(…continued from Aletheia, part three…)
The Bible doesn’t actually expand a whole lot on the idea or specific realities of our femaleness, but rather emphasizes the femininity which follows. I think at the very least, Scripture indicates that while males ought to be masculine, females ought to be feminine. In fact, we ought to be undeniably feminine: no question about it! Scripture speaks to women in our different roles: as wife, as mother, as servant, as disciple, as older women, as younger women. Women in the Bible are also described with a vast array of adjectives: beautiful, skillful, tender, refined, delicate, loved, worthy, discerning, wise, wealthy, gracious, receiving honor, precious, trustworthy, interested in doing good, pleasing her husband, prudent, strong, diligent, generous, kind, excellent, worthy of praise, faithful, fruitful, worshipful, sacrificial, worthy of remembrance, bearer of a faithful testimony, uncondemned, believer, worshiper, glory of man, quiet learner, submissive, weaker vessel.
As you peruse that list of descriptions, do you have a feminine picture in your mind? What words stick out to you? Are they good words?
There are also numerous negative ways the Bible describes certain women: drunken, perverse, rebellious, desolate, cursed, wicked, idolatrous, barren, forbidden, adulteress, evil, wily of heart, without discretion, quarrelsome, fretful, heart of snares and nets, deceived transgressor.
That really adds some weight to the conversation. May the Lord protect us from turning to the ways of those women. And wouldn’t you weep to have any of those words attached to one of your daughters? These are not lovely, godly, or remotely feminine words.
After just quickly running through those things relating to various women in the Bible, can we see what kind of women we ought to be? How would we pursue that kind of femininity in order to shine the light of gospel truth? Is there a way to proclaim the Gospel simply by living my life as a faithful Christian woman? By being undeniably feminine?
In general, we can see that a biblical woman should be discerning, gracious, generous, and kind. A biblical woman should be focused on serving the Lord and serving her neighbors—her closest neighbors being those with whom she shares her home. Godly women also pass on their faith through evangelism and discipleship. They sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from Him, to serve Him, to beg for His mercy, to praise His name.
Proverbs is one of the best places to learn about womanhood and femininity—and I’m not just talking about the beautiful portrait of queenly grace in Proverbs 31. Lady Wisdom is someone I long to emulate (read Proverbs chapters 1-9 to see why). We want to avoid being quarrelsome or worrisome. We do not seek to ensnare, capture, or deceive men. We ought not dress seductively or act thoughtlessly. We must work hard and work broadly. Our feminine touch ought to reach beyond our families and homes into our communities and industries.
We have touched on our gender and our feminine affect, but what about the cross-section of those two things, which would be the femininity of our physical bodies?
As female, we have the honor of bearing womanly bodies. What does this mean? And is it significant? Elisabeth Elliot asks, “Is there invisible meaning in its visible signs—the softness, the smoothness, the lighter bone and muscle structure, the breasts, the womb?” Let me ask you: have you read Song of Solomon lately? What does most of that poetry bring to mind? Most of it does not evoke images of a masculine body, for sure. Now, to be honest, I’m not quite certain I understand enough about Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature to really get a handle on things like gazelles and does—but at least clusters of grapes and a heap of wheat make some sense to me.
But having the body of a woman is not just romantic metaphor. It is also sacrificial and painful, even downright gory. I think as a small child, I would envision the woman with the flow of blood who touched Jesus’ hem as someone who simply had a wound that wouldn’t scab over. Of course I later learned that Scripture is full of stories including menstruation and social uncleanness, lots of sexuality, even menopause and barrenness. And until I understood how breastfeeding and milk ducts work, I don’t think I grasped why Pharaoh’s daughter would have given Moses back to Jochebed his mother. I now understand wet nurses and menstruation and endometriosis and polyps and childbirth and miscarriage.
I know something about having a woman’s body. But how do I treat this body as uniquely feminine? And how ought my body be used to proclaim the truth of the Gospel?
I would like to read a rather lengthy little quote from Mark Chanski’s book Womanly Dominion (which is not my favorite book on the subject, but has some good snippets):
“The false stereotype of a Christian woman being a helpless and frail mouse, who passively shades herself under the parasol of her soft femininity, and adoringly waits for her husband to do all the heavy lifting, is shattered by the Scriptures. Yes, the godly Christian woman wears beautiful ornaments that are precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4), but her jewelry is not only the necklace of a gentle and quiet spirit, but also the bracelets of strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:17, 25).”
“It’s absolutely and wonderfully true that women are rightly designated in the Bible as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7) who are to display a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4). But such soft and tender qualities do not tell the whole story. There’s much more to the challenging mission assigned to the godly woman by her Maker, Redeemer, and Lord.”
