On this women’s day…

I remember making the transition from a high school student living at home to a college student living on my own.
It was a big transition, moving from a familiar and protected home out into the unfamiliar world. I was introduced to many different people, different situations and different ideas which were both scary and exciting. There was a pressure, a good one, to make some decisions about myself and my life. Outside of my parents’ home, how did I want to treat people, how did I want to interact with them? Outside of a pre-determined set of high school studies, what did I want to do with my life? What did I need to do to get there. Outside of family priorities, what were my priorities?

These were big questions, and finding the answers was messy, but good. Some would say that you should know who you are and what you want to do with your life when you get to college. And some people do. But in my experience, I needed time to figure these things out. Some would call this delayed adolescence, devalue and degrade the time of searching and finding out how you want to fit into the world. You might be called irresponsible- for jumping from job to job until you find one that suits you. You might be deemed flippant for challenging the status quo and trying out new ways of thinking and being. You might be called reckless and immature as you make mistakes in judgement and suffer the consequences. You may be called all of these things because there is a certain discomfort with not knowing, not having composure and not having maturity. It’s messy and not many people like that sort of thing.

But I assert, that this whole process is actually good and necessary. It’s necessary to make a mess, make mistakes, try out new thoughts and ideas and to wrestle with the world around you until you understand how it is that you want to fit into it.
I was in the process of doing this when I met my now husband, Luke, and when we started attending Mars Hill church. I had never been to church before and had relatively neutral feelings about it as I attended my first service. What I heard and saw was rather refreshing. A man who said that religion wasn’t about appearances or whether or not you drank alcohol, or danced, or had tattoos, but about who you thought God was and if you revered him and his writings about life.

We began to attend church regularly, making friends and participating in the services. The content of sermons focused a lot on the roles of men and women -what it looked like to be a godly man and woman. And we heard the familiar comments that I mentioned above about delayed adolescence, irresponsibility, recklessness and immaturity. In fact, there was a fair amount of ridicule handed-out from the pulpit (Mark Driscoll) toward anyone in the congregation who would occupy one of these categories. Before I started attending church, I had heard similar things. But it didn’t change my actions because I had made a decision that all of this exploring of life was good. But in church, there was new power added to these criticisms and new pressure to change as this immaturity was equated with sin and being ungodly. If you really loved God, you would live a different sort of life.

It gave me a strong impression of what I shouldn’t do, but also brought me back to where I had begun upon leaving home – who am I and how do I want to interact with the world? I think that is a very vulnerable spot to be, because you are like a dry sponge, looking for something to absorb to help you answer your questions. Another new element shaped how I responded. Not only was I wanting answers, but in church, we also learned that those answers could only be found in the Bible and ideally, in our church, that most influences outside of that were probably wrong, misleading and dangerous to our faith. So rather than looking to the outside world and interacting as I had been with my community, I became more isolated, trying to answer these questions from a very narrow source. Our pastor spent the next few years detailing among other things, what it meant to be a godly man and woman, not just from the bible, but also from his personal assessment. Rather than challenging us to ask these formative questions of ourselves, he filled in the blanks and gave us the answers. And in accepting these answers and trying to conform to this very specific image of what it meant to be a godly woman, I gave something valuable away. I gave up the messy task of wrestling with life and finding myself through that and gave myself over to a tidy answer that sounded good.

What was I taught about the image of a godly woman? She prays, learns the bible, submits to her husband, running most decisions past him. Her life is dedicated to God, her husband, children and if there is time, other interests. She cooks, cleans, supports, encourages and serves. On a whole, she is entirely non-offensive. She doesn’t stir the pot, doesn’t speak out of turn, always weights her opinions against those of her husband and church. This was my experience.

She is, in essence, in the background, out of the way, playing a supporting role in the lives of others. This is called, by some, godly and good.

So the question is, how is this woman going to make an impact with her life, mobilizing her unique passions, abilities and insights, if she has passions and talents outside of the home, but is cast in a supporting role?

