Sermons were passionate and passages were taken literally. “Women should not adorn themselves” meant no makeup or earrings. “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment” meant women weren’t to wear pants, shorts or a sports uniform. For those who were saved, these rules had to be followed.
Now of course, I was a bright, free thinker who wanted to play sports and go to college. I often wondered where these rules were found in the Bible.
4word: What happened once you left for college?
Sandra: It only took three days at LSU to figure out my parents didn’t know where I was going, or with whom I was spending time. I could go out, party, and meet guys. I had been under the control of strict rules my entire life. I was out of my bubble, and the freedom seemed sweet.
The rules had been pounded into my head, but they didn’t penetrate my heart. I had not learned to discern good environments from potentially damaging ones.
I forgot everything I had been taught. I viewed the rules I’d been taught as things not to do, rather than as ways to make Jesus smile. Becoming the stereotypical 18 year old who rebels outside of church, I cut my hair Annie Lennox style and started tending bar and waiting tables.
It was a dark time, and I suffered terribly. I nearly lost my scholarship. I put myself in awful situations with men, I chose the wrong friends, and I never stepped foot in a church, unless visiting home.
4word: What happened to end all that? And why?
Sandra: My dark time ended after about five years because of the consistent love my parents showed me. They never disowned me. They supported me completely and came to almost every school event. In return, I found I never wanted to hurt or disrespect them.
Although it took me 10 more years to get back into church, when I finally did, I focused on growing my relationship with Jesus rather than rules. On a side note, because I was so focused on my career and single for years, I can tell you it is so hard to go to church alone. If you know a single professional woman, invite her to sit with you in church. You never know what an awesome impact you can have.
When you’re raised in a family and church with leaders – however loving – who express their views so passionately, their influence can affect your ability to find your own way to God. For the first time last summer, I wore pants to church. When the worship music is really rockin’, I flinch less often, and I branched out to a modern-day translation of the Bible. With God’s grace, I continue to let go of the limits that obscure my focus on embracing Jesus as a friend, redeemer, and the shepherd of my life. I share this to encourage others who may feel the same confusion, loneliness or fear.
4word: What have you learned? What are you doing differently with your own children?
Sandra: I want to encourage all the parents out there, because I know it’s tough. Please know that I believe rules are great for teaching critical thinking skills, but they’re not a way to control or prevent children from experiencing “the world.” As a Christian, I seek to raise children who are in the world, but not of the world.
Let’s teach our children to think, to defend their faith and to have a real relationship with Jesus. And don’t let them think just actions and rules will get you there. Unless we teach them to think and walk like Jesus because they want to and because it helps them get through life, we simply create rebels who will leave God the first chance they get.
I tell people all the time that rules are not a value system. Help your children grow in discernment and develop their own value system. Without God in your heart, rules are just something to break.
Parents, how do you walk the line between legalism and instilling Godly values in your children? If you’re not a parent, tell us how your parents walked that line.