Let us be reminded now that Eve, like Adam, was called to take dominion. To dominate over something. As women, we are called to imitate the God whose image we bear, by dominating the world over which God has placed us. (Genesis 1:28) We were given work to do with our physical bodies. If I may be so bold as to say it, I think God even assigned to us, women’s work. Let’s ponder the fact that in our womanhood we are given specific strength, specific limitations, and specific honor.
1 Peter 3:7 says that “husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel.” I know this isn’t necessarily speaking about the physical vessel of our bodies, but bear with me for a moment.
I remember the wife of my former pastor saying to be honored rather than flummoxed by being called the weaker vessel—after all, I would rather be a crystal goblet than a 5-gallon bucket. Both are worthy vessels, but they are made for different purposes. I would no sooner drink wine from a 5-gallon bucket than I would haul grain to the cows in a crystal goblet. Yet it makes sense for each vessel to hold water. Made differently for different purposes, but made of equal value for the Maker and His kingdom.
Perspective really makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Elisabeth Elliot writes, “The special gift and ability of each creature defines its special limitations. And as the bird easily comes to terms with the necessity of bearing wings when it finds that it is, in fact, the wings that bear the bird—up, away from the world, into the sky, into freedom—so the woman who accepts the limitations of womanhood finds in those very limitations her gifts, her special calling—wings, in fact, which bear her up into perfect freedom, into the will of God.”
We must be unequivocally fervent in our Christian womanhood. Fervent in being unabashedly female and undeniably feminine. What should Christlike fervency be for us, so that the Gospel shines through us as women?
I will confess to you that the physical, bodily aspect of womanhood has been surprisingly difficult for me. I have not always fervently embraced this. As someone who struggled deeply with body image for decades, and then as someone who struggled to bear children, I still struggle with emotional scars—at the same time, I also recognize others’ myriad struggles that come with size, weight, physical abilities or disabilities, hormonal imbalances, skin conditions from psoriasis to acne, surgical scars, menstrual complications, infertility, disease… it seems as though bearing the body of a woman can be an ever-changing and challenging task. But what I remind myself, and what I want to briefly say here, is that this is the body God knit in my mother’s womb; these are the hands and feet that serve Him; this is the voice I was given to raise for Him; this is the body He gave me to carry 14 babies and safely deliver and nurse 5 of them; this is the skin, the hair, the height He crafted just for me; this is the body He gave me to offer to my husband; this is the body He provides for my children to find cuddles and comfort; this is the body which will someday die, decay, and fertilize a bit of dirt; this is the body that will leap from the grave when my Savior returns to bring renewal to all of creation! This is the body that He will resurrect, restore, and remake.
One of the most potent things we can do to treat our bodies as Christian women is to offer them up in thankfulness to the Lord. To acknowledge His creation and creativity in each unique design. To remember that each part of my body is to be used for Him. To honor this body as a dwelling place of His Spirit. To joyfully give my body for my husband to enjoy and for my children to be nourished by.
Another surprisingly potent way we can treat our bodies as Christian women is to adorn them in a feminine way. Yes, of course, I know that we are to pursue and prize the adornments of a meek and quiet spirit—yes, amen, and absolutely. But if you revisit Proverbs 31, or think about Rebekah or Ruth or Esther—the Bible quite plainly and without apology talks about the beauties and adornments and cleanliness of lovely women. Dress yourself and your daughters in feminine beauty. There ought to be no question about it: yours is the body of a woman. Female and feminine and fervent.
As Elisabeth Elliot said, “You are, by the grace of God, a woman. This means you have responsibilities. You are fully a woman, and this means you have privileges. You are only a woman, which means you have limitations. Thank God for this, and… live it to the hilt!”
So I encourage you to remember who God made you to be. We find this right from the very first chapter of Genesis when God said He made man in His image—male and female. He made you female in every cell of your body. He made you feminine and womanly. You are called to fervently, boldly embrace your female reality and joyfully pursue femininity.
This is the truth we rest in as Christian women: we are to take dominion and bear fruit, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made, skillfully wrought by God who has a great sum of precious thoughts toward us—we rest in Him, for we belong to Him.
Father God, I ask for Your blessing upon each woman who reads this. Please bless each of us as we seek to honor You with our very selves. Help us to meditate on Your truth, and to rest in who You are as well as in who You created each one of us to be. Enable us to be creative in the pursuit of femininity so that we stand as light in an increasingly dark world. Make us more like Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen.
(…continued in Aletheia, part five…)