Wednesday, November 3, 2010

girls and the church.

{via here}

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. – Eleanor Roosevelt


It started as a simple question.

Each Wednesday, it’s hard for me to know just how far I can dig, just how deep we can go. But after 10 weeks together, I decided to lay it on the line. There’s not much time left with them, and there are some things I’m just so convinced they need to know.

So I asked.

“How many of you have ever felt like less — specifically, less than a boy — at school or at church?”

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I was expecting. I think I was just curious. Curious to see whether or not teen girls living in 2010 had finally stopped fighting battles that supposedly ended decades ago.

Then they all raised their hands.

And my heart broke.

I didn’t understand. I thought maybe they didn’t understand. So I asked the two questions I’ve been trained to ask:

How and why?

How have you felt like less?

Why have you felt like less?

I’ve told them multiple times that what we say in our classroom stays in our classroom. To keep that promise, I won’t share the stories they told on this blog. But I will tell you that after hearing their stories, I know: These girls certainly understand.

They know what it means to be belittled because of their gender.

Boys make them feel that way. Hateful boys with their thoughtless words and rude stares.

I kind of expected that.

I’ve been on the receiving end enough times to know: Boys can be careless in how they treat the girls in their lives.

But as it turns out, the church also makes them feel that way.

And that is unacceptable to me.

These girls look around, and they don’t see.

They don’t see women teaching or praying or leading. They don’t see women who look like them.

And they don’t get it. They’re not sure where they belong.

I’m not either.

I have so much I want to share with these girls, so much that they just really need to know.

All of it boils down, I think, to two basic ideas, ideas I think are supported by the God who created me as His precious daughter.

The first, the one that the world forgets, is that we are all so very different. My mom is amazing with children and talks to God in ways I only hope I can. My aunt’s yard looks like a professional landscaper designed it. My grandma sews for those she loves. Another aunt is an incredible teacher. My grandma and my cousin cook and throw parties.

Me? I like teaching better than I like cooking, studying better than cleaning, speaking better than sitting.

And my Father tells me that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s who He made me to be.

Our gifts and roles are uniquely our own. We’re not meant to fit in the same box. I know women at church who were made to cook. I’ve tasted their pot roast, so I know. (I’ve also tasted my own pot roast, so I know exactly where I belong too.) I’ve also met women who pray beautifully, who are dynamic speakers, and who can run a program better than some men I know.

That’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s who He created them to be.

All throughout Scripture, written at a time when women were viewed as less than we could possibly imagine, God calls out women as leaders, role models, examples. They range, much like we do, in ability and talent and spiritual gifts. Some women were quiet, praying souls. The same souls we count on today when a loved one falls ill or we get the phone call we’ve been dreading. Hannah. Martha. Elizabeth.

Some women were bold, powerful, smart. The same souls we turn to for advice and support, the women we seek when something needs to get done like, yesterday. Abigail. Deborah. Mary.

It’s important to note that all of these women, with their wide range of gifts and abilities, were raised up as examples because they were humble and submissive, words that our world treats as dirty and degrading. These women were submissive not because God desires only His daughters to be quiet and submissive, but because we as a people — male and female — are called to be submissive to One who is greater than ourselves.

Women are a powerful force. We were designed that way. But we were also designed to be different. Different from men, and different from each other.

Secondly, “women’s work” isn't behind the scenes work. And we’ve done our girls a disservice if we’ve ever told them so.

The world hides our power by putting us all in the same box, and the church, in a similar fashion, buries our power in the fellowship hall. Neither institutions or traditions handle the power we possess in ways the Father would suggest.

I think some of these girls were frustrated. Frustrated by the fact that the roles often given them consist of aprons and recipes, though, let’s be honest: Even those roles are given to the women we call older.

What’s a teenage girl to think, then, as she watches her male counterpart lead worship and her mothers and grandmothers cook meals? What’s she supposed to do? What’s fair about that?

Why don’t we ever tell our daughters or sisters the secret we all know is true: That the loving and the cooking and the teaching and the serving and the “behind the scenes” work is the work that is closest to our Father’s heart? Women can do it all. They can teach and cook and pray and serve and love, and when they do those things, they are channeling the Father.

Is it our human-ness that makes us dwell on the can’ts instead of the cans? Makes us tell our daughters where they don’t belong instead of where they do?

