Ever since I first visited Amish country as a kid, I have been fascinated by the Amish people. "Rosanna of the Amish" became one of my childhood favorite books, and I gained a lot of insight and understanding through reading that and other similar stories. But I still wondered at some of the inner workings and mindsets of this religion/culture/people. So naturally when "Breaking Amish" premiered on TLC just a few weeks ago, I was glued to the TV. It follows five young adults while on rumspringa in New York City.
Many Amish communities allow a time of rumspringa, where a young person can leave the Amish fold and explore the world a little, sin a little, and then decide if they want to remain Amish or not. But if they choose not to return, they will forever be shunned by their church, friends and even families. And in some cases, young adults can be temporarily shunned if they leave the community when participating in rumspringa. But it is said that between 85-90% of young people return to the fold after their free time is over. This makes me very curious.
Some might say, that these 85% "prodigal sons" come home because they get their fill of "sin", realize their rebellion, repent and desire to live this "godly" lifestyle after all. Others might say, it's because they are ill-equipped to handle the fast paced, technology driven, complexities of this world. And then still others might say that they are so ingrained with the Amish way of life, they are unable to fully separate themselves from it, and embrace something else. These may be true, but I have another theory.
Dreams Overcoming Fear
In the first episode of "Breaking Amish," it shows brief interviews and clips of all five young people, discussing their excitement, fears and worries about going to New York. Most of them are very fearful of losing family and friends, being shunned and being never allowed to return home. But their drive for freedom, their curiosity about the outside world, and for one man especially, his dreams of becoming something more (possibly a pilot), finally overpower the fear, and they tell their families they are going to New York. It's very dramatic and very sad, as you watch these poor kids sacrifice everything and be treated so harshly. And yes, it is exploitive watching their lives unfold (or rather, unravel) for viewers and ratings. But it still captivated me.
There was one thing that was very evident to me, one consist thought, and one unchanging theme among all five young people...."I want to be free."
Since the beginning of time,
human beings have yearned for freedom. We have sacrificed for it. We have
explored and conquered new lands and countries for it. We have fought wars for
it. It is integral to our happiness, wholeness and fulfillment. Of course, we
can exist without it, but we cannot live without out.
So it becomes understandable why these young people want to flee and be free. It is inbuilt within us, our desire for freedom. It first becomes apparent as toddlers... usually with the "terrible twos" and that first "NO!" blurted out. As good parents, we quickly nip that in the bud and begin placing the constraints that continue to grow and become tighter as the child grows. We mold them into good little boys and girls.
Then the teen years hit, and all of a sudden our sweet little angel becomes a hormonal, disrespectful, attitude ridden, zit monster. So we tighten those constraints again, maybe even add a few more of them. They push back, you push back on and on it goes... and eventually one wins.... whether the parent finally gains "control" (or for those who are considered lucky and didn't have an "out of control" teenager), or the teen wins and just does whatever he wants, whenever he wants with no regard to others. And hope and pray they eventually grow out of this "phase.
We Naturally Want Freedom
But back to the Amish....it's our nature to want freedom, to desire it so much, that we will sacrifice things most important to us to get it. But many of these young people that go out on rumspringa, go overboard. Much like some of other teens/young adults do. And some make it back and some don't. Just like other young people all over the world. And when this happens, these young people, whether Amish, or Catholic, or Baptist, or Charismatic, or no religion at all, are deemed "rebellious." It is interesting to me how we have coined this phrase and use it so often mistakenly, in my opinion. We tend to use it to describe any person that is not doing what WE want them to do, or the way WE want them to do it, or someone who does not agree with us, morally or theologically. And I have even heard it go so far as to say someone is "in rebellion" or has a "rebellious spirit" because they won't comply with something, someone, or some teaching. Even adults who don't agree with a teaching in their church, can often be labeled as "rebellious." This makes me sad.
In "Breaking Amish," we have already seen them dealing with their families, going through heartbreak of leaving them and their initial trip to the "big city." We have seen them take their first plane ride, try and figure out how to use an escalator, be amazed by the electricity, radio and TVs in the hotel rooms and be overwhelmed by the sheer size, population and vast concrete of New York City. We've watched scenes of the young people getting drunk, acting wild and partying etc. It also shows them buying regular clothes and going to bars and night clubs, getting their hair done, exploring make-up and pedicures, putting on their first bikini swimsuit and one guy getting a tattoo. Now, except for the two or three of these activities, I am sure most Christians would agree that these kids are now headed down a sinful path on the way to destruction. To them, ALL these activities are a sin, not just some of them. But, if you have lived your life in a straightjacket, and it was all of a sudden removed, after you get over the initial shock, you wouldn't just walk around like normal, you would be turning cartwheels, flinging your arms everywhere and acting crazy.
