|Picture by Beci Culley|
Why is it that women walk around with satchels full of stuff weighing them down? I know I did for a very long time. Too long. And I’m not just talking about all the magazines, books, makeup, chewing gum and surfeit crap that accumulates in the bottom of your bag, which physically weighs you down and symbolically represent repression in feminist circles, but the less tangible but more important emotional weight of worldly woes – disappointments, mistakes, shortcomings, hurtful words; guilt, shame, hopelessness, apathy.
It’s not a terribly liberated way to live life, nor is, as I believe, God’s intention for us. While we will no doubt experience testing times and hardships and all the pitfalls of being human, we are not meant to be sad sacks, walking around under the weight of the world, as if there were no alternative option to the cynicism, despondence and desperation often connected to just Being A Woman. Oh, no.
We have a choice.
Through Christ, God wants to lift us from the burden of sin, shame and unworthiness, those issues born of The Fall – and not unique to women, but felt all the more wholeheartedly because of how man (being institutions, the church) has crippled women to take the brunt of the burden of Eden, and because we are inherently emotional beings, looking to validation through man as if paying an eternal penance for Eve – and wielded for man’s purpose for thousands of years to keep women in a place of subordination and distance from God.
Women, I feel, in the quest for control and to put things right before God, distance themselves from their femininity, more particularly the femininity God intended for us (not weak and submissive, but powerful and productive), and who God intended them to be.
But there’s hope!
Knowing full well our human tendency towards sin and its commensurate feelings of negativity, Jesus came, “so that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Are all called to be liberated from their sin? No, just those “called according to his purpose.” When you accept Christ, you accept that he died for your sins, and you MOVE ON. You put off your cross (unload your satchel) and take up his, repacking your satchel with those things worthy of a life of God’s goodness: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” encouraged Paul to the Ephesians (2:10).
The Israelites, those Old Testament types trying to do right in God’s sight but getting snared by sin and unbelief time and time again, tried it and failed miserably, landing themselves in the desert for 40-odd years. “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways,” said Isaiah (64:5). “But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?”
We ladies, even we Christian women, struggle to believe that a man so great as Jesus might liberate us (and the feminists amongst us rail against the idea that a man has such power over us, dismissing his gift of love in favour of their own brand of being; well, you know what, God came as a man, perhaps because of the culture of the time, which did accept that man had more authority to speak publicly about such issues).
“I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” we chant, as we exercise and deny ourselves and self-flagellate (as if reading women’s magazines was not an act of self-flagellation!) and commit to trying harder and take ourselves off to renewing retreats flailing from exhaustion, all the while practising self-betterment in the Oprah Winfrey fashion, and experiencing momentary glee (in that horribly Schadenfreudian way we are prone to behave – “Check out her cellulite!”; “That girl is such a tart!”; “I earn more money than her!”; “She is stupid!”) but giving up miserably when we fall short of the high jump that is impossible to overcome, in the mistaken belief that these acts will set us free!
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” said Jesus in John 10:10.
Just stop it. Stop playing in the garbage tip when you could be in the beautiful garden of life. You are worthy. God, your creator, has made that quite clear. But you have to get into relationship with Him to experience the full essence of His glory (with Christ, you are the poetic statement of God). And accept what Jesus did for you to be truly set free.
While God calls us to a higher state of being, this is not a case of “Hey, sister, pull up your socks and get on with it.” Oh, no. To receive the healing of Christ, and to walk in his light – the fruit of which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control – you have to really BELIEVE that God is so loving and so merciful and so gracious, that he wants not to harm you, but to call you into his arms.
"For God did not go to all the trouble to send His son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him,” said John (3:17).
You have to believe to your core that God cares for you SO MUCH that he sent his one and only son to DIE for you. He cares about every inch of your being – and I’m talking every detail about you, from the thickness of your hair to the shape of your fingernails, to your voice and your burdens, sorrows and dreams.
On an intellectual level, this does not always sit well. But that’s because for so long we have operated under the burden of sin, which separates us from God. And many of us continue to choose sin over the perfect and good life God knitted together for us when we were in our mother’s wombs. As David said in the Psalms, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (139:13,14)
When you recognise your value in Christ, you want to serve Him with every inch of your being. Subservience to God, unlike to man, is freeing.
What did Jesus have to say about women? His acts, I believe, said that he meets us where we’re at, comforts us, empathises us, and in his gentle, loving way, encourages us to turn back towards God.