After moving away from our church and away from our country, I’ve had time to reflect on all of this. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but at least here in London, I have seen a different option for women. They are empowered, passionate, shaping and pursuing both the health and well-being of their family and society using their passions and talents. They have a voice beyond their own church and home, and that voice benefits the community around them. They are operating in a system and culture that not only allows this but also expects it. And it’s beautiful.

Observing this different culture has caused me to reflect on my own.
In my opinion, the impact of the woman I was called to be was limited within it’s definition. And that is a big problem.

It’s a problem on many levels.

On one level, it is a problem because it sets up a system where the relevancy of her opinion is dependent on the approval of a male. I don’t think men are bad or that they are completely in the dark about women, but on a certain level, they do not understand women just as on a certain level, we don’t understand men because neither of us have walked in the other’s shoes.

It also set’s up a spiritual hierarchy wherein men are more capable of discerning whether or not something is good or beneficial.

On another level, her fundamental dignity and worth as someone who bears the image of God is being suppressed.
Let me hash that out a bit.

The Bible (God’s word) contains many passages that ask us to stand in awe of creation. To recognize how the variety and beauty of creation reflects the variety and beauty of God himself. If every tree looked the same, if every sunset was monochromatic, if every person looked the same, spoke the same language and was good at the same things, there would be no awe, only monotony.

Likewise, if every woman occupies a very pre-defined role, she too becomes less vibrant and beautiful than intended. Just as if trees could only be green, flowers only yellow, sunsets only orange.

Stifling the unique attributes of God that are expressed in each individual is sad for all involved. On a meta scale, the world misses out, as women who have passions and talents from God in all manner of areas have a very limited opportunity for expression.

Let me be very clear. I am not suggesting that women who desire to be at home with their children are doing anything wrong. So long as you occupy a role that actually represents you, there is no problem. In fact, it is a beautiful expression of who you were created to be. But in the above scenario, the world misses out on experiencing the variety and beauty of God because it’s expression is being suppressed.
Her children, husband and friends also miss out. They don’t get to fully know the real person that she is because she is trying to be a certain type of person and not herself.

Friends, I hope you understand that this is my opinion based on my personal experience. Doubtless you’ve had a different one…maybe very different, maybe quite similar. My overall goal in writing this post is to say something that I hope can benefit you, no matter where you are in life, whether or not you go to church, whether or not you are a wife and/or mother. Don’t give your identity away to some neat preconceived notion of what a woman should be. These come in all forms, not just from the church.

You were created with a very unique set of passions, gifts and talents that in my opinion, you were made to express. Pursue those, wrestle with them to figure-out how to live life in light of who you were created to be. And please, never let anyone else define that role for you. It is folly, this I know from personal experience. The world needs you to be who you are in order to appreciate the complexity, uniqueness and beauty of creation. The world needs you as a critical component of loving, supporting and improving humanity itself.

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30 thoughts on “On this women’s day…”

  1. Jessica, my wife has a very similar story coming out of a Calvary Chapel. I recommend Geri Scazzero’s work, The Emotionally Healthy Woman, http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org This book will affirm your writing and opinions. Thanks for sharing this…for what you share here is what Christ has for all of us…Freedom and to be fully alive in who He created us to be!

  2. This. Is. Amazing. I second every word you have written here. I already thought this way before I came across this post, yet I did not realize how much I needed to hear it one more time. This almost brought me to tears. Thank you.

    Thank you.

    Ladies everywhere, listen up to this post.

  3. Thank you for this.

    I’ve been concerned for sometime with Driscoll’s insistence in diminishing the feminine in church, community, and family.

    I especially like this quote of yours:
    “And in accepting these answers and trying to conform to this very specific image of what it meant to be a godly woman, I gave something valuable away.”

    You are specifically referring to that task of wrestling with life and finding yourself.
    I’d like to emphasize one part of finding yourself. And it is finding your voice.

    I believe that you have found your voice. It is beautiful and gracious. It is the voice of someone who has come through some tough years, and she is all the wiser and stronger for it.