I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time contemplating my role as a woman in the church. I, at least, was blessed with examples of different women who loved and served in different ways. I knew that a woman could cook and clean for Jesus, but she also could teach and pray and serve for Him, too. Not every girl knows that, and that’s a problem. 

But that problem is just the beginning. The church, I think, also makes a grave mistake when it belittles even those seemingly mundane tasks, the tasks that, let’s face it, mostly women do.

The washing of clothes. The cooking of meals. The cleaning of dishes.

Men, I’m looking at you. Because too often, you expect these tasks to get done, and when they do, there is no thank you. No appreciation for the way a woman bends over backwards to accomplish these duties you have chosen to ignore, these undertakings some of you have deemed “women’s work.” You have placed these duties behind the scenes, and as a result, your daughters grow bitter and weary in the doing.

The church would fall to pieces without its women, I am convinced. Oh sure, a church service, I guess, could happen without women. But the work, the real work, wouldn’t happen. The classes and the meals and the event preparation wouldn’t get done. Deep, sincere prayers and authentic heart-to-hearts would go unsaid.  The children and the lesser and the stranger would not be cared for.

That is “woman’s work.” And it is powerful and necessary and humbling and courageous and at the very heart of the One we follow.

Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

No, a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. – G.K. Chesterton


Mark said...

Hi Annie(?),
I stumbled upon this; sorry to read it as a man - please forgive me! I was saddened, and wanted to say 'thank you' for all your unseen jobs in your church/life, and I'll be sure to thank the ladies in my church at every opportunity this week.

Sugar Mama said...

Very well written. I just discovered your blog today and so glad I did. As a mother of a daughter this is very important to me, and it's been a big part of my own journey with myself, my faith, my role as a wife, and being satisfied with my own spiritual gifts.

Thank you for sharing!

(I think my e-mail is enabled through Blogger... but some have had troubles with it, so here is my e-mail if the Blogger doesn't work,

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was so timely for me to read! I've been going through this same frustration in my head lately. Very well said. I totally see your heart in this, and I'm glad you were able to bring this issue up to your group of girls!

Julianne said...

Annie, this is a fantastic reminder. Thank you for sharing; you couldn't have said it better. You are such a blessing!

Lauren said...

Great post Annie - thank you so much for writing it! I just love your thoughts on ministry with teenage girls!! It's so helpful to me - thank you for sharing!!

The Road Goes Ever On

Whitney said...

Wow. Just wow.
This made me tear up.
It's so beautifully written.
And I feel the same way.
Women are meant to cook and clean and raise children, and those jobs are some of the most high callings (especially raising children). But women are also called to do other things, like you said.
We can lead too.
We can get things done as well.
Thank you for writing this.

C.J. said...

I completely agree with Julianne as this is a great reminder to everyone of the work that women can and do indeed do. It is sad that men often times forget to appreciate the great work that women do, and for that I am sorry. This reminds me of a quote (I do not know who to attribute it to, but it has been under my favorite quotes on my facebook profile):

"The woman came out of a man's rib.
...Not from his feet to be walked on. Not from his head to be superior, but from the side to be EQUAL. Under the arm to be PROTECTED and next to the heart to be LOVED."

I hope that we men, as well as the church, do a better job in the future of showing our appreciation for all of the work that women do in the church and in our society. Great piece Annie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Rachel Wishum said...

Annie, I love reading your blog. Sometimes when I read it I find myself nodding thinking, "that's exactly what I was thinking," while other times I find myself thinking, "I've never looked at it from that perspective before." That's the mark of a blog I enjoy reading. Reading the quote at the end of the blog drove me to read Chesterton's "Emancipation of Domesticity," which was very, very good. I appreciated your discussion of different gifts, as well. I think mine is a form of teaching- I like to teach in one-on-one situations. I guess you might call that mentoring. I'm also discovering that I love to cook! Being married has brought out some of the "domesticity" in me, but it's also brought out other strengths that Russ sees that I never saw or didn't feel confident in. I hope, too, that we can help other girls see being a girl as a gift and an opportunity to take a unique role in the world and in God's plan.

Gina said...

This is a wonderful post. Remember that Jesus praised Mary for doing something unheard of in her day: leaving the kitchen, joining the men, and intently focusing on the words of her Savior. Shocking behavior for a woman, and Jesus praised her.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a million times for this piece of artwork! you should totally publish it!