I don't see these youngsters as "rebellious" or "loving sin", I see them gaining freedom and not knowing how to proceed with it. Because they have lived their lives under such constraints and outward control, they have never been given the tools to manage themselves, their freedom, and their own hearts. So they are going to go nuts, they are going to flounder. The ones that eventually figure out how to manage their freedom, will settle down, move on and integrate themselves into the rest of society. Just like a wild college student, who after a few years "grows up" and takes on a more productive role in society.
And as for the ones that return to the fold? Though I am sure there are some who truly prefer a simplistic lifestyle that can be achieved without being of Amish religion. So there must be something else that draws them back. Remember, the constraints here are much heavier than in the average church or average Christian family. So their feeling of throwing off those constraints is MUCH greater than other young people, overwhelmingly so. And I believe many return simply because they never figure out how to manage this new freedom, how to manage themselves, and it is frightening. Their lives fall apart and they don't know how to piece it back together. We are already beginning to see this happen with one of the girls on the show. And when they can't handle it anymore, they return to what's familiar and comfortable: to where their lives are managed for them by bishops and rules and laws and fear.... fear of punishment, fear of repercussions, fear of being shunned. For many, it is easier to live that way and lessen your own responsibility for your life, than to live completely responsible for yourself; placing the responsibility in the hands of those "over you".... their husband, their bishop etc.
And I have found this in more than just the Amish communities. Too many churches and Christian homes operate this way as well. It is often not nearly as distinctive as the Amish, because we aren't quite as extreme and separated from the world as the Amish, but it can still be there none the less. It is most often present in the "head" theology (based off of Ephesians 5)... where the pastor is the "head" over the church, or the husband is the "head" over the wife or the household and used as a way to control. When the Bible says that the husband is the "head", it does not mean "in charge of" or "higher up" or "over". This word here actually means "source" like the head of a river is the source of that river. Husbands are supposed to be a "source" for their wives.... a source for love, for encouragement, for friendship, a hearing ear, an advice giver, a purse holder (haha, joking), anything that he needs to be in order to be there for her, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Whatever the wife needs her husband to be for her, it is his job to be just that. It most certainly does NOT mean he is a dictator, an order giver, or an accountability holder. The picture painted of a "head" is a physical picture only, the Greek word here does not have the double meaning of head (as in authority) like the English word does.
And same with pastors... they are to be a source for their church, to equip their members for ministry, to help settle disagreements, or give council, to allocate funds for feeding the poor or other community outreaches, to pray with, to mentor. Not to rule the roost or be the one in charge. And I know of cases where churches, pastors, husbands etc. use forms of fear and punishment to keep their flock and /or families in line. I even witnessed a pastor preach from the pulpit, this is MY church. It's my way or the highway. If you don't want to obey and do things my way, the RIGHT way, you can leave". Despicable.
And yes, I'll address the "submissive wife" issue..... which many men, when using (or abusing) this Scripture, conveniently forget the "submit one to another" portion (Ephod 5:21). So if wives are to "submit" to their husbands and many translate this as "obey" their husbands.... then how are we to also "submit" to each other? Because this word does not mean "obey". This word, hupotasso, means support and is not an imperative, but a participle. It means to hold someone up, like you would support a baby's head, or support a charity with your time and efforts. To be a shoulder to lean on for someone going through a difficult time, to be strong when the other person is going through a time of weakness, to lift them up when they are down. And it's the person's choice to be supportive, not something that is forced on them.
And I'll add a little two cents about children....we are all familiar with, "Children obey your parents." in Eph 6 and Col 3. This is our first signal that submit does not equal obey, because a different word is used here... hupakouo, which means "pay attention to" or "listen (and act on it)". But don't forget immediately following are versus telling parents not to come down hard on or exasperate their children. But instead they are to provide them with paidea - which means "training, instruction, and teaching, education, rearing of a child, bringing up of a child, learning, and accomplishments". This word is not related to "chastening" or "discipline". And as far as "spare the rod, spoil the child"? This comes back under the idea of outward control, obedience without question. If you want to put your children back under the Old Testament, than it's only right for you to put yourself there too. In today's terms, we are to lead our children into who they are meant to be, into their freedom, not control them with fear and punishment.
Whether you are an Amish young person on rumspringa, a two year old screaming "NO!", a "rebellious teen", or even a "rebellious" adult, we are all in some way grasping for some sense of freedom; to be rid of constraints and inhibitions. And that is not a bad thing.