  4. Why is it so important that home continue to be disregarded as part of the lived world, with women’s only worth being how much power they can wield in the agora, and the hestia continuing to be denigrated as nothing special? You make a token gesture of approval for the hestia, but you clearly don’t seem to believe home is where anything of value is, and that is sad. Most people don’t have extraordinary talents, and that includes most women. Women wilt under the pressure that is relentless (even at that church, for all you apparently experienced otherwise) to claim that they are on that list who are just too amazing to tend a hearth, that’s ok if it’s all you can do, but they, they, they are suited to something SO MUCH BETTER AND SUPERIOR.

    I am familiar with the church you’re speaking of. It has many flaws, not least of which is that it actually hews closer to your views than you had the chance to find out. And it in practice is mostly the opposite of what you’ve found regarding female subjection or abjection. At least in the pews, will not speak to what was going on among leadership.

  5. Thank you all for your comments. My hope in writing this (thought I did not know it would be read by such a wide audience) was to use my own experience as an opportunity for others to think about themselves and about how they think about their roles as women.

    The Unreal Woman- I was not initially familiar with the terms agora and hestia, but I’ve read and re-read your post and think I understand where you’re coming from. If I were suggesting that there was less value and worth for a woman whose primary work was in the home, I agree, that would be wrong and arrogant of me. And perhaps my words weren’t written clearly enough. But I honestly do no believe this to be true. I am trying to explain my own personal situation, being in an environment where this was the only avenue to find value and worth, with pursuits outside of this being devalued. In this situation, I think it was an opposite position to what you are saying- that anything outside of the home was less important, less worthwhile, less valuable. Women who are gifted and have a calling outside of the home are not better or superior. Each woman is created and gifted in specific ways. Whether those are primarily homeward oriented or otherwise does not change the value. I am trying to say that she should be presented with both options as worthwhile and good. That a narrow stance in either direction is limiting.

    I am not trying to make things black and white, one better, the other worse, or similarly, that a woman either has an entirely homeward orientation or and entirely outward orientation. It is a blend, and I think we would do a great deal of good to support the women in our lives in whatever areas they feel called, not over valuing or devaluing their leanings.

  6. Unreal woman, I never saw Jessica diminish keeping a home or mothering in anyway and am taken aback by you conclusion jumping. Perhaps you came to this conclusion because she didn’t put motherhood on a high enough pedestal for you?

    As far as extraordinary talents, that depends on how you define extraordinary. I suspect no two person’s definition would be exactly the same. What might be extraordinary to one might be mundane to another.
    And I don’t see where it was said anywhere above that a woman can’t keep a home, tend children, AND use her either extraordinary or mundane talent to build up others within the body. When the children are small, a woman’s contribution may and probably should be small. But even small and mundane, her talent should not be despised in the assembly anymore than the widow’s mite was despised by the pharisees in the Gospels.

  7. Times are changing. People are hearing the Spirit wind.
    John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    Things that once appeared invincible are being shaken. This is not a bad thing.
    Hebrew 12:27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

    Forgive me if I come across as like I think I’m so spiritual. I don’t mean to. This is just my less-than-adequate way of trying to say that I trust God to watch over His people and His works and I rejoice in the direction He is taking them. I appreciate people coming forward with their new voices full of grace and hope. I feel much less of a need to raise my voice in protest against what I see going on in Seattle because people more qualified and with better attitudes are rising to the occasion.

  8. Thank you for sharing your heart, experience and wisdom.
    My husband & I spoke recently about this subject (men’s/women’s roles per MH) and came to another realization. My husband confessed that he has never truly respected my counsel or trusted my discernment because of the incessant drilling on headship. He was prone to believing that any thought contrary to his was because of my predetermined nature of one easily deceived (see Eve). He said it was partly because he believed it, but in large part because he feared being seen as weak or being “led” by his wife.
    I’m so thankful for letters coming out by men he respects like Luke & Jeff, who call bullshit on the way women have been stifled at MH for so many years. Thank you for sharing your perspective, too.
    God bless you & your family. xo

    1. Thank you, Judy!
      There are truly so many layers to all of this, and if we begin with ourselves, our family and children, I do hope that the healing can first begin here. I am glad to hear that you and your husband have been able to have good conversation surrounding MH/roles of men and women. We all have a lot to learn about ourselves and each other. Makes me happy to know that these conversations are happening and yes! bs is a very accurate description 😉

  9. Hi Jessica, thank you for capturing so eloquently what has been completely jumbled in my head and that I’ve been wrestling with for the past um, well, very long time. The first time I read this I barely made it through to the end without crying. I so appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. Thank you for that gift here.

