Because we were traveling in the days preceding Mother’s Day…and then recovering from travel…these thoughts simply floated around in my brain, never finding their way into print before last Sunday. But when thoughts continue to nudge, I’m slowly learning to pay attention and so here’s my Mother’s Day message to you, Molly and Megan.
I am blessed with two intelligent, healthy, beautiful, becoming-wise granddaughters. (I thought of including your pictures but decided such public view was neither necessary nor prudent.) You possess the exquisite combination of inherited genes, exhibited in sometimes surprising ways. Although we haven’t had the privilege of living near you and thus missed the everydayness relationship, nevertheless our visits have included an extraordinary journey of observing you develop from those baby days, through childhood, teen years and—for one—into blossoming adulthood.
This isn’t an advice-from-Oma piece! Nor is it exactly a what-I-pray-for-you piece. Maybe a bit of both but also including thoughts gained over the years, especially in recent years.
I grew up in a family, age, community, evangelical Christian culture that pretty much proscribed a girl’s future. “Good” Christian girls married, had children and…if God gave a somewhat secondary call…nursing, teaching, missions could be added. Specific and undeniable gifts of leadership, teaching, music, etc., would be secondary to that primary call. I followed willingly into that pattern and have no regrets. A husband, four children and volunteering in church happily filled my hours. Eventually, I followed my husband into Christian ministry.
It was that last step that triggered my first uncomfortable and whispered questions. (And whispered only to God!) I had been a vocal enthusiast for Paul’s submission teaching, but niggling reservations began to surface. Was I only Bob’s “assistant”? Why did only men give the lectures at Lay Institutes for Evangelism? Why didn’t women serve on decision-making committees? (And in one wonderful church we attended, why didn’t (couldn’t?) women speak up in business meetings?!)
It was during a difficult time in my life—in all our lives—that I began to understand that my identity was more than, and prior to, any role of wife and mother. I began to comprehend that, while physically accompanied by others, I essentially walked through some valleys with God alone. This was a time of exploring more deeply who I was as woman-created-by-God. It was framed with confusion, wrenching emotions, struggles with Scripture, tears and even quiet inner rebellion.
And then, through no effort of my own but definitely through God’s ingenious grace, I discovered devout, wise, intelligent, female authors and scholars who began cracking open too-long tightly closed interpretations of Scripture, uncovering the difference between cultural (even church) expectations and biblical truth. I’d grown up with a picture of an apron-wearing Proverbs 31 woman and a subservient, spineless Eve. I’d been taught that Eve’s primary role was “helpmeet” and the church explicitly defined what that meant.
Carolyn Custis James was one of the women shedding light on my path. Hear these words from her own pursuit:
My first serious encounter with my calling as an ezer happened in the middle of the night. It was around 3:00 a.m., and it changed my life. I wasn’t tossing and turning in bed, but wide awake, pouring over books, smuggling volumes out of my husband’s study, and searching for answers. I felt like a detective and I knew I was onto something. For years I had been troubled by interpretations of Eve that left me and a lot of other women out in the cold. I was looking for answers, but I was not at all braced for what I was about to find.
God could have given any number of labels to the woman. He chose ezer, which in English Bibles is translated “helper.” Kenegdo is translated “suitable” or, as in older English translations, “meet,” which explains how we ended up with “helpmeet.” This in turn has led to interpretations of the woman as the man’s assistant, wife, mother of his children, and manager of their home, which as we’ve noted excludes some 60 percent of females in this country alone. How many millions of women and girls are we leaving out worldwide?…
Focus on the wife as her husband’s helper has led to the belief that God gave primary roles and responsibilities to men, and secondary, supporting roles to women. It has led to practices that communicate that women are second class citizens at home and in the church.
Now what? Would I, should I, turn into a flag-waving women’s lib advocate?! You would not have observed any (maybe many?) outward changes, but thought patterns, an uncomfortable examination of my identity, re-thinking of my goals began slowly to emerge. As I investigated the word ezer in the Bible, I discovered that it’s almost always prefaced by the adjective “strong” and frequently used in a military sense, i.e., a “strong warrior.” Both Ruth and the Proverbs woman are called women of valor.
God began—and continues—to mold me into the ezer of his choosing. This isn’t an easy path as anyone who’s endured military boot camp will assert. But that’s also his goal for you. God may grant you the privilege of marriage, motherhood, singleness. He may call you as business owner, inventor, coach, photographer, veterinarian, chef, writer. His call is never to anything less than Holy Spirit driven completeness, enjoyed in any so-called role. Dream big. Focus on the world not some small corner of it. Learn, learn, learn. Ask questions, especially uncomfortable ones. Love well. Dig deeply and daily into God’s Word. See yourselves both as Mary and Martha. (Actually, a blessed combination of both!). Discover the urges in your heart and ask hard questions of God about why he put them there and what he wants to do with them. Be patient.
Someone said, “Some people will only love you if you fit into their box. Don’t be afraid to disappoint.” God’s boxes are never sealed shut and they’re bigger than you can imagine in your wildest and most beautiful dreams. See yourselves poised on the brink of God’s unfathomable future. And rest assured that I love you.