The way I grew up, worldly was a bad thing. It was probably the worst insult you could give something. “Worldly,” “new-age garbage,” and “ungodly” were practically synonyms. “Worldly” was a derogatory term that might be used before an unapproved sugary treat was thrown out, a certain type of toy regifted, or some kind of jewelry, clothing, or makeup forbidden.
Worldly meant not of God, earthly based. Things that were earthly based and not of God were “of the flesh,” and of the flesh meant sinful, and sinful things were the domain of the devil. So calling something worldly was about the same as calling it “of the devil.” A worldly woman could be a covetous, jealous person who was only out for material gain and the amassing of power or influence among men, creating drama and discord. She could be a whore, dressed up in trinkets and baubles, dancing in front of men, a seductive lying gold digger. She could be like Eve, thirsting after knowledge or territory she was forbidden to possess and then acting on temptation or impulse. Being worldly was bad.
The opposite of worldly was “Godly” and there was only one way to be a Godly woman. It was to learn housekeeping skills as a girl and help at home every day with a pleasant attitude, refrain from sex or dating before finding the right guy to marry, then become a self-sacrificing mother, a woman whose primary (and some might even say sole) goal in life was to serve God and tend to her husband and large brood of children.
For years I felt stuck in between what I saw as two equally grotesque alternatives. I did not understand that there could be a middle ground, another way (many other ways in fact), that my life could be better than either type of oppressed cookie-cutter situation. After over a decade of trying, I still seek balance for myself and in some ways I have found it, although it remains imperfect, a work in progress. Still, it was only recently that I learned “worldly” was not an epithet or a fighting word in mainstream use and I think this new knowledge helps, if in some small way, to further my goal of living a balanced life.
This realization happened when a good friend reading my book draft mentioned that to her, being worldly was a good thing. It was a way to describe someone who was cosmopolitan, well-traveled, and culturally aware. It was someone who lived life and enjoyed it. I looked it up in the dictionary and she was right! It was. Learning this piece of information made me both happy and sad somehow, and I ultimately decided to reclaim the word. I chose “Becoming Worldly” as the name for my blog because worldly in the good way is what I’ve always wanted to be, and years ago I rejected the meaning and worldview implied by using worldly as a fundamentalist epithet. Rejecting that outlook has made my life so much more meaningful and free.
Also, if someone who disagrees with my perspective on the Quiverfull lifestyle wants to call me names, write nasty things to and about me, they can go ahead. I have heard it all before and now I have taken this one word, something that once was the biggest insult, a painful thing I often heard my own mother use to describe me, and I have repurposed it to try and do good, to raise awareness of the issues facing children raised like how I was. It’s my word now and I’m keeping it because it’s a good one.