    In Christ,
    Wendy

    1. Thank you, Wendy! I do hope that you, your husband and child/children(?) are well. I’m not exactly sure when you left MH, but I always enjoyed your company and hope that you are well, thriving and enjoying life 🙂

  10. Jessica, I don’t know if you remember me, but my husband and I went to MH, first at the paradox and then in Ballard, from 00-03 and 06-09.

    We moved to San Francisco in 09 and over that next year I came to a very similar place in looking back at my experience at MH.

    Brett and I tried for so many years to fit a mold that we just weren’t suited for. And now that we don’t do that anymore, we are so much more content, so much happier. I work full time outside the home and he works 3 days a week, allowing him to pursue his art making, and is the primary kid person during the day. This isn’t selfish or sinful on my part, and Brett isn’t failing to provide or failing to be a good husband and father — this is pursuing the things we are called to do.

    Anyway. Your post really resonates with me, and all the processing I’ve done over the last five years.

    I’m so happy you guys are doing well, growing, moving on. ❤ Here's to finding freedom in Christ, freedom in our callings, whatever those might be.

    1. Hello, Kathleen!
      I know that I would remember your face, though I am not so good with names. I am so very happy to hear that you’ve found new freedom for you and your husband to live in a way that represents what is best for you and your family. We need more stories of this kind of “alternative” (and I mean that in the most ironic sense) lifestyle in order to normalize what was once vilified. I would love to hear more about the nuances of that journey for you and your husband. Perhaps we need a platform for this?
      Cheers,
      Jessica

  11. Excellent piece from you Jessica – you express a journey with considerable skill. Don’t stop being an authentic ‘wordsmith’. Keep sharing!

    It saddens me greatly when I hear of truncated and distorted thinking and preaching around ‘marriage’; Ephesians 5 is under-rated and under-used imo. Complementary roles between two people are the order of the day, where the man is called to put the needs of his wife ahead of his own – to be other-centred and for the wife as a mirror image, to do likewise? I truly delight in helping my wife be all that she is and can be – she does likewise in reverse, so we laugh and love a lot in the process!

    This ‘headship’ and with it the ‘submission’ theses are much disorted in places you have experienced. MH ought to know that ‘submission’ is better translated ‘yielding to the influence or counsel of’ – boy do we men need to listen up to the wise counsel our wives provide – thank goodness they are complementary to us! I rejoice in all that we each bring to the party – far more than either of us could on our own. The tapestry we weave needs both of us to help create it. Why don’t people get this and persist with preaching and teaching this demeaning macho mania? Btw, only when there is ‘deadlock’ is the husband allowed to break it by making a decision for them as a couple united as one unit. After more than 10 years together, I have yet to exercise that ‘break the deadlock’ clause if you like.

    Tim and Kathy Keller (Redeemer NYC) wrote a very helpful book on Marriage:
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Meaning-Marriage-Complexities-Commitment/dp/1594631875

    I very much hope you continue to enjoy living in UK – go well!

    1. Thank you for your reply, Martin.
      I think that what you are describing sounds far more healthy than what I experienced. And I am glad that you have found a good balance in your life.
      Also, I have often listened to Tim Keller via podcast and enjoyed the nature of how he approaches the prescriptive verses in scripture. I will definitely view that article you linked. Thank you!

  12. Jessica, you are an amazing woman and I miss you so much here in Seattle! Thank you for being an inspiration in modeling grace and femininity. love ya!

  13. Also, forgot to link to this:
    http://www.jennieallen.com/books/restless/
    I saw her speak at a women’s conference at Crossroads Bible Church in Eastgate. She is a woman after the heart of this blog post and really challenged me to change my way of looking at being “on mission” as a woman. She has a really beautiful story if you have time, check her out.

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