I’m not sure where to begin as I write these paragraphs after the International Women’s Day commemoration. Each month I meet with women from 10 to 14 countries. In some of their countries, women have the right to work, be educated, choose their careers. In others, women are seen as objects…if they are seen at all.
Two days ago I attended a conference via video where women with wisdom, strength and enthusiasm proclaimed the truth of God, where some wept over deep loss while proclaiming God’s sustaining strength and grace, where others talked together about tough stuff like racism (yes, it’s still alive and well in the United States). Then I listened to Lynne Hybels share her journey from misunderstanding God and his call on her life to the beginning—a re-birth—of understanding who God created her to be and how that call is revolutionizing her life and her world.
I grew up in an area and age with few in-the-flesh models of women in church or public arena leadership. The mantra in my evangelical church setting was get married, have a family, make a home, teach Sunday School, maybe go to the mission field with your husband. (Today I know of the thousands of single women missionaries who planted churches, founded hospitals and orphanages, started schools—even seminaries—with great blessings of God.)
In some parts of the world, women—Christians as well as those with other beliefs or no religious beliefs—enjoy unprecedented freedom to pursue their goals. We rejoice over this. But then this by Lisa Rieck from yesterday’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship blog:
(Today) is a day to celebrate women, and the strength and beauty they add to the world… But today is also a day to grieve. Because today, about 800 women will die from childbirth complications, over 1,100 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone will be raped, and over 2,000 women will be trafficked as sex slaves.
At the video conference, an interview with Lynne Hybels,* co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, captured—no, captivated—my attention. I can’t quote everything she said but I found the following on her February 26th blog:*
Twenty years ago, when I was forty-three years old, I gave a talk called “I Died to Self and My Self Almost Died.” I was in the early years of a decade of healing, a decade of reclaiming the bits and pieces of a broken life. Twenty years of adult life—of marriage and ministry, of parenting and people pleasing—had left me exhausted, depressed, and clueless about who I was or what I had to offer to the world (or even to my family and friends). There are probably a thousand reasons why I ended up in such a dark and empty place, but a wise spiritual guide helped me understand how seriously I had misunderstood and misapplied the Biblical call to “die to self.”
Fast forward a couple decades. Two hours ago I lay prostrate, my face on the floor and my arms outstretched in supplication. “Free me, God, from myself. Free me from my fear, from my unwillingness to take up my cross and follow you. Help me, empower me to let go of all that keeps me from greater obedience to you. Help me die to whatever I need to die to today.”
Recently, my thoughts have been jumbled and my feelings intense. Lent. 21 Egyptian martyrs. Repent. An upcoming trip to the Middle East. Excitement. Fear. The crucifixion. 90 Syrian Christians kidnapped. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The world seems crazy with hate. Is resurrection power real?
And so I found myself prostrate this morning.
Lynne walked through darkness to find the light illuminating the new path God had for her, a path that today takes her to the most broken places in the world, to some of the most broken people of the world.
“They Made It Happen” was the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. I wonder how you and I are “making it happen”? But another question lies heavy on my heart: how are we as Christian women encouraging, educating our daughters and granddaughters to “make it happen”? Yes, we should be training them—and our sons and grandsons!—how to be good parents, good citizens, good followers of Jesus, good writers, even good cooks and housekeepers! But are we sufficiently cheering them on to aim high? To become a Jim Elliott, Amy Carmichael, Kayla Mueller, Malala Yousafzai, Lynne Hybels? (If you don’t recognize some of those names, “Google” them!) Are we praying that God will use them to change the world?
I’m so proud of my daughter and daughters-in-law who, without waving banners or (often!) even believing that they’re part of changing the world, are doing exactly that. One is using her artistic talents to create spaces of beauty. Another works at a university to help make people and programs as effective as possible. Another translates her own deep insights into thought-provoking fiction while at the same time helping educate immigrant students so they can become productive citizens of the world.
As I read Lynne Hybels’ Nice Girls Don’t Change the World, I thought I was looking into a mirror! Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been asking God to help me glean nuggets of gold from that story, nuggets to be burnished and polished into jewels that I can offer to God and the world. Listen again to Lynne:
At the beginning of this book I said that the opposite of a nice girl is a good woman. But what I really wanted to say—and what I’m going to say now—is that the opposite of a nice girl is not just a good woman, but a downright dangerous woman. A woman who shows up with everything she is and joins the battle against whatever opposes the redeeming work of God in our lives and in our world.
Hybels closes her February 26th blog with this prayer. May it be ours:
God, here I am. What would you have me do? How do you want me to respond to this crazy, hateful world? Today? Next week? On Good Friday? On Easter morning? What do you want to do with this self you’ve given me? Please give me the grace, the wisdom, the strength to die to anything that keeps my self from being wholly yours. Amen.