Self Control vs. Self-indulgence
Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:24–25) - Bill Gothard
The training started when I was just a toddler. I don't remember who introduced it or how it was introduced. I just remember that, at certain points in the day, one of my parents would have us line up in the family room and begin barking commands. "Ruth, go to the table and sit in the chair. Stand up. Sit down. Sit on the floor. Move the chair. Come stand by me." It was common for one or two of the commands to not make sense. "Ruth, pick up that magazine and move it into the bathroom, but don't put it on the counter. Put it in the shower." The goal was to get us not to question the command or the logic of the instruction - the goal was immediate and unquestioned obedience. My mother never asked us to do anything "wrong" but my father would introduce "challenges" (as he called them). "Ruth, hit your brother." This contradicted our household rules. However, if I did not walk over and tap my brother on the arm, I would have to sit in time out. I can't tell you how common this "game" is in QF/ATI families.
Another incident, that I've described before, happened when I was very small and was asked to take a diaper to the trash for my mother. I had a sensitive gag reflex as a kid. Smells or sights could make me vomit. My father saw this as a character flaw and lack of self-control, so he mandated that my mother find a way to break my sensitivity. This particular day, I gagged on the way to the garbage can and was punished severely. Part of that punishment involved two weeks of eating the same meal (a meal that had previously made me toss my cookies): liver and onions. I hated the texture and smell. Yet, every night, while the rest of the family enjoyed whatever my mom had prepared, I was presented with liver and onions. I sat in my chair for hours, until the meat had congealed and cooled, trying to force down smaller and smaller bites. If I didn't finish it, it was reheated and served for breakfast the next morning. When I finally managed to eat the meal without throwing up, I was given oatmeal dyed with food coloring or some other unappatizing or stinky menu option. In the end, I learned to disassociate from what I was eating and I got past my gag reflex. My dad claimed this as his victory.
My siblings and I became robots for Jesus and my father took all the credit. We were picture perfect children, on the surface. Beneath the surface, we all suffered from various forms of anxiety disorders. It's not surprising! Everything, and I mean everything, was a big deal. If, when we finished our dinner, we didn't place our forks precisely on our plates (with the tines at two o'clock and the handle at ten o'clock, horizontally), it was considered a lapse in self control. If we spoke an unkind word or raised an eyebrow, it was a lapse in self control. If we ran, rather than walked, to get to a toy... you get the general idea. You can't live with that level of perfection and come out without anxiety. For myself, it would prove to be a disaster. At eight years old, I would make a mental accounting of every flaw or imperfection in my behavior (over the course of the day) and I exacted an almost Catholic approach to repentence. I would force myself to say so many prayers, in a certain position, with hands folded precisely, with no words missed. If I missed one word or positioned myself wrong or had my thoughts drift, I would start all over. This often meant me praying for hours every night.
Another result of this "self control" or "discipline" was that I became unable to carry out certain tasks without express permission. I've heard people say, after they've been through boot camp, that they couldn't pee without being told they could. I was much the same way. With regard to personal actions, I wouldn't take care of my own needs without first fulfilling my obligation to others and getting permission to take care of myself. Because every command was supposed to be followed literally, I also became the perfect victim. This was dangerous.
One of my dad's "friends" was a pervert. Much later in his life, he was convicted of lude and lacivious behavior towards a minor. This didn't shock me because, one afternoon, when I was six, he attended our home church and the bbq that followed. I was inside the kitchen, gathering condiments on my mother's orders to take back outside. One of my younger brothers was with me, getting hamburger buns and putting them in a basket to take to the serving line. Directly off our kitchen was a small pantry. "Martin" followed me inside the house and engaged me in small talk. When there were no other adults present, he told my brother and I to go into the pantry. Once inside, he shut the door and told me to kiss my brother. I pecked him on the cheek without questioning the order or the reason for the order. Apparently, he didn't want to see a peck. He told my brother to open his mouth and told me to stick my tongue inside his mouth. I was nervous and felt awkward but I'm also ashamed to say that, after having been drilled into following orders even if they were morally questionable, I did exactly as instructed. I didn't even hesitate. This haunted me for years. How could I do such a thing without even pausing to consider that what we'd been instructed to do was wrong. I've said it before and I'll repeat it- this is why the obedience game is dangerous. It replaces your ability to reason or pause to consider if the request is reasonable or safe. That same afternoon, Martin told my father that I had defrauded his son by sitting on a fence.
As an adult who's been through hours of therapy, I now see how twisted this experience was. Here's a grown man ordering two children to tongue kiss while he watches, who then goes outside and suggests that a child is being sexually enticing (defrauding young boys) by sitting astride on a fence. It's terrible!
The worst tragedy is that I never told my parents about the pantry incident and I was punished for "defrauding" even though I was the victim. In this type of family, you do not "tattle", especially on adults. Adults are the authority figures, end of story. Unfortunately, looking back on it, I don't even know if telling would have resulted in a punishment for the man. I don't have any confidence in my father and I'm sure that he would've labeled me a liar. In fact, I suspect he'll call me a liar even today. Parents, when you're teaching your children obedience, make sure they understand that there are some orders that a child has a right to deny. Otherwise, you're creating the perfect victim.