Why do they tell you to “surrender rights” that aren’t even rights at all?

One way abuse victims are taught to give up their rights in Christian circles is by teaching them to give up things that are presented as rights but aren’t really rights at all. (So then they’ll say, “Oh, well, yes it’s obvious I should give that up,”  and then the conclusion is drawn that they should give up RIGHTS. But that’s wrong.) This is from Untwisting Scriptures, a few bits in the middle of the section about NOT surrendering your rights.

– Don’t call them rights when they’re really just desires

Revive our Hearts founder Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth says,

All too often, I find myself annoyed and perturbed when things don’t go my way. A decision someone makes at the office, a rude driver on the freeway, a long line at the checkout counter, a thoughtless word spoken by a family member, a minor offense (real or perceived) by a friend, someone who fails to come through on a commitment, a phone call that wakes me when I have just fallen off to sleep—if I am staking out my rights, even the smallest violation of those rights can leave me feeling and acting moody, uptight, and angry.[1]

Nancy talks about “wanting things to go my way.” But that’s not rights. That’s desires. The relatively insignificant desires she names were never her rights to begin with. And she never even tries to grapple with the issue of huge offenses, of real human rights. If she were to distinguish between desires and genuine rights, she could give much more valuable help to her significant readership.

Hope for the Heart founder June Hunt says,

But what are our legitimate rights? One person would answer, “Happiness.” Another would say, “Freedom to live life my way.”[2]

But again, these aren’t really rights at all—they’re only desires. Thinking that these are rights doesn’t make them so. (And again, June doesn’t talk about real human rights, such as life, liberty, and equitable, just treatment.)

If I decided to drive through a red light on purpose, the police officer who stops me isn’t going to tell me to surrender my right to go through that red light. He’ll tell me it wasn’t right. I can’t “surrender” that right, because it never was my right in the first place, even if I may have thought or felt like it was.

police-surrendering-rights

I might imagine I have other rights too. I might think I have a right to “avoid reaping what I sow,” “defy authority,” or “have other people meet all my needs,” as listed by some teachers. But it’s not helpful to tell me to “surrender” those non-rights. Instead, you need to tell me they aren’t my rights in the first place! They are simply wrong desires.

Many no-rights advocates use Jonah as an example of a person who sinfully insisted on his rights instead of yielding them. But if you read the book of Jonah, you’ll find that twice the Lord said to him, “Do you do well to be angry?” This question indicated that Jonah’s anger was not “right,” which means it wasn’t his right to feel that way. In wanting the Ninevites to be destroyed, Jonah was feeling a desire, not a right.

If more teachers focused on distinguishing the difference between desires and genuine rights, we could go a long way—not only in guiding believers in their spiritual growth, but also in getting help to people in desperate need whose basic human and civil rights are being violated or taken from them.

– If you want to talk about desires, talk about them Biblically (and don’t pretend they’re rights)

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As you find your joy in God, by faith, He will give you the desires that will correspond with His will.

How does that work out in practice?

Suppose you’re exhorted to surrender your right to “have visible security.” But instead of thinking about “rights,” you’ll think about your desires and His will.

So you can say, “Lord, my desire is to have visible security. Is this just because I want to live in comfort, or is it because I want to do what You’ve called me to do?” You may be called as a missionary to a dangerous culture, in which case you can trust the Lord to work in you to change your desire, to be willing and even glad to trust Him in living without visible security.

Or on the other hand, you and your children may be living in terror of an abusive spouse, in which case you may see that, far from having “no right” to visible security, you have a responsibility to protect yourself and your children.

Perhaps you’re exhorted to surrender your rights to “be accepted by others,” or “have a good reputation.”

Instead you can say, “Lord, my desire is to have a good reputation. Why do I want that? Is it because I want to exalt myself, or is it because I want to do what You’ve called me to do?” You may be maligned because you speak out for the Lord in a culture that mocks Him, and in that case He can give you joy in the face of that persecution.