New Covenant, New Way
With the New Covenant, came a new way. The old system of rules, laws, outside control and constraints was done away with... actually it was fulfilled, but you know what I mean. This New Covenant was strange and different... that is why the Pharisee's did not like it! It wasn't that they didn't like Jesus or believe He was the Messiah. I am sure they would have jumped on board, had Jesus' message been more to their liking. Had it been more in agreement with their theology. But it wasn't, it was pretty much the opposite. For thousands of years it had been, LAW LAW LAW! RULES RULES RULES! Outward control and the Priest as the head were responsible for the people. And now suddenly Jesus is saying NO MORE! Each person now has their own relationship with the Lord, their own responsibility over their lives and through grace has received liberty, free from the constraints of the law! This terrified and appalled the Pharisees! I am sure they pictured the people running around, acting like Gentiles, doing all manners of sins and not keeping the feasts and rituals of their forefathers.
Losing control of a whole nation of people would be enough to send anyone into hysterics. But what they failed to understand was that Jesus was also giving the people (and consequently us) the tools needed to successfully govern our lives and manage our own hearts. He gave us the Holy Spirit, the Fruits of the Spirit and He gave us love. These aren't laws or rules to follow. Patience, kindness, self-control aren't a scale to judge a Christian by, or a list of things to require a fellow believer to produce. They are gifts freely given, instruments, to help us learn to manage our hearts effectively. It is key here to understand that we are manage our own hearts.... never someone else's. We should never try to do that job of the Holy Spirit.
When children are still in diapers, their need for freedom starts to become evident. This is the time, not to start putting heavy constraints on them, but the time to start giving them the tools needed to eventually successfully govern themselves. Of course they are going to be certain restrictions on younger children, because we have things like their safety and well-being to think of. And I am certainly not saying let your 5 year old run wild doing whatever they want to do. But gradually giving them freedoms, letting learn how natural consequences plays a role in their choices (both good and bad) and at the same time giving them to tools to handle those freedoms will make for a much happier home and a whole lot less likely of a "rebellious" streak when they hit teenage-hood.
Fear and punishment to obtain outward control is something that God saw fitting to fulfill and do away with, so it only makes sense that we should also feel that way when it comes to others, and yes even our kids. And not to say that life does not present us with consequences, of course it does, and many times we as Christians will have to deal with consequences when we make such a not so smart choice. Our kids also have consequences when their choices aren't the best. But let them learn how to govern their hearts, deal with consequences and get a foundation of fruits under their belt, while they are home in the safety and love of their parents. Messing up on some things earlier on, not getting it quite right at the start, in a place where they can learn love and forgiveness, and get a second chance will put them on the right track. Jesus was the one that said it's not the actions that count, it's the heart that does (1 Samuel 16:7, Matthew 5, 1 Cor. 13).
Freedom Came by the Cross
And it should be this way within our churches. If Jesus gave His life as an ultimate sacrifice so that we could receive our freedom, than why would we ever think it acceptable for some person to take that away and put us back under control? That completely negates the work of the cross. This was already addressed to the Galatians, so there should be no confusion with us! I will leave you with exactly what Paul had to say to the Galatians about all this.... read and reread until it gets deep in your spirit!.
Gal 2:19-3:27 The Message Bible, A wonderful revelation of God's Grace
19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
3 You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.
2-4 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!
5-6 Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don't these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.
7-8 Is it not obvious to you that persons who put their trust in Christ (not persons who put their trust in the law!) are like Abraham: children of faith? It was all laid out beforehand in Scripture that God would set things right with non-Jews by faith. Scripture anticipated this in the promise to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed in you."
9-10 So those now who live by faith are blessed along with Abraham, who lived by faith-this is no new doctrine! And that means that anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure. Scripture backs this up: "Utterly cursed is every person who fails to carry out every detail written in the Book of the law."
11-12 The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: "The person who believes God, is set right by God-and that's the real life." Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: "The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them."
13-14 Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse. And now, because of that, the air is cleared and we can see that Abraham's blessing is present and available for non-Jews, too. We are all able to receive God's life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing-just the way Abraham received it.
15-18 Friends, let me give you an example from everyday affairs of the free life I am talking about. Once a person's will has been ratified, no one else can annul it or add to it. Now, the promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant. You will observe that Scripture, in the careful language of a legal document, does not say "to descendants," referring to everybody in general, but "to your descendant" (the noun, note, is singular), referring to Christ. This is the way I interpret this: A will, earlier ratified by God, is not annulled by an addendum attached 430 years later, thereby negating the promise of the will. No, this addendum, with its instructions and regulations, has nothing to do with the promised inheritance in the will.
18-20 What is the point, then, of the law, the attached addendum? It was a thoughtful addition to the original covenant promises made to Abraham. The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came, inheriting the promises and distributing them to us. Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. It was arranged by angelic messengers through a middleman, Moses. But if there is a middleman as there was at Sinai, then the people are not dealing directly with God, are they? But the original promise is the direct blessing of God, received by faith.
21-22 If such is the case, is the law, then, an anti-promise, a negation of God's will for us? Not at all. Its purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.
23-24 Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.
25-27 But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe-Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise.
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When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life
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