The past few weeks, I've done a few things a bit uncharacteristic for me. I started a study of Proverbs 31, the infamous "perfect woman" of the Bible. And I went to a Christian women's retreat.
On the surface, these may not seem very radical to you. If you're a female conservative evangelical Christian, you may even think it odd that these things are unusual for me. But for a long time, I shied away from anything that puts me in a box as a woman. I even heard myself telling a friend recently, "I don't like anyone to tell me what kind of woman I should be."
I'm not sure how I reached that position. Growing up, I spent time around a lot of women with extremely conservative beliefs - women should wear skirts and grow their hair long, should never work outside the home, and should only marry someone that has spent more time with their father than with them. All of these (and more) claimed to have their basis in Scripture.
Then after nursing school, I moved to a north African Muslim country for a year. And I discovered that I had a little feminist living inside me. I not only saw women who were treated as second-class citizens, living under burdens of expectations and strict rules. I myself experienced harassment and degrading treatment because of my skin color and my gender. And it made me passionate about women being treated equally as men, with the same opportunities and respect.
Getting married six years ago made me realize how fiercely independent I had become. I wanted to make my own decisions, to pursue my own goals, and to create my own life. But joining my life with someone else (especially a man - an entirely different creature than a woman!) challenged me to rethink the structure I had created in my mind for what being a woman looks like.
Fast forward to today. I'm married with a toddler. I work part-time and have lots of pursuits outside our home. And I'm trying to figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus and apply Scripture to my life - because if we say we follow Jesus, the Bible is what tells us how to do that.
Last week I went to a Christian women's retreat with my mom. I jokingly told her, "I'm only going to this because I trust your judgment!" And I was a bit wary of what the speaker would tell me. Do I have to stop working? Or grow my hair out? Or give every decision over to my husband? Fortunately God knew what he was doing when he put me there, and instead of the judgment I had expected, I only received refreshing encouragement to focus on what is really important for me as a woman.
The speaker gave several talks, one on Titus 2. I was especially interested on this passage, because our church had recently preached through Titus 2, without going in-depth on the verses that actually talked about women:
I've heard this passage interpreted in a lot of ways that just added burdens to my back and rules for my life. Yet she pointed out that this passage does not define womanhood. It lists priorities for women (although not all of them). But our identity is not found in how good of a wife/mother/friend we are - it's found in Jesus. And the empowerment for this kind of life is found just a few verses down in the passage -
Paul never says women can't work outside the home. And just because this passage only speaks about married women doesn't mean you're a second-class citizen or nonentity as a single person (just look at 1 Corinthians 7 if you have any doubts of Paul's esteem of singleness). But Paul does talk about what being a woman looks like in light of the gospel - in light of the appearance of God's grace in the world through Jesus.
We live for someone besides ourselves.
It's not only about me anymore. Jesus is changing my heart every day to be "eager to do good" - and for me, that starts with my family. The very first thing Paul says is for married women to "love their husbands and children." It sounds so simple, but it can be so challenging. That's what he makes it a priority.
As women, we're really good at "doing" things - getting stuff done at work, spending time with friends, taking care of a house. But loving my husband and child means I stop doing what I think is important and figure out what they need from me. It means pouring into them when I'd rather focus on my pursuits and my desires and my priorities. And it might mean saying no to outside commitments if my family relationships will suffer.
This is all only possible because of the grace of God in my life - changing my heart to love what (and who) he loves more than myself.
WE show self-control, purity, and kindness in all we do.
This is hard to do when we are constantly told by everyone else to let go, be crazy in whatever way makes us happy, to give in to our impulses, and to speak our thoughts regardless of the relational damage they may do.
But that is a dangerous way to live. Words like "purity" and "self-control" are not glamorous. For many, they stir up images of Puritans in high-necked black dresses and stern-faced Catholic school instructors. These are not character traits we can drill into ourselves. They happen as we look to Jesus to satisfy us like no one else can and to fill our hearts with enough love to be kind even when people are nasty and harsh with us.
Kindness is powerful. Self-control enables us to say "no" to passions that might destroy us and our relationships. Purity means living how God intended - which includes passionate, frequent intimacy with your spouse if you're married (hallelujah!). And this all makes us stronger women, not weaker.
We make our homes a priority.
"Home" means the family and relationships within your four walls, physically or relationally. It means the immediate community that God has placed you in.
So what does that mean for us? Our home life takes priority over any other outside commitment. But that definitely does not exclude all other commitments. For some families, that means one of the spouses stays home. For others, they can easily work forty hours a week and still have time and energy to invest in their homes and families.
For our family, we have found a healthy mix of part-time work and time at home. Andrew's job has schedule flexibility, and in my job I'm home two full days a week with Declan. Our home life isn't suffering or our relationships stressed because of our outside commitments. We're able to open our home to others and invest in relationships. That may change in the future, but for now, it works really well.
Being a woman in light of the gospel means...
It looks different for every woman, in different seasons of life. Yet the same threads run across every tapestry: pursue Jesus, love people, and live well. Love the people God has put in your lives, making relationships a priority (not money or stuff). Invest in others around you. And trust that Jesus is more than enough for you in whatever season of life you are living. Let Jesus and his Word shape the kind of woman you become, and you will see him do great things in your life.
I'd love to hear what you think of this Scripture and what kind of woman God wants you to be in light of the gospel.