The story in the Bible of Jesus meeting the woman at the well in Samaria comes to mind. This woman had had five husbands. He asked her for a drink. She said, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samarian woman?". He answered, "You do not know the gift of God. You do not know who asks you for water. If you did, you could ask me. I would give you living water".
This gift satisfies men when water cannot (and here water may represent many things: the career, the husband or boyfriend, the new diet). "Whoever drinks my water will never need more. My water will be like a stream that gives eternal life," he says.
Jesus – always empathetic and compassionate – is able to recount to the woman the facts of her life – her five husbands, and the man she lives with now who is not her husband – and shares with her – a Samarian, a "sinner", a woman! – that he is the Messiah. "I have not come to help ‘good’ people. I came to tell sinners to repent," he said in Luke 5: 32. And in that he includes us all – man, woman – who have suffered as a result of the Fall.
I didn’t realise how sinful (prideful, self-idolising, given to temptation, self-reliance and doubt) I was until I became a Christian; nor how very loved. Jesus is prepared to seek us out where we're at, that he ministers to those who are aware of their spiritual deficit (or knocks on the door until we see it), and that when he invests into us, giving us his "living water", the greatest gift one could ask for, making us infinitely more powerful to help others.
His brand of feminism is about acting in love, encouragement, compassion, empathy, support. Therefore, the GWAS brand of feminism, is about understanding the broader socio-cultural context and how that influences behaviour and the status quo; for men and for women. Because men need to be on the page with us; they are not excluded from the conversation. In fact, Jesus made some pointed pronouncements about the equality of men and women in God’s eyes.
Standing before men accusing a woman of adultery, he took a stick and made a mark in the ground; “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He didn’t condemn her, but brought the hypocritical men down to her level. Crucially, He forgave her and asked her to repent and turn from her sin. Daily, we are called on to “cast off “everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Elevated in Christ to a place of worth beyond any “Love your body!” campaign, women can be powerful; they can affect change; they can see their true value and rejoice and make choices that honour that status and further the status of women. When you know your value in Christ, and also how utterly sinful and powerless (and, yes, helpless) you are without Him, you instinctively act differently; you want to please him in every way, from how you treat your body to how you react to other women and will accept being treated by men. Christian women are called to serve WITH Christian men; alongside, in complementary, not mutually exclusive, roles.
The Christian feminism practised by GWAS is about promoting a world where women thrive, not just survive, because their foundations are in love, in grace and in the value God put on each one of us when he sent his son to atone for our sins. It’s a feminism that calls on us to live the lives God intended for us – us each unique in her form and her function – free in the knowledge that we are loved, really loved, by God, even if the world, or a man, or woman, tells us we are utterly unlovable.
It’s about shrugging off the Eve Complex, The Beauty Myth, the guilt and worldly expectations and comparing with others. Shouldn't we keep a sister from falling as well as helping her up when she stumbles? Perhaps what's needed less is a feminist revolution, more a spiritual one? Less Schadenfreude, more, ‘What would Jesus do?’.
A wise man once said, “If you don’t know the purpose of a thing, all you can do is abuse the thing.” (Ephesians 6). If we don’t know our purpose – to be in relationship with God, our creator, and to serve Him only – we will operate under an immense burden, seeking our self worth through external measures; by pretending to like things we don’t; by subjecting ourselves to spirit-diminishing activities; by wanting so desperately to please others that we compromise ourselves to the point that we feel drained and worthless.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” articulated Paul in Ephesians. “ Therefore put on the whole armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
Standing for God is hard. Because there are fibres in your being that will want to rebel; that will want to intellectualise and control and resist God’s will, or that simply can’t accept your intrinsic value because of your experiences in the world or because you’re prone to rebel. This saps our stores of energy and keeps us distracted from the end goal; to love God with all our hearts souls and minds, and to love our sisters and brothers just the same. It stuffs up the plan God has for us. Need it be that way? Need we settle for this? The life half-lived for fear of man and what he might do to us if we turn, instead, to God, instead of worldly validation? Do we lie down and go to sleep like Beauty? No, we are to awake from this slumber; to rise victorious in Christ.
"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” warned Peter (1 Peter 5:8); "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak," wrote Mark (14:38).
Be not fainthearted. Stand your ground. Stay the path. You’re not alone. All this is not in vain. Because as a believer you’re a sister in Christ. And He rose again.
“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:17-20
References & further reading:
From Bondage to Blessing: The Redemption, Restoration and Release of God's Women by Dee Alei
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
Half the Sky: How to Change the World by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn