So Much More: Out-of-the-Box Womanhood

1:03 AM

The feminist/homemaking argument irks me -- on many different levels. I get tired of people dragging Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem in as proof that feminism is the chief of all ills and watching the classic feminists tear that straw woman to pieces. It saddens me that many women feel on the defense for their choice to embrace motherhood as a high calling and their love of home. And mostly it bugs me because the argument goes round and round the real issue: womanhood.

I am perfectly convinced that husbands are the heads of their wives and that, when called, women should focus primarily on husband, home and children. I understand that the best way to do so is often to quit a job and come home full-time. I am acquainted with the reality that most women marry and bear children. And it's beautiful -- it's good -- it's natural. I get that. But after sitting in on viral blog threads, reading books on passionate homemaking and dizzying from the back and forth on stay-at-home motherhood, I finally threw in the towel. "I'm seventeen," I fumed at nobody. "I don't have a husband, won't have any children for a long time and really, the only job option is McDonald's. How on earth am I to be a woman?"

Rarely is womanhood separated from motherhood and marriage -- and I suppose I can extend charity there. The majority of women are married with children, and all the books for singles are on Contentment Before Marriage: How to Snag a Husband on the Way. Still, I see a difference between being a woman and being a mother -- one is a permanent status of gender, the other is a calling. I disagree with those who say the primary purpose of women is to marry, bear children and be homemakers: that it is, indeed, the essence of womanhood. To say a woman is anything less than a woman because she isn't a wife and mother is a slap in the face to all the pining singles, barren wives and seventeen-year-olds longing for purpose, too.

I tried the stay-at-home daughter paradigm, and I see great good in girls helping in family ministries, cultivating practical skills, desiring protection and guidance and valuing the home. But my family is busy in the business of family: my mother has enough on her hands raising nine children and whipping up lasagna; my daddy commutes to provide for his family; and needless to say, we don't have a grand ministry or a side income to fill in the 24/7 existence. It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't a homemaker just by washing dishes and making my bed, that I wasn't a mother though I loved my siblings to death, that I wasn't a helpmeet even by trying to honor my daddy and serve in the home. I don't have the skill, opportunity or attention level to do the things good stay-at-home daughters are supposed to do -- crochet doilies, film documentaries, cook gourmet and start an Etsy shop. I laugh when I hear the clueless curiosity toward mothers: "What do you do all day?" But my duty as daughter is finite: there comes a point where big sistering and cleaning bathrooms ends.

What sealed for me my decision to look elsewhere was that there was so much to be done for Jesus -- so much. So many homes and families to build up, yes, but so many other things too -- so many children starving in Africa, so many persecuted Christians in China, so many women raped and battered and trafficked in the land of the free -- and homemaking isn't the answer to all of them. I can't live with myself having the time, passion and youth to make a big difference in this world crying for Jesus and yet beating myself back into the role of second-class homemaker. If I marry and have a child pattering in my footsteps, then will I turn toward home and pour on them all the Jesus-love and mother-care I can, for at that moment, I will be assured of the beautiful, glorious calling of wife and mother.

But I'm me. And I'm here. I'm seventeen. It's not guaranteed that I will marry and that if I do, I will be blessed with children. What I do know is that I am gifted, I am revved up and I am called to serve the Lord full-hearted and single-minded.

The Bible speaks of women and men, gender roles, the home and the family, and where it does, I embrace it, knowing it to be true and good. But the Bible speaks so much more often of Jesus Christ, His Gospel and the call to minister to the weak and love the brethren. I don't see the answer as an either/or: either embrace womanhood and home or serve Jesus Christ. I grew up in a home, among stay-at-home homeschooling moms, sewing lessons and cookie exchanges. I know the power of the home. Nor do I see the answer as one and the same: serving Jesus Christ = homemaking.

Looking at the whole of Scripture, I see it as both/and -- both the beauty of womanhood and the power of the Gospel. I see the natural inclinations of women coming under the transformative power of the Gospel and reaping great spiritual fruit. Women loving husbands and children well. Women working alongside their husbands. Women following in the actual footsteps of Jesus. Women prophesying, women exhorting, women reaching out. This is womanhood: a woman surrendered to the will of Christ.

And this is in no way a feminist declaration, an individualistic attempt to wiggle out of doing the dishes. Indeed, I do not see myself as an individual at all. I see myself as part of the family of Christ as well as my immediate family. I see myself as part of a union with Christ, as well as anticipating a day where I am one with another man. I see myself as a daughter of my Heavenly Father, first and foremost, and then my earthly father.

This is the Gospel paradigm -- one of freedom, one of passionate purpose that uses the circumstance, gifts and gender of the individual to impact the world at large. I believe this is why the Lord gave no command to the unmarried (1 Cor. 7:25) and why Paul urged everyone to remain as he came -- circumcised, single, slave, uncircumcised, married, free (1 Cor. 7:17-24). Everything about us must come under this all-consuming goal: the Gospel.

What then is a single woman to do? Leave home? Get a job? In short, the answer is this: to serve the Lord. Nebulous sounding, yes, especially to those of us who aren't used to leaning on the Spirit's guidance. But it will be clear. His call will prevail. It will be fulfilling and probably not anything we ever dreamed. Perhaps in the home, working alongside one's parents. Perhaps at a job. Perhaps in paid ministry. Perhaps in the creative, never-before-heard-of way the Lord leads you to. The ways to serve Jesus are as myriad and worthy as the needs out there.

This I know: I am a woman, He is God and the call is to follow Him. It isn't safe or comfortable or even, at times, traditional. But it's right where I know I ought to be.

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23 impressions

  1. Perhaps working at a summer Bible camp.... = )

    Seriously though, this idea doesn't disappear once one is married and has children. At least, it hasn't in my case. Of course, *of course*, my primary ministry is to my family. The most challenging thing in my life today is balancing home ministry with outside service. Having a Bible camp director for a husband muddies the waters somewhat too. It's often difficult to decipher what's "helpmeet" and "camp ministry". Those two areas of my life are as entangled at Christmas lights in storage.

  2. I love reading your thoughts. You are an engaging writer with much to say. If I could, I would like to recommend a book - "The Gospel of Ruth" by Carolyn Custis-James. Although some wouldn't agree with her view of womanhood, you seem discerning enough to read it and see what you think. Her way of defining ezer, helpmeet, totally reinvigorated my view of myself as a woman - apart from my role as a mother and wife (which I love dearly and believe is a God-given gift).

  3. Amen. You spoke what's in my heart better than I ever could.

  4. Great post. I agree with everything you said. And thanks for including the video about Katie! I stumbled across her blog about a year or so ago and I really want to read her new book.


  5. You hit the nail on the head, Bailey!
    I am first and foremost a woman and I serve my Heavenly Father above all else.
    I'm 26, and still living at home. But I do work outside the home as a self-employed house cleaner and continue to improve my photography skills so that I may someday photograph more and clean less. LOL ;-)
    But I also help out around the house and with our family a lot. And I still yearn to be married and have a family of my own. Whether or not that happens, is up to God alone.
    Praying and hoping!!

  6. Bravo! Bravo!

    *thunderous round of applause, curtain call, encore, etc*

    I love it! Preach it, sister! So eloquent, so good, so TRUE! That's it, that's what I'm trying to do! Someone understands my point of view!

    Bailey, you've made my day! =)

  7. Jenny, I just love your heart. *HUGS*

    Elizabeth, I did a quick Amazon check and am curious about it. I just learned that ezer was related to the word used for God as sustainer. That blew my previous ideas to bits. We certainly are God's image-bearers, whether in the role of wife and mother or just being women.

    Julia, we are kindred spirits indeed!

  8. You summed it up very well, Bailey.

    I feel the same way. While being a mother seems important to me, I feel God is calling me to reach out to the lost in Sudan. Perhaps one day I shall become a mother, but for now I need to focus on helping my mother at home, then later following His will when I'm ready to move overseas.

  9. This is wonderful. Thank you so much for this. You put into words some of the things that I have felt for a long time.

  10. I think this post perfectly illustrates another reason why you (and your parents) have nothing to worry about when you go off to college. I get the impression some girls raised Christian are taught to view the role of women as extremely limited, and maybe even insignificant. Of course they are going to reject that if their horizons are broadened at all. You clearly see the role of women as exciting and full of possibility - as well you should!

    I am a mother first and a wife second, and those two roles obviously are the most important in my life, but those two roles do not define the complete extent of ALL that I am. If I were neither of those things I would still be doing (or at least trying to do!) meaningful and significant things. I know you are as well. Thanks for an inspiring post. :-)


  11. Amen, Bailey! :D Out-of-the-box womanhood indeed - this is why I am heading towards med school, offending those who believe a girl has no place in college and puzzling those in college who can't figure out what I'm doing there, lol. I believe this is where God wants me, so this is where I am.

    Boxes are easy, but it is so true what you said - God calls us to follow Him, not our friends or other families or famous speakers or anyone else. Just Him, wherever He leads.

  12. Fabulous, Bailey! This has got to be one of your best posts yet ... I want to write something deep and thought-provoking in agreement with you, but my brain has unfortunately been rendered to mush by the first week of classes; so all I can say is "amen, and amen!"

    May we all be on fire for the Lord and full of zeal and enthusiasm for His work, and may we have the faith to embrace a life that may not look exactly as we or anyone else expected it to look (like mine, and probably yours, too).

    It's so much more fun that way. ;-)

    Wonderful post!!

  13. katie is such an amazing woman! :)

  14. Amen and what a powerful video...a huge sacrifice, but completely full of joy and wonderfulness. So sweet...

    Thankyou for sharing the video.

    Love you !

  15. Great post, Bailey! :)

    This reminds me of that passage in the Gospels (I believe it is repeated throughout at least most of them) that talks about how the body of Christ is made up of different parts. How the body of Christ can't be one eyeball, or one ear. There has to be different parts, with different functions in order to have a successful body. I think different women have different callings on their lives. I for one, feel called to full-time youth evangelism/ministry someday. I have a silly vision in my head (maybe I'll elaborate in an email someday. ;)) of my future. :) Anyways, womanhood is not a set-and-stone cookie cutter that every woman must fit into to be the "perfect" Christian female. We are all unique and different, and God does not call us all to the same exact thing.

    I'll stop before my rambles get dull and stringy. ;)

  16. Thank you for this post. It was really encouraging to realize that somebody else thinks the way that I do. In the conservative Christian blogging community, I often feel inadequate because I don't fit into the stereotype of the feminine, skirt-wearing, tomato-gardening homemaker.

    It's not that I am discontent with my womanhood, I'd just rather wear pants. Likewise, it's not that I don't want to get married and be a stay-at-home mom. I'm just different, and always feel insulted when someone will insinuate that a woman's place is in the home, and the home only.

    I think that perhaps part of the reason that those in the middle ground of this issue feel put-off by the whole homemaker movement is the (perhaps unintentional) insinuation that a woman is only a means to an end, or that she is inferior and yet is supposed to embrace her low status with happiness.

    That's not necessarily what well-meaning people mean to communicate, but that's how it comes across to me sometimes. Your blog is like a breath of fresh air, because I feel like you take a more reasonable point of view: Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever: not just to marry and have children.

  17. Yes, Alexxus! I was thinking the same thing. We need women in the home -- and we need women in the missions field -- and we need Alexxus, too, right where she's called. And no dream of yours is silly, dear friend. I would love to hear it. *HUGS*

    You hit the nail on the head, Abigail. What I kept hearing was, "Well, sure, be yourself -- as long as it benefits a man and a home." I felt like I was only good for being used. I think many women got/get that vibe and then think that feminism is the only other response...when there really is this marvelous middle ground of wholehearted service to Jesus!

  18. What do y'all think about Katie's comment that her parents were "so not on board"?

  19. That's a tough question. I think Amy Carmichael and many other male missionaries faced similar parental disapproval and/or hesitation, so it's something I've thought on for awhile. I don't see anywhere in Scripture that parents are infallible or automatically know best for their children, especially when it comes to a personal walk with the Lord. As an adult on her own, I believe Katie has the right to follow God as well as the duty to honor her parents.

    Katie seems to have reflected that balance -- caring deeply about her parents' approval enough to feel torn between following them and God. When she says she was called by God and seems to have carefully considered the alternatives, I think we have to respect and believe her, even if we might have chosen to do differently ourselves.

    What do you think, Allison?

  20. God has blessed you with wisdom beyond your years.

  21. Wow, you wrote the article I've been wanting to write for a long time but just haven't had time for because God's asked this seventeen year old to serve Him by working full time! Let me just say...Amen sister!


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