Or on the other hand, you may be living with a spouse who spreads lies about you, defaming you to others, in which case the Lord may be calling you to get out and to speak out, with dignity and grace.

As you seek the Lord, you can ask Him to remove from your heart any desires He doesn’t want you to have. You can ask Him to strengthen your desires for things He does want you to have, and show you why you should have them, trusting in Him as a good God who loves you and wants the best for you.

Taking your desires before the Lord to align them with His will is a way of walking by faith. It is living the Christian life actively instead of passively.

One of the many examples I read of rights you “should be willing to give up” is the right to a good night’s sleep if your child is sick. But it can get confusing thinking about your child’s “right” for help, and trying to sort it out from your own “right” to sleep. Which person is supposed to “yield their rights”?

Instead, you can reject this thinking about rights at all, and think about aligning your desires with God’s will. You can think about how the Lord wants you, the caregiver and protector, to love and protect those in your care. He may well want you to put a cool cloth on a hot forehead and hold a small hand and sing a quiet song, even as your own head is nodding off to sleep.

I thought of a different situation, though, when I heard Bill Gothard say

If you give God your right to a good night’s sleep, and then something awakens you tonight halfway through the night, you thank God for a half night’s sleep.[3]

Instead of thinking about a sick child, I thought of a friend who was married to a man who woke her up throughout the night, night after night, for various forms of intimate interaction, so she couldn’t get the sleep she needed.

If she thinks she needs to “yield her rights” to a good night’s sleep, she won’t say anything about this significant problem. But if she understands that she doesn’t need to fear disobeying God in not “yielding her rights” to her husband in his demands, this will be an important step in discerning the right thing to do in this situation, another one in which the stronger one should be loving and protecting.

If you’ve lived under ongoing spiritual abuse, it may take time and good counsel to sort out the voice of the Lord from the voice of the abuser. But one thing you can know for sure: your genuine rights (human and civil) are yours, and it’s wrong for others to violate them.

When it comes to your desires, you don’t need to ignore them, the way the no-rights teachers would have you think. Instead you can bring your desires before the Lord, to ask Him to help your desires align with His will. The closer you grow to Him, the more in tune the two will be.

Aligning our desires with God’s will is an important part of the process, the journey, of growth in Christ. But it’s done by faith, step by step, looking to Him every step of the way to make the next step clear.

Don’t talk about giving up rights, and then use examples of giving up desires. (It’s really impossible to give up your human rights, since they were given to you by God and are inalienable.)

And what a freedom it is to find out that aligning your desires with God’s will is unrelated to giving up your rights!

***

 Read more about the importance of your rights and how “rights” Scriptures are twisted at Untwisting Scriptures that were used to tie you up, gag you, and tangle your mind.

[1] Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free (Moody Publishers, 2002), p 76.

[2] June Hunt, Anger: Facing the Fire Within (Rose Publishing, 2013), p 44.

[3] Bill Gothard, “Basic Seminar Session 8,” www.embassymedia.com.

2 thoughts on “Why do they tell you to “surrender rights” that aren’t even rights at all?

  1. I am so weary of these women who spread the idea that it’s wrong to feel moody, irritable, angry, or plain tired. If you do, you’re probably sinning, they say. It’s NOT WRONG to feel negative emotions. It’s usually a signal that you’re lacking in a physical or emotional area and need to take care of it (hungry, sleepy, disturbed by bad news, jangled after driving in bad traffic).

    As to your post, distinguishing between desires and rights is extremely important. Also important is the fact that you don’t always have to give up your own desires.

    A friend recommended “Lies Women Believe” to me years ago. I didn’t find it very helpful in the end.

    • Yes, there’s also the question of optional and non-optional desires, but that was beyond the scope of this text. 🙂

      I have friends who have found “Lies Women Believe” to be destructive and condemning. Seeing as how I believe it’s impossible to give up your rights (they remain yours, no matter what other people do to you), you can see I would believe
      that many of her teachings (which are not uncommon) offer a set-up for abuse.

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