The more years I live, the more aware I am at the perceived and forced limitations on being a woman. Economical, political, cultural and religious limitations. The last one is the one I wrestle with the most.
As a little girl I observed women serving and working, most who appeared to be living their calling: missionaries, maids, nurses, my kindergarten teacher, politicians, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, Oma working with her hands to repair a hole in a fishing net, bible study teachers, professors and teachers, Diana Williams, singers like Sandi Patty and Crystal Lewis, female worship leaders like Darlene Zschech. I never considered anything odd about their jobs. Everyone of them was a woman in her own right, strong, gifted, and beautiful. I never considered the distinction or hierarchy, our maids were helpers, hardworking and going to school, and they were like my older sisters who helped my mom and allow mom to teach and mother and co-labor alongside my dad as an Ezer.
When I first heard the meaning and definition of Ezer I connected with it deeply. It resonated within me so much more than the common and baggage ugliness that helper or help meet have become perceived as. Thrown around with very little respect or honor for our feelings. I think it resonated so deeply with me because that is what I had observed growing up. I knew that men and women worked well alongside each other. It was displayed well for me. I think it is much more prevalent on the mission field, or at least it was for me.
(I first heard this hebrew term from author and theologian Carolyn Custis James in one of her first two books, most likely Lost Women of the Bible, which I have leant out and cannot quote from, but she explains the term here on her blog, here is a brief excerpt)
The word ezer appears in the Old Testament twenty-one times—twice for the woman in Genesis 2:18 and 20, three times for nations Israel turned to for military assistance when they were under attack, and sixteen times for God. This information resulted in upgrading the ezerfrom “helper” to “strong helper” and led to a divided (and at times heated) discussion over the word strong. How strong is strong, after all?I decided to look up the references. To my surprise, I discovered powerful military language in every passage. Whenever ezer appeared—for the three nations, obviously, but also for God—it was always within a military context. God is His people’s helper, defender, deliverer, sword and shield. He is better than chariots and horses. He keeps sentry watch over his people and with His strong arm overthrows their foes. Based on the Old Testament’s consistent usage of this term, it only makes sense to conclude that God created the woman to be a warrior.…Ezer represents the strength and valor of a warrior. God created women to be warriors. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Our brothers need us, and God calls us to join forces with them in advancing His kingdom wherever we are.…I agree with the single woman who didn’t quite fit the “helpmeet” mold, but found the ezerfit her perfectly. “Warrior covers all of who I am.”
Being a girl for me was a mostly positive experience. I was well loved and carefree.
- I loved to sing ever since I could talk and took every opportunity to sing on stage at church. I was allowed to do so, without limitations. I was allowed to learn and grow, ask questions and wonder.
- Church was always a safe haven for me, it was where I flourished.
- I was the main character in our christmas drama in the 6th grade. I was a puppeteer.
- As my family traveled to different churches, I was daddy’s little helper, whether helping with the projector, singing a hymn like how great thou art on the spot, or sitting at the display table and telling people what it was like being an MK. I loved it. And I loved being a part and contributing to the family ministry.
- My first television appearance was when I was 7 and I don’t remember being nervous about the cameras and boldly answered ‘strawberries‘ when it was asked of me what I missed when we were out of the country.
Strong women run in my family. As the third firstborn female in 3 generations. Strong, faithful, faith-filled, devoted women, who sing.
I went to a special all-girls math and science fair in Dallas in the fifth or sixth grade. There were fun workshops and activities, my favorite being the cosmetology workshop where we made our own perfumed lotion. But despite considering careers in cosmetology or as a veterinarian, I wasn’t good at either math or science aside from the fun projects, so that was that.
I don’t know when it first started to bother me, or what and when I noticed it, but the religious attitude toward women and their roles, not just in the church but as women of faith, submissive and quiet were confusing and limiting terms to the freedom I thought we had in Christ. Say the phrase gender roles and a womans place and I cringe and turn red and my heart beats faster and my stomach goes in knots.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to marry a spiritual leader spouse. And I like cooking and look forward to being a wife. But I don’t want him to call the shots and boss me around. I want to work together, as a partnership, shoulder to shoulder. I heard someone recently say that it’s time we used different language for “submissive.” I appreciated what Derek said in the beginning of our 101 class, about it not being about domination. I fear that the conservative view is too murky and restricting in it’s terminology, not necessarily it’s intent. I have heard beautiful descriptions of submission, described in relationship to Christ. But outside those paragraphs, it’s just not a safe word for me. I feel threatened and I feel small.
Jonalyn Fincher speaks of a corset that doesn’t fit us all. It’s not a one size fits all kind of deal. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Each one of us has gifts, and each of us are called to use those gifts to serve our Father.
I question this “conservative” perspective on women in the church, not to cause controversy, but because I recognize there is a ongoing debate and I wonder how we can just pick one and go on without question. I know there have to be boundaries, but I guess I’m just unsatisfied with where those boundaries lie.
The biggest question mark and confusion I find myself in is understanding “my place” in this hierarchy of the church as a single woman. Everyone makes it clear that these are leadership, headship and confined to marriage and church leadership and headship.
So what about me? In this place, this in-between, indefinite place of singleness, how do I fit into the box? How do I fit in this confusing maze of roles, headship. I feel like I’m caught in the tension in between my place now, and recognizing that preparing to be a wife and the person God wants me to be, but also living fully in the present as a Single Woman of God. I feel like people will just tell me to accept what the Bible, Paul in particular has to say about women and that I just have to accept him literally. I will not take it literally. I will take it by looking at the context of the first and second century Rome and their problems with women being aggressive and wanting to be goddesses and worshiping Athena. I refuse to take it at face value, that to me is incomplete, and contradictory with what I know to be true of who Jesus is and how he treated and valued women, and from the examples we have of strong women, such as Ruth, Esther, the Proverbs 31 woman and so many others.
I continue to wrestle with this as I strive to form a working definition from scripture and not just those feelings in my gut. I don’t want to stir up the debate that has gone on for 2000+ year long and before, from the time span of humanity since Eve was formed out of Adams rib. But I want to be open and honest with my journey, my perspective and worldview and where I sit and where I wrestle.
RELIGION HURTS WOMEN
One glance at the world’s religions and this should not be surprising. Women of most major religions have been hurt by their leaders, whether Muslim, Catholic, Christian. There will always be leaders who abuse their authority and position and power.
JESUS HONORED WOMEN
In a time where women were worth very little in their culture, Jesus spoke to women, and they were part of his posse. I find great comfort and value in the passages where he speaks to or about women, stories about Mary & Martha, and the woman caught in adultery